Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Cold War Memories

June 12 is a date with a few layers of significance for me.

On this date, in
1918, my grandfather, Ralph E. Hansen was born.
1924, President George H.W. Bush was born.
1987, President Ronald W. Reagan told Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” speaking of the Berlin Wall.

For some of us these people are history; for others they are memories. I recently heard the claim that those born after 1980 have no personal memories of the Cold War. I was born in 1977, and I remember things about the Cold War from the 1980s.

In my family, a couple of us kids were born before 1980 and a couple after, so I had a ready sample to test this hypothesis. I asked my brother born in 1984 if he has any memories of the Cold War, and he does not. Just as I did last 9/11, it seems appropriate to share, and record for posterity, my memories of the Cold War.

I remember President Reagan's re-election in 1984. I don't have any first-hand memories of anything he said, but I do remember it being a notable, if not big deal, that the President would go on television regularly to address the nation, and we would watch and listen to him. This was not unlike a decade or two earlier when television came into it s own as a time when people would gather round and watch historic events taking place. Those televised addresses were part of President Reagan's connection to and re-election by the American people.

Along with having watched many Space Shuttle launches in Central Florida, I remember Challenger exploding in 1986. This may not seem directly related to the Cold War, but the Space Race was, and the Space Shuttle was its successor while the Cold War standoff continued. I was in 4th grade at the time. Seeing the white streaks from the prematurely jettisoned SRBs would have been like daytime fireworks had it not been so tragic. Some teachers understood both the historic significance of what had just happened and also the need for everyone to process it, so their classes just watched the news about it on TV the rest of the day.

Being the child of missionaries, we knew and understood the spiritual significance of the evils of communism. We believed the Soviet Union needed the Gospel, too, and it was worth the risks and civil disobedience to take the message to them there, too. Some missionaries were taken to concentration camps. Some of those made it back to tell about it. I remember one missionary in a meeting at a local Baptist Church who told us about how the Soviet Union processed people. There was a long line of people, and the officials or guards were handling things in a pretty standard, no-questions-asked kind of manner. And then, without any indication of any change at all, he missionary comes up without saying a word and asks, “Are you a Christian?” He affirmed he was and got sent off to the concentration camp instead. In retelling this later he told us, “You can't tell me there's nothing spiritual going on there.” There was no other explanation for why the Christian in the group got singled out for different treatment.

I can't say that I specifically remember President Reagan's speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987. My family was going through a difficult time around my 10th birthday. I can say I remember well being a sophomore in high school when the Berlin Wall fell. In World History class we had regular quizzes on current events, and we may have even watched that one ourselves. The joy in conquest over the Evil Empire was palpable.

All during this time, my maternal grandparents—and grandmother especially—were active anti-communists. My grandfather had fought in World War II, and they knew that for which we were fighting—freedom. When they passed away in 2013, I was the grandchild that wanted their books, of which they had many. One of the categories of books they had was those on communism, and I brought back several of those for future reading.

The Cold War is now a memory. It's threat is not. Tyranny takes many forms, and while terms like communism may have fallen out of favor in our political discourse, the desire of wicked, evil, and sinful men to control, dominate, and oppress others remains. We do well to defend freedom for the sake of the Gospel.

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