[Editor’s note: This guest post comes to you courtesy of S-USIH member Bryn Upton. Bryn is an associate professor of history at McDaniel College. He recently completed a book titled Hollywood and the End of the Cold War: Signs of Cinematic Change (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014). – TL]
It appears that Throwback Thursday has taken on new meaning today as everywhere I look there are stories about our Cold War era foes Cuba and North Korea. At one time these two nations represented the front lines in the global struggle between Western Democracy and Soviet sponsored Communism, but now the last vestiges of the Cold War are being swept away.
So much of the Cuba story from the 1960s was about proximity. During the Cuban Missile Crisis and in the decades that followed we heard the refrain, 90 miles off the coast of Florida. A communist country parked ninety miles off the coast of Florida. Soviet missiles could be launched from ninety miles off the coast of Florida. The thing that always seemed to make Cuba an immediate threat was its location. With yesterday’s announcement from the White House opening a new chapter in US-Cuba relations we hope for improved relations with all of Latin America, as our insistence on maintaining the embargo has long since been viewed as bad policy by our southern neighbors.
The North Korean cyber-attack on Sony Pictures demonstrates how unimportant proximity has become. For all of the saber rattling by North Korea over the years; missile tests aimed at Japan, imprisoning of American journalists, the West has rarely taken North Korea very seriously: until now. Now that North Koreans have forced Sony not to release their comedy about (and this is a guess based on trailers, the oeuvre of the people involved, and limited research) a pair of underachieving man-children who luck their way in to an interview with Kim Jung-un and are subsequently recruited to kill him.
The most often used cliché with regard to the Cuban Missile Crisis is that in a staring contest between east and west the Soviets blinked. This week Sony blinked. The World Wide Web has altered the importance of proximity but it can never take it away entirely, wars and acts of terror might not always be relegated to neighbors but the fallout from these things, especially in terms of refugees and physical devastation will always have a disproportionate affect on neighbors.
So why bring all of this up on a blog dedicated to the work of Intellectual Historians? There are questions that have been filling my mind since all of the above news began to break this week. First, I wonder if this new era of détente between the US and Cuba will alter how we write about and define the Cold War? Will Obama be given as much credit for ending the Cold War as Reagan has been given? Will this be an epilog to the Cold War or will it be viewed as something else entirely? How will we view the importance of proximity in international relations going forward? What of the idea of a battle line being drawn between a government and a corporation? Have we witnessed that last desperate gasp of communism?