Andrew Hunt

May 27, 2022

We Begin Bombing in Five Minutes

Late Cold War Culture in the Age of Reagan

University of Massachusetts Press 2021

Ronald Reagan’s hagiography has created an entire mythology around the 40th president of the US; anticommunism and the fight against the ‘Evil Empire’ are the central tropes of the Reagan story to this day. The culmination of this narrative arc is the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event which is still routinely attributed to Reagan and, particularly in conservative circles, and hailed as the ultimate validation of American political models and of American values.

But the historical reality of the 1980s was far from ideologically monolithic. Andrew Hunt’s We Begin Bombing in Five Minutes: Late Cold War Culture in the Age of Reagan (University of Massachusetts Press, 2022) paints a nuanced picture of the complex social and cultural landscape of the United States during Reagan’s two terms. The country was in turmoil, bitterly divided over the meaning of its recent past (from nostalgia for the 1950s to the trauma of the Vietnam War) and over the direction of its future. It was rocked by street protests fueled by a rebirth of activism comparable to that of the 1960s. It witnessed the rise of fringe conspiracy theories, of popular opposition to U.S. involvement in Central America, and of widespread anxieties over nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Hunt’s book captures, in fascinating detail, the enormous pushback to the anticommunist rhetoric of the Reagan regime from citizens, activists, and artists, and the role that American popular culture—from music, to television, to film— played in reflecting, and sometimes influencing, the dynamics of the age.

Oana Godeanu-Kenworthy is Associate Teaching Professor of American Studies at Miami University of Ohio. Her book, Between Empire and Republic: America in the Colonial Canadian Imagination, came out in 2022. Twitter: @OanaGodyKenw. Oana’s webpage.

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