Cold War Lessons For Today


Leonard Zwelling

         This weekend the BW and I spent 4 hours or more in the Cold
War of the late 1950s and early 1960s. We saw two very different visions of
that time, one from Hollywood and one from Germany. Interestingly enough, the
more prescient view of today came from Germany.

         Bridge of Spies is
the latest film from Steven Spielberg and it is nothing if not predictable.
First, it stars Tom Hanks who never dies except when he is Saving Private Ryan and who, while probably as close to Jimmy
Stewart as we are going to get out of today’s TinselTown (short of Matt Damon
on Mars), still always seems to be a movie star. Here he plays an insurance
lawyer who assisted in the Nuremberg trials and is drafted into defending a
captured Soviet spy (Mark Rylance in what may be an Oscar-winning supporting
role) named Rudolph Abel. This is under the pretense of giving the spy a fair trial before hanging him. In a
leap of insight, Hanks’ character convinces the judge in the espionage trial
not to sentence Abel to death because he may be tradable for one of our own
spies in the future.

         No sooner than you can say, “we’re going to need a bigger
boat,” Francis Gary Powers is shot out of the sky at 70,000 feet in his U2 over
Soviet territory while on a top secret spy mission. The game is afoot to
construct a way to exchange Powers for Abel and is complicated when an American
economics student gets caught behind the Berlin Wall and Hanks wants to get him
out, too.

         In case the lesson is lost on anyone, the concluding credits
tell how Hanks’ character got many more Americans out of captivity during the
Cold War and his great American persistence was rewarded as it ought to be in
any red, while and blue movie worth it’s celluloid (or in this case digital
images) and formulaic script. It’s not a bad film, but lags a great deal when
Rylance is not on camera and is predictable and shot by the Spielberg numbers.
Good, but not compelling. Instructional, but not inspirational.

         Labyrinth of Lies,
A German film, is far more potent. This takes place starting in 1958 when all
of Germany is more than happy to forget there was a war, a Hitler, or any
Nazis. Like the school teacher in Interstellar
who denies the moon landing ever occurred because it is politically convenient
to do so, the entire German nation has put the war behind it and is in a
sustained and collective state of denial. Most Germans have never heard of

         One prosecutor and his Attorney General boss disagree and
begin the long drawn out process of holding individuals and a nation
accountable for the death camps. The lesson here is far more profound than in
the Spielberg slick reels of Bridge of
. It is that an entire nation can conveniently forget what happened at
Auschwitz or worse, act like it never happened at all or that it was made up despite
being only 13 years after the truth surfaced. It is the height of moral
relativism (“everyone was a Nazi”) and groupthink (“yes, including your
father”) that those who murdered in the name of the Third Reich very nearly got
away with it and some, like Josef Mengele, actually did.

         The lesson here is not about one good man fighting for
truth, justice and the American (or German) way. It is rather about how a
country can commit such evil and immediately shift into denial in the hope of
avoiding any accountability. (Think Richard Nixon or Donald Trump).

         I would like to stay on the latter for a moment.

         Some day, hopefully in the not too distant future, those
running MD Anderson now will be held to account for what they did and how they
did it. Even if they do cure cancer, a very doubtful proposition, the pain and
anguish they have caused good people with their misbehavior cannot be and
should not be denied and surely not excused. Those who are cooperating with
them now will be called to answer for their actions or lack there of. Those who
resist shall be the righteous though they be jobless.

         Am I stretching my analogies too far?

         Only time will tell.

Leonard Zwelling