The Prague spring and summer of 1968 was a powerful and distressing time. I was a military dependent child (aged 13) living in the Black Forest region of then West Germany. Our fathers (almost always men rather than women) were volunteers in the Canadian Armed Forces posted on NATO duty to defend the west against the might of the Warsaw Pact forces. At the time, the base I lived on had nuclear weapons delivered by F-104 aircraft which were tasked with attacking behind the enemy lines.
Throughout the year we listened to the Canadian Forces Network radio news and read the American military Stars & Stripes newspaper about the efforts, led by Alexander Dubček, of the Czechoslovakian people to overthrow the totalitarian repressive aspects of the Communist Party rule. Prague was close--just 6 hours by road, possibly just 20 minutes for a high-speed plane like the F-104. Physically close to us, but so far away because of the Iron Curtain brought down after the end of WWII. In late August, young people poured out into the streets to peacefully protest against the Soviet Union which had sent in their tanks and troops to repress a movement of solidarity and independence. It was an uninvited invasion--reminiscent of what we had been taught Hitler had done in the 1939 invasion of Sudetenland. The young people wanted the Soviets out so they could decide for themselves. Not even other Communist countries would support this raw power.
One sunny afternoon that summer, I sat on the steps of the base's movie house (we had our own theatre showing the latest films in English) with a school friend. I asked him "Do you think our fathers are going to war?". For me, that's why we were there in Germany: to ensure freedom to those who wanted it. I imagined that with all the military power we had, combined with the might of the Americans in Bavaria, and right on our side that it would be easy to save and protect those being killed and oppressed by the 'bad guys'. We reached no answer to that question that day and waited to see what would happen, which turned out to be nothing. Except the full suppression of freedom-bad guys win again.
These were people who wanted what we had. Surely we should do something? We faced the possibility of having to fight bad guys again, as the previous generation had fought against Nazis and Fascists. Little did I know or understand the long tradition of the west not interfering behind the Iron Curtain in face of uprisings in Hungary and Poland before. But we did nothing, but watch. I had watched the Beatles on black-and-white TV the previous summer singing 'all you need is love' and wished it were true.
Not in the military, but in the cold war. Not of Europe, but in Europe. Not under socialist control, but aware it wasn't always welcomed. On the other side, but on the same side of freedom.