Karl Grossman - Investigative Reporter and Professor of Journalism

A New Cold War

A new Cold War has suddenly arrived.

And as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to a hot nuclear war. Guterres declared that Putin’s “raising the alert level of Russian nuclear forces is a bone-chilling development. The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.”

I spent much time last year completing a book, co-authored with historian Christopher Verga, titled Cold War Long Island.

I thought I was writing about the past.

Still, in 2020 The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its “Doomsday Clock” at 100 seconds to midnight with it defining midnight as “nuclear annihilation.” This was the closest to midnight since the clock was set at since it was created in 1947. It was kept at 100 seconds to midnight last year and again this year. “U.S. relations with Russia and China remain tense, with all three countries engaged in an array of nuclear modernization and expansion efforts,” said The Bulletin in January 2022.

And then on February 24th Russia invaded Ukraine.

Cold War Long Island was published in October 2021. Dr. Verga who teaches Long Island history at Suffolk County Community College and whose book World War II Long Island: Homefront in Nassau and Suffolk came out in 2021, asked me to co-author the successor volume. This was because, several decades older than he, I lived through, and as a journalist covered, various Cold War happenings on Long Island.

Indeed, as an elementary school student at P.S. 136 in Queens, I and the other pupils were issued dog tags to wear around our necks and were led in “duck-and-cover” exercises—ducking under our desks—regularly at school. The specter of nuclear war hung over our heads.

As a journalist, I covered the U.S. Army and Air Force having established nuclear-tipped Nike Hercules and BOMARC missile bases on Long Island. The plan: to fire the missiles at formations of Soviet bombers feared heading to New York City, detonating their nuclear tips which had the power and more so of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and blow the formations out of the sky. Much of the resulting radioactivity could fall out on Long Island—but in the Cold War period this wasn’t considered a big worry by the military.

I covered the case of Soviet spy Robert Glenn Thompson, interviewing him after his arrest and then guilty plea. Thompson, of Bay Shore, ran a fuel oil business in Babylon and otherwise conducted espionage for the Soviet Union. He gathered information about prospective targets in the New York Metro Area. This included taking photos which he passed on to his Soviet contacts. Previously he was in the Air Force working in an intelligence office in Berlin. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison but was released in a spy exchange after 13 years.

There was more including writing about the original mission of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center just off Long Island. Newsday investigative reporter John McDonald nailed this by obtaining through the Freedom of Information Act documents that told how, as he wrote, “A 1950s military plan to cripple the Soviet economy by killing horses, cattle and swine called for making biological warfare weapons out of exotic animal diseases at a Plum Island laboratory, now declassified army records reveal.” Facsimiles of documents were reprinted in Newsday including on its front page.

As for now, “The Impossible Suddenly Became Possible,” was the title of an article by Anne Applebaum appearing in last month’s issue of The Atlantic magazine. “Shifts that no one imagined two weeks ago are unfolding with incredible speed,” she related. “Few imagined that the Russian president’s sinister television appearances and brutal orders could alter, in just a few days, international perceptions of Russia.”

“Vladimir Putin’s paranoid ranting,” she continued, “has frightened even people who were lauding his ‘savvy’ just a few days ago. He is not, in fact, someone you can do business with (original italics), as so many in Berlin, Paris, London and Washington falsely believed; he is a cold-blooded dictator happy to murder hundreds of thousands of neighbors and impoverish his nation, if that’s what it takes to remain in power. However the war ends—and many scenarios are still imaginable—we already live in a world with fewer illusions.”

No one knows now the war will end. Will Russia’s brutal assault succeed or fail?

Either way, with Putin ruling Russia, at hand is a new Cold War, at least.