Sunday, November 9, 2014

Veteran’s Day 2014

Veteran’s Day is the day we honor our nation’s veterans, but it’s a lot more than that.  I’d also like to honor their spouses and dependants as well as the many civilians who work for the U.S. military past and present.  This is a common effort and we have the common cause of keeping America free.  

I want to combine two important events in this post.  Veteran’s Day, which is on the 11th of November and the Fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago today, 9 November 1989.  In a sense you can say that the Cold War was really a sort of low intensity WWIII.  Unlike WWI and WWII, it wasn’t a big shooting war, but involved the whole world and dozens of smaller conflicts.  But although there were not great classic battles, the Cold War had dozens of regional wars, tens of thousands of hostile encounters and millions under the yoke of statist dictators, revolutionaries who functioned much like fascists than socialists, and a lot of money and lives lost.  The fall of the Berlin Wall is a good a date as any to mark the end of the Cold War and for once a war ended peacefully. 

I lived much of my life in that post-WWII Cold War setting, with air raid drills, the fear of atomic destruction, the terrorists funded by our enemies, the constant strain of being in an undeclared war.  There was a bit of an added dimension because I grew up as a military dependant, mostly overseas.  I was pretty much like everybody else who was a dependant overseas in those days.  At the time, it didn’t seem terribly abnormal. 

Many years later, I joined the Air Force and I was stationed in Germany.  The last time I was there it was as a dependant.  It came to pass that East Germany fell apart and as it collapsed, so did the dreaded Berlin Wall.  You know, the one they shot you for trying to climb over, under or through.  In fact my landlord climbed over that same wall as a 16 year old youth in the 1960s, leaving behind a life, family, and incidentally the tyranny of the DDR.

I was stationed at a base that is now closed, which is a good legacy of the peace that followed.  The guys down the hall were combat controllers and generally out for a bit of fun.  A couple of them just happened to be in Berlin on leave when the first section fell.  A big corner broke off and just lay there.  Well they grabbed it up and tossed it into their van.  Ironically, they were chased by West German police, because that chunk of concrete still officially belonged to the East German government and it must be returned.  The Berlin Wall was actually completely in East Germany and so DDR property.  It was there to keep East Germans in rather to keep anybody out. 

They escaped with their prize and when they came to the office, they triumphantly handed out section chipped off that corner to all and sundry.  Actually the whole thing as still up in the air, the DDR still existed, kinda, and the USSR was still around, but not sure what to do when East Germany just fell apart.  The Cold War wasn’t officially ended, but you could see it from here.

Soon the flea markets were full of East German flags and uniform, and followed by Soviet gear left behind by the soldiers of the USSR, who were peacefully returning home.  Somehow, buying your Soviet or East German Flag at a flea market was a lot better than taking it from a bombed out building or off of a corpse.  Often the items could be purchased directly from an ex-East German or Soviet who decided to say in Germany – besides, they needed the cash.

There’s still a lot going on in the world and a lot of wars happening, I won’t pretend that end of the Cold War stopped that.  Human nature didn’t suddenly change and not all the bad guys went away.  Some morphed, some napped for a while, and new ones have arisen.  The challenge of being free is contested both inside and outside of this country and not everybody has the same vision.  But a difference of opinion is not a war nor is disagreement.  It takes a will to start a war and a stronger will to end one, either by conflict or by conscience.   I’ve focused on the Cold War because it was one the ended magically – no atomic weapons, no hordes of Warsaw Pact tanks flowing though Fulda Gap, no expansion of Communist Chinese might in unison with the USSR.  No Red Dawn.  

For those who fought the hot wars, the proxy wars, the wars in strange places, the secret wars, fought the terrorists, for those who were there to just show the flag on land, sea and air, I salute you.  I also salute you out there who are still standing tall, fighting physically and mentally the enemies of freedom.  For you spouses and dependants, for you old vets and you young guys just in, thanks a lot.   For those who died yesterday or 50 years, 100 years or 200 plus years ago, I hope we won’t let you down.

I choose to “celebrate” Veteran’s Day quietly with no flag waving, but just quiet contemplation.  I’ll open up that box of memories and take out that Soviet flag and that East German flag and think how cheaply in blood they were bought.  I’ll open up a box of photos of my father from WWI, Korea, and Vietnam and think it’s too bad he passed away a little before the end of Cold War.  He was also at the Pentagon and SAC, so he saw the big picture.  Maybe I’ll just have a beer and think how it’s forbidden in some countries and look at my books and think about how most of them are forbidden as well.  Enough somber thoughts.  Remember that your brain is your most powerful weapon. 

Since this is a SF & F blog, here are a few books of speculative fiction and SF that you might enjoy reading.  I’ve read these books and like the each for a different reason.  This only scratches the surface and doesn’t cover much ground, but these are the first five that I came up with off the top of my head.   Happy reading.     CoastConFan

     The Man in the High Castle, 1962, Phillip K. Dick
     Europe Central, 2005, William Vollman
     Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949, George Orwell
     Fatherland, 1992, Robert Harris
     The Iron Dream, 1972, Norman Spinrad

Links of Interest

It’s not much but some restaurants are offering free meals for active duty members as well as veterans.  Click on the link to find out more:

UPDATE Dec 2014

I recently saw the 2006 German language film about the dark days of the DDR,  Das Leben der Anderen, (The Lives of Others) about a Stasi operative who becomes entangled in the passions of playwright while spying on him.  I’ve got to say that I was impressed with the film and I’ll have to locate a copy of the book in English.

On the lighter side of East Germany is the comedy film about an East German man who was in a coma for years only to awaken after the Berlin Wall has come down and the two Germanys have been reunited.  Good Bye, Lenin! (2003), is a chuckle, but you really have to know a bit about the old DDR to get the jokes. 

An older comedy film about the DDR, but filmed just before the Berlin Wall went up in August 1961 is the film, One, Two, Three (1961) starring of all people Jimmy Cagney.  I saw this one again a few months back on TCM after a long hiatus.  It’s not nearly as good as the previous films nor as good as the excellent Cold War farce, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966), which holds out a bit of hope during the depths of the cold war.  Then again, The Russians Are Coming doesn’t take place in Berlin, and there are no East Germans, so it really doesn’t count in this listing.

There’s a lot of movies set in Berlin from the silent era to the present, and you can find a list here: