Nato v. Warsaw Pact

 

One of the great conflicts of history that never happened.  I suspect that wiser Soviet leaders understood that time was not on their side.  They realized that their economy was no match for the West, and the best they could hope for was to avoid a meltdown that would threaten their grasp on power.  The obvious solution, at least for a time, was military conquest of Western Europe.  However, the Soviet leadership had lived through World War II, and could never bring themselves to risk everything on the iron dice of war again.  However, a showdown with Nato could easily have occurred as a result of Soviet miscalculation.  When the Nato exercise Able Archer 83 occurred in 1983, the Soviets were alarmed and feared that the exercise presaged a Nato attack.  The world was very lucky that the Cold War never became a very Hot War.

Published in: on January 24, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: ,

Twenty-Five Years Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall

(I  posted this on November 9, 2014 at The American Catholic and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

Twenty-five years ago today my bride and I arrived home from buying software for our Commodore 64  (Yeah, it is that long ago.) and watched stunned after we turned on the tv as we saw East Germans dancing on top of the Berlin War, tearing into it with sledge hammers.   It is hard to convey to people who did not live through the Cold War how wonderful a sight this was.  Most people at the time thought the Cold War was a permanent state of things.  Not Ronald Wilson Reagan.  He knew that Communism would end up on the losing side of history and throughout his career strove to bring that day ever closer.  His becoming President so soon after John Paul II became Pope set the stage for the magnificent decade of the Eighties when Communism passed from being a deadly threat to the globe to a belief held only by a handful of benighted tyrannical regimes around the world, and crazed American professors.  In most of his movies, the good guys won in the end, and Reagan helped give us a very happy ending to a menace that started in 1917 and died in 1989.

Here is an interview Sam Donaldson did with Reagan immediately after the fall of the wall:

Lech Walesa, a leader of that band of millions of heroes and heroines, at the head of which were Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan, who won the Cold War, gave this salute to Reagan after Reagan died in 2005: (more…)

Published in: on November 13, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

October 12, 1960: Nikita Khrushchev Pounds His Shoe at the UN

Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!  (Alternative translation of the Russian:  We will dig you in.)

Nikita Khrushchev, to Western diplomats, November 18, 1956 at a diplomatic reception.  He later denied that he meant it literally but that, as Marx said, Communism was the grave digger of capitalism and that it was the Western proletariat who would topple capitalism in the West and not the Soviet Union.

 

By the time I reached the papers of 10 October 1960, I was convinced that the shoe had never left Khrushchev’s foot. Like every New Yorker 40 years earlier, I, too, wanted him to go home. As in a perfect detective novel, I was now afraid that my hero would get caught by some stupid mistake, just before the case closed in his favour.

That day, Khrushchev announced he would be leaving the United States on Thursday 13 October. The UN and New York took a deep breath. I also sighed with relief. On Tuesday 11 October, the Soviet leader addressed the UN one last time. The argument was heated as usual, but no shoe was indicated. I prayed: “You’ve done what you could. Please, go home. We are all tired.” On Wednesday 12 October 1960, there it was, on the front pages of all national papers: Nikita Sergeyevich and his famous shoe. My heart fell. I was in a state of shock, probably no less than those in the UN hall 40 years earlier. Swallowing tears of disappointment, I stared at the page for minutes, then the words started to turn into sentences.

The head of the Philippine delegation, Senator Lorenzo Sumulong, expressed his surprise at the Soviet Union’s concerns over western imperialism, while it, in turn, swallowed the whole of eastern Europe. Khrushchev’s rage was beyond anything he had ever shown before. He called the poor Filipino “a jerk, a stooge and a lackey of imperialism”, then he put his shoe on the desk and banged it.

Nina Khrushchev, Granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev (more…)

Published in: on October 21, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 12, 1960: Nikita Khrushchev Pounds His Shoe at the UN  
Tags: , ,

With God in Russia

Fr_ Walter J_ Ciszek, S_J_

 

Perhaps there are braver men than Walter Ciszek, but they don’t come readily to mind.  Hard enough to be brave for a short period when the adrenaline is flowing.  Ciszek was brave under often horrendous circumstances for almost a quarter of a century.

Born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania on November 4, 1904, the son of Polish immigrants, he grew to be  a wild, tough kid, a bully and gang member.   He therefore floored his parents when he told them he wanted to be a priest.  Entering a minor seminary he remained tough as he related:

“And I had to be tough. I’d get up at four-thirty in the morning to run five miles around the lake on the seminary grounds, or go swimming in November when the lake was little better than frozen. I still couldn’t stand to think that anyone could do something I couldn’t do, so one year during Lent I ate nothing but bread and water for the forty days –another year I ate no meat at all for the whole year –just to see if I could do it. “

Always looking for a challenge, Ciszek simply presented himself to the Jesuit provincial in the Bronx in 1928 and announced, “I’m going to be a Jesuit!”

In 1929 an announcement was made by Pius XI that he was looking for clandestine missionaries to the Soviet Union.  Ciszek promptly volunteered.  He was sent to the Russian Center, Russicum, in Rome in 1934 to study the Russian language, history and liturgy.  On June 24, 1937 he was ordained.

