The Cold War Folk Music Standoff

There was, of course, some concern about the massed ranks of Russian balalaika players on the Cold War borders. However, prompt action by a regiment of US rapid reaction banjo players countered the Soviet threat. Thus was one of the great Cold War standoffs brought to an end with only three casualties when one of the American banjos was played at some West German civilians by mistake.

Of course, this was only a probe by the USSR forces, because the Russian had regiments of folk musicians far in excess of anything the West could put in the field at the time. However, the Americans did possess a strategic advantage with the number of long-range bluegrass fiddle players they could launch from silos deep inside rural America. As well as the deadly Louisiana accordionists ready in their hardened folk music-proof bunkers, ready to threaten the Soviets with mutually assured folk music.

The British folk music deterrent at the time was mainly based in Scotland, where a squadron of bagpipers was on constant standby deep within the Scottish glens. The bagpipers were constantly on the move, while keeping both bagpipe and radio silence. All ready to launch themselves deep into Soviet territory once they received the Go signal. Then the bagpipers would rain down – it was hoped – on Soviet cities, other populated areas and military command and control centres. All spreading their deadly traditional tunes far and wide across a great swathe of the Russian heartlands.

Back in those days there was a strong anti-folk music lobby in most Western countries. Many felt that the Western powers had greatly exaggerated the threat of Russian folk music. There were claims that the number of medium-range Balalaikas was far less than the hysterical numbers estimated in NATO figures. Meanwhile the Russians themselves claimed to have only battlefield treschyotka of limited range and destructiveness.

Although, no-one outside the Western military intelligence services was aware of the Russian Svirel Special Forces capability. According to Soviet doctrine, these would infiltrate behind enemy lines and into Western command and control systems. They would deploy should the Soviet military detect an increase in East-West tension that would precede an all-out war.

Of course, the British government had handed out civil defence instructions to the population. This was mainly instructions on how to build their own anti-balalaika shelters should the worse come to the worse. There were even squads of civil defence volunteers, armed only with WWII-era tambourines. These volunteers were charged with reorganising local government and dealing with the massive casualties expected from a Russian intercontinental Balalaika attack.

However, despite all the dread, the fear and a number of close shaves – some of which are still classified – the Folk music war never did break out. Many claim it was just a matter of luck, saying that the world was constantly on the brink of a folk music conflagration. A great many believed all-out folk music exchange was inevitable. All feared a war that would destroy not only civilisation, but also humanity itself and – possibly – even all life on Earth.

Others claim it was the very fact of the sheer horror of what an unrestrained folk music attack could do, that kept the peace. Each side was too scared of the response of the enemy ever to contemplate first use of a folk music instrument in anger.

However, like most counterfactuals in history, we will never know the answer for sure. But we should be grateful now that folk music instruments are now only ever used for mostly peaceful purposes. Although, we know the threat can never ever really go away.


Published by David Hadley

A Bloke. Occasionally points at ducks.

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