The Cold War

Today, commentators speak about a new Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. The original Cold War lasted forty plus years. It was a time of tensions between two super-powers with the capacity to destroy each other and the world. If war is hell, the Cold War was purgatory. Not peace, not war, something in-between. The best of times, the worst of times.

Let us not forget that time and its impact on our world today. The words of the Spanish philosopher and novelist George Santayana are even more true today: “Those of us who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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The Cold War often turned hot in places like Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. Direct confrontation between the super-powers was avoided during crises like the Berlin Blockade, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Yom Kippur War. Other smaller proxy wars were fought in many fronts in the developing world.

One front was invisible, a Secret Cold War: the signal intelligence war. It was almost bloodless, but all too many Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the security services paid with their lives by accident or enemy action. Assigned to isolated foreign outposts, naval vessels, or flying along the Iron Curtain, they collected signals intelligence and provided an extra layer of early warning. The National Vigilance Park, at Ft. Meade, Maryland, stands to honor those "silent warriors" who risked, and often lost, their lives performing signals intelligence missions during the Cold War. The National Cryptologic Memorial list the names of 176 Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, and civilian cryptologists who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The first American combat death in Vietnam was a soldier of the Army Security Agency.

Today, our intelligence services face new challenges from familiar foes and new enemies pledged to our destruction. The invisible war has shifted to the ethereal world of cyberspace. Thomas Jefferson had it right: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."