When we were young, we all knew the USSR was the main source of everything bad.
Thats right. The Soviet Union. The mother lode of godless communism. They were, we were told, scheming to bury us. For my generation there was Nikita Khrushchev, bald, missing teeth, warts, grinning evilly, banging his shoe on the table. Yep. Bad. Later Soviet leaders looked merely glum.
That was, we knew, because those old men hadnt been able to enslave us all yet. Soft-headed liberals suggested they were mellowing. Nah. In September 1989, they shot down a defenseless Korean airliner.
Same old commies. Once, when I was about 10, a friends mom told me there were Russians in the basement of the Kremlin whose only job was to make up lists of Americans to be shot after they took over. I prayed they hadnt gotten to the Ls.
We grew up reading nuclear-annihilation chillers, of the near-miss variety (Fail Safe) and those of life after partial or total Armageddon (Alas, Babylon; On The Beach). Later, there were TV counterparts, "The Day After" and the scarier "British Threads," and the Reagan-era miniseries "Amerika."
Then the thing happened nobody ever imagined.
Poof! The Soviet Union vanished. Peacefully.
The evil empire, out of business! Gave up! Embraced democracy! They let churches reopen, let the enslaved captive nations (remember captive nations week?) go free, the whole nine versts. They stopped pointing their missiles at us, took their troops out of Eastern Europe, let anybody write or read anything they wanted.
Which was just about the worst thing ever to happen to them, or to us.
Seriously. Consider. The fall of the Soviet Union has led to bloody wars, including the one we now wage against the remains of Yugoslavia. Russia, the main "successor state" to the old motherland, is in terrible shape. Nearly two of every five Russians are below the poverty line, which pretty much means starvation. Conditions drifted steadily downward after 1991. Then, last summer, they totally collapsed.
Real money income now, Harvard Universitys Center for Russian Studies reports, is barely half (54 percent) of what it was last year, when it was already bad. Nobody, except for speculators, high-ranking criminals, the Mafia and a few politically connected millionaires, has any money, and 88 percent of Russians have no savings at all.
Russia isnt even a factor in arms sales. We are the new champion merchant of death. Ten years ago, the USSR sold the world three times as many weapons as did the United States of America. Now, we have 50 percent of all world arms sales, Russia has 3 percent. No wonder the average man grumbles that we masterminded their demise.
Yet the USA has suffered too.
When the Soviet Union and the ideology it championed was a worthy opponent, we knew what we stood for, too. President Kennedys time inspires nostalgia now, in part because we "knew" what life was all about. We saw things in terms of "a long, twilight struggle" for the world.
Naturally, this led to horrible mistakes. Vietnam. The Bay of Pigs. Counterinsurgency mischief. Yet the competition also led to the Peace Corps, and the feeling that we had better offer the developing nations (the "Third World" then) some better alternatives and positive reasons why they should embrace our way.
Then, too, there was always the memory that the USSR had meant to be a workers state. Richard Wright, an expert on automotive history who teaches journalism at Wayne State, once told me, "I think that while it was there, it was always a reminder to the bosses," some restraining influence on how far they could go.
But wasnt it a horrible totalitarian dictatorship? Indeed. But the brutal mass murdering days of Stalin ended in the 1950s. By the 1970s, yes, there was bleak repression, but also an odd sense of solidarity among those who battled for a sort of life. By all accounts, they are not doing nearly as well now. The Soviet threat kept peace in Yugoslavia for decades. Ever since it was removed, the citizens of that multinational state have been exercising their freedom to try to murder those of other ethnic groups as energetically as possible. Russians themselves did the same in Chechnya.
Now our new ally has rampant inflation and an erratic, alcoholic leader who is clearly dying and is propped up by right-wing maniacs. The remnants of the worst elements of the old Communist Party expect to win parliamentary elections this fall.
What few in the bad old days realized is that after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the nuclear world was much safer than it is today, or may ever be again.
Having come close to the brink, neither side wanted to risk blowing up the world. Today, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences research council says that the security protecting Russias aging, vast nuclear weapons stockpiles is highly deficient; plutonium and enriched uranium could easily be stolen, they concluded.
Well, I could go on, but you get my drift. For their sake and ours, we have a clear and sacred duty: Re-establish the Soviet Union, by force if necessary.
We need an enemy. They need a rudder
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