Bridget Kendall on the Cold War

In the wake of the Skripal poisoning, the release of Bridget Kendall’s book, The Cold War: A New Oral History is certainly timely. When she joined Oliver Bullough today at Hay, she considered the Cold War from the point of view of a modern audience, addressing the question of Trump, the future of Russian and the nature of living history.  

Kendall tells the tale of an ideological war from a human point of view. Combining testimonials from those who lived through the war with facts, figures and visuals, she traverses a complex landscape in which Communism flourished and faltered, society lived in fear of missiles and youth movements campaigned on Greenham Common.  As a former BBC journalist, Kendall lived through a lot of it. “I had a sense of the Soviet Union as a bigger space,” she said, sharing stories about her time in Lithuania, Poland and Armenia. Throughout the talk, she punctured her responses with references to marker points in the 20th century war, padding out a nuanced context so often misunderstood.

“When you’re in the eye of the storm, often you know least of all,” she said, outlining how importance distance is in order to be able to understand the dynamic of an historic war. For Kendall, it’s about pattern-spotting and drawing parallels in order to understand how timing, mood and individuals feed the trajectory of a conflict. Despite what certain leaders might intend on changing, she said that they have to be sensitive to the vox populi of a nation.

In order to research her book, she looked to the archives for human experiences. “Children are terrific witnesses,” she said, drawing on examples of Cuban girls who had little to no understanding of the circumstances in which they lived. 

When quizzed about Russian interference in a post-Cold War world, Kendall said, “We’re in quite a complex world.” She expanded on the historical importance of Western influence in early 21st century Eastern uprisings such as the 2011 Moscow protest that was supported by Hilary Clinton.

She suggested that any interference from the Kremlin in American elections might be as a result of the tit-for-tat nature of so many conflicts. “Whether it was to deliberately put Trump in the White House,” she said of the Russian interference, “I very much doubt.”  Instead, she said, Russia probably intended to weaken any future Clinton-run governments.

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