Wednesday, Nov 13th

Last updateTue, 12 Nov 2019 9pm

You are here: Home Section Table People Author Brian Brown to Read, "Someone is Out to Get Us: A Not So Brief History of Cold War Paranoia and Madness"
first
  
last
 
 
start
stop
first
  
last
 
 
start
stop

Author Brian Brown to Read, "Someone is Out to Get Us: A Not So Brief History of Cold War Paranoia and Madness"

BrianBrownScarsdale resident, journalist, writer and director Brian T. Brown has just published a new book about the Cold War, Soviet espionage and covert mischief, and how these helped shape the course of American pop culture. The 512-page book, “Someone is Out to Get UsA Not So Brief History of Cold War Paranoia and Madness” is published by Twelve Books and also available on Hachette Audio. Brown wrote and produced twelve Olympic broadcasts and has worked on some of America’s most-watched television shows. We last checked in with Brown when his documentary The Last Gold came out in 2016.

This week we caught up with him to discuss life in Scarsdale, the publication of his new book and a reading scheduled at Bronx River Books in Scarsdale on Wednesday November 6 from 6:30- 8 pm, and here is what he shared:

I assume you still live in Scarsdale. How long have you lived here? Tell us what you like about living here.

Yes, still live in Scarsdale … Moved here in 1999, with my wife, Maryellen, and then toddlers Marisa and Luke. In their early education, both kids benefited from wonderful teachers at Hitchcock Nursery School and Greenacres Elementary … Coming back from trips, I almost always notice – and appreciate – the multitude of magnificent trees in Scarsdale and the care and understated elegance so many homeowners devote to their gardening and landscaping. We are very lucky to have a world class botanist on our block, Phyllis Finkelstein, who is a genius of all things flora. I also enjoy taking long walks on the Bronx River Pathway while listening to my favorite “deep house” artist, Nora En Pure.

What inspired this book about the Cold War and paranoia?

In the spring of 2016, my book agent, Bob Mecoy, sent me an e-mail asking if I wanted to tackle the subject of Cold War paranoia. As Bob explained, the publisher of Twelve Books, Sean Desmond, was interested in having someone dive into the topic. In retrospect, Mr. Desmond was clearly clairvoyant. A return to the Cold War was about to become additionally resonant, though in the spring of 2016, the writing wasn’t yet on the wall for most of us. The dark anxiety of Cold War 2.0 had yet to descend. Hillary Clinton was the presumptive next president and Donald Trump was unapologetically using his short-staffed campaign to get the most amount of attention for the least amount of his own money. Only months later, and subsequent to Trump’s shocking victory, did our national security establishment seriously wonder if the forty-fifth president of the United States was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kremlin, and, in particular, beholden to the ex‑communist spy who judges the collapse of the USSR as the greatest tragedy of the twentieth
century.SomeoneIsOutToGetUsHC

What parallels do you see today?

Here are a few:

The Red Scare and McCarthyism was a case of Cold War GOP gaslighting to put Democrats on the defensive as soft on communism. Republicans knew they were overhyping the Soviet threat and also knew that scaring people can often be an effective political tool. McCarthy aide Roy Cohn was a key player in this "fake news" propaganda campaign and later became Donald Trump's chief educator in how to gaslight the public. Today’s GOP also know they are selling a fiction when they minimize Russian meddling in the 2016 election and, more recently, "All The President's Men" (Pence, Pompeo, Barr) are attempting to get our allies to help them concoct an alternative history of 2016, a counternarrative contending it was actually Ukraine that did the meddling and Hillary Clinton was the beneficiary. But, in a larger sense, Mr. Trump attempts to sell all kinds of fictions every time he speaks, or tweets.

The NBA came under fire from the People's Republic of China when the Houston Rockets general manager supported Hong Kong protestors. There has also been a good bit of discussion asking if we are about to enter into a Cold War with China. Here's one lesson I learned from research for the book: the greatest weapons the United States had in the fight with the Soviets came under heading of "soft power." Pumping jazz into the Iron Curtain was a powerful and bloodless weapon. Pushing the Soviets on human rights highlighted the illegitimacy of Soviet governance. As the U.S.-China rivalry inevitably intensifies, the greatest weapon the U.S. has is continuing to cultivate free expression and demanding universal human rights. The Chinese are more afraid of these intangibles than our military. Like the Soviets, the Chinese Communist Party governs by fear because they are scared that what is happening in Hong Kong will soon be happening in Beijing.

You could also say that Vladimir Putin is trying to get his revenge on the West. Putin hasn't gotten over losing the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall was particularly traumatic for him because he was stationed in East Germany when it happened and he had been a very happy camper while a KGB Colonel in East Germany – enjoying the beer, reliable German appliances, cleanly German neighbors. As a spy, Putin was also part of the privileged elite class in the USSR who effectively lived apart from a vast working class that was often on the verge of starvation. When Putin was told the tanks were not coming to save him (or communist East Germany), the moment was shocking and humiliating. Furthermore, the last days of the Soviet Union were a terrible clown show – with the Chernobyl nuclear accident and West German teenager Mathias Rust flying his Cessna from Finland to Red Square. Via Putin’s possible “puppet” in the White House, we appear to be witnessing his successful revenge, along with a return to the imperial ambitions of the deceased USSR.

During the Cold War, we also became more of a “first person singular” nation, as opposed to the “first person plural” of our founders, who started the Constitution with the words: We the People. We are still living with the lone cowboy, libertarian ethos that bloomed during the Cold War. The downside of this worldview prevented or delayed logical government-sponsored improvements in the safety net, in particular universal health care. But it also led to a demonization of non-military government activity as a whole and made a virtue of starving public works by drastically cutting taxes. Low taxes and lax regulations were somehow viewed as essential American "freedoms" as public education, food stamps and government health care were being slimed as socialism, if not communism. But, in truth, there was one bucket of U.S. government spending that did resemble the practices of the socialist Soviet Union. The creation of the trillion-dollar military industrial complex could reasonably be called the most expensive social welfare program of all time: jet and bombs and missiles with astonishing price tags were paid for by the state, developed in secret, with no requirement of profit, or any other market mandates.

Two more thoughts:

Scarsdale is also a town that loves books. One reflection of the scope and size of the town’s taste is in evidence every year at the Scarsdale Library Book Sale. I brought home 30 or so books from one of the recent sales that proved to be incredibly valuable sources in understanding the Cold War and the paranoia it fomented. For example, I came across the terrific memoir by Max Frankel, a Pulitzer Prize winner who began at the New York Times as a foreign correspondent behind the Iron Curtain and ended up as the paper’s Executive Editor. I also found a magnificent and massively researched overview of the United States by Harold Evans called “The American Century.” I would recommend it to everyone who has kids about to enter high school.

Finally …

… I want to invite everyone to a attend a reading and signing the new book “Someone Is Out To Get Us: A Not So Brief History of Cold Paranoia and Madness” on Wednesday November 6, at Bronx River Books (37 Spencer Place), from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Scarsdale Library.

Leave a Comment

Share on Myspace
first
  
last
 
 
start
stop