The terrifying 80s nostalgia for a possible war with Russia
Watching what is happening in Ukraine is like seeing some of my darkest fears from the 1980s come to life.
Growing up during the Cold War, I was convinced that our country was threatened by the Soviet Union. As Russian President Vladimir Putin told his nuclear forces to be on high alert after Russia’s slow invasion of Ukraine, those fears have come to the surface again. Concerns about a terrible nuclear event have increased with Russian control of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plants.
We think of the 80s as a whirlwind of MTV, parachute pants, and clouds of Giorgio perfume billowing through the mall. Yet the threat of nuclear war was the horrible undercurrent that resonated under the abuse of hairspray. While the politicians of that time certainly had differences, politics then was less confrontational, mainly, I think, because we were afraid of the Soviets. I had a President Ronald Reagan dart board in my childhood bedroom, but I’m still amazed when I hear the six best words Reagan ever said: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
The Soviet threat led to the teen movie’s popularity Red Dawn (1984) starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray as American teenagers resisting a Soviet invasion. The premise of the film: If Moscow tried to invade America, they would be met with resistance from every armed man, woman and teenage girl.
Support for your home defense may partly explain our continued interest in Ukraine. The conflict echoes America’s founding myth “My country is mine”, with our rambling, ragged, cobbled-together Continental Army fighting for domestic freedom against well-fortified British troops.
Americans have embraced stories of Ukrainian courage, such as Ukrainian guards on Snake Island in the Black Sea who responded to a request to surrender to a Russian warship with a few rather direct language.
Then there are the stories of a woman take out a russian drone in kyiv with canned tomatoes and plums, and the “gotcha” of the Ukrainians who allegedly trapped members of the Russian army in an elevator cutting off the electricity in the building. The facts of these and similar stories are difficult to confirm, but they nevertheless form our perception of this war.
Perhaps America’s widespread support for Ukraine stems from the fact that we’re really, really, really tired of arguing about masks, critical race theory, and the events of January 6, 2021. the unprovoked Russian invasion of a peaceful country, we found common ground. Maybe that’s why we saw the Empire State Building lit up in the colors of the Ukrainian flag and people lined up to sneak into New York’s Ukrainian restaurant Veselka for a borscht fundraiser. This is why people lined up for Ukraine Fundraising by San Antonio bakery “Laika Cheesecakes and Espresso” which raised over $70,000.
In trying to be helpful, ordinary people have been Airbnb booking in Ukraine they do not intend to use. I booked a photo walk in Lviv, then told my host Igor that I had no plans to show up in a war zone. NPR reports that this tactic has already led to the transfer of nearly $2 million.
Adding to the rambling country’s appeal, Ukraine has a president who is said to have survived at least three recent assassination attempts. When offered the opportunity to leave Ukraine and set up a government in exile, The Washington Post reported, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could have said, “The fight is here; I need ammo, not a round.
Want to join this fight? You can Register in line. Volunteers only have to fill in the brief “Ukrainian Armed Forces Foreign Legion Interview Questionnaire Form for Territorial Defense.” The only real question about this is combat experience. They have no time to waste. I filled out longer forms at a tanning salon.
Meanwhile, my friends and I are worried about Ukraine while discussing an 80s teen movie War games (1983). The film stars Matthew Broderick as a teenage hacker who starts the “World Thermonuclear War” after school from a dial-up line.
Others note how 1980s music was influenced by the threat of nuclear war. twitter user @clarajeffery created a playlist of 80s songs about the end of the world. It lasts more than 6 hours.
In a video call on March 7 from my childhood bedroom (where the Reagan dart board once resided) to his candlelit apartment in central Kyiv, I chatted with a Ukrainian political analyst Kostyantyn Batozsky. Batozsky and I have a mutual friend whom he has known since school in Prague. Periodically, our conversation was interrupted by the fact that he was distracted by the shelling.
“Did you hear the explosion?” he asked at one point, visibly surprised. Since the Russian invasion, Batozsky has been busy donating supplies, like vehicles, clothing and a ton of fresh tomatoes to the fighting forces.
“Guys need veggies on the front line,” he said.
I asked Batozsky the reason for the global interest in Ukraine, and he had two theories. He speculated that in the age of social media, smartphones allow people to see war unfold in real time.
“We are Europeans. We have smartphones. We create content,” he said.
Batozsky also said that the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has a clear victim/oppressor narrative. The Ukrainians defend themselves with intelligence, the funds selling tomatoes and pastries are like David standing up to Goliath, or the disjointed rebel Alliance of star wars fighting the galactic empire. You can see this narrative in the destruction last week of a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine.
“This war is not about Ukraine. We did not call Putin to war,” Batozsky said. “He has a problem with the West, with NATO. He took us hostage.
Putin’s problems are making our NATO allies nervous. To reassure them, US forces are currently conducting exercises in places such as Latvia.
“The United States is prepared to defend every square inch of NATO territory.” Vice President Kamala Harris said at a press conference in Poland last week.
As the situation worsens daily, cultural artifacts of the Cold War are resurfacing. Musician Sting again performs the song “Russians”, the lyrics of which include the line “Trust me when I tell you / I hope the Russians love their children too”.
Putin putting a nuclear option on the table is a global threat. It is especially a threat to people like Batozsky. When we ended our conversation, I casually mentioned that I was looking forward to meeting him one day over a beer with our mutual friend.
“I don’t want to die,” was his response.
It’s terrifying that we have Cold War songs at the forefront of popular culture, instead of tunes from Ukrainian musical acts Igor Grohotsky and KAZKA who were scheduled to play South by Southwest in Austin this week. Things have changed so much that signage at SXSW now reads, #Standwithukraine and “Ukraine: Tech, Creative, Brave”. Grohotsky is no longer on the SXSW program but KAZKA is. While the specific reason Grohotsky is no longer on the program is unknown, Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are currently banned from leaving Ukraine.
I want my 80s nostalgia to be for the analog blast of music played on cassette tapes in a walkman or for the fashion choices of dudes at my high school dangling eyeliner in 8th grade math class. hours of the morning. I don’t like being united by our collective fear of nuclear war starting in Moscow.
Anna Hanks is a writer in Austin. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.