Henning Mankell’s second Kurt Wallander mystery, The Dogs of Riga, finds our hero, a Swedish police officer, trying to solve a crime in Latvia. Don’t ask. Remarkably thin explanation for why a Swedish police officer would be running around covertly in Latvia trying to solve a crime. The story wasn't bad once you lump it into the Ludlum-esque genre of “This is so absurdly implausible, I’ll just think of it as an alternative reality where things like this happen” and then go along for the ride. One hopes the authors of books like this know that their plots are absurdly unrealistic, but alas, one suspects this is some sort of fantasy life for authors in which the hero is standing in the for author’s fantasy of being himself a better version of James Bond if only fate had not been so cruel and condemend him to being a writer of fantasy novels..
So, as a novel, perfectly acceptable schlock fiction. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading perfectly acceptable schlock fiction if it is done well—and this book was done well for that genre. Mankell writes better than the average schlock fiction writer.)
But, the setting of the novel was Nostalgia City. Latvia here is 2001 Latvia. The Soviet Union has just disintegrated, and Latvia is in the midst of struggling to figure out if it is going to remain a police state or not. Lots of old-style Soviet oppression going on in this novel. In other words—this is a Cold War novel set as the Cold War was dying. Ah, the good old days when there were villains in this world.
Except that the Good Old Days are back, but for reasons I cannot fathom, nobody seems to be noting. And I am not talking about Russia and the Ukraine here—which has perfectly obvious Cold War overtone. (Hey President Obama—The 80’s called: The Cold War is back in fashion.)
I am more puzzled by the way we are discussing what has been euphemistically called The War on Terror. It’s not terror we are fighting here. It is a particularly nasty, large and growing number of people with beliefs that result in things like beheading people and flying planes into skyscrapers and setting off bombs at marathons. That part doesn’t puzzle me: there are lots of evil people in this world. What puzzles me is this: After the skyscraper incident, we decided it might be a good idea to go do something about this, so we sent our military out and did something. Then, we apparently got tired of doing something , so we stopped doing anything. Now people are being beheaded. And we are doing what exactly to stop this?
Where did we ever get the idea that a war against the type of people who fly planes into skyscrapers and kill people watching a marathon and behead journalists would be a war that lasted a decade or so and then we can all just go home and have a nice party or something? Imagine we had taken the same approach with the Soviets. Long about 1955, we get tired of the whole thing and go home. The world looks really different today. It’s a good thing we settled in for a 60 year war.
Why is it so implausible to imagine the same thing happening here? Does anyone really think that those Islamic State types are going to vanish from the earth in the next year or two? Does anyone really think we won’t be fighting those types of people in a decade? Or two decades? It seems pretty obvious that this is a battle we are either going to be fighting for quite some time or we are going to lose. And losing here—well that isn’t a very pretty world—maybe we don’t want to do that.
But, to fight a 60 year war, we are going to have to stop trying to declare victory and come home. In the Cold War, we had large numbers of troops stationed in Germany and South Korea for decades. We fought active wars in Korea and Vietnam and Central America. We funded allies all over the world and tried to destabilize enemies. We used covert operations and tried to kill heads of state. It was a long, involved war. And we won. Ad the world is better for it.
Isn’t it time we got serious about Cold War II?