This op-ed piece by a very conservative historian appeared on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall. Its over-the-top distortion prompted several people (including me) to send letters to the editor, three of which were published (a fourth praised Reagan)(below). I've also included an e-mail exchange I had with a self-proclaimed "Reagan admirer" who wrote to tell me he thinks I'm dumb and my letter inane (bottom).
I'm adding this to my "Germany
after 1945" course website as an example of how differently people
can view causality. So: what did bring the Berlin wall down??
LA Times, Nov. 7, 2004
By Dinesh D'Souza
As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on Tuesday, it's worth asking how and why did the wall come tumbling down? I argue that it was Ronald Reagan's statesmanship that brought it down and hastened the collapse of the Soviet empire. Reagan didn't do it alone, but without him it probably wouldn't have happened.
As early as 1981, when almost everyone considered the Soviet empire a permanent fixture of the international landscape, Reagan spoke at the University of Notre Dame, predicting that "the West won't contain communism; it will transcend communism." The next year, he told the British Parliament that freedom and democracy would "leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history." The wise men in the media and academia scoffed. Today these same pundits maintain that the Soviet Union collapsed because of economic failure, or that Mikhail Gorbachev was responsible.
This analysis makes no sense. Sure, the Soviet Union had economic problems, but it had been ailing for most of the century. Never has a great empire imploded because of poor economic performance alone.
Like many empires suffering from domestic strains, the Soviets during the 1970s compensated by pursuing an aggressive foreign policy. Between 1974 and 1980, 10 countries fell into the Soviet orbit: South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, South Yemen, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Grenada and Afghanistan. The Soviet nuclear arsenal surpassed that of the U.S., and the Soviets targeted a new generation of missiles at Western Europe. The Soviet Union in 1980 seemed to be in the vanguard of history.
It is no less problematic to attribute the Soviet collapse to Gorbachev. He was undoubtedly a reformer, but the communist bosses did not put him in power in 1985 to lead the party, and the regime, over the precipice.
Nor did Gorbachev see this as his role. He insisted throughout the second half of the 1980s that he sought to invigorate the economy in order to strengthen the military. The Politburo supported his reforms because he promised "regained confidence in the party." No one was more surprised than Gorbachev when the Soviet regime disintegrated.
The only man who foresaw the Soviet collapse and implemented policies to bring it about was Reagan. During his first term Reagan pursued tough policies aimed at curtailing the Soviet nuclear threat and stopping Soviet advances around the world. Calling the Soviets an "evil empire," Reagan initiated a massive defense buildup. He deployed Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe. He sent weapons and other assistance to anti-communist guerrillas in Soviet satellites like Afghanistan, Angola and Nicaragua. He announced a new program of missile defenses that would eventually "make nuclear weapons obsolete."
These measures were fiercely resisted by liberal Democrats, who decried Reagan's policies as confrontational and likely to make nuclear war more likely. But Reagan's military buildup and his missile defense program threatened the Soviets with an arms race they could ill afford. His doctrine of aid to anti-communist guerrillas halted Soviet advances in the Third World: Between 1980 and 1985, not an inch of real estate fell into Moscow's hands.
It was Reagan who was responsible for thwarting Soviet gains and spurring a loss of nerve that contributed to the elevation of Gorbachev to power. Gorbachev's policies were responses to circumstances created not by him but by Reagan. Ilya Zaslavsky, who served in the Congress of People's Deputies, said later that the true originator of glasnost and perestroika was not Gorbachev but Reagan.
Reagan immediately recognized Gorbachev as a new breed of Soviet leader. He supported Gorbachev's reforms and arms control initiatives, and this time it was the conservatives who criticized him as being naive and credulous. William F. Buckley Jr. warned that Reagan's new stance was "on the order of changing our entire position toward Adolf Hitler." The criticism missed the larger current of events that Reagan alone appeared to have understood. In attempting to reform communism, Gorbachev was destroying the system. Reagan encouraged him every step of the way.
Today we face new challenges, such as Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism, and these require a different type of leadership and strategy of combat. Even so, 15 years after the wall came down, we should pause to reflect on the prescient leadership of the man who, in Margaret Thatcher's words, "won the Cold War … without firing a shot."
|Thursday, November 11, 2004 (back to top)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Saturday, November 13, 2004 (back to top)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Oh please, Dinesh D'Souza's Reagan adulation goes way too far. In reality,
it was the peoples of eastern Europe, the Poles, Germans, Czechs, Hungarians,
etc. whose persistent pressure on their governments forced them into opening
towards the west. To suggest that Reagan was the "true" originator
of Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika is utterly absurd.
Reagan will go down in history as one of our greatest presidents. His steadfastness in standing up to "the evil empire" freed millions of people from the shackles of communism. He ended the Cold War and made peace with the Soviet Union by saying, "trust, but verify" in regard to the nuclear weapons supplies of both countries. He gave us comfort and hope when we lost seven astronauts in the space shuttle Challenger tragedy in 1986, saying that "sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain."
Reagan was a moral, caring and kind man who was respected by friend and foe. His legacy is that he inspired us to become involved and he made this world a safer, better place.
D'Souza may be correct by giving Reagan the credit for winning the war
against the Soviets. He would be more believable if he also gave Reagan
his share of blame for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. It was Reagan
who sent Donald Rumsfeld to Hussein to enlist his aid in our struggle
against Iran and who then supplied Hussein and likewise Bin Laden to fight
against the Soviet Union. This policy was then carried on by George H.W.
Bush and Dick Cheney, even after Hussein killed his own people, and their
refusal to aid the people of Iraq when they rose up against Hussein is
responsible for the problems we face today.
that day and the next I had the following e-mail exchange with the founder
and main man of a Public & Investor Relations Firm in the LA area (for
25 years he's been writing PR newsletters for small businesses; his name
suggests he might have Russian ancestry): (back to
Read your LA Times Reagan letter and it is....
Fall of Berlin Wall vs. Fall of Baghdad in 2003: bad history continues...
LA Times editorial page letters, April 15, 2005
Fall of Baghdad Doesn't Compare to Berlin Wall
Re "Bush Talk to Troops Recalls Fall of Baghdad," April 13:
The idea that President Bush would equate the war in Iraq with the fall
of the Berlin Wall just shows how ignorant he really is. The Berlin Wall
was brought down by the citizens of those European countries who had lived
under communism. The fall of Saddam Hussein was brought about by Bush's
illegal initiation of a war.
The president declared, "The toppling of Saddam Hussein's
statue in Baghdad will be recorded, alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall,
as one of the great moments in the history of liberty."
Actually, it will be recorded as one of the great moments of propaganda.
How could The Times fail to point out that the toppling of the statue
was a staged event, conducted by U.S. personnel, with tight camera angles
to falsely suggest large numbers of Iraqis present. The BBC reported that
"dozens" of Iraqis were involved. A Reuters wide-angle photograph
of Firdos Square clearly shows the area sealed off by the U.S. military.
[note 6/26/07: near the bottom of this rationalrevolution.net page about Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 there is a good discussion of the media reporting on the toppling of the statue, with a transcript of the Fox News report, an eyewitness report, and a link to a July 3, 2004 LA Times report noting that the US Army's Psychological Operations (Psyops) stage-managed the event, as well as several images.