Jacqueline Scott: Complexities of the Cold War

Name: Jacqueline Scott
Home University: Vanderbilt University
Summer 2014 Courses at DIS: The Enemy Within: Spies, Espionage, and the Cold War, Roskilde Festival: Community, Culture, and Creativity, The World of Vikings: Facts, Fiction, and Fantasy

When someone says Cold War, does Denmark immediately come to mind? It certainly didn’t for me until I began The Enemy Within: Spies and Espionage in the Cold War one week ago (a week which has flown by!). The course is a fast-paced, multifaceted exploration of the various vantages and fronts of the Cold War on macro and micro levels and dives into the culture of espionage and intelligence gathering. As many students in my class have agreed, the Cold War is almost a too complex subject to cover holistically in historical survey courses, so this opportunity to explore the profound ideological battle of the twentieth century from an alternative, non-American perspective is very special. I feel like my eyes have been opened to historical background that gave rise to the ideological tension between capitalism and communism, the complexities facing all sides, and the intricacies of intelligence gathering and ‘the blame game.’ Especially in lieu of the recent events in Crimea, the content is extremely important not only as a student but as a world citizen.

MissilesBut back to Denmark – why did it matter? Denmark was an exposed member of NATO being so far east yet had the distinct position of serving as a geographic bottleneck in the Baltic to all Warsaw Pact ships and planes traveling westward and proved a key asset for intelligence gathering. On our second day of class we visited the Stevnsfort Cold War Museum, once used by Danish Military as a secret defensive and monitoring hub. During the height of the Cold War, Danish military staff were prepared for attack around the clock, as Stevnsfort would have been a key Soviet target, and took constant surveillance of ships, planes, and radio frequencies. The fort was also equipped with heavy artillery and missiles. As our instructor Jørgen Brandsborg, a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Danish Navy and intelligence case officer, described – tension was very high. A nuclear-attack proof underground fortress was added in the 1980s consisting of 1.7 km of passages 18 meters below group.

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Our wonderful guide along with our instructors provided great insight in to the operations of the fort, and the underground fortress was especially fascinating. I was shocked by how important and influential Danish intelligence was during this time and what I’ve learned about the complexities among those nations nearest the Iron Curtain – a perspective perhaps not gained from across the Atlantic. Jørgen and Matthias Bjørnlund, our other instructor who is an expert archival historian, have a wonderful chemistry of shared knowledge yet different perspectives and push us to critically question information – a task especially important in the Cold War world of propaganda, espionage, and coercion. Of particular interest to me has been the gaining insight into perspectives that are more critical of American intentions and actions – Was the United States the actors or reactors? Was the Cold War inevitable or preventable? These larger questions mixed with vast exploration of intelligence gathering (CIA, OSS, KGB, Stasi . . . I’m learning more acronyms every day) fulfills DIS’s mission of learning in a holistically in non-traditional way.

The windy Baltic with Liamarie!
The windy Baltic with Liamarie!

Did I forget to mention that Mattias and Jørgen are wickedly knowledgeable and funny? Here is an assortment of my favorite quotes they’ve uttered – their own words and those of others.

“The enemy of our enemy is our friend.” (a general theme of Cold War relations)

“We’re in Europe – that’s where history comes from.” (One of Jørgen’s favorite lines)

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Churchill

“Terror is the quickest way to new society.” – Joseph Stalin

Photo credits to my talented friend and classmate, Liamarie Quinde!

One thought

  1. You present fascinating, timeless, and universal dilemmas…information accessibility within & beyond borders.
    A favorite read:
    Sweet Tooth
    Ian McEwan, 2012
    Knopf Doubleday
    320 pp.
    ISBN-13: 9780385536820

    In this stunning novel, Ian McEwan’s first female protagonist since Atonement is about to learn that espionage is the ultimate seduction.

    Cambridge student Serena Frome’s beauty and intelligence make her the ideal recruit for MI5. The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. England’s legendary intelligence agency is determined to manipulate the cultural conversation by funding writers whose politics align with those of the government. The operation is code named “Sweet Tooth.”

    Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is the perfect candidate to infiltrate the literary circle of a promising young writer named Tom Haley. At first, she loves his stories. Then she begins to love the man. How long can she conceal her undercover life? To answer that question, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage: trust no one.

    Once again, Ian McEwan’s mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love and the invented self. (From the publisher.)

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