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March 12, 2001

Out of the Ice Age?

The cold war is over” One sometimes hears this put forward with the implication that there is no more to be said on the subject and nothing to be learned from it. But, of course, events do not cease to be of significance because they belong to the past. The cold war’s effects are very much with us in two major spheres.

First, the Russia that has emerged, since Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze abandoned the unappeasable and total claims of the Soviet regime in 1991, has only had ten years to start recuperating.

In Russia, a centuries-old tradition of despotism and imperialism was greatly enhanced by seventy years of continual physical and mental terror. Even the most liberal of the Russian intelligentsia speak of the distortion their minds still feel. As to the less liberal, recent events have left them with the imperialist idea of “Russian greatness” as their only conceptual refuge. In the early 1990s, Russian leaders were frank and clear about the issues of the cold war. That has changed—as is strikingly illustrated in a recent issue of International Affairs (which is in effect an organ of the Russian foreign ministry) where a long, unsigned conspectus of the past century has a sequence of such interpretations as,

The first steps toward a cold war were made by the United States, which would not like to see East Europe falling under Soviet influence.... The Truman Doctrine was one of the United States’ first practical steps in the unleashing of the cold war.... The Marshall Plan Talks on the program were at first attended by the USSR but it dropped out since Moscow was asked to pull out of East Europe, something the Soviet leaders could not agree to do. The Marshall Plan in fact initiates a split of Europe after the war.... The Warsaw Pact was founded by representatives of eight East European socialist countries who signed a treaty of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance. It formed a worthy counterbalance to NATO.

This shows a very nasty mood in Russian foreign policy circles—back to anti-Western misinformation and degeneration into worldwide troublemaking. Our own foreign policy makers have been aware of moods in Moscow.

But, of course, that false view is also found in the West. The CNN television series on the cold war, with Joseph Stalin balanced by Joseph McCarthy, Kennedy worse than Castro, was a large-scale example. But this type of thing is also to be found in a whole series of products of the academic presses that misrepresent the whole communist phenomenon—the educated media in general, apart from the CNN debacle, being less susceptible.

Such misleading attitudes can only have a bad effect on the informed Western citizen’s grasp of today’s problems and on the political circles that formulate policies. Ignorance of history is bad enough but especially on these issues. Thus, on these interpolated fronts, in Russia and the West, the cold war is still very much a burning issue.