Home > cultural commentary > Random thought no. 51

Random thought no. 51

Yes, I’ve been working on other stuff and neglecting this blog. But yes, I also have some stuff in hand I’ll be sharing in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a random memory that occurred to me while I was working in the garden (making a new garden gate, as it happens, but I don’t think that’s significant).

In 1980, I think it was, I went on a trip around Europe. I met a couple of Americans in France who were on a European tour. We exchanged addresses and about a month later they pitched up at my house in the UK. We spent a fair bit of time talking. In the course of this they explained something that hadn’t occurred to me. I’d assumed they were visiting Europe ‘just because’ – but it turned out they had a specific reason. They were convinced nuclear war was likely within the next year or two, and wanted to see the major centres and museums of Europe before they were destroyed. ‘We’re visiting,’ one put it, ‘the theatre of war for world War Three. We want to see it before it’s a nuclear wasteland.’

I’d grown up during the early phase of the Cold War. I still remember the leaflet my parents had on how to build a nuclear fallout shelter (they never did) and my childhood was influenced by concepts such as the Four Minute Warning. We’d watched news on the Cuban Missile Crisis, understanding for the first time that war could not only be truly global but that the first we might know about it would be a mushroom cloud.

However, for these Americans 1980 was the year they’d come to grips with all this. Detente had broken down, The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, Carter had deployed Pershing II missiles in Europe (and cancelled the US Olympic team participating in the Moscow Olympics). We were still three years away from Reagan branding Russia the ‘Evil Empire’ and announcing the Strategic Defense Initiative. But this pair had read the way the political situation and concluded there was a more than small chance that 1980 would be the last year they’d be able to see the major European museums.

I’m glad they were wrong. But the ‘what if’ and the idea of ‘last chance to see’ will maybe, one day, become a story I’ll want to write.

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