Monday, December 12, 2022

The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War Mind (Martin Sixsmith)

The Cold War between the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, was a long-standing conflict of psychology and tension. While some proxy wars were fought in places like Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan, the bulk of the Cold War was fought through propaganda and diplomatic channels. In his book, Martin Sixsmith, a journalist with an extensive amount of experience covering Russia and the Soviet Union, talks about The War of Nerves that dominated much of the Cold War.

Between Nixon, Brezhnev, Khruschev, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Gorbachev, and Stalin, the US and Soviet leadership during the Cold War fought each other over the airwaves, through trying to out-muscle and out-science each other, and through the use of propaganda or outright control (in the case of the Warsaw Pact countries) of their citizenry. With the looming threat of atomic warfare hanging over the world, American schoolkids were taught to duck under desks, and Soviets were taught how to evacuate or find a nearby bomb shelter should war break out. Sixsmith points out stories of individuals that still vividly recall the stress and tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and even to this day have nightmares or fears of “the bomb” being unleashed.

I found The War of Nerves an intriguing take on how both the Soviets and Americans viewed each other during this timeframe. Sixsmith plays an arguably neutral role in this book, pointing out flaws in American foreign policy towards the Soviet Union and subsequently Russia, as well as the flaws of the Soviets and Eastern Europe throughout the Cold War. While some Americans may not find Sixsmith’s detailing befitting the view that America “won” the Cold War, his understanding of Russian history and Russian thinking is well worth paying attention to. Sixsmith tellingly points out that today’s decision-makers are no better at understanding psychology than their predecessors, that we still have nuclear missiles pointed at numbers of cities throughout both countries, and that our collective outcomes as nations depend on the personalities and decision-making of those who lead us.