Most of us grew up - or were born - during the Cold War. We were formed by a quite extraordinary period, by events which did not take place rather then events which did. We never ceased to feel horror at the period's architecture, ending in a wall of fire which we could at moments see quite plainly ahead of us. But over time we lost much of our sense of abnormality, imagining that there had been similar intervals in history when the known world had been partitioned between adversaries heavily armed but reluctant to shoot first. Perhaps the Roman Empire had known such situations; perhaps the Peace of Westphalia had ushered in such a stable confrontation. But all these reachings for precedents were abuses of the past. There has never been anything like the Cold War, and its very texture was so unfamiliar that many of the old methods of politics and military pressure twisted in the hand of their users, or produced terrifyingly unfamiliar results. In consequence, quite new maxims for diplomacy and influence had to be invented. It is only now, nearly a decade on and back in the primal soup of big and little nation-states jostling for nourishment and security, that we can recognise how weird those years really were.
LRB 16 October 1997 | PDF Download