Monday, April 18, 2016

History of the Cold War #11 The Beginnings of the End

I had barely finished teaching the fall of communism, the end of the Cold War, when I read the Sunday morning headlines in the New York Times: Race for Latest Class of Nuclear Arms Threatens to Revive the Cold War.

It was barely 9:30 in the morning when I headed downstairs for some comfort food-homemade borscht. While waiting for the microwave, I started to cry.

The fall of communism and the Cold war, though inextricably tied together, can be separate; the cold war of nuclear weapons can return without further threat of communism. Though communism may be absent from a new weapons race, the ideological differences inherent in an arms build-up will be as divisive as communism was to capitalism.

Why are we ignoring the lessons from the past?

The unfortunate answer: evil threats rear their ugly heads. Again. Countries respond with defensive build-up of weapons.

My consolation is: if we ended the Cold War once, we can end a cold war again. My fails and start- agains are not the level of a world war threat, but it's certainly a reminder of the necessity to starting over.

The end of the first Cold War.

The end of the Cold War didn't come about from the famous words of President Reagan, "Mr. Gorbachev, bring down that wall." His words were largely ignored by the Politburo, but his words were drops of water in a gushing waterfall that helped to defeat communism and end the Cold War.

The magnificence of the end, came about from an accumulation of small and large acts from small powers and large. Resistance from people like you and me. What we believe and how we act upon those beliefs---make a difference. There are specific circumstances and these conditions, according to historians, power brokers and people who were there, are what brought about the fall. The first chink in the armor came from the president himself.

1. Mr. Nikita Kurshchev. Mr. Khrushchev was indeed a silly, ridiculous man who upon taking Soviet control, apologized to Soviet satellite states and his own people for the iron rule and mass murders of Joseph Stalin. This is a good thing, but it implied infallibility in a communist leader. Khrushchev opened the door and let in the first draft.

He lacked a college education. He ruined agriculture in the USSR and brought the world to the cliff that overlooked nuclear war and annihilation. His stubborn and destructive pride is clear in the audacity it took to speak these words to the Kennedy administration, "If we go to war, then we'll see you in hell." At a UN meeting, he disagreed with a speech, took off his shoe and stomped the table. When he tired of stomping with his shoe, he pounded the table with closed fists. He acted like a child.

In the late 1950's, in an effort to warm relations between the USSR and the US, America had set up an American-Way-of Life exhibit in Moscow. It was complete with a model home that all Americans could afford. Vice President Nixon was in the kitchen when Khrushchev unexpectedly popped in and he and Nixon engaged in subtly aggressive, but friendly exchanges. Khrushchev is comical and insulting.

Khrushchev had an insatiable desire to visit the United States. After his visit, he was driven by a desire he could never fulfill: to improve living conditions and increase the standard of living for the Soviets and the East Germans. He made standard-of-living promises that never came to fruition. Under his rule, the Berlin wall went up--possibly the biggest testament to the failings of communism. He later admitted “The wall was a hateful thing but what should I have done? More than 30,000 people left in July, the best minds and workers and if I hadn’t done something the economy would have collapsed."

The USSR Vice President said in July of 1961, "...if socialism does not win in the GDR, if communism does not prove itself as superior and vital here, then we have not won. The issue is fundamental to us."

In contrast, President Kennedy while speaking at the Berlin Wall in 1963, reminded his audience that "We have never had to put up a wall to keep our people in, to keep them from leaving us." The ugly structure Khrushchev had erected, "...was the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see."

Khrushchev served and handicapped the USSR from 1955-1964. An embarrassment, the Kremlin, his comrades, finally rid themselves of him in 1964. He tried to fight, but he knew he'd lost the war. Khrushchev was given a trivial job in a distant city.