[Fairly well-edited notes:
November 30, 2011]
THE COLD WAR
The totalitarian powers promised their peoples world
dominance, telling them that the democracies of the world were too weak
to prevail against them. During both World War II and the
following Cold War period (1945-1991), it often looked like they might
though, in the end, the "good guys" triumphed--sort of.
World War II
is an excellent example of the "sort of" victory of the democracies in
the war with totalitarianism. World War II stopped the Fascists,
the Nazis, and the military
dictatorship of Japan. But it left another totalitarian system,
Communism, stronger than ever.
Prior to WW II, there was only one communist nation on the face of
the earth, the Soviet Union. And that was simply not the Marxist
dream. Marxists wanted to see the "dictatorship of the
proletariat" spread world wide, and while Comintern had succeeded in
destabilizing democratic governments in places like Germany and Italy,
the Communists had nowhere been able to take control themselves.
During the opening days of WW II, the Communists got their chance to
expand. The Soviets took over the Baltics states, Eastern Poland,
and Finland. During the last days
of WW II, the were able to push much further, pushing into countries
like Hungary and Poland. The big question was, what would happen
when the war was over? Would the Soviets go home and leave these
countries independent? Perhaps not....
In February of 1945, Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt met at Yalta to
try to reach some agreement on what was going to happen in Europe once
the war was actually over. Churchill
and Roosevelt wanted Stalin out of Eastern Europe,
but Roosevelt wanted other things as well. He hoped for Soviet
help in the war against Japan and for Russian participation in a
new organization, the United Nations. Stalin agreed to last two,
and Churchill and Roosevelt dropped their demands that he leave Eastern
they (or the United Nations) could do something after Hitler and
the Japanese were defeated.
Roosevelt wasn't a well man--he'd be dead within a few months.
Also, he seems to have been a bit naive. In
1942, he had said, "I think that if I give him (Stalin)
everything I possibly
can and ask nothing in return he won't try to annex anything and will
work with me for a world of democracy
But within a few months of Yalta, Roosevelt at last saw his
"We can't do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of the
promises he made at Yalta." And then there's my all-time favorite
Roosevelt quotes, "Stalin is
not a man of his word."
But Stalin did keep his promise to enter the war against
Two days after the atomic bomb was dropped and just a few days before
the Japanese surrender, Stalin's troops
poured into Manchuria, and as a result of
this token effort, Stalin and the Russians were rewarded with
chunks of Japanese territory. And
soon, the democracies were bargaining with Stalin again.
In July and August 1945, the victorious allies met at Potsdam to try
to work out a settlement. At Potsdam, it was also agreed the Germany
would be divided into
occupied zones and punished in other ways. Later, the
zone would be East Germany, the three zones occupied by France, Britain
and the U.S. would unite into West Germany.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the Potsdam conference agreement
strengthened the Soviet Union. The Soviets were given all sorts
concessions to compensate them for their sacrifices during the
war--concesssions that came at the expense of other eastern European
countries, particularly Poland.
One good thing came out of the Potsdam conference. It was decided
that Nazis who had committed atrocities during the war would be put on
trial. This led to the famous Nuremberg trials where Nazi war
criminals were told over and over again that following orders was no
excuse for crimes against humanity. A good principle,
but--ironically--sitting among the judges were Soviet
officials--officials from a nation that committed crimes as bad or
worse than those of the Nazis. Poland was a good example of problem.
Remember that the Soviets had
invaded Eastern Poland during the first days of WWII. Among other
atrocities, they took 22,000 Polish officers that they had
captured, marched them into Katyn forest, and
massacred them all. But that was not nearly as bad as what
was to come.
In the last days of World War II, the Soviets could have come to the
aid of the Polish resistance forces. Instead, they let Hitler do
much of their dirty work for them, allowing the resistance forces to be
wiped out before moving in themselves. And when Soviet troops
finally march in, the treated Polish civilians with the utmost
brutality, raping women, stealing everything of value, and killing
anyone who tried to resistance.
When the Soviet troops got to German territory, there treatment of
civilians was even worse. Soviet soldiers raped tens of thousands
of women and young girls--probably committing at least two million
[See this review
of Antony's Beever's book on the fall of Berlin or another
review of Beever's book.]
Stalin didn't mind at all--he *wanted* such behavior.
