bon_pan saidGoing through Checkpoint Charlie, I used to lie in the back window area of our spacious Buick and stick my tongue out at the border guards. One time Mom noticed and almost had a heart attack. What? I was two or three years old...
The creepier one was Checkpoint Bravo. It's little remembered now that the US had 3 checkpoints, alphabetical from left to right on a map oriented to the North. Checkpoint Alpha was at the border of democratic West Germany and communist East Germany. Exactly 103 road miles further east was Checkpoint Bravo, at the entrance to West Berlin.
It's also forgotten that Berlin was entirely inside communist East Germany. Within the city itself was the iconic US Checkpoint Charlie, where the city was divided by the Berlin Wall.
When I would drive my car from West Berlin to West Germany (our nickname for it was "the zone") I had to go through our own Checkpoint Bravo, and then on to a Soviet checkpoint, reserved purely for military & diplomatic travelers.
Ordinary West Berliners had to go through an East German checkpoint. But the US government and the other Allied powers of France & Britain refused to recognize the legitimacy of East Germany, and we'd only acknowledge Soviet authority derived from post-WWII agreements. We were given our own Soviet checkpoint to leave the city.
Only one car in each direction was permitted at a time to enter the checkpoint. Gates would drop after you, and there were also concrete slabs in the pavement that could be raised to block you in.
You went inside a small wooden building, where there was a tiny opening on one interior wall, with a shelf. You placed your ID and your "flag orders" on it, and shortly a hand reached out and pulled them inside. With no windows you saw no one.
You sat down, where a coffee table had magazines featuring articles about the Red Pioneers, and other propaganda. A huge portrait of Chairman Leonid Breshnev in the uniform of a Soviet Field Marshall was on the wall. You waited about 20 minutes.
In the meantime a young Soviet soldier was marching all around your car outside. Many of them were Ukrainians, so if my wife was a passenger she was talking surreptitiously with them (they weren't supposed to speak to us), knowing perfect Ukrainian.
The routine was to place items on the back window shelf, and dashboard, like blue jeans, and Playboy magazines, Bic lighters, all kinds of highly valued goods. The soldier in turn would point to something, and then to something on his uniform, or that he pulled from his pocket.
These would be the badge (flash) on his bear cap, his belt buckle, all kinds of military items. All of this was forbidden by both our armies, but we all did it.
And so while I'd be inside the shack twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my papers to be returned, my wife would be trading with some young kid. And gawd they were young, I doubt most of them had reached their 20s yet.
And I'd think to myself: "If we go to war, I don't wanna kill you. And you're gonna hafta try to kill me in turn." How stupid is that? But that's the profession we're in (I was a 29-year-old Captain, close to Major), and both of us had our jobs. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Yet still today, if back in uniform (an impossibility I would dearly love), I would not hesitate to slaughter my country's enemies on the battlefield, regardless of their age. I'm not sure how this flaw in my character arose.