All the time I was growing up, the bad guys in America had been Russians. We had to defeat the Soviet Union or, in the end, the Soviet Union would take over America. The Russians had become our enemies after World War II. Before the Russians, the bad guys had been the Germans and the Japanese. They were the enemy during my toddler years.
The thing about bad guys is that they all looked and acted like bad guys. They were sinister and ugly. They sneered, they scowled. They moved in quick, jerky motions, sometimes clicking their boots together with a clunk. They had enormous armies, and with the Russians anyway, they had the ability if they chose to use it to, with the push of a button, blow us and themselves off the face of the earth.
Everybody in America lived through these years pretty much scared to death that something terrible would happen—with the result being we could be wiped out.
Around 1991, however, the Soviet Union collapsed. The stern, stony looks were gone. The short jerky motions were gone. The monotones of the party line were gone. After the collapse, it was as if in coming over to the other side, the Russians had suddenly become human. They laughed, they cried. They were, it now seemed, just about as funny and interesting as anybody else. Even Vladimir Putin could put on a smile once in a while.
For about six or seven years after that, it seemed, a great weight got lifted from the back of my generation. Suddenly, we had no powerful enemy out to destroy us. But then, we did have an enemy come to the fore. They were the Muslim extremists, and although they weren’t powerful, they were vicious. They could blow up things. They could cut off people’s heads. They slashed throats and strapped bombs onto themselves to commit suicide while taking their enemies with them.
Oddly, unlike the Germans and the Russians, they espoused no agenda. They were just crazy, motivated by a perverse belief or something. The Germans and Russians had wanted world domination. The Muslim extremists wanted—we still don’t know quite what. But it goes on.
Honestly, I rather yearn for the 1990s. The Soviet Union was gone. The Muslim extremists were out there, but until about 1999, they did not have the muscle to affect us as a nation.
During that period, from about 1990 to 1999, our entertainment industry was without an evil enemy they could portray that could send us to our doom, so they decided to make do with Columbian Drug Lords. There were a lot of movies made about them during that era. They’d lose. They had no agenda, of course, and there weren’t that many of them. Also, other than machine guns, they seemed no more dangerous to the common man than the gangsters who my parents’ generation got to despise in the 1920s and 1930s.
I really liked the 1990s for that. It was a wonderful interlude. The Russians and Americans got together and slapped each other on the back. They held symposiums together about the Cuban Missile Crisis and how close that had all come. We embarked on a plan to build a space station. All seemed well with the world at that time.
Honestly, it was kinda fun.