Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Should Reagan Get Credit for "Winning the Cold War?"

Hi Everyone,

With the round the clock eulogizing of Ronald Reagan that's going on, you'd think he was the least controversial President in American history (believe me he was plenty controversial back when he was more than just a nice old man with Alzheimers). He is being credited with everything from saving the American economy to winning the Cold War. The plan seems to be nearly a week of uninterrupted Republican Party propaganda and revisionist history. I'm increasingly moved to say..."Well, there you go again."

To pick one issue for this posting: Should Reagan get credit for "Winning the Cold War?" To the extent that he was a Cold War era President, yes. But should he get more credit than any other Cold War era President or even the people of East-Central Europe? Probably not.

Strong US support for the Afghani resistance to the USSR is widely credited with sapping the Soviet military machine of its strength (and blamed for giving birth to the Taliban and Al Qaeda). But was it really Reagan's project alone? No. President Carter started the military support of the Afghans. It was also Jimmy Carter who ordered the Olympic Boycott and the embargo on grain exports to the USSR both in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Reagan is widely credited for inspiring Solidarity and other East-Central European dissident groups to resist Soviet Authority. This is possibly the most ridiculous revision of history. Central European resistance to the Soviets began almost as soon as the Red Army arrived (Stalin murdered hundreds of Polish officers during WWII for their resistance to Soviet post-war ambitions). Hungarian resistance in 1956 is well known as is the 1968 "Prague Spring." But resistance to the Soviets occurred throughout East-Central Europe and with little apparent encouragement from ANY US President. There was a spontaneous, violent uprising against the Soviets in East Germany in June, 1953. Polish resistance to the Soviets had successfully toppled two Polish Communist leaders (one in 1956, another in 1970) decades before Reagan was elected. Poland also saw a wave of national strikes and violent demonstrations in 1976. Solidarity was founded in 1980 (before Reagan took office) - hardly the first East European resistance movement. The main Czechoslovakian dissident group was called Charter '77 - not because Reagan did anything in 1977 but because of the 1975 Helsinki accords on Human Rights which the Czech government had signed and ratified through a law in 1976. Charter '77 was a dissident petition that had the goal of forcing the Czechoslovak government to abide by the Helsinki treaty it had signed but ignored. Incidentally, it was Carter - not Reagan - who pressured the Soviets on applying the Helsinki Accords faithfully.

To sum up: Reagan should share some credit - along with a number of US Presidents - for "Winning the Cold War." But the most credit should go to the people of East-Central Europe who never fully accepted Soviet rule and eventually overthrew it through repeated uprisings.

One last parting shot: In the Summer 1989 after Reagan left office, no one thought the Cold War was nearing its end. Yes, there was talk about a new detente associated with Glasnost/Perestoika but no one really believed a fundamental change was in the wind. I heard no less a foreign policy authority than Henry Kissinger say as much as a speech at Ohio State University. All this talk about Reagan "Winning the Cold War" started up well after he had left office. Reagan himself probably never believed that he had "Won" the Cold War.


US West said...

Thank you, thank you for this post. I’d like to point out as well that other people who have been credited with bringing the end of the Cold War have been the Pope and gee- maybe Gorbechev himself! If anything, Reagan was the fortunate recipient of an enlightened partner in the former Soviet Union. No one has mentioned Gorbechev. But I remember at the time being quite impressed with him- thinking that he was more admirable in many ways than Reagan. That part wasn’t hard for me to do. He was trying to figure out how to liberalize his country without mass chaos, having recognized that the Soviet system was collapsing. For a man to note that he is loosing, and trying to do it gracefully is to be respected. That wasn’t about Reagan.

The truth is, the Republicans need a cult figure. Democrats get Kennedy. They want Reagan to be theirs.

Last Thursday, NPR began a Reagan report, paraphrasing it by saying, “Now that some times has passed since his actually death, more balanced information is starting to appear.” And they went on to present a critical look at Reagan. I was pleased. I hope others will follow the lead

The Law Talking Guy said...

I will add that I was in East Berlin in the Summer of 1989, and a man had been shot 4 days earlier trying to escape. This was about a month after the Tienanmen Square massacre. The decision in October 1989 by Gorbachev to, in essence, let the Eastern bloc go, was really unforeseen by everyone. He had made up his mind, one imagines, not to intervene again. Apparently he expected different results. He met with Honecker in East Berlin in September 1989, and the crowds were cheering for Gorby to take action against the dictator Honecker.

The Cold War ended because of the choice Gorbachev made in 1989 to pursue reform in the USSR alone, without its buffer zone. If Reagan gets credit for anything, it's for (ironically) convincing Gorbachev that the USA would not take advantage of the USSR's weakness by extending a sphere of influence to Eastern Europe. That didn't happen till NATO expansion was Okayed in 1996..

US West said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
US West said...

Gory's change was unforeseen. But several months before the actually Wall came down, there was a little heralded event that appeared in the border column of my local paper- a section of barbed wire fencing between Hungary and Austria was removed. Not more than 3 months later, the Wall fell. In essence, the Austria-Hungary wall was really the first to go.

From: CNN's series on the Cold War:
Narrator: "A month before, the Cold War had lost a symbol. The Hungarian government took down the barbed wire on its border with Austria and the West. The Soviet Union did nothing. Although travel was still not completely free, the Iron Curtain was starting to unravel.

Interview: Miklos Nemeth, Hungarian prime minister

"I refused to give to the Home Minister money in that year's budget for the renewal or the refurbishment of the old, old barbed wire system."

Interview: Imre Pozsgay, Hungarian Politburo

"They said that the Iron Curtain was technically obsolete -- it didn't work as a barrier any more. They should not maintain a construction that endangered people's lives."

Narration: Hungary's boldness alarmed the hard-line Warsaw Pact leaders. None was more shocked than the East German ruler, Erich Honecker. His state formed the Soviet empire's frontier with the West.

Interview: Gunter Schabowski, East German Politburo

"Honecker's first reaction was to send the minister of foreign affairs to Moscow to protest against this decision. Moscow's answer was: 'We can't do anything about it.' This was unique. It was the first time that Moscow had said anything like this to us."

Narration: The Poles, like the Hungarians, were breaking with the communist system. Faced with a wave of political strikes, led by the opposition movement Solidarity, the regime had given way.

Interview: Lech Walesa, Solidarity leader

"I knew that the communist system was finished. The only problem was, what would be the best way to get rid of communism."

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