Why? To create tremendous fear of the Soviet army. And it
worked. Fear of the Soviets was powerful tool
of local communists in securing support, and eventually communist
governments working hand in glove with the Soviet Union
controlled most of the countries of eastern Europe.
Winston Churchill now warned of a new menace, telling us that "An
iron curtain descended on Europe."
But it wasn't just
Europe. In 1949, Communists took over in China too. Here's
another instance where a nation that might have gone in a very
different direction succumbs to totalitarianism. It the early
years of the 20th century, China had begun to move toward democracy
under the leadership of Dr.
Sun-Yat-Sen was a Christian convert who, using the slogan "Nationalism,
Democracy, Livelihood" created a movement strong enough to establish
what's called the Chinese Republic. After Sun Yet-Sen's death,
Republic fell to his brother-in-law, Chiang Kai
however, it was not
democratic ideas that dominated China, but a different set of European
the ideas of the German writer Karl Marx. The leader of the
movement in China was Mao Tse-Tung. Mao managed to take over
1949, and he set about to remake the country along Marxist lines.
1959, Mao launched the
"Great Leap Forward," an attempt to change the Chinese economy.
This involved the construction of everything from roads to
It also involved the collectivization of agriculture. The
Too much change, too quickly--and probably 25,000,000 dead.
worked to transform China in
other ways--not just the economy. From 1966-1969 he backed the
"Cultural Revolution," a movement aimed at getting rid of the
"four olds," old ideology, old thought, old habits, old
customs. Millions of young people joined the Red Guard--and
themselves to wanton destruction of anything even vaguely associated
Chinese traditions. More than 1,000,000 leaders (including
teachers) were jailed, beaten, and (usually) killed.
a tremendously costly
transformation! But the China that emerged was
going to be a major player in world affairs, and, with both the Soviet
Union and China pushing for further Communist expansion,
it looked like
the Marxist dream of world-wide communism might become a reality.
In the 1950's, Stalin's successor Nikita Kruschev
could confidently tell the democracies, "We will bury you." And
for more than
40 years it looked as if there was a chance
they would. This period (from roughly 1945-1991) is what we call the
period of the Cold War, the period in which advocates of Communism (led
by the Soviet Union and China) worked to expand that particularly
totalitarianism, while advocates of democracy (led by the United
States) worked to contain Communism.
The countries of the Free World had some advantages. Liberal
democracy, with its free markets and free men, invariably works out
better in economic terms. Note the contrast between free West
Germany and communist East Germany. Further, citizens of a
democracy enjoy freedoms those living under totalitarianism can't even
But this very freedom was, to a certain extent, a
disadvantage. Communist agents and communist sympathizers [see
Mona Charon's book Useful
Idiots.] could take
advantage of fundamental western freedoms
like freedom of the speech and freedom of the press to advocate for a
system where there would be no freedom of speech of freedom of the
press. By the late 1960's, anti-Communism had become
unfashionable among the Western elites. President John Kennedy
had promised that the United States would, "Pay any price, bear
any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend,
oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of
liberty." But after the Vietnam war debacle, it didn't look as if
even the United States found the struggle against communist expansion
But in the 1980's, leaders like Maggie Thatcher in Britain,
Helmut Kohl in Germany, and Ronald Reagan in the United States led a
free-world resurgence. Partly, this came about through aggressive
foreign policy decisions and an aggressive arms build-up the Soviets
couldn't match. But, perhaps more important, Thatcher and Reagan
especially moved toward laissez-faire economic and free trade.
This led to an era of unprecedented prosperity in the West.
Seeing the wealth of the West and their own poverty, one by one the
nations of Eastern Europe threw out their communist leaders and
embraced democracy. In 1991, the Soviet Union itself fell
apart with many of its constituent units trying to create free and
Writer Francis Fukuyama proclaimed that we had reached the end of
history: not with the dictatorship of the Proletariat, but with liberal
democracy as the form of government prevailing everywhere and forever.
The Jeffersonian political philosophy of the American founders can be
summarized in a single phrase, "That government is best which governs
least." By 1991, it looked like at last mankind had learned that
Now the question is will the lesson stay learned? Or will we once
again succumb to the totalitarian temptation and welcome the guiding
and controlling hand of Big Brother?