Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cold War Modern Revisited

The Beautiful Competition and I headed to the V&A yesterday for the last weekend of the Cold War Modern exhibition, which I visited on my own last year. It was definitely worth seeing again (and if you're in London and reading this, you have about three hours to see it today! Hurry!) Bigger crowds and less room, same great stuff.

I managed to take something else away that I had not previously: a much greater understanding and appreciation for the Cold War from a European perspective. I grew up with the American-side jingoism of course, Big Bad Commies that have to be defeated, better dead than Red, and the shadow the mushroom clouds cast over everything - although to be fair, my parents probably had it ten times worse. By the time I was aware of what was going on, Glasnost and Perestroika and McDonald's in Red Square were turning the USSR into Russia and the American military-industrial complex would soon have to find a new enemy.

But from a European perspective, things were far less black-and-white. To put the Cold War into context, I realized, you have to think about the end of World War 2 and what Europe looked like; when the Americans were done, they came home to smiling wives and cookie-cutter houses in the suburbs. When the Europeans were done, they looked around at a continent largely ravaged by the war; entire cities levelled in some instances, and lives completely disrupted in others. The competition between the USA and the USSR was not so much about defeating bad guys, but about which system of government would prevent such a thing from happening again: the freedom of an open market, or the control of a strong central government? And it was a question various people answered in various ways, sometimes as puppets or pawns of the superpowers, sometimes fighting proxy battles of their own, sometimes willingly but many times not, and sometimes divided by age or class or religion.

It was certainly an eye-opening experience, and one of the things I truly value about my time here; these realizations are much harder if not impossible to come by when you're not living in the places where these things happened.

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