Foreign Policy

The Cold War Never Ended

Twenty years later, historians still can't figure out why the West won.

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The Year That Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall, by Michael Meyer, New York: Scribner, 272 pages, $26

The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War, by James Mann, New York: Viking, 416 pages, $27.95

We don't know the exact hierarchy of motives, but it is certain that Chris Gueffroy was willing to leave his family and friends to avoid conscription into the army. Considering the associated risks, it's likely that the 20-year-old was also strongly motivated to escape the stultifying sameness, the needless poverty, the cultural black hole that was his homeland. In his passport photo, he wore a small hoop earring, an act of nonconformity in a country that prized conformity above all else. But Gueffroy's passport was yet another worthless possession, for he had the great misfortune of being born into a walled nation, a country that brutally enforced a ban on travel to "nonfraternal" states.

On February 6, 1989, Gueffroy and a friend attempted to escape from East Berlin by scaling die Mauer—the wall that separated communist east from capitalist west. They didn't make it far. After tripping an alarm, Gueffroy was shot 10 times by border guards and died instantly. His accomplice was shot in the foot but survived, only to be put on trial and sentenced to three years in prison for "attempted illegal border-crossing in the first degree."

Twenty years ago this month, and nine months after the murder of Gueffroy, the Berlin Wall, that monument to the barbarism of the Soviet experiment, was finally breached. The countries held captive by Moscow began their long road to economic and cultural recovery, and to reunification with liberal Europe. But in the West, where Cold War divisions defined politics and society for 40 years, the moment was not greeted as a welcome opportunity for intellectual reconciliation, for fact-checking decades of exaggerations and misperceptions. Instead, then as now, despite the overwhelming volume of new data and the exhilaration of hundreds of millions finding freedom, the battle to control the Cold War narrative raged on unabated. Reagan haters and Reagan hagiographers, Sovietophiles and anti-communists, isolationists and Atlanticists, digested this massive moment in history, then carried on as if nothing much had changed. A new flurry of books timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of communism's collapse reinforces the point that the Cold War will never truly be settled by the side that won.

It is bizarre to revisit pre-1989 journalism and punditry on Soviet communism. The suffering of the bit players, those pitiable citizens stranded behind the Iron Curtain, was largely ignored in favor of larger political goals. If Ronald Reagan believed the Kremlin to be the beating heart of an "evil empire," many of his angriest critics believed, then Moscow couldn't be all bad. Writing in The Nation in 1984, historian Stephen F. Cohen hissed that, in a perfect world, "fairness would not allow us to defame a nation that has suffered and achieved so much."

Although uniformly anti-Soviet, some conservatives too were guilty of a Cold War–induced moral blindness, defending authoritarian governments in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Iberia as bulwarks against communist expansion. Columnist Pat Buchanan celebrated the authoritarian leaders Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Francisco Franco of Spain as "soldier-patriots" and referred quaintly to the racist regime in South Africa as the "Boer Republic." Others accused America's most anti-Soviet president of impuissance. As early as 1983, neoconservative writer Norman Podhoretz proclaimed that Reagan's policies toward the Soviet Union amounted to "appeasement by any other name."

When the whole rotten experiment suddenly failed, eventually bringing to an end not just Moscow's Warsaw Pact client governments but the proxy civil wars it fought in the Third World, instead of engaging in overdue self-criticism many commentators clung to shopworn shibboleths. In 1990 the academic Peter Marcuse, also writing in The Nation, bizarrely claimed that East Germany "had never sent dissidents to gulags and rarely to jail" and expressed outrage that the "goal of the German authorities is the simple integration of East into West without reflection," instead of heeding the pleas of the intellectual class who were at work on a more humane, less Russian brand of socialism.

The weeks and months following the fall of the Wall saw relentless worries, from left and right, about the corrosive influence of Western capitalism, consumerism, and commercial television on the untainted comrades of the Ost. The "prospect of rampant consumerism," CBS News reported in July 1990, "has East Germany's newly elected Christian Democratic Prime Minister, Lother De Mozier, worried." By 1993 Ukrainian National Self Defense, a right-wing populist movement that loathed Russian power, was rallying against the "Americanization of Ukraine through Coca-Cola culture." Even the famously anti-communist Pope John Paul II warned that "the Western countries run the risk of seeing this collapse of Communism as a one-sided victory of their own economic system, and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system."

When the "shock" of capitalism didn't jump-start the moribund economies of the East within a calendar year, many in the Western news media declared the entire project dead on arrival. In 1990 ABC Evening News told viewers that East Germany was already a "victim of an overdose of capitalism." In Southeast Poland, CBS reported, "the transition from communism to capitalism is making more people more miserable every day." Every new election, even in firmly Western-oriented countries such as Hungary and Poland, was greeted with scare stories about backsliding into communism, lurching into neo-Nazism, or both. Even some of the early 20th-anniversary retrospectives last summer trotted out the same familiar story lines, exponential gains in freedom and prosperity notwithstanding.

