”The cold war is now behind us. Let us not wrangle over who won it.” Mikhail Gorbachev, 1990
In an insightful 1944 essay, George Orwell coined the famous phrase “History is written by the winners.” His point was that totalitarian regimes like the Nazis and the Communists showed no regard for truth, in and of itself; and would compose and teach whatever “facts” suited their political agendas. If Hitler succeeded in conquering Europe, Orwell said, future generations of Europeans would believe whatever lies his National Socialists chose to put in their history books.
Orwell, however, did not foresee scholars in free countries like England and the US practicing this kind of creative “history” writing on behalf of the enemies of their own countries. He would probably be surprised at some of the tendentious teaching that goes on in college history classes these days.
History professors in the US tend to be reflexively hostile to anything anti-Communist (as I pointed out in a recent column). One result of this anti-anti-Communism is that leftist professors deliberately re-write the history of the Cold War to protect the losers from embarrassment, and deny the winners the credit they deserve.
The Cold War certainly was a war, and the Soviets certainly were the losers. By failing in their efforts to conquer the world, they lost. But the left-leaning academics who write most mainstream history textbooks do everything they can to re-frame the end of the Cold War as anything but a victory of free people and free enterprise over an aggressive and imperialistic Marxist empire.
Soviet Imperialism: A Founding Principle
From its earliest days Communist Russia announced its intentions of imposing Communism on the rest of the world by force. Dictator Vladimir Lenin renounced all conventional moral principles, saying that the only morality his Communist Party recognized was the moral imperative to destroy capitalism and extend Communism: “It is often suggested that we have no ethics of our own; very often the bourgeoisie accuse us Communists of rejecting all morality…We say: morality is what serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the working people around the proletariat, which is building up a new, communist society.”
In keeping with this philosophy, Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine, Byelorussia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan between 1917 and 1922. In 1922 Russia and its slave states formally combined to form the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, or USSR, colloquially known as the Soviet Union.
In 1932 and ‘33 the Soviet government in Moscow murdered several million Ukrainians to suppress an independence movement.
In 1939 Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin signed an ironically-named “non-aggression pact” with German dictator Adolf Hitler, under which the two leaders agreed to stay out of each other’s way while attacking and enslaving various smaller European nations. Over the next couple years the USSR conquered Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Bessarabia; and took parts of Bukovina and Finland.
In the immediate aftermath of WWII, while the United States was spending billions to rebuild wartime enemies Japan and West Germany, the USSR expanded its empire.
On August 9 of 1945, the very day when the US dropped the second of the two atom bombs that brought about Japan’s unconditional surrender, the Soviet Union unilaterally renounced a non-aggression treaty with Japan, and took advantage of the situation by attacking and annexing Japanese territory in eastern Asia.
By the late 1940’s the Soviet Union had conquered and enslaved the populations of East Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Desperate citizens fled their homes to seek freedom in western Europe, so the Communists erected an “Iron Curtain” of walls and mine fields, guarded by soldiers in machine-gun towers, to keep the enslaved peoples of eastern Europe from escaping.
In 1956 the Soviet Army violently crushed independence movements in Hungary and Poland. In 1968 it did the same in Czechoslovakia. Soviet conquest was to be absolute; the slave states, it was clear, would have no rights of their own.
During the half-dozen years before Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration as US President, the Soviet Union and the Communists surrogates it armed and funded conquered South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, South Yemen, Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Grenada, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan.
The Cold War was indeed a war; a war the Soviet leaders in Moscow were waging against every nation and every people that had not yet submitted to Soviet conquest.
This is the war the free world, under Reagan’s resolute and determined leadership, ultimately won.
The View from the Ivory Tower
Mainstream history textbooks tend to frame the Cold War as a misunderstanding between two morally equivalent nations; both of which really just wanted to protect their own interests, and both of which got caught up in an un-necessary arms race. Left-leaning history professors portray America’s Cold War era military and counter-espionage efforts not as defensive moves to protect the US against an aggressive enemy, but as unfair and unneeded militarism.
The freshman history textbook Making a Nation, for example, takes the position that weapons research was the real villain of the Cold War. According to this book a 1963 nuclear weapons Test Ban Treaty between the US and the USSR “might have marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.”1 The book does not mention that the Soviet Union continued imposing Communists puppet regimes on various Third World nations, for many years after the signing of that 1963 treaty.
Other textbooks attribute the end of the Cold War to the magnanimity of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. Nation of Nations tells students that “In 1985 a fresh spirit entered the Kremlin.” This fresh spirit, Gorbachev, quickly “set about improving relations with the United States, reducing military commitments, and adopting a policy of openness (glasnost) about problems in the Soviet Union.”2
The Textbook American Journey combines the two themes and credits Gorbachev with ending the Cold War by pushing tenaciously for arms control. Under the heading “Thaw in the Cold War started in Moscow,” the book introduces Gorbachev as a “picture of vigor” and describes how he dedicated himself to freeing the USSR from the arms race. Under his leadership, the book says, “the Soviets offered one concession after another in a drive for arms control.”3
The truth is very different from the depictions in most mainstream history textbooks. The Soviets, including Premier Gorbachev, were not interested in peace; they were interested in conquest. Having to accept the dismantlement of their empire was the last thing any Soviet leader wanted. In a future post I will address the process by which the United States and her allies thwarted Soviet aggression, won the Cold War, and send the Soviet empire to what President Reagan called “the ash-heap of history.”
1Boydston, Cullather, Lewis, McGerr, & Oakes; Making a Nation (Volume II, 2004 edition)
2Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, & Stoff; Nation of Nations (Volume II, 2006 edition)
3Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, Barney, & Weir; American Journey (Volume II,2007 edition)