The so-called Cold War was “fought” by various countries in the West, most notably the United States, against the USSR and various other communist countries. In truth it was not so much a war as a lengthy standoff, which by most accounts lasted from the end of World War II until about 1990. Nowadays, the Cold War might seem something of a quaint curiosity, but at the time it was the cause of very real concerns, due in large part to the fact that the two superpowers each possessed large nuclear arsenals.
For the British, one of the concerns, as it was later revealed, was what would happen to supplies of tea in the event of a nuclear war. Of course, it’s safe to assume that this nation of tea lovers would have more serious issues to address if this terrible eventuality should actually come to pass, but it was a matter of some concern nonetheless.
There was actually some precedent for the concern about tea, given that supplies of the commodity had been disrupted in both world wars. During World War II and for about seven years after the British actually had to resort to rationing tea in the amount of two ounces per person per week. More about wartime tea rationing in a previous article that appeared at this site.
During the Cold War – and more specifically, during the mid-Fifties – British disaster planners speculated that in the case of a nuclear attack the nation might see a loss of up to 75 percent of its existing supplies, with considerable delays in importing additional quantities of tea. They concluded that under such conditions it wouldn’t even be possible to ensure that each citizen received a ration of one ounce of tea per week, which was half of the amount allotted during World War II.
The conclusion planners ultimately arrived at was a rather grim one. They simply stated that “no satisfactory solution has yet been found.” Which should have been obvious to anyone reading their report, which would have contained any solutions they had come up with. Fortunately the point was a moot one, as the Cold War eventually ran its course and expired quietly, with no nuclear conflicts to show for it.
For more about Britain’s Cold War tea panic (though the latter might be too strong of a word), including a peek at sections of the actual document, refer to this article at a Cold War history blog.
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