The Cold War, As Seen By One Who Lived It

When we think of the Cold War today, we probably think of a few specific things: Russia and Russians (I envision them living in a cold wasteland); tense, high stakes events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Iron Curtain/Eastern Bloc of Europe. Although these certainly highlight some of the key aspects of the Cold War, since it primarily concerned Russia and the influence of the Soviet Union, the Cold War involved much more. At an event hosted at the College of International Studies here at OU, Dr. John Fishel reflected on his experience as a soldier and academic during the Cold War. His primary focus was South America, and he covered tremendous amounts of ground during his one-hour lecture. Although I can’t recap everything that was said during his lecture, two things have stuck with me in the days following this event.

First, our world today, both at home and abroad, appears to function very differently than it did just 40-50 years ago. Obviously, the Internet and improved technology has had much to do with this, but this change extends further than just to individuals. Dr. Fishel noted during his lecture that when he was in the military (and this includes non-military agencies such as the CIA, FBI, etc.), the various branches of the military, such as the Air Force, Navy, and intelligence agencies rarely cooperated in coordinated operations. They each took care of their own business. He had the opportunity to work on one of the first collaborations between these various agencies. This collaborative effort began the trend of the various agencies and branches of the military coordinating their individual efforts while working towards common goals. This collaboration, in Dr. Fishel’s opinion, increased the efficacy of all agencies involved.

The second part of his lecture that struck me is his view of when the Cold War ended. Obviously, many would reference November 1989 when the Berlin wall was opened and Soviet influence in Eastern Europe was significantly reduced or eliminated. Instead, Dr. Fishel referenced August of 1992, a date I had never associated with the end of the Cold War. He referenced this day for a clear and moving reason. At this time, Dr. Fishel was a professor at an American institution, and for the first time, they received an exchange student from Russia. Not only was the student Russian, he was also a former Russian officer. In the eyes of Dr. Fishel, this showed conclusively that the tension and conflicts that defined the Cold War were finally resolved.

Before I attended this lecture, I confess that I thought of the Cold War as ancient history – long since resolved. However, after reflecting on his lecture, I realize that in modern times, we are not so very far removed from the Cold War. Beyond this, the influences of the Cold War are still felt today, whether in the collaboration of American defense agencies or in the tensions that are redeveloping between the West and Russia.

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