Assigned to the Albertyn Jesuit mission in Poland, Father Ciszek was present when the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland in 1939.  Taking advantage of this calamity he decided to slip into the Soviet Union.  Obtaining the permission of Metropolitan Andrei Shetytsky, he entered the Soviet Union, along with two Jesuit friends, under the assumed name of Wladymyr Lypynski.  Traveling 1500 miles by rail,  he became a logger in the logging town of Chusov in the Urals, while carrying on his undercover missionary activities.  (more…)

Published in: on August 14, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (8)  
Tags: , ,

Ash-heap of History Speech

Today is my 56th birthday.  I share my birthday with the greatest president of my lifetime:  Ronald Reagan.  I thought he was a great president at the time, but as the years roll by my admiration for President Reagan only grows.  The above video is the famous “ash-heap of history” speech to the British parliament on June 8, 1982.  Widely derided by critics at the time, Reagan’s speech was eerily prophetic as the Soviet Union swiftly landed on the ash-head of history.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on February 6, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

25 years ago: “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!”

Twenty-five years ago, on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan challenged Premier Gorbachev of the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall.  Just a little over two years later, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall did fall, a casualty of the movement for liberation in Eastern Europe, started by Solidarity in Poland, and supported throughout the Eighties by President Reagan and Pope John Paul II.  Those who were not alive during those days, or too young to remember the events, I suspect have a difficult time understanding how truly miraculous those events seemed to those of us who grew up during the Cold War.  The Soviet Union and the Communist regimes it imposed in Eastern Europe seemed like a permanent fixture of the World.  Reagan however, never believed this.

In a speech in the House of Commons on June 8, 1982, President Reagan made this startling prediction:

Since 1917 the Soviet Union has given covert political training and assistance to Marxist-Leninists in many countries. Of course, it also has promoted the use of violence and subversion by these same forces. Over the past several decades, West European and other Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and leaders have offered open assistance to fraternal, political, and social institutions to bring about peaceful and democratic progress. Appropriately, for a vigorous new democracy, the Federal Republic of Germany’s political foundations have become a major force in this effort.

We in America now intend to take additional steps, as many of our allies have already done, toward realizing this same goal. The chairmen and other leaders of the national Republican and Democratic Party organizations are initiating a study with the bipartisan American political foundation to determine how the United States can best contribute as a nation to the global campaign for democracy now gathering force. They will have the cooperation of congressional leaders of both parties, along with representatives of business, labor, and other major institutions in our society. I look forward to receiving their recommendations and to working with these institutions and the Congress in the common task of strengthening democracy throughout the world.

It is time that we committed ourselves as a nation — in both the pubic and private sectors — to assisting democratic development.

We plan to consult with leaders of other nations as well. There is a proposal before the Council of Europe to invite parliamentarians from democratic countries to a meeting next year in Strasbourg. That prestigious gathering could consider ways to help democratic political movements.

This November in Washington there will take place an international meeting on free elections. And next spring there will be a conference of world authorities on constitutionalism and self-government hosted by the Chief Justice of the United States. Authorities from a number of developing and developed countries — judges, philosophers, and politicians with practical experience — have agreed to explore how to turn principle into practice and further the rule of law.

At the same time, we invite the Soviet Union to consider with us how the competition of ideas and values — which it is committed to support — can be conducted on a peaceful and reciprocal basis. For example, I am prepared to offer President Brezhnev an opportunity to speak to the American people on our television if he will allow me the same opportunity with the Soviet people. We also suggest that panels of our newsmen periodically appear on each other’s television to discuss major events.

Now, I don’t wish to sound overly optimistic, yet the Soviet Union is not immune from the reality of what is going on in the world. It has happened in the past — a small ruling elite either mistakenly attempts to ease domestic unrest through greater repression and foreign adventure, or it chooses a wiser course. It begins to allow its people a voice in their own destiny. Even if this latter process is not realized soon, I believe the renewed strength of the democratic movement, complemented by a global campaign for freedom, will strengthen the prospects for arms control and a world at peace.

I have discussed on other occasions, including my address on May 9, the elements of Western policies toward the Soviet Union to safeguard our interests and protect the peace. What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term — the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history, as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.

Run of the mill politicians deal with crises as best they can, usually on an ad hoc basis.  True statesmen have a vision that allows them to shape the future, and to leave the World better than they found it.  Reagan was a statesman.  Here is the text of his Tear Down This Wall speech: (more…)

Published in: on June 12, 2012 at 7:07 pm  Comments Off on 25 years ago: “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!”  
Tags: ,

One, Two, Three

Tomorrow is Victims of Communism Day and I will be having a post on that subject.  In a lighter vein on the same subject is the hilarious Cold War comedy One, Two, Three (1961), starring James Cagney and directed by Billy Wilder.  It actually foreshadowed the trajectory of the Cold War fairly better than many a serious study.  As the film indicates the Soviets simply were unable to produce consumer goods of a high enough quality to keep their people satisfied, and the failure to do so ultimately led to the rapid fall of regimes that looked on the surface to be rock solid. (more…)

Published in: on April 30, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on One, Two, Three  
Tags: , , ,

Truman Doctrine Speech

 

On March 12, 1947 Harry Truman gave a speech to a joint session of Congress which has gone down in history as the Truman Doctrine Speech.  Alarmed by the Soviet imposition of Communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe and Soviet support for Communist guerillas in Greece, Truman recognized that the United States was in a new type of conflict with the Soviet regime and he was determined that the US would prevail.  This speech set the policy which would lead to the creation of the Marshall Plan later in the year, and culminate with the creation of Nato in 1949.  Harry Truman, machine politician from Missouri, laid the ground work for eventual US victory in the Cold War forty years later, and it all began with this speech.  Here is the text of President Truman’s address to Congress: (more…)

Published in: on March 27, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Truman Doctrine Speech  
Tags: , ,