With the proliferation of "Old Hopes Replaced by New Fears" stories, the long-running intellectual battle over the Cold War retreated into the halls of academia, where the newly (and, it turned out, briefly) opened Soviet archives further undermined the accepted narratives about Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, I.F. Stone, and scores of other causes célèbres of the anti-anti-communists. Western intellectuals were more interested in Francis Fuku-yama's contention that we were witnessing "the end of history" than in who was most responsible for bringing that history to an alleged close.

But when that debate began to revive, it took up right where it left off in the 1980s: at the feet of the decade's most controversial figure, Ronald Reagan. To his legion of critics, Reagan was an unalloyed Cold Warrior, recklessly dragging America toward the precipice of nuclear confrontation and taking the credit that rightfully belonged to reform Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. This school of interpretation was influential enough that the anti-communist commentator Arnold Beichman, writing in Policy Review in 2002, accused liberal academics and pundits of "trying to write President Reagan out of history." But after the Berlin Wall fell, the pendulum swung the other way. Reagan's loyal foot soldiers have persistently argued, with some degree of success, that the inspirational rhetoric of the 40th president, in the words of Margaret Thatcher, "won the Cold War without firing a shot." 

No phrase is more associated with Reagan's presidency—and his lifelong crusade against communism—than his 1987 exhortation that Gorbachev, if he really believed in freedom, would come to Berlin and "tear down this wall." Reagan's national security adviser, Colin Powell, thought the line needlessly provocative; the State Department cautioned against "condemn[ing] the East too harshly." The day after the speech, which would become Reagan's most famous, Washington Post foreign policy columnist Jim Hoagland derided it as a "meaningless taunt" that history would surely ignore. Reagan's acolytes, on the other hand, would strenuously argue that the speech was, if not directly responsible for the events of November 1989, at the very least helpful and prescient.

Neither of these readings is accurate, argues journalist James Mann in The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War. While the Gipper loathed Soviet totalitarianism—his aide Ken Adelman commented that it was the "only thing he actually hated"—Reagan was, Mann argues, a pragmatist who rejected the more belligerent figures in the Republican foreign policy establishment and helped enable Gorbachev's reforms through engagement, not confrontation. 

That Reagan was more dovish than his contemporary critics would allow isn't a particularly radical argument, having been made previously by historians Paul Lettow and John Patrick Diggins and by former Reagan official Jack Matlock. And it is no longer controversial to claim, as Mann does, that Reagan was driven to the bargaining table by a combination of a deeply held revulsion for nuclear weapons and a gut instinct that Gorbachev was a different type of Soviet leader, a man Thatcher believed the West "could do business with."

While Reagan supporters often provide a simple narrative of the Soviet Union's collapse in which resolve alone won the Cold War, Mann's attempt at balancing the historical record leads him to ignore evidence that might muddle his thesis. For instance, he gives short shrift to the financial costs of Reagan's economic warfare—from the arms race to the embargo of the Soviet gas pipeline—that, according to Russian estimates, sucked billions out of the Soviet economy. Instead, he writes, it was "Reagan's willingness to do business with Gorbachev that gave the Soviet leader the time and space he needed to demolish the Soviet system." 

But were it not for the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the American-funded anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan, and a withering economy—events not seriously engaged by Mann—would Gorbachev have chosen the path of radical reform? The author of perestroika privately acknowledged that, unless concessions were made to Reagan, the Soviet Union would "lose because right now we are already at the end of our tether." And Mann comments, in passing, that Gorbachev was "eager, if not desperate…to work out agreements that would limit Soviet military spending." As historian Christopher Andrews and former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin wrote in The World Was Going Our Way, their accounting of Soviet operations in the Third World, Gorbachev inherited, and for a time continued, the "ruinously expensive flow of arms and military hardware to Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Syria, South Yemen, Ethiopia, Angola, Algeria, and elsewhere."

The idea that Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or "Star Wars," as it was derisively known) single-handedly bankrupted the Soviets, as commonly presented by the president's most partisan defenders, is, as Mann argues, almost certainly wrong. But it wasn't just the conservatives at Human Events who believed the SDI narrative. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn maintained that "the Cold War was essentially won by Ronald Reagan when he embarked on the Star Wars program and the Soviet Union understood that it could not take this next step." Gen. Nikolay Detinov, a high-ranking Red Army official and member of Soviet arms control delegations, admitted that "the American defense spending increase, SDI, and other defense programs greatly troubled the Soviet leadership." But it didn't necessarily bankrupt them.

