When I did my military service in the Swedish army artillery back in 1987, the term Warsaw Pact certainly was a very tangible threat. As we watched educational films of East German tanks, flanked with infantry in gas masks storming the battlefield at a blazing speed, this was very real and terrifying for a twenty-year old grunt. Our primary educational officer was a devoted military guy who was obsessed by the Warsaw Pact forces and the threat from the Red Army. I was learnt that the 24x7 alertness of the forces in the GDR allowed the first tanks to start rolling within one hour from the high command in Moscow. The doctrine of the Warsaw Pact was that a massive attack on the NATO countries before any substantial mobilization could be performed was the key to success. Within three weeks after the border between the German states was crossed, the Atlantic coast was to be reached. Massive usage of chemical- and nuclear weapons was to be expected, speed and no mercy was everything.
Fact or fiction, right or wrong, propaganda or not, the days of the Cold War posed a constant threat of the final apocalypse. Not like today’s more lukewarm threat of terrorism but more the sense of a single spark leading to the extinction of mankind within hours.
I must therefore admit that walking around in the ruins of military installations in the former GDR is a somewhat surrealistic experience. The experience is further enhanced by the Soviets leaving the scene bringing all the stuff with them – everything, just everything worth anything is stripped, leaving just empty skeletons, concrete and tarmac as remains.
Trying to fully grasp and recall the fact of the forces being active here, the threat, the weaponry and the trillions of dollars being wasted in this madness is just as impossible to try to remind my kids about what all this was about.