November 2, 1999

November 2, 1999 | Commentary on Political Thought

Remembering Our Cold War Heroes

When the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, 1989, and it was clear the United States had won the Cold War, I was serving in the White House as Vice President Dan Quayle's speechwriter. What amazed me back then was how the Bush administration downplayed our victory. I understood why we were so reticent: President Bush wanted to avoid doing anything that might embarrass or undermine the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev. Yet I also thought that in passing over our victory as lightly as it did, the Bush administration had left a huge debt unpaid -- a debt of gratitude to the heroic figures who made our victory possible.

The 10th anniversary of the Wall's fall is another opportunity for Americans to give thanks to those who delivered us from the evils of communism. But determining who the architects of America's victory were is no easy task, since it requires an explanation of how the Cold War was fought and won.

As I see it, the Cold War can be divided into three phases. In the first phase (1945-1970) the United States and its allies came to recognize that the Soviet Union had replaced Nazi Germany as their principal adversary, and devised a strategy -- "containment" -- to deal with it. In the second phase (1970-1980), containment was discredited by the war in Vietnam, and the United States was casting about uneasily for a new strategy. In the final phase (1980-1991), the United States adopted a new approach to the Cold War and launched an all-out attack -- ideological, economic, technological and military -- to undermine the Soviet system. This approach proved successful.

I believe six great figures shaped the West's response to the Soviet challenge over the course of the Cold War and are principally responsible for America's victory: Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan.

Truman, Adenauer and Churchill belong to the first phase of the struggle, and all three deserve credit for saving Western Europe from Soviet domination. In Harry Truman's case, the reasons are obvious: the Greek-Turkish aid package, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift and NATO. Adenauer, however, seems largely forgotten in the United States today, yet by aligning West Germany clearly and unequivocally with the Free World, he had almost as much to do with America's eventual victory as Truman did.

Winston Churchill would surely not have considered himself an architect of victory, for the simple reason that the policies he advocated were never adopted during his lifetime. This is a great pity, for had the West followed his strategy in 1919 and strangled the Bolshevik regime in its infancy, the United States would not have had to fight the Cold War. Churchill once called World War II the "unnecessary war" because it could so easily have been prevented. The Cold War was even less necessary -- if only the West had taken Churchill's advice.

Churchill's contribution to the anti-communist cause did not end in 1919. On March 5, 1946, in his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Mo., he called for a showdown with Moscow to achieve a lasting "settlement." While he did not spell out the details of such a settlement (other than to say that it should result in "the establishment of conditions of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries"), it was clear from subsequent remarks that he envisaged using America's overwhelming nuclear superiority to force Stalin to disgorge his newly acquired empire in Central and Eastern Europe. Well before Reagan, Churchill advocated a rollback strategy in place of containment.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn's great contribution to America's victory came during the second phase of the struggle. It was largely thanks to him that American anti-communists on both the left (the AFL-CIO) and the right (the Reagan Republicans) -- all of whom were demoralized by America's defeat in Vietnam and the subsequent policy of détente -- returned to their earlier conviction that the Cold War was a titanic moral struggle between good and evil, freedom and tyranny. At the time, "realists" like former secretary of state Henry Kissinger were dismayed by this approach, but in retrospect it is clear -- even to Dr. Kissinger -- that for the United States to summon the energy to prevail, the Cold War had to be viewed morally.

The two great figures of the third phase of the struggle are Pope John Paul II and Reagan, and in my view neither would have succeeded without the other. The pope is one of the architects of victory because it is impossible to conceive of what occurred in 1989 (or 1991) without the rise of Solidarity in Poland in 1981, and it is impossible to imagine the rise of Solidarity absent the pope. Though it called itself a free trade union, Solidarity was really a non-violent revolutionary movement aimed at toppling Soviet tyranny in Poland, and the Polish pope was its principal inspirer, advocate and protector.

Acting through their Polish surrogate, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Soviets managed to suppress Solidarity -- but again thanks to the pope (along with timely assistance from Bill Casey's CIA and Lane Kirkland's AFL-CIO) it was never destroyed. And when, under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union released its grip on Poland, Solidarity was able to step into the power vacuum and to inspire other anti-Soviet movements in Eastern and Central Europe -- and finally in the Soviet Union itself. In other words, the rise and success of Solidarity finally vindicated the much-criticized domino theory, only in reverse.

But why was Gorbachev's Soviet Union willing to release its grip on Poland in the first place? Here we come to Ronald Reagan's great contribution. When he took office, Reagan believed that the Soviet Union, for all of its outward signs of vigor, was faced with insoluble economic and social problems at home. If the United States exploited these problems, it could bring about internal reforms leading to what the key foreign policy document of the Reagan era, National Security Decision Directive 75, called "a more pluralistic political and economic system in which the power of the privileged ruling elite is greatly reduced." This was not Harry Truman's containment policy; it was Churchill's rollback -- eroding the nomenklatura's internal power.

Following the detailed gameplan laid out in NSDD 75, Reagan pounded the Soviet Union. Soviet leaders indignantly accused him of trying to reverse the gains of détente, and they were absolutely right. The Reagan Doctrine, the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Democracy Initiative, the military buildup, the covert assistance to Solidarity and the various economic sanctions against Moscow, all were meant to force an already shaky system to embark on a course of radical reform.

And when a Soviet reformer named Mikhail Gorbachev came along half-way through Reagan's presidency, the veteran Hollywood actor (much to the chagrin of many of his conservative allies) embraced him with all his warmth and charm -- but never once let up on the pressure. This forced Gorbachev to adopt ever-more far-reaching reforms, until the system over which he presided, and which he had sought to save, finally collapsed -- just as Ronald Reagan hoped it would.

Thanks to these six giants, the West won the Cold War as decisively as any conflict has ever been won. Our adversary, the Soviet Union, no longer exists; the communist ideology in whose name it waged war is totally discredited; and our democratic capitalist way of life has prevailed.

Joseph Shattan, who served in both the Reagan and Bush administrations, is the author of the just-published Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), book, "Architects of Victory: Six Heroes of the Cold War."

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