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Ground Zero of the Cold War is right in Stephen Harper's 'hood

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Igor Gouzenko, circa 1945

Being in Ottawa this week as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minions tried to recreate the Cold War on many fronts, I thought to honour the strategy of our fearful leader by making a little pilgrimage down to Ground Zero of the real Cold War, the one between Team NATO and Team Warsaw Pact.

How many of you, dear readers, remember that the first skirmish of the Cold War was fought on a dreary block of Ottawa's Somerset Street on Sept. 5, 1945, just three days after the official end of the Dubya Dubya Two?

It was in a second-floor walkup at 511 Somerset where Igor Gouzenko, a low-ranking cipher clerk in the Soviet Embassy, lived with his wife and their infant child. Most low-level Soviet diplomatic families like the Gouzenkos had to live communally so that Embassy staff could keep a watchful eye on one another. Fortunately for the Gouzenkos, given the game that was afoot, legend has it their baby was so colicky they were given special permission to live on their own.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost… Of such little things is history made!

Ottawa was not exactly a happ'nin' place in the fall of '45 -- still isn't, as a matter of fact -- but it must have looked good compared to Moscow at the time. At any rate, Gouzenko gathered up the elements of personal exit plan, the files he hoped would prove his employers were spying on their allies of a few days before plus a couple of code books for good measure, and headed home to his dreary flat on Somerset Street.

On Sept. 5 he was famously turned away by the RCMP, then even more famously by the night editor of the Ottawa Journal, and finally had to hide his family out across the hall in the neighbour's apartment while the NKVD or some similarly sinister Soviet agency kicked down his door and ransacked the place until the Ottawa cops turned up.

Think about that too, when you contemplate the Cold War. Its first battle with the predecessor of the mighty KGB was apparently won by a couple of ill-tempered Ottawa Police constables.

Well, whatever secrets Gouzenko brought with him when he finally talked the Canadian authorities into listening to him the next day, it obviously suited plenty of folks here in the West to have a great ideological battle with the Soviets, and what started small on Sept. 5 continued in quite a big way on quite a lot of battlefields until the USSR was officially dissolved on Christmas Day, 1991.

As Patrick McGuinness entertainingly observed in his Romanian adventure The Last Hundred Days, which won the Man Booker Prize for 2011, "the communists abolished God but they kept the theology. They knew it would come in handy when they cocked up. At least God had an excuse for screwing up -- he doesn't exist. These bastards most certainly do."

But, back to the future, which is the present, what's a guy like Harper going to do to distract attention from his own shortcomings now that the Commies don't exist any more either? After all, generating fear is the guy's whole shtick!

That's where the New Cold War comes in -- even if it's starting to be fought on so many fronts it makes our well-mannered little Canadian heads spin.

There are the Iranians, the Syrians, the Taliban and the Pirates of the Mediterranean. According to Harper's personal ideological Praetorian Guard, the Online Tory Rage Machine, there are "far left parties" (like what, the Liberals?), the "Socialists" (who they?), the Chiquita Banana Company, foreign criminals and other offshore riff-raff, all subject to the portentous rhetoric that brings back such fond memories of the good ole, bad ole, cold ole Cold War.

And now there's the biggest threat of all -- as was said in this space the other day, the greenest menace since the Fenians invaded -- foreign environmentalists.

By God, as Winston Churchill might have said, a Macrobiotic Curtain is descending across our continent! A legion of Birkenstock wearing tree-huggers, their scruffy pockets stuffed with $5 and $10 donations from unsuspecting Americans, is ready to storm across and border and … what? Lobby politely? We're not too sure actually. But it's bound to be bad!

Don't they understand that it's only foreign oil companies who are allowed to spend big bucks on public relations in Canada, so that the Canadian government can use our tax dollars to lobby the U.S. government to build pipelines to ship Canadian jobs to Texas?

Anything else wouldn't be the Canadian way!

These are our jobs to expert to Texas and Tangshan and no tofu-breathed American environmentalist is going to tell us any different!

So welcome to Canada's New Cold War. This one's sure not to be as engaging as the last one, but as Donald Rumsfield might have said, you've got to pump up your troops with the war that you have!

As surely Harper knows, the War of 1812 is all very well, but the Cold War has to be more appropriate for what he has in mind.

And that old apartment on Somerset where the Cold War started? It looks like it's a cinch for the wrecker's ball any day now. If the prime minister is really at the top of his game, he'll put in a call Monday to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and slap a plaque on that sucker!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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