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The National Cold War Exhibition - Icons of the Cold War era. 02/07/2009


Silent Power : The National Cold War Exhibition .

                                        Remembering these times...

Part two : fourty years of intense and iconic moments are exhibited inside the RAF Cold War Exhibition Cosford Hall. This divided world ended in 1991. Pieces of the Berlin Wall are now historical artefacts as most Central Europe countries are now part of the European Union. It now looks rather strange as so many people died trying to cross borders between Eastern and Western Europe.

'From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent'. (Sir Winston Churchill).

Though it is part of the RAF Museum Cosford, the National Cold War exhibition is not an aviation hall only. It also depicts the ways of life on both sides of the Iron Curtain, with cultural and social aspects. These faces of that era are detailed through large panels. As soon as the Berlin Wall was erected on August 13th, 1961, - starting with a barbed wire fence, before the full wall was completed... - the symbol of those two separate worlds became the wall itself. But earlier in 1946, other words depicted the new international tensions born from the end of World War II : the Iron Curtain, thanks to Sir Winston Churchill who declared in his speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Misssouri, on March, 1946 that : ' from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent '. A real piece of the Berlin Wall with authentic grafities is exhbited. I think J.F. Kennedy was ' a Berliner ' as he said in his famous June 26th, 1963 speech...
After all, from its origins, the Cold War had to produce these blasting words, cultural symbols, propagandas, films, symbols, pop music and other products that would enable populations to feel ' protected ' in a new world order. Apart from what is exhibited, I do have my personal analysis. Fears of a nuclear war became common themes in new pop music such ( culminating with the Beatles, etc...) who opposed to the official western governments decisions or propagandas, and later protested against again the Korean and Vietnam wars. I think Pop art was even more typical of that period state of mind. Andy Warhol had used J.F. Kennedy's iconic photographic portraits to produce one of his famous multi colours mosaics. Another culture born with that era were comics such as Roy Lichtenstein's style.
All those are aspects of these troubled times that come to my mind, but other examples are depicted in that RAF Museum :; then you'll have to go there and see these treasures, so as to remember all the vynil records you have heard once you've been a child. One of these was : ' this is the end ' , as sung by The Doors, or at least we thought this was the end..., but thanks to the ' detente ' with Michael Gorbatchev and Georges Bush..., the end never happened.



The real dream may have been to see the Wall collapsing so as to become united against and unknown agressor...

Being a photography and cinema specialist as well, I was amazed to read in the exhibition how prolific were Space and Science Fiction productions during the 1950s and 1960s. It is amazing to think that apart than ' Dr. Strangelove  ' (1963) , few fictions were produced during these times featuring military themes and WW III battlegrounds ... It seems only spy stories - that were part of the strategy between East and West - really told a few aspects of these strategies. Best examples are ' From Russia with love ' James Bond film (1963), or the Third Man (1949) . Amazingly there was no production showing a war between the two blocks. But in 1953, Paramount Pictures produced Byron Haskin's film ' War of the Worlds ' showing the world invaded by martians. In fact the western feared invasion by the ' East ' was depicted with UFOs striking the Earth. Even more strangely is that in the ' War of the Worlds ' , archive WWII films are used to show allied forces from the entire world united to defend the Earth. So the real dream may have been to see the Wall collapsing so as to become united against and unknown agressor...


The Space race was the sole real battleground for the two super powers.

Consumers are also part of the Exhibition, such as cars. But interestingly enough were all these airplanes scattered and suspended in the hall, so I just felt like a kid walking in a big ' Airfix ' box of kits. And perhaps to british people - and to other europeans as me - ' Airfix ' was the iconic brand of the Cold War era toys, not only as its catalogue contained all RAF types of the times, but also the MiGs that are exhibited in that Museum. Even more strangely enough is that brand as many consumer brands - that were success stories of these times - are in crisis with globalisation.
It was also the end of the greatest legends of the race for Space conquest. The Space race was the sole real battleground for the two super powers during the Cold War. Russians won the first part of that race, with hidden Koroliev Space Program, but the US won the Moon with Apollo. Nowadays we are still not sure that Gagarin, was the first man launched into space. It is interesting to point out that according to new sources, one or two soviet missions may have failed before Gagarin, with russian heroes who died and were kept in secrecy. It is been reported many times that a first astronaut died in a first launch that was kept hidden ; then Vladimir Iliyushin may have been launched on a second attempt, but the flight was aborted before he reached space just ashe may have faced the same fate in his Vostok spaceship. Vladimir Ilyushin denied having been launched before Gagarin but there are still strong claims in space history that he did. Anyway Youri Gagarin finally was the first to reach orbit - but maybe as a third attempt ...
Of course these points are not displayed on the exhibition's panels. It only proves that the Cold War era may still own its secrets and surely, we will know more in the near future on US and Russian triumphs and tragedies.  Unfortunately this impetus to go further in Space exploration is no more. With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, it seems that millions of citizens do not feel at ease our current Global World order, and twenty years after the ' detente ' , I am amazed to hear so many people in so many European countries I visit, how they find that ' things were better before... ' .


Kennedy was ' a Berliner ' as he said in his famous June 26th, 1963 speech...


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