The Cold War was a fascinating time in US history: it spanned decades, presidents, and other, more formal wars; it thrived on the public’s fear and the real threat of a potential war that never really happened; it was cloaked in such secrecy that we really don’t know all the details yet, even today. The Cold War’s seeds sprouted during the early years of the Soviet Union, but gained strength after WWII as the USSR grabbed power and spread its Communist ideology throughout the world. As it wasn’t an official war, there were no military medals, and despite the lives lost there’s no memorial — but the threads of the Cold War tie together a huge chunk of 20th century history, from the Korean War to Vietnam to Oliver North to the downfall of the Berlin Wall.
Shortly after the Wall came down, advertisements appeared in the backs of every conceivable magazine selling certified chunks of the Berlin Wall. I actually got to touch one — a high-school teacher had gotten a small chunk and brought it to class one day. They’re still sold and traded on sites like eBay; the wall was 96 miles long, and although much of it still stands (‘removal’ of the wall was largely symbolic of the removal of guards along the wall), plenty of tons of concrete were available from the destruction of the parallel walls on each side of the border. This isn’t to say that any chunk of concrete claiming to be part of the wall must be from it. The premium for purchasing a part of the Berlin Wall comes from certification and provenance. As with all ‘found’ collectibles, certification is a must. Some, like the piece to the left, have markings that make it more distinct or carry more history — but many of the pieces are simple gray concrete chunks. Quality and size vary greatly, and price may or may not be proportional — so if you’re shopping for a piece of the Berlin Wall it is wise to shop around.
As a kid who spent his allowance at Radio Shack whenever possible, the CIA’s radio programs have a soft spot in my heart, propaganda be damned. An attempt to undermine the hold of Communism in Eastern Europe, Congress established Radio Free Europe, staffed by Americans under the watchful eye of the CIA, to issue ‘soft’ propaganda promoting democracy and the American way. Eisenhower called it the Crusade for Freedom, an umbrella term for all the propaganda in the region. The logo you see to the right (from a print block I once owned, and then sold to a Cold War museum curator) is made up of the hallmarks of the “Crusade for Freedom” — the ‘Freedom Bell’ in the central circle was forged as a symbol of the Crusade, and is located in Berlin. Surrounding the bell is the phrase, “That This World Under God Shall Have A New Birth Of Freedom“. The two quotes on the left and right are “HELP TRUTH FIGHT COMMUNISM” and “JOIN THE CRUSADE FOR FREEDOM”. The first one is a common catchphrase for the Crusade, while the other appears to be for recruitment purposes. In 1950, US citizens were urged to sign “freedom scrolls,” petitions that accompanied the Freedom Bell to Berlin. I believe that this print block was used in newspapers or flyers, encouraging the citizens of Wisconsin to sign the scrolls. Recordings of broadcast, if they were kept, would be considered public domain under US laws, but I haven’t found any at this time. The CIA’s actions weren’t entirely wave-carried; pamphlets were dropped from planes or carried by balloon into Communist-controlled countries, the programs published documents to gain support Stateside, and their own instructional and informative books are still around.
Whether used in the US or abroad, the propaganda (whether it is true or not) produced a lot of recorded materials, the kind of stuff ephemera guys like me love. Civil Defense and Civil Air Patrol training booklets and paraphernalia are available in many forms and formats — while less frequent, finding things like hardhats and geiger counters with “CD” triangle logos on them is still possible. I also once had a stack of the “Fallout Shelter” radiation signs that sometimes still adorned the entrances to the sturdiest buildings in your downtowns. The public fallout shelter program ended in 1992, so these signs are both becoming rare but accessible because any that are left are surplus and not needed. If you work in a building with them still up, a friendly building-maintenance person might welcome the chance to remove the unsightly sign and give it a new home.
As the Cold War was largely a cultural war, its tendrils were in all sorts of other forms. Magazines were full of stories of US/Russian relations. The ad on the right warns against giving our children a country where businesses are controlled by the government, preying on anti-socialist fears. One of the biggest fears — nuclear weapons — spawned book after book theorizing and fictionalizing what actual application of nuclear power would cause. Scientific theorists, from the Space Race to the Arms Race, designed and produced all sorts of technologies designed to protect us from the Reds, or one up the USSR. The result was an era of information meant to run a wedge between us and the other largest world power at the time — a competition that seems almost quaint today, but retains a poignancy that deserves to be acknowledged and remembered.