Recent disclosures from Russian archives suggest that Soviet defense spending, which the CIA could only roughly estimate at the time (only four members of the Kremlin's inner sanctum reportedly knew the true numbers), did not increase significantly in response to SDI. This was perhaps because the system, so battered by the time Gorbachev took the reins of power, simply didn't have the money. 

Mann is surely correct that Reagan's instincts "were much closer to the truth than were those of his conservative critics." And he is also right that, contra those same conservatives, Gorbachev too deserves tremendous credit for opening, and therefore destroying, the Soviet system. But as Henry Kissinger—himself a fierce critic of engagement with Gorbachev at the time—later observed, the Soviet empire may have disintegrated on President George H.W. Bush's watch, but "it was Ronald Reagan's presidency which marked the turning point."

Mann writes that there is "no reason to think" Reagan opposed nuclear weapons upon entering the White House, putting the starting date of his conversion to antinuclearism at "late 1983." But Reagan expressed a deep dislike of nuclear weapons long before his presidency, a fact well-documented by historian Paul Lettow, and there is an obvious continuity between his liberal activism in Hollywood, during which he agitated against atomic warfare, and the 1986 Reykjavik summit with Gorbachev where, to the horror of his advisers, Reagan nearly surrendered America's entire nuclear arsenal. Michael Deaver, who worked for Reagan during his tenure as both California governor and president, later said that "even in those early years…he would say, 'That's our goal. We want to get rid of them altogether.'?"

The details of the Cold War are still disputed enough that a market exists for books claiming to hold the new key that unlocks the truth. Michael Meyer, a former correspondent for Newsweek and current flack for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, covered Germany and Eastern Europe during the waning years of the Cold War. In The Year That Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Meyer declares that his is the "largely unknown" account of the Cold War's end, finally "shorn of mythology." Meyer offers a combative, journalistic rendering of the events of 1989, bookended with warnings that the triumphalist (read: Reaganite) reading of the Cold War was "tragically costly," because "it was a straight line from the fantasy of Cold War victory to the invasion of Iraq."

This might be a unique, if unconvincing, theory of the Cold War's ultimate costs, but contrary to the book's subtitle there is little, if any, information here that makes for an "untold story." Nor is it easy to take The Year That Changed the World seriously when it is threaded with so many factual mistakes and dubious claims. Meyer asserts that the great post-communist film The Lives of Others, which dramatizes Stasi surveillance, is an example of Ostalgie (nostalgia for the East), when in fact Ostalgie was its target. Yuri Andropov, contrary to Meyer's claim, certainly did not see substantial "flaws in the Soviet system." It is risible to call East German novelist (and, it turned out, former Stasi collaborator) Christa Wolf a "dissident." Gorbachev's book Perestroika is hardly the "ultimate indictment of communism," considering Gorbachev's admonition that the world "must learn from Lenin" and keep on celebrating the October Revolution. The famous Berlin Wall mural of two Communist leaders kissing, skillfully used by the Hungarian opposition party Fidesz, is of East German President Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev, not Honecker and Gorbachev. The opposition movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia were hardly "nonexistent."

There are larger errors too. Meyer is right that President George H.W. Bush was often disengaged from the world-changing events unfolding in Eastern Europe, but he mangles the truth in making this point. While ignoring Bush's shameful address in Kiev warning Ukrainians against independence (famously dubbed his "Chicken  Kiev" speech by New York Times columnist William Safire), Meyer instead oddly mocks Bush's 1990 visit to Poland, when "at a reception in Warsaw, he regaled guests with a list of Polish baseball 'greats'…Stan Musial, Tony Kubek, Phil Niekro." Meyer adds that "as they followed the president around Warsaw and Gdansk, many reporters wondered whether he was fully in touch. Baseball greats?" What Meyer neglects to mention, besides any detail of the backroom diplomacy behind the trip, was that Bush's "reception" was a brief stop to visit 30 kids inaugurating Poland's first-ever chapter of Little League Baseball.

Meyer is exercised by the onerous Cold War "myths" that we all cling to, yet he never engages or identifies those who supposedly propagate them. He rightly denounces the America-centric view of Cold War history but barely mentions the pivotal role played by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in reunification. France's Francois Mitterand, Great Britain's Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II are similarly absent from the narrative. (As Polish dissident writer Adam Michnik later observed, "It will be a long time before anyone fully comprehends the ramifications of [the Pope's] nine-day visit" to occupied Poland in 1979.)

