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How We Forgot the Cold War

7 February 2013

How We Forgot the Cold War

How We Forgot the Cold War: a historical journey across America, Jon Wiener, 2012, ISBN 978-0-520-271141-8, 376 pp.


This book was thoughtfully provided by the author in appreciation for allowing an image of mine be used within his book.


How We Forgot the Cold War: a historical journey across America — by Jon Wiener, jacket design by Madeleine Ward

I recall, as a child living in Corpus Christie TX in the 1960s, being hard-up against a fence during a Civil Defense drill to practice for a surprise nuclear attack. I also recall the shock to learn that the reason I decided to study a certain engineering to mine manganese nodules from the ocean floor was predicated upon a fraud perpetuated by the Federal government as cover to a secret operation to recover a lost Soviet submarine. Both of the experiences occurred because of the Cold War, its hype, its  use and abuse by politicians as well as policy makers. Until Jon Wiener’s book it was difficult to get the long view of the Cold War, to understand the relation of events sometimes three decades in time apart — or even to find where the Cold War has been remembered in a museum or even an historical marker.


Why — considering the floods of money spent on the military and foreign aid, proxy war casualties, not to mention additional lives lost on Air Force reconnaissance missions — are there not grand monuments or international caliber museums?

This is the foil used by Wiener throughout is book written in with wry and wizened style. A book which is marked by the history it contains as well as by its unbiased analysis and strategic overview of the events of the Cold War. For example, I was surprised to see a map showing a few dozen sites across the United States devoted to an event or interest of the Cold War. Quite a lot! But no grand museum or encompassing remembrances, even at presidential libraries. Odd that the huge cost and effort of the Cold War be treated apparently in a dismissive fashion, perhaps?

Not only are the chapters enjoyable but the captions are more than informative, not merely descriptive, and often wryly observant. An example of politicians using a Korean War memorial to place their names upon its plaque without naming as much as a single person who served in that war. Another is of a monument purported to be erected by a thankful population but was  funded, built and placed by a foreign group.

Wiener, a professor of history at U of California–Irvine, has the wisdom of a scholar as well as an elder. He makes connections and observations which may span years, or even decades, allowing us to see facts in their ultimate context. His experience when visiting the Reagan Library, as well as investigating Reagan’s continuity-of-government program (which involved Oliver North), for example, as well as noting the collaboration of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in the Ford Administration during the 1970s. There is so much more and How We Forgot the Cold War is an excellent read as it is written smoothly and intelligently without sensationalism. The analyses are cogent and not derivative,  the work of others is not rehashed by the author. Wiener visited most of the sites mentioned in his book, including National Park nicknamed the “Pumpkin Patch” which is seen by two or even fewer people each year.

The conclusion and epilogue’s fifteen pages speak volumes and could be used as the core of a college course on either the Cold War or politics and policy implementation. This book is part of a nexus of Cold War history writing since it is cogent, cited, indexed and possesses thorough notes — especially since the author’s eyes see much of what many of us have missed.

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