For the last month or so, the situation in Ukraine has seemed very Cold-War-ish.  I’m obviously not the only one thinking that, and more recently even journalists are saying it openly.  Of course, they are trying to fill the 24-hour news cycle with the largest fonts they can, but yeah, Soviet-I-mean-Russian expansion in their neighborhood?  First Ossetia, now the Crimea?  We’ve seen this before. It makes sense of course; Putin’s a Cold Warrior, Russia needs to keep their only warm water port…and maybe more importantly, Russia is crumbling internally.  Their semi-socialist/seni-Communist/semi-capitalist kleptocracy can’t function in the post Cold War world.  There’s been a lot of noise from inside Russia that turns out to be grumbling about the “good old days” of the CW.

I’m sure there’s quite a bit of that in the USA also.  We understand dichotomies: good vs. evil, black vs. white, life vs. death.  Things were so much simpler then, right?  Now, with the US in even competition with the rest of the world, we’re watching our economic standing slip and are confronting the reality of being just another country, one among many…but one with a military that’s equivalent to the next 17 countries added together. (Keep tabs on the leaderboard at

And a couple days ago I was thinking about this, and had a deep visceral psychological reaction: DO NOT WANT.

red scareI grew up in the Cold War.  I went to school in a bomb shelter.  We had Friday air raid drills when I was young.  The Fate of the Earth was my college entry reading.  I did not make plans for adulthood.  I knew to not let my freak flag fly, and keep anything unique about me a secret, because otherwise I’d be marked as “other” and ripe for the Red Scare witchhunts that still gripped my town.  My sixth-grade teacher told us that if we ever said the word “communist,” an American satellite would hear it and make note of us.

I’ve spent my adult life on the fringes of the Washington DC foreign affairs community.  I’ve lived in Iron Curtain countries just after the end of the Cold War.  (The trials of the journalists at Sochi were not surprising to me; I scoffed at the fact that the reporters were surprised.  The amount of money seemingly skimmed from the IOC was likewise not a surprise.) I’ve lived in countries that hosted proxy wars during the 1960s.  I’ve lived in countries still scarred by military coups formed in response to Communism.  Heck, I’ve even lived in Chavez’ Venezuela, where he was trying to create his own Cold War fanfic.

I don’t want that world back.  I don’t want a world that’s being divided between two players, both crushing freedoms within themselves in order to present a strong facade.  I don’t want every move to have to be considered, then reconsidered, then considered again.  I don’t want the growth of nuclear stockpiles.  I don’t want the pervasive grey fear.  I don’t want the recent freedom of people to indulge their inner geek to go away.

I want to enjoy crazy crowd-sourced innovation, not Big Government innovation.  But as I think more deeply about America and a culture of innovation and the differences between the Cold War and the twenty years since…maybe a Cold War is what we need.


  1. You’re speaking directly to my experience (except for the Iron Curtain and Iron Fringe living. Didn’t do that.). I remember being outside the day after “The Day After” showed on TV, and a plane flew low over the schoolyard and everyone just lost their shit. I remember having a plan for what I would grab if I needed to run (I still do. It’s not a bad idea.), and when I was looking forward to something very much (a party, a graduation, holidays) thinking vaguely/semi-praying “please don’t let there be a nuke war tomorrow…” so the thing would happen that I was looking forward to.

    I know I’m not alone in this neurosis. I have a whole generation of classmates and colleagues who share a bit of it. And the sentence that hit me hardest in this post is the end result of what we as a generation experienced growing up during the cold war: “I did not plan for my future.”

    Take that in for a second. “I did not plan for my future.”

    Then take a deep breath. Because.

    Because that pretty much describes the main arc of the of GenX bell curve. You know, the one that on most commonly-accepted scales of success seems to go the opposite way? The one that gets squished between two bigger generations. The one that doesn’t believe in Social Security, Job Security, and Family Security.

    It also very neatly describes a lot of the brain processes it takes to achieve…


    Just sayin’.

    Yours, sincerely, GenX

  2. I think you just broke my brain. But in a good way. I’ve been working on a sequel to this post about tech and innovation, but if you’re willing and want to flesh out the parallels between Gen X and innovation more, I would love to have you guest-blog!

  3. I’m a Cold War baby too. Just old enough to have absorbed some of the grownups’ reactions to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    I get the need for a warm water port, even one that could be shut down with trivial effort. I don’t think Putin needed a war to secure it. Russia is just a fraction of the old Soviet Bear. The way I read it, Putin needed to flex his muscles to stay in charge. I’m hoping Putin goes with a Russia First policy and doesn’t subordinate to China in order to “join a global power if it can’t be a global power.” Their nukes and their army are all that keep them on the world stage as a major player. Sure as heck isn’t their frazzled economy.

    That’s OK. We’re working on some strange version of “Cold War” with China.

    Or maybe their productive capacity will turn the rest of the world into client states. You don’t need a huge nuclear arsenal if you can turn your enemies into economic dependants.

    Or they will disintegrate on their own due to stresses between a well-developed coast and a poor interior.

    Or maybe someday they’ll evolve into a liberal democracy and we won’t care who is #1.

    My preference is the last option. I’m not holding my breath.

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