In place of the old myths, Meyer erects new ones: "For all the problems they faced…most East Germans had no desire to leave their country," he insists, "contrary to the impression fostered in the West. Many if not most were perfectly comfortable with the socialist system that guaranteed them work, low-cost housing and free lifelong health care and schooling." There is no source for this fantastical claim. That a certain measure of nostalgia for the East German dictatorship exists from a distance of 20 years is undeniable, but an opinion poll taken in 1990 showed that 91 percent of East Germans favored unification and, by definition, the dissolution of the "worker's state."

When a free election was finally held in Poland, Meyer writes, "Here and there, a fair-minded minded few appreciated that communists such as General Czeslaw Kiszczak and others had made [elections] possible." In Meyer's view, totalitarians deserve praise because, abandoned by Moscow, they ultimately buckled to mounting pressure from the independent trade union Solidarity. In essence, he is asking the abducted to thank their captors for allowing them to go free. Most Poles likely had feelings closer to those of Adam Michnik, who in 1983 wrote a letter to Kiszczak calling him a "disgrace to the nation and a traitor to the Motherland" and a "dishonorable swine."

In his epilogue, with its digressions on the second Iraq war, Meyer flagellates himself for a post-1989 article he wrote that had a "triumphalist tone," and he urges readers to ponder the wisdom of a Lewis Carroll metaphor: "The world is always partly a mirror of ourselves." As Meyer explains, "We see all things, enemies especially, through the lens of our own hopes and fears and desires, inevitably distorted." One wonders if Meyer believes the Soviet Union—responsible for the forced starvation of Ukrainians in the 1930s and for Stalin's bloody purge trials, to name just two of countless atrocities—deserves that notoriously crude yet ultimately accurate label, "evil empire."

Reagan, of course, had his flaws, as voluminously documented by scholars, enemies, and sympathizers alike. But Gorbachev, Time's "Man of the Decade" for the 1980s (unlike Reagan) and a Nobel Peace Prize winner (unlike Reagan), often escapes similar scrutiny. Meyer is more interested in score settling, pointing out that many hard-liners in the Reagan and Bush administrations, several of whom later joined George W. Bush's administration, misjudged Gorbachev's seriousness.

Gorbachev's economic reforms were vague and ad hoc, and they wound up being tremendous failures. His chief foreign policy aide, Anatoly Chernyaev, grumbled during glasnost that Gorbachev "has no concept of where we are going. His declaration about socialist values, the ideals of October, as he begins to tick them off, sound like irony to the cognoscenti. Behind them—emptiness." As historian Robert Service has observed, Gorbachev intended glasnost as "a renaissance of Leninist ideals," while his books "still equivocated on Stalin." He avoided repeats of 1956 and 1968, when the Soviet military ruthlessly cracked down on its restive satellites, but did send troops to murder residents of Vilnius, Tblisi, and Baku. As Mary Elise Sarotte observes in her new book 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, Gorbachev "had not sought to introduce completely democratic politics into the Soviet Union."

Both Mann and Meyer are correct that without Gorbachev, the end of the Cold War wouldn't have arrived so quickly. And Vaclav Havel is surely right when he argues that Gorbachev's "historical achievement is enormous: communism would have collapsed without him anyway, but it might have happened 10 years later, and in God knows how wild and bloody a fashion." But Mann's case is convincing that the man of the decade, the great peace laureate, destroyed the Soviet Union "unintentionally," not as an expression of any democratic desires.

It is difficult to accept heroic portrayals of those who were complicit in the mass enslavement and murder of their unwilling subjects. The Soviet Union's leaders, out of at least partial desperation, opened the door to democracy a crack, and their restless captives barged right through. On the other side they found VHS players, compact discs, supermarkets overflowing with fresh produce, press freedom, the hurly-burly of markets, multiparty democracy—and an army of fallible historians, journalists, politicians, and pundits, all desperate to prove that they had been right all along.

Michael C. Moynihan (mmoynihan@reason.com) is a senior editor at reason.

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  1. The Soviet Union collapsed because

    An economic system based on cronyism where businesses were rewarded for their political connections

    Massive spending for the military and subsidizing of allies military defense.

    A trade policy based on ideology even when its trading partners scammed the system

    Subsidies to politically powerful groups inside the country.

    Failure to generate real wealth to support the system

    A currency which was being wrecked by politically appointed bureaucrats.

    Oooooops, sorry that is my list on why the US is collapsing

    1. If the USA collapses like the Soviets did, it will be for the same reasons. Just like Rome, imperial China, and every other empire I can think of.

      -jcr

  2. Only problem with saying we won is that we have people in this country who want to repeat the Soviet experiment here. Look at the post about Newsweek saying that the U.S.S.R. friggin ruled!

