The Cold War, which kept the world on edge for 45 years after WWII, might be the war that gets overlooked the most. But make no mistake; it was a war and the threat of nuclear annihilation was very real. US forces around the world were combat ready for all that time, ready to defend their country, and the world for that matter, against the Red Threat. Virginia native and Charlottesville resident Jonathan Hine spent 24 years in the Navy and was part of the cat and mouse game between the world’s biggest nuclear superpowers.
“It was a silly war, but it was also very real. Staying combat-ready year after year is a stressful way to live,” Hine said.
Hine grew up knowing one thing for sure; he wanted to be in the Navy. Even at the young age of 5, he knew. His father was a Navy war veteran who served during WWII, Korea, and the Cold War.
“My mother put my dad on a pedestal. I wanted to be like him,” Hine said.
When he turned 9, Hine’s mom took her two sons to Italy to start fresh. Although Hine is a through-and-through American patriot, he considers Rome his hometown.
“I believe the place where you spend your adolescence is your hometown. For me, that is Rome.”
He came back to his home country at age 18, reporting for duty at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. A culture shock at first, because he had lost touch with most American customs. “I had no idea how many players were on a baseball team and I was completely oblivious to race relations in the US at that time.”
After graduating in 1969, Hine’s first assignment was on the USS Lawrence, a guided missile destroyer that was part of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.
“I was supposed to alternate sea duty every three years, but ended up at sea for ten years straight,” Hine recalled.
It was a time when the Cold War was at its height. Fueled by never-ending messages of pending doom from the United States government, things were tense, to say the least.
“We were meant to believe the Soviets were ten feet tall,” Hine said. “The United States had two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Mediterranean at all times,” Hine said. The Soviets had their fleet there as well. “Compared to other bodies of water, the Mediterranean was like a bathtub. We watched them and they watched us.”
The sentiment at the time, displayed in everyday life and in popular culture, was that if you weren’t with the US, you were a Communist, Hine explained.
"Vietnam was an expression of the Cold War from an American point of view. We inherited it from the French, but it was sold as 'containing Communism.'”
Perhaps due to his European upbringing, Hine did not see the Soviets as the advanced world power he was led to believe.
“We could see the enemy. Their fleet was rusting and in a bad state. They weren’t monsters, but seamen like us.”
Still, on a larger scale, the threat was real, especially since both world powers adopted the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction.
“It meant that regardless who launched the first nuke, the result would be nuclear devastation of both sides.”
The Cold War began to end, said Hine, when Pope John XXIII sent a message to both the Soviet and American governments during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. That message appeared in newspapers all over the world the next day. In his message he “begged the governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity and that they do all that is in their power to save peace”.
The Cold War finally ended when the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989. Hine had just hung up his uniform and started working at the University of Virginia.
“And soon after, the Soviet Communist experiment ended as well,” Hine said. “We had won the Cold War.”
Hine believes that veterans who served during those tense decades are often overlooked. “We are veterans too and our readiness is what finally brought the Cold War to an end without a major meltdown or nuclear battle.”
Hine said that his time in the Navy shaped him as a person.
“It defines me. Being combat-ready for so long becomes second nature. When I’m out and about, I’m always aware of what I can do if something bad happens. It’s how veterans are wired. We rely on our training. When something bad does happen, pray there’s a veteran nearby to help.”
Hine has been a writer and translator for several decades. He leads a more or less nomadic lifestyle, riding his bicycle in North America and Europe, working wherever there's an internet connection.