I know Cold War. I spent nearly a decade in the United States Army fighting the Cold War on the front lines. I served one year with the Second Infantry Division on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in South Korea, two years with the First Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Riley, Kansas, and three years with the First Armored Division headquartered in Ansbach, West Germany. These experiences brought me face to face with two artificial divisions of homogeneous populations; the Iron Curtain and the DMZ.
If you were a soldier in these units during the time I served you knew one thing for certain; the Reds were coming. Whether, it was the Communists in North Korea pushing across the 38th Parallel or the massed armor of the Russian Hordes punching through the Fulda Gap in West Germany. They were coming! We trained for it constantly. Hell, on our off time we even played Spades with a deck of cards that identified “friend or foe” aircraft, armored vehicles and missile systems. The indoctrination was total.
We simulated treating ourselves for exposure to nerve agent with giant needles encased in spring loaded atropine self-injectors. Upon experiencing symptoms we were instructed to jam them into our thigh muscle, push the injector button, and hope for the best. On field maneuvers we slept with our rifles in our sleeping bags. We were taught to train the fire of our M-16 assault rifles in such a way it could bring down a MiG fighter or a Soviet HIND helicopter. We went on long road marches carrying heavy crew served weapons while wearing full MOPP gear. The combination of physical exertion in a charcoal lined suit and high temperatures filled our rubber gas masks with puddles of sweat up to your cheekbone. If we didn’t suffer now in training, we were told, it would cost a life on the battlefield!
In 1989 I was living and training in West Germany as twenty-four year old sergeant in the First Armored Division. My fellow soldiers and I bore witness as the urge for freedom rolled back the Iron Curtain. It started that summer in Hungary,spilled over into East Germany, and culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. The year ended with the trial and Christmas Day execution of a brutal dictator in Romania. Freedom and democracy were on the march.
I will never forget Thanksgiving Day in 1989. My comrades and I, fellow Cold Warriors, celebrated as victors of the four decades long geopolitical battle of idiologies. With all those that had served before us; WE were lucky enough to be here when all of the training, sacrifice, and hard work paid off. The Wall came down! Life in West Germany, especially as a United States soldier, in November and December of 1989 had a surreal quality. There was such hope and excitement in the air. Anything seemed possible. We relished our youth and cherished the comraderie of a soldier’s life.
I visited the Soviet Union in the Summer of 1991 as a member of the elite White House Communications Agency. We supported the President of the United States during the last U.S./Soviet Summit. We left Moscow about two weeks before the failed coup attempt. The Soviet Union would dissolve by Christmas.
It was during this visit, as a member of the Armed Forces inside a communist country, that I had a personal epiphany. I met the Russian people for the first time. They were normal, just like my friends and family back home. They weren’t the godless commies my training told me to expect.
I’ve developed GlobalWonk with the goal of opening others eyes and minds.
James Patrick Miller