Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising

Red Storm Rising (1986) is a classic of the World War III genre. Tom Clancy’s second book, coming on the heels of the enormously successful The Hunt for Red October (1984), depicts a NATO-Warsaw Pact war in the mid-1980s fought entirely with conventional weapons. (Although the risk of nuclear escalation is present.)

The book opens with Azerbaijani terrorists destroying the main Soviet oil refinery at Nizhnevartovsk. The Politburo, split between a war-wary general secretary and a warmongering defense chief, decides to seize the oil fields of the Persian Gulf to avoid economic collapse. Fearing that the West would intervene in such an attack, the Soviet leaders determine to eliminate NATO first.

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Everyday Fashions of the Fifties

Everyday Fashions of the Fifties as Pictured in Sears Catalogs

For the final installment in our catalogue book series, we are examining the pages of the era that is probably best known when people think about retro fashion: the 1950s.

When 50s fashion is mentioned, most will think of pin-up styles, sexy tops and pencil skirts, victory roll hairdos and big circle skirts. And greasers à la James Dean and Mutt Williams.

Or skirts with poodle appliqués and cute little cardigans, in soft pinks and whites and pastels of movies such as Grease.

If that is your view of the 50s, and you were hoping to find page after page of the such styles, you might find this book well, a little disappointing, because it will set you straight in no time.

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Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984

I was looking forward to Wonder Woman 1984. The last movie was amazing. Gal Gadot is perfect for the role. And this one would be set in the 1980s!

Sadly, it disappoints on all fronts.

Unlike 2017’s Wonder Woman, the plot of this movie is discombobulated. The main villain, played by Pedro Pascal of The Mandalorian fame, is a cartoonish version of Donald Trump. His sidekick, played by Kristen Wiig, is even more predictable.

There is a detour to Egypt that is almost entirely irrelevant to the plot. As is the opening act on Woman Woman’s home island, Themyscira. Action scenes go on for too long. Wonder Woman attains not one, but two new powers. Dialogue is often puerile. Gadot is given little to work with.

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The World Set Free

In certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles there is a term “accelerationism”, referring to a belief that the problems of society should not be ameliorated but rather exacerbated in order to cause the collapse of a preexisting social order so that something else may be built on its ashes. The justification for this is simple: anarchy is a blank slate upon which any enterprising political elite can realize their dreams should they put the proper work into it and persuade the right people.

One such form of accelerationism comes forth in the writings of the Argentine Marxist writer J. Posadas, who advocated for nuclear war, which would destroy the capitalist order and, among the ruins, provide a way to build Marx’ classless utopia.

Posadas also believed in the necessity of contacting aliens who, by virtue of their technological advancement, must be more advanced according to Marx’ dialectical theory, a notion which has him painted as a loon by certain political science (or political shit-posting) circles on the internet.

However, he was not the first writer to put forth a similar idea.

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How the CIA Waged Cultural Cold War on Communism

Fear of communist infiltration in the United States preceded the Cold War. So-called “popular fronts” — anti-fascist and anti-imperialist — were active in the 1930s and attracted various well-meaning progressives. As Hugh Wilford puts it in The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (2008), everyone from the “Jewish fur-worker dismayed by the rise of anti-Semitism in Hitler’s Germany” to the “student inspired by the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War” to the “African American protesting Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia.” Support for the Soviet Union was usually far down their list of priorities, but Soviet influence, and Soviet money, nevertheless played a role.

After the Second World War, Moscow played up its efforts to spread communism abroad. It focused primarily on Europe (France and Italy had large Communist parties) and the Third World.

In the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency was created amid the Red Scare and tasked with countering Soviet subversion.

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Palast der Republik

The Humboldt Forum, Germany’s answer to the British Museum and the Louvre of Paris, reopened this month in the rebuilt Berlin Palace after almost two years of controversy and debate.

The Forum combines the collections of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art, with many pieces acquired (or stolen) during the colonial era.

Palast der Republik Berlin Germany
The Palast der Republik at night in August 1976 (Bundesarchiv)

The building is a reconstruction of the Hohenzollern residence that was torn down by East German authorities in 1950 to make way for the Palast der Republik, which was itself torn down post-reunification. Both demolitions were controversial — and both, I think, were a mistake. (Although renovating the asbestos-filled Palast might have been more expensive than knocking it down and building something new.)

The Palast was designed by architect Heinz Graffunder and the Building Academy of the German Democratic Republic in the modernist style and opened in 1976. In addition to the unicameral, and toothless, parliament of communist East Germany, it contained two large auditoria, art galleries, a bowling alley, restaurants and a theater.

Let’s take a tour.

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’71

'71

If I had to describe ’71 in a single sentence, I’d say “Black Hawk Down in Northern Ireland”. It has the same inciting incident: a soldier is cut off from his unit in a foreign land and has to survive surrounded by enemies. But that is where the similarities end.

For one, it is made clear to our protagonist (Jack O’Connell), after he goes through boot camp, that he is not leaving the country. This soldier is British, and he is being sent to Belfast, a city engaged in low-scale civil war between Catholics and Protestants. In an attempt to placate a riot, he is lost in the chaos and has to navigate a complex world of sectarian tensions and conflicting paramilitaries.

Almost immediately, the movie slams you with the reality of the saying, as Orwell did, “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf.” One generally thinks of the United Kingdom after World War II as a peaceful country; indeed, one book I’ve read about the subject is entitled The People’s Peace, by Kenneth O. Morgan (1990). But even on that windswept island, there was war: pubs in Guildford and Birmingham were bombed by the IRA, to give but two examples.

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How to Turn the Cold War Hot

Most World War III fiction wasn’t written as alternate history. During the Cold War, many authors and filmmakers imagined how East and West might end up in a (nuclear) war. Because the two sides never did, these stories have become counterfactual.

A Third World War was seldom portrayed as the outcome of outright American or Soviet aggression. More often, the war happened as a result of miscalculation, escalation of a proxy conflict or the Soviets feeling the West left them with no alternative. These were cautionary tales and reflected the fear, widespread at the time, that global thermonuclear war might occur, and kill billions, without either side wanting it.

Video games are an exception. Typically made in Europe or North America, they are more likely to make the Soviets simple villains and give the player the power to unleash nuclear catastrophe just for the heck of it.

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That Was Too Close… Five Times Nuclear War Didn’t Break Out

It is two minutes to midnight at the time I’m writing this article.

It is also 8 in the evening British Summer Time.

The first statement is from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and refers to how close we are, as a species, to the end of the world. The second is, more prosaically, the actual time.

The Doomsday Clock was invented in 1947 and set to seven minutes to midnight. By 1949, it was three minutes to midnight. In 1953, we got to two minutes to midnight. Since then, it has moved away (as far as seventeen minutes to midnight in 1991) and back in again. With Trump, Putin, Middle East unrest, tensions in Kashmir, coupled with climate change concerns, we’re as close to the end as we ever have been.

When you’re this close to Armageddon, sheer bad luck can take you over the edge. It has nearly done so in the past. Once again, as with so many of my articles, I’ve had difficulty keeping the number down to five. I’ve used my standard method of looking at which event had the greatest chance of changing history — in both probability and impact. 

(I have skipped over some incidents where I felt precautions being taken were likely to stop war breaking out, but we learned from them, for example: don’t leave training tapes in live equipment without telling the next shift unless you want them to stare in horror at screens telling them hundreds of missiles are coming over the pole.)

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