    1. Bullseye. A great many of my close friends and others I know either escaped at unbelievable personal risk, or left after the fall, Communist nations to immigrate here to the USA. The spoiled brat useful idiots devoted to helping their masters shove socialism down America’s throat have no clue what it is they are helping build. My first half century was much spent standing in opposition to government taking my freedoms, now I have to spend the rest additionally opposing the up to 30% of the population that could be accurately labeled national socialist master planners.

      Well, too much invested to stop now. The government had no luck manipulating or pressuring me into conformity, and Lefty will have even less.

      Great article, Mr. Moynihan, kudos to you.

  3. The abridged version: Levi’s 501 Jeans

    The slightly longer version: People want nice stuff and nobody wants to spend their hard-earned money on crap. You can centrally plan an economy with marginal success, but you can’t centrally plan the fickle tastes of the consumer, nor can you stop them from getting the goods they want. If a government bans Widgets, you can bet your bottom Ruble a black market for Widgets will arise in its stead…

    1. Back in the mid-1970’s I dated a lovely young woman from Russia. Daughter of a diplomat. Hotter than Georgia asphalt. She said try as the Soviet Union might, they couldn’t keep out albums by the Beatles. She attributed this to unstoppable demand.

      1. Ummmmm..
        Didn’t at lest Lennon sympathise with Communism? How ironic that Lennon should have greatly contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union.

  4. Good article.

  5. Go back and read Life magazine, right after the Soviets launched Sputnik. People from all over the world were interviewed, and many commented that this was proof that the Soviet System was superior, and the U.S. had a 2nd rate system. There was a tremendous amount of naivete, that somehow it is alright to imprison and kill millions, as long as you can put a silly satellite in orbit.

  6. It’s not a mystery why the Soviets collapsed, it’s simple economics. In the age of the nation-state (versus prehistoric tribal warfare), he who has the stronger economy will usually prevail in the long haul.

    That’s the race that the Soviets lost.

    1. you been playing civilisation?

      1. No, been reading too many books is all.

        Maybe I should be playing instead. 🙂

    2. That’s wrong actually, I’ve read the books too. Communism fell because of Gorbachev, plain and simple. It would not have mattered if Reagan were president or Millard Fillmore. If Stalin has been General Secretary, you can be assured that the Soviet Union would not have fallen in that time frame. Stalin would not have told the Warsaw Pact, essentially, “You’re on your own” as Gorbachev did.

      Economics had nothing to do with it, Soviet leadership did. Economics never slowed down Stalin much.

  7. Pope John Paul II warned that “the Western countries run the risk of seeing this collapse of Communism as a one-sided victory of their own economic system, and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system.”

    Oh, well, that settles everything. We all know that libertarians bow to the pope and the liberals (socialists) of the MSM. I mean those people know what they’re doing.

  8. Michael, pretty please tell me the title of this article is a refernce to PK Dick’s ‘Valis’?

  9. I thought Obama did it.

    Or was that AlGore, right after he drafted the Superfund law and invented the Internet?

  10. Excellent column Mr Moynahan! Especially good in pointing out how Gorbachev was lionized by so many in the West, without really deserving it.

    In trying to figure out how Soviet power collapsed, it is important to look at how they stayed in power. Brute force and repression, but also by the loyalty of people indoctrinated by a government school system (sound familiar).

    Not just Communists were loyal. Russians retained some loyalty because of fear of Germany, even many years after the end of the War. But the Chernobyl meltdown required the Soviet regime to ask for help from West Germany, and that helped bring about the end of that prop of Soviet Communism.

  11. I liked the work of Philip Tetlock on all the excuses the supposed experts had for not predicting the fall of communism.
    Gorbachev deserves quite a lot of credit but not hero worship.

    Hopefully people haven’t started writing books yet about how communism will work if only the right people are in charge.

    1. Hopefully people haven’t started writing books yet about how communism will work if only the right people are in charge.

      Are you kidding? American academia has hardly written anything else since the 1960s.

      -jcr

  12. Interesting side story:
    ‘The Singing Revolution’ (movie).

    1. Excellent film. Watching it I was reminded all over again what the dissidents in the late 1980s risked. It’s far too easy to look at it with the lens of the present, knowing the outcome, but when the Estonian Parliament voted to leave the Soviet Union, they did so with the full knowledge that in the morning they would likely be the first ones to be shot.

  13. Kudos to Moynihan for scribing this piece. I’ve only managed to read just the first page but will finish it later on when time allows. Having spent a significant portion of my childhood on the other side, it’s inspiring to read something from a westerner that actually has a solid understanding of this woefully oft-dismissed subject matter.

