The 100th Red Balloon
This is what we’ve waited for
This is it boys, this is war
The President is on the line
As 99 red balloons go by…
The so called spy balloon that’s all the rage has helped me understand why elderly people tend to riff on old time stories like some of their rock star commrades on guitar.
40 years ago, in 1983, the song ‘99 Red Balloons’ by German pop band Nena played constantly. The US-Soviet ‘Cold War’ was in full swing, thanks in large part to President Ronald Reagan (AKA Ray-gun), a former B-movie actor who brought his cowboy persona to the White House.
Reagan succeeded the 39th US prez Jimmy Carter, who was probably the most decent and ethically sound individual to hold that office in my lifetime. Unfortunately he didn’t suit our collective temperament, and when Reagan rode into town, fully armed with mock anger and an assortment of humble brags, he put us on the course that brought us to where we are today.
The Russians considered Reagan a hard line, war-mongering extremist. US liberals* saw him as a bad actor — in every sense, and a mistake prone clown.
But it was his tough guy image combined with a simplistic, US-centric world view that appealed to blue-collar Democrats**. That support added to his strong Republican base made Reagan one of the most popular chief execs in modern times. Not so much outside the US, where his quirks both amused and terrified onlookers.
On the morning of August 11, 1984, while testing his mic, prepping for the weekly radio address, Reagan made a joke that mildly amused the locals, but almost triggered the apocalypse according to Soviet news reports:
“My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”
It seems he didn’t realize it was a live feed, so while Ronnie chuckled affably, the Soviets mobilized for war. Some modes of humor don’t survive translation and cultural divides.
As a result, late summer 1984 brought a resurgence of that 1983 hit song, 99 Red Balloons!
*People who identified as Liberals during this period no longer exist. Those who are still alive have shifted priorities and now focus on social issues and avoiding physical contact with other humans.
**Blue collar Dems eventually switched to Republicans before transforming into MAGAs