SDB, Chernobyl, Pompeii, the USSR, and the EU

Steven Den Beste has another good one up.

He points out the pictures of the Chernobyl area taken by that motorcycler that I’ve mentioned before. He then comments on the archeological value of the Chernobyl region, how it reflects on how life in the 1980s USSR was similar to life in the 1950s USA, and how the European Union seems to be currently balancing between Western and Eastern approaches to things.

One thing that has always bothered me, and has certainly come back to the forefront since the death of Ronald Reagan, is how so many people have assured me that the USSR was doomed from day one and that the Cold War, the arms race, and Reagan’s policy toward communism were all so unnecessary. I remember, as a very young student in the late 1970s and early 1980s, being exposed to a lot of pro-USSR talk. A lot. In the malaise (for want of a better word) of the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-Oil-Crisis, post-Hostage-Crisis America, I’m sure that many really believed that the Soviet system was winning, and maybe even better than ours.

What I don’t understand is: Where did all those people go?

Reagan “beat” a Soviet Union doomed to fail on its own anyway. The arms race was a waste of money. Central America wasn’t a row of dominoes ready to fall. There was no good reason to put those nuclear missiles in Europe. It’s so obvious, people. Right? Right?

But that’s not what I remember. Am I wrong? I was just a kid, so maybe I’ve really blown it. Was the ghost of McCarthy haunting me?

In A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn, he explains how it was really the USSR that defeated Nazi Germany, since the American, British, and Canadian forces that invaded the Continent were so small compared to the masses on the Eastern Front. The Soviets, through the superiority of their system and motivation of their people, beat the Nazis. The USSR was the true military power on the planet. I’m actually not arguing with that, though I believe he overstates the case pretty badly and leaves out a lot of pertinent details. My problem is that only a couple of pages later he argues that the US had no business waging a Cold War against the USSR because it was an agrarian society that presented no threat.

I’m working from memory here, so I might not be 100% on the money about the Zinn book. But I’m close, and the arguments WERE only separated by a few pages.

Gorbachev thinks that Reagan was incidental to the outcome of the Cold War. Gorbachev ended it on his own, I guess. Reagan and Thatcher were mere observers.

Now, I EXPECT Gorbachev to say something like that. The poor guy has got to save some face. And he WAS instrumental, of course, despite that fact that his claim that the Soviets could match any American weapons program are delusional. My problem is with so many people who AREN’T former Russian leaders who seem to agree with him.

Today. Now. After the fact.

(And please remember that hindsight, despite conventional wisdom, is far from being 20/20.)

I’ve had very smart people tell me to my face that everyone knew all along that the Soviet Union would collapse under its own weight.

SDB links to a quote from Arthur Schlesinger, made just after the historian and author returned from a visit to Moscow:

“I found more goods in the shops, more food in the markets, more cars on the street — more of almost everything,” he said, adding his contempt for “those in the U.S. who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink.

This was said in 1982.

This all reminds me of those that tell me that they understand and support the invasion of Afghanistan, since the 9/11 attackers originated there, but not the invasion of Iraq. The problem is this: I distinctly remember many of those same people telling me in 2001 that invading Afghanistan was the wrong thing to do. (Apparently, the best way to improve poll numbers supporting the invasion of Iraq is to invade someone else so the critics can claim that Syria (or Iran or North Korea or Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan) is way out of line, unlike Iraq, which will then become “understandable”.)

I wonder if there are any Schlesinger quotes about the status of the Soviet economy and standard of living from 1992. How about 2002?

UPDATE: Hell in a Handbasket comments on the SDB post and has an interesting story about integrating Soviet defectors into American society.