  14. “The “prospect of rampant consumerism,” CBS News reported in July 1990, “has East Germany’s newly elected Christian Democratic Prime Minister, Lother De Mozier, worried.” By 1993 Ukrainian National Self Defense, a right-wing populist movement that loathed Russian power, was rallying against the “Americanization of Ukraine through Coca-Cola culture.

    Poor Mr. De Mozier. He didn’t understand that you have to be free to experience rampant consumerism to reach the conclusion that it is awful. I wonder if Ukraine imports Coke, or if it’s government subsidizes Ukranian corn crops so that a local cola can fatten the masses. You have to be free to drink a Coke before it can make you fat.

    1. By the way, nice article.

  15. agreed-great article

  16. Very good.

  17. Huh. I found it incredibly boring.

    “He-says, she-says, and who am I to know who’s right and wrong?”

    I learned virtually nothing I didn’t know before hand.

    Why is everyone off looking for cosmic theory when none is needed?

    Get a grip, it’s really simple: socialism (or socialism in a hurry) doesn’t work as an economic system. Sooner or later they were going to collapse.

    I’d sooner attribute validity to the theory that Reagan pushed them over the brink a little sooner by pushing Star Wars than anything put up here.

    The Soviets did nothing to try and counter Star Wars? Made no changes or adjustments to their military and spending plans? That’s not even close to the truth.

    1. My favorite liberal apology was always, “We don’t have to worry about the USSR bombing us because the Russian people don’t want war.” The problem with it, of course, was that the “Russian people” couldn’t stop the government from starving them, much less keep the communists from going to war.

      Get a grip, it’s really simple: socialism (or socialism in a hurry) doesn’t work as an economic system. Sooner or later they were going to collapse.

      I’d sooner attribute validity to the theory that Reagan pushed them over the brink a little sooner by pushing Star Wars than anything put up here.

      True, the USSR didn’t work economically, and thus fell. But there are several ways for an empire to fall, many of them bloody. Particularly when said empire has a nuclear arsenal.

      One of Ronald Reagan’s main contributions to the process was to stare back across the wall and convince the communist hardliners they really didn’t want to go out with a bang.

      1. “We don’t have to worry about the USSR bombing us because the Russian people don’t want war.”

        Of course, that didn’t stop the Russian government from going to war against the Afghans.

        It never did matter what the people wanted, it was all about what the politburo thought they could get away with.

        -jcr

        1. Couldn’t stop them from being stampeded into war by lying about the reasons..wait, that was Iraq. Sorry.

    2. Get a grip: It was called “COMMUNISM”. Not socialism. Quit applying your knee-jerk Fox News labels of today to past history. Fox News History may tell you that Reagan won the Cold War, but that is wrong. Gorbachev lost it, like Stalin would not have. Get over your Reagan-love.

  18. I like rampant consumerism. I drink Diet Coke and Gorbachev’s in Louis Vuitton ads.

  19. the West won because it was a system that could produce Hooters. The East could not. In fact they never had a chance. Of course I developed this theory after a few pitchers of beer at a Hooters, but I don’t think that really cuts against it at all.

    1. The funny thing is, there’s no shortage of babes in eastern europe. If the commies weren’t such a pack of fucking prudes, they could have conquered the world by getting all the 17 to 40 year old men to drop their weapons and join the girls for vodka and hot wings.

      -jcr

  20. More like, “Twenty years later, journalists still can’t figure out why the West won.” Historians are still getting access to documents.

  21. Did the West win, or did it internalize the “loser’s” ideology?

  22. I have a loud liberal brother in law who always points to Gorbachev as the most influential individual of that era, and he won’t even mention Reagan or Thatcher. His regular sources of information have been are the likes of Newsweek and Air America, plus he hates his Catholic upbringing, so he won’t give Pope J-P any credit either.

    I will agree the U.S. has taken on the “loser’s ideology” of late…

    1. I am not a “liberal” as you open minded folks label folks, but Thatcher should have been ignored, she has nothing new or fresh to say and, frankly, other than giving the jingoists in Britain a chance to crow about a victory over backward Argentina, she will be forgotten by history other than for her gender.

      “Loser’s ideology of late” sounds like Obama-hate. You might want to look in the mirror sometime.

  23. Hey guys, the Cold War is over. We won, remember?

    As a side benefit, it is now permissible to ignore everything that P. Buchanan has ever said, or will say in the future. He was wrong. Period.

    Of course, he wasn’t the only one who was wrong. Essentially everyone outside of the strong right-wing movement to win the war was wrong. My memory is pretty good, and I can clearly remember when the MSM of the time declared that the liberation of Eastern Europe was a pipe dream. They were quite open about it, since at the time it was not established that the media had to agree with the President. Well, they were liberated after all, MSM to the contrary notwithstanding, and today they love Ronald Reagan more than Lafayette loved America.

