Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea nukes and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

John Quiggin writes that the North Korean atomic bomb test news “is easily the worst we’ve had since the end of the Cold War”. I disagree. September 11, 2001 was on a par with a nuclear missile actually hitting, with no warning, somewhere in the West, or somewhere otherwise sufficiently televisual/strategic, rather than a long-predicted mere test explosion. In reality, of course, no nuclear weapon has been lobbed in anger, anywhere in the world, since 1945.

Plainly it’s not good news, all the same. North Korea is a nutbar state, pure and simple. But compared to Pakistan – safe-haven for Osama, yet an official (and probably even MySpace, too) friend of the West in the US-lead war-on-terror – I would rather take my chances with the predictable nutbar, rather than put up with a “friend” of many faces.

By coincidence, one of my least favourite boomers, Dennis Glover, mentioned September 11 only the other day as "the biggest event in world history since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962".

Now even if one confines Big Events in World History to bad ones only, I still have trouble seeing the Cuban Missile Crisis as the other twin tower, as it were, of global catastrophe, post-WWII-to-present. Maybe natural disasters should also be excluded from our Big Events category, leaving only War and Other Political (Bad) Events as eligible contenders. If so, I’d still nominate the (i) 1973 Oil Shock (aka Saudi Arabia shafts the West, Vol 1) and (ii) the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (aka the Ruskies come without a few hundred k’s of having a warmwater/Indian Ocean port) as exceeding the Cuban Missile Crisis in Event-fulness, from both blatant US-centric and broader Western perspectives.

The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in case unlike me you weren’t taught it at school, was a time when, for about five minutes, it seemed possible that the US and Russia would start raining nukes on each other. Aka (cue foreboding music) The (Possible) End of the World. It is/was, of course, a baby boomer Trophy Moment – the entirety of the boomer cohort had been born (just), and even the oldest were still only impressionable 16 y.o.’s at the time.

Like any good Trophy Moment, the Cuban Missile Crisis acquired big-E eventfulness more by the passage of time than by its inherent contemporaneous qualities. Nuclear annihilation was an ever-present fear – the actual justification for which will probably remain forever unquantifiable – throughout my own 1970s childhood. How much scarier could 1962 have been, given that no one actually pressed the button then, than living in the 1970s?

Also, it is surely permissible to tinker retrospectively with Eventfulness when one putative Event has later echoes with another unimpeachably big-E one. Such is the case with both the 1973 Oil Shock and the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. If these don’t stand on their own as As Big as They Come Events post-WWII (IMO, they do), then the fact that they both lead inexorably to September 11, 2001 is the proof in the pudding.

Meanwhile, the 1962 Crisis’ main legacy in 2006 presumably is the still-vivid recollections of millions of young boomers wetting the bed, literally or metaphorically. I hope it feels and felt warm for you, then and now, Dennis Glover.

You got me musing ...

The psyche of 70's kids who grew up under the potential mushroom cloud I hazard would be different for Aussie Xers than from other nations.

I mean, we knew everyone else on the planet would be dead but we'd be spared too many direct hits and live in a wasteland - sterile, eating rats and surviving off the detritus of civilisation.

Hmm, maybe that explains why every GenXer I know doesn't have kids, eats homebrand porridge and still lives in share houses with tellys found in hard rubbish.
My God, I do believe you're on to something, Casionova. I'd always attributed my living like it was the Great Depression, only with less rabbit on the menu, to my genes (parents born at the tail end of the said Depression).

But your joy-of-distance post-nuke survivalist theory (but with less guns'n’rednecks than the American survivalist cliché) puts a nice new spin on it. Stuff the “On the Beach” (1959) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053137 post-nuke scenario, too, in which Australia only gets a few days extra to the Rest of the World – just another boomer-specific phantasm masquerading as trans-historical truth.

In Australia at least, hard-rubbish-collection couches, along with cockroaches, would seem certain to survive and multiply after a nuke holocaust centered elsewhere. And Xers like us would control (cue demented laughter) almost all the breeding pairs of indestructible unmatched couches. Ha, boomers, in your ill-sewn caftans made of animal hide, ye shall forever gnash and grind over your Italian leather sofas being salvageable only for their upholstery.

Ditto goes for op shop clothes vs new fashion, etc.
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