Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Pack of Smokes Eased The Cold War

I my last post, "Healthy Train Stations" I told the story of my trip to Liberec in the Czech Republic on the first small unit military to military contact visit. One of the best benefits of that trip was to learn about things from those on the other side of the Cold War.

Historical Curiosity
One of our group was a bit of a history buff. He asked a lot of questions about what life was like during the Cold War in (then) Czechoslovakia. He asked one of the Czech officers rather pointedly, "Did you hate Americans during that time?" 

The Rest of the Story
The Czech officer told this short story. I'll tell it in first person as he did as best as I can remember it:

When I was a young soldier, I was assigned to a unit that was charged with watching the German border and to report any suspicious activity. One day I was hidden in a fox hole, under a bush, about 100 meters away from the border.
As I was watching the border, I saw two American jeeps on the German side of the line. They stopped opposite from me and were setting up some kind of equipment. I watched intently through binoculars so I could give a good report. 
I thought they did not know I was there. But, suddenly, two of the soldiers got into a jeep and started driving directly towards me. I was very nervous as they came closer and closer. Just as I was about to pick up the phone to report them, they stopped about 20 meters away. The soldier who was not driving stood up in the jeep, waved at me, and threw a pack of cigarettes towards me, which landed about a meter in front of me. He waved again, and they drove back to where their group was.
I knew they had seen me, there was no denying it. I climbed out of my fox hole, picked up the pack of cigarettes, lit one, and waved back at the Americans. Soon they all packed up their equipment and drove off.
That day I learned that soldiers are soldiers. There could be no animosity towards one soldier who was kind enough to give another soldier a pack of cigarettes. After that day, I had no ill feelings towards Americans.
Cigarettes For Peace
I was quite impressed by his story. It goes a long way towards showing how one, seemingly small, random act of kindness can go a long way.

That brings to my mind a question: How much faster the Cold War might have ended if we sent waves of B-52 bombers over the Warsaw Pact countries and carpet-bombed them with packs of smokes? That might be politically incorrect today given how much we know about the ills of smoking, but back then it might have been the bold move of a genius to ease international tensions.

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