[lit-ideas] Re: Who won, or lost, the Cold War

  • From: "Andy Amago" <aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2006 15:11:34 -0500

There's probably no one reason why the SU fell.  It's like arguing why anything 
falls.  There's no doubt that the SU was founded on sand.  It was a Potemkin 
Village.  The shelves were empty, their army it turns out was trash.  We got 
our hands on one of their military jets and it was made out of steel.  Their 
roads were terrible, the bureaucracy was riddled with corruption and on and on. 
 Their life expectancy was under 60.  There simply was no basis for the country 
to stand on.  Stalinism was what destroyed the country.  In Bullock's book, 
Stalin is quoted as saying to Politburo members that Lenin gave us a country 
and we (the Soviets) turned it to crap.  For Reagan or Osama, who was only a 
minor player during the Afghan war, to take credit for the demise of the SU is 
feel-good nonsense.  Had the SU been strong and solvent, they'd still be here.  
What it does speak to is how poorly we understood our worst enemy.  The CIA 
claimed right up to the end how powerful they were.  H
 istory repeats itself with the Iraq invasion.  We believed one thing, reality 
turned out to be quite different.  

Regarding Socialism, sweeping statements don't work.  The Chinese, for example, 
are Communists, descended of Mao, yet they are successful economically.  The 
U.S. is a caricature of capitalism/democracy, and we're in debt up to our 
eyeballs, business runs Congress, and on and on.  Putin is reversing back to 
autocracy founded in denial.  Human nature prevails.  People don't learn from 
experience no matter what country they're in.  

Regarding whether Johnson and MacNamara were effective militarily, I don't 
know.  Some of our presidents were military men, some weren't, but they all had 
military advisers.  Eisenhower's promise was to end the Korean War, not fight 
it.  The Constitution requires a civilian be head of the military, precisely so 
we don't have a military dictatorship.  In any case, what military strategy 
would it take to win a war where every last person was prepared to die rather 
than be conquered?  Let's say we had rounded up all the Vietnamese, then what?  
 I asked earlier of Eric, now I'll ask you.  What did we lose by not winning in 
Vietnam?  What would winning have looked like?  If Vietnam were today a 
democracy, what difference would it make?  How would we or the world be better 

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Lawrence Helm 
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: 1/21/2006 2:04:13 PM 
Subject: [lit-ideas] Who won, or lost, the Cold War

Irene:  This a different thread, but also interesting.  George Kennan is an 
historian I have been interested in for some time.  He formulated the strategy 
that James Chace argues resulted in our winning of the Cold War.  The Soviet 
Union could have endured for quite awhile beyond 1989 had the Kennan pressure 
not been kept on it.  We know this in retrospect.  

Interestingly we see, also in retrospect, that presidents subsequent to Truman 
and Eisenhower didn?t see the containment policy as clearly, or at least didn?t 
pursue it as resolutely as Truman did.  Had Johnson and McNamara been warriors 
like Truman I suspect the Vietnam War could have been fought more effectively 
with less loss of life.  Johnson and McNamara are interesting psychological 
studies because neither was equipped to fight a war and yet they had to.  
Johnson?s expertise was American internal affairs.  McNamara was a whiz kid CEO 
good at economics ? a bean counter.  

Truman was an artillery officer in WWI and saw combat.  He was an autodidact 
rather than a product of the university system, but he was highly educated in 
matters of war nonetheless.  He is criticized in some circles for not allowing 
Macarthur to go after the Chinese with atomic weapons, but he understood the 
containment policy better than Macarthur did.  We, the anticommunists, didn?t 
lose anything by our truce in Korea.  We kept the North from conquering the 
South at considerable cost to Communist China.  This was all that Kennan?s 
policy sought ? to fight them or opposing them wherever they (international 
communism) attempted to expand.  Actually neither Kennan nor Acheson thought we 
could oppose the Communist in every case.  They didn?t think we could afford 
it; which is ironic because it was Communist Russia that couldn?t afford it.  
They didn?t collapse on their own.  They collapsed because of the pressure we 
were applying.  Many on the right argue that Reagan won the C
 old War, and he deserves some credit in that regard to be sure.  Kissenger had 
established a realpolitik approach to the USSR which argued that the USSR was 
not going to be defeated so we may as well learn to live with them.  Reagan 
took the seemingly naïve approach that they could be defeated and so deserves 
credit for that, but it was the pressure applied by every administration from 
Truman through Reagan that was necessary to the fall of the USSR in 1989.  

If we move back to the Middle East we will find a different theory.  Al Queda, 
which means ?the base? was formed at the end of the war against the USSR in 
Afghanistan.  Osama bin Laden is quite sure that he and his compatriots were 
the cause of the fall of the USSR.  He was entitled to be pleased with his 
efforts, but Afghanistan was merely another element of pressure applied against 
the USSR.  Osama bin Laden, not a student of history, exhibited more hubris 
than understanding in taking complete responsibility for the fall of the USSR.

Would the USSR have eventually fallen had not the Truman doctrine been 
implemented?  Kissenger didn?t think so.  If we assume that it would then we 
are also assuming there is something inherently defective in the efficacy of 
Socialism.  If we say there was nothing wrong with Marxist Socialism but only 
in the practice engaged in by the Russian Socialists we leave open the idea 
that someone else might get it right, but my impression is that almost everyone 
abandoned that particular ship.  

I am convinced that the USSR economy couldn?t compete with our free economy, 
but absent that, I don?t have an opinion about whether the USSR could have 
persevered for many years beyond 1989.


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