Friday, October 23, 2015

Cold War -- Part 1

The actual start of the Cold War between the U.S.-led alliance and the Soviet-dominated East Bloc probably precedes the end of World War II. For all tangible reasons, it's probably safe to assume it came after the Treaty of Potsdam in 1945. (Links at the end will explore details of that conference.)

Typical propaganda cartoon in 1951
In August 1949, when the Soviets exploded their first atomic weapon, the scramble was on. Fear had set in, and it would be decades before anybody blinked.

Soon after the atomic blast, the struggle for control of the Korean peninsula began. After nearly a half-century of Japanese domination, Korea became a focal point in the "crawl of communism" across the Pacific Rim.

Japan, defeated in the world war, was being rebuilt by the Americans, who feared that the islands would be absorbed by the expansionist plans of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Mix in China and that's the short course on the history leading up to the Korean conflict.

The war itself didn't gather much more than scraps of weekly interest in the Brookville newspapers, short of a weekly propaganda cartoon and a few servicemen's notes in a regular column that had begun just after the start of WWII. Reasons for that might be apparent, might not be. Korea was clearly not a threat to America, specifically. Generally, however, it was.

American involvement in Korea is ongoing and has been since 1950, though the war itself actually reached a truce in 1953, when the North and South grudgingly agreed to split their assets along the 38th parallel. In actual fighting, nearly 34,000 U.S. soldiers and sailors were killed. (The South and North are officially still at war.)

Bruce Cumings, who wrote a 2010 history of the Korean War, summarizes the results of the conflict, which wasn't even considered a "war" at the time in Washington.

"The true tragedy was not the war itself (4 million died overall), for a civil conflict purely among Koreans might have resolved the extraordinary tensions generated by colonialism, national division and foreign intervention.  The tragedy was that the war solved nothing, only the status quo ante was restored, only a cease-fire held the peace."

FWIW ... reviews of Cumings' "The Korean War" are not always positive, so use your own judgment.

To some degree, the happenings in the Whitewater Valley were more comical in retrospect than a suggestion that there was real trouble.

The Cold War was real, spurred on by regular jibberish about "red spies among us" and FBI stalking ... and the infamous Red Scare by the unsettled Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who steered the Army-McCarthy hearings that ferreted out "thousands" of Communists or their sympathizers.

Truly, a cruel joke.

But back home, a few people took the conversation seriously and agreed to set up a network of volunteer sky-watchers. Their objective: To keep an eye on the horizon for anything that might resemble a Soviet warplane.

According to the reports in the Brookville American, the "skywatchers" groups began organizing in 1953. They'd meet here and there, sometimes in Fairfield at Jim Purdy's place, and spend a couple of hours scanning the skies for "incoming" vessels.

One can imagine a few cans of beer, some Hank Williams on the radio and a pair of binoculars.

In one American report:

"An estimated 130 persons will receive wings for having served 10 hours or more on the local Operation Skywatch. The wings will be issued at a meeting in the Court Room on August 17. Air Force personnel from South bend will be on hand to answer questions and give some new information on ground observer operations in the state and the nation.

"A new movie, One Plane, One Bomb, One City will be shown. Names of skywatchers eligible for wings will be published in next week's paper."

For what it's worth, the Soviet "menace" was partly real, mostly contrived and clear evidence that an entire society can be manipulated by fear.

Still, Korea was real. Blood drives continued and young men were still conscripted to fight in the war that was officially designated as a United Nations police action. The UN at that time was generally inert though, for the first time, actually had established itself as a legitimate organization.




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