  24. This is a quibble, but one that I believe to be important.

    Time and time again I see communism compared not to democracy, but to capitalism. To do this is to fall into a verbal trap set by communists and their sympathizers in which the war between freedom and slavery is cast as a contest between two economic theories.

    Many people do not know what the word capitalism means. Many more have been influenced by the whispers of leftists into believing that it is something distasteful or even evil.

    Capitalism is the economic consequence of liberal democracy. It is economic liberty, but it is dependent upon and flows from political liberty.

    It is political liberty which is the actual counterpoint to communism, not merely the economic consequence of that liberty. Leftists dare not make the direct comparison between liberty and communism because to do so is to concede defeat. Only the profoundly foolish and insane will knowingly and willingly enslave themselves. So instead they compare communism to capitalism and work to undermine the public’s understanding of the latter.

    By using the terms that the left prefers you hand them a victory.

    I’d also like to point out a flaw in your reasoning behind the statement that “the Cold War will never truly be settled by the side that won.” Simply because someone was living in a western democracy does not mean that they were on the side of that democracy. There were and continue to be many communists living among us for whom the fall of the Evil Empire was a personal tragedy.

    1. Name one that you know in person?

    2. Lee Reynolds, great point! I agree with you about the Lefty word misdirection, Communism is the death of Representative Democracy and it’s allowance of free markets and individual property rights. Communism is a Tyranny of thieves & liars, say it loud and proud! Fromkin, are you David Frum???

  25. Pyrrhic victory!

  26. Left-wing Americans in 2008 said, to the rest of us: “We’ll show you. We knew this country, the USA, was in the wrong all along. We knew that the Soviet Union and Marxism-Leninism were truly the wave of the future. We will therefore elect a man who will implement Maxism-Leninism in the USA through peaceful means.”

    Ironically, it was the Marxists who won the Cold War after all: via decades of indoctrination of the “sophisticates” and “intellectuals” (and through them, the school children), they succeeded in achieving what the full might of the Soviet Union could not, at the height of its powers… installing a Marxist in the White House.

    1. We do have a Marxist in the White House, but his election was achieved through deceit and subterfuge.

      The left repeatedly makes the mistake of believing that if they can just get the “right people” in power then they can remake the United States in their own image. They make this mistake repeatedly because they are beholden to the tenets of Marxism, one of which states that a society is shaped by its ruling class. Many of Marx’s ideas, this one included, apply very well to feudal or oligarchical societies, but like Bohr’s model of the atom, they fall apart when applied to anything else. What leftists do not realize is that in a Democracy the ruling class is chosen by the people. The authority to govern flows from the consent of the governed. Not only does the left fail to understand this, but to even consider the possibility is terrifying to them because it would signal the death of their hopes and dreams of achieving a communist prison state through democratic means.

      So they keep lying their way into office, and working as fast and furiously as they can to destory the country once they are there, only to be kicked out until they reinvent their image and the cycle starts all over again. If they devoted 1/100th as much time to perfecting the substance of their ideas as they did to redecorating the packaging then they wouldn’t be leftists anymore.

      We have a Marxist in the White House, but the American people did not elect a Marxist. They elected a non-partisan centrist – the man they thought Obama was, not the man he really is. As it becomes more and more obvious to even the most oblivious that Obama is just another far-left Marxist wacko, his support will evaporate and he will not see a second term.

      Whether the Republican party will be able to field a viable candidate in his place is another matter.

      1. “We do have a Marxist in the White House, but his election was achieved through deceit and subterfuge. ”

        Wow. What blinders. Are you really that stupid, or drowning in your own putrid ideology? Were you not alive in the last 8 years?

        And, obviously, you have no idea what a Marxist is. Feel free to crack open a book about Marx’s philosophy. I don’t agree with it as it is far too utopian and forgets about human stupidity and greed, but you might want to actually read about it before you use the term.

    2. I think you must have missed 2000-2008. Left leaning people said “Bush is an abysmal failure”. So did center leaning. So did right of center. I guess you missed the destruction of our economy, and the wrong war?

  27. It’s a shame some of the American “left” continues to be a bit soft when it comes to anti-communism. Under real Marxist-Leninist rule, it was the social democrats who were always among the first group of political opponents targeted for repression. I personally see no contradiction in being from the left part of the political spectrum and being anti-communist. As someone who took part in the student left, I often had a hard time figuring out who I disliked more — the ultra right wing or the ultra left wing.

    1. I personally see no contradiction in being from the left part of the political spectrum and being anti-communist.

      THIS.

      …I often had a hard time figuring out who I disliked more — the ultra right wing or the ultra left wing.

      Hah. I feel like I’m in the same boat as you. Except I feel that I’m on the right and can’t decide between ultra right and ultra left.

  28. The most important thing we should have learned but didn’t from the collapse of the USSR was this: ideology fails in the real world where real problems refuse to conform to purist ideals.

    1. Bull. We learned that leadership is required. Gorbachev failed. That is what we should have learned.

  29. Keep hyping your crap system guys … yeah yeah … the capitalist laisser faire ideology that’s now successfully bankrupted the United Snakes of Amerika … isn’t it the commies in China that are drilling you a new one ever so gently … hmmm?

  30. Mr. Moynihan,
    Stephen Cohen is absolutely correct when he said that USSR can’t be all bad.
    I grew up in the USSR and have lived in this country for 30+ years. I KNOW he’s right. And you, unfortunately do not.

    One example: Between 1970 and 1990, Soviet kids were getting a first rate education, for free, while American public school have produced two generations of morons. So much for “free minds” and “free markets”.

    1. Sam tells us that between 1970 and 1990 the USSR managed to deliver a first rate education to all of its children — for free! I wonder whether Sam realizes how interested the readership of Reason would be in learning how the USSR was able to achieve that economic miracle? In fact, maybe Hopey McChange can learn from the USSR (or Sam) how to provide first rate health care for free!

    2. You mean first rate indoctrination.

      Teaching someone that freedom is slavery isn’t what I would call education.

  31. Yes, the more sophisticated and guileful Corporatist Capitalist EMPIRE beat the Communist EMPIRE (at the faux “End of History”) — but democracy had nothing to do with it, as Fukuyama readily admits in “America At the Crossroad” (of EMPIRE).

    Moynihan has no appreciation that the Soviet EMPIRE was nothing but a beta release of ‘Vichy’ 1.x that failed, while the American EMPIRE is the fully functional release of ‘Vichy’ 2.0 — whether we call this disguised ‘evil Empire’ by its correct name of the global ruling-elite corporate/financial EMPIRE, or by Dylan Ratigan’s inaccurate but cutely memorable name “Corporate Communism” — in either case, again, democracy has nothing to do with it!

    http://www.opednews.com/populu…..;did=14698

    Alan MacDonald
    Sanford, Maine

  32. The USSR was not beaten it imploded because its system failed to screen out an incompetent leader, Gorbachev. Similarly the USA is imploding because its system failed to screen out an incompetent leader, Obama. THAT is what history will agree on.

  33. Many of the right wing dictators of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America were supported and in many cases installed by the US. Many of the people who lived in these countries suffered no less than the people being oppressed by communist regimes. Hopefully history will remember them.

  34. Some criticisms:

    1) Moynihan’s description of the German film the “Lives of Others” is, as he blames Meyer a ‘mangling’ of the truth. Many critics *do* see this and other films as Ostalgie.

    2) Moynihan mentions the horrible support b the American government of horrid and cruel dictators on the one hand, and then conveniently sloughs them off to criticize Meyer. If the Soviet Union (and not its various leaders) was an evil empire, than why not the United States (which is obviously not the case)?

    3) Moynihan decries Meyer’s lack of sources or reliance on anecdotal ‘nostalgic’ evidence that the people of East Germany were largely happy with their plight; then a few sentences later tosses around his own polemical assumption that everyone would have called their leaders pigs.

    On the whole, while an interesting criticism, Moynihan himself ignores the intellectual history of East Germany and Russia and the intellectual relationship to the leadership as opposed to the concept of Communism. So, while exposing the limitations of the two books, he also exposes a deeper and more troubling in many ways, ideological limitation in his own approach to this history.

  35. The Wall went up. The Wall went down. Kennedy spoke. Reagan spoke. All spoke. I was there before Moynihans narrative began. I am that “history” that John Woodways critical comments put forth.

    Yes, I see the limitations,
    the ‘bubble’ the Schleier, from which all non first-hand, but second and third hand experiences and accounts …

    “an army of fallible historians, journalists, politicians, and pundits, all desperate to prove that they had been right all along.”

    …doggedly persist.

    I am American AND German. I am not Russian. That is my limitation.

  36. The USSR lost.

    Did USA win?

  37. Still, it was a great going out of business sale.

  38. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp.

  39. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets

  40. It’s strange how the Soviet Union collapsed so quickly. I can see why the Warsaw Pact went quick, but didn’t the people of the Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan want to be in the same country? I would have thought they would feel some connection from having been in the same nation for 500 years.

    Reggie

    1. They did (Ukraine is debatable), but the local Soviet potentates all quickly declared “independence” as soon as things started going south so that they could remain in their places of wealth and power without being deposed by the newly-democratic central government.

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