I spent the summer of 1961 behind the Iron Curtain. I was part of the US–USSR student exchange program. It was the second year of the program that operated under auspices of the US Department of State. Our return to the West via train through East Germany was interrupted by the construction of the Berlin Wall. We were sent back to Poland. The East German rail tracks were occupied with Soviet troop and tank trains as the Red Army concentrated in East Germany to face down any Western interference.
Fortunately, in those days there were no neoconservatives. Washington had not grown the hubris it so well displays in the 21st century. The wall was built and war was avoided. The wall backfired on the Soviets. Both JFK and Ronald Reagan used it to good propaganda effect.
In those days America stood for freedom, and the Soviet Union for oppression. Much of this impression was created by Western propaganda, but there was some semblance to the truth in the image. The communists had a Julian Assange and an Edward Snowden of their own. His name was Cardinal Jozef Mindszenty, the leader of the Hungarian Catholic Church.
Mindszenty opposed tyranny. For his efforts he was imprisoned by the Nazis. Communists also regarded him as an undesirable, and he was tortured and given a life sentence in 1949.
Freed by the short-lived Hungarian Revolution in 1956, Mindszenty reached the American Embassy in Budapest and was granted political asylum by Washington. However, the communists would not give him the free passage that asylum presumes, and Mindszenty lived in the US Embassy for 15 years — 79% of his remaining life.
In the 21st century roles have reversed. Today it is Washington that is enamored of tyranny. On Washington’s orders, the UK will not permit Julian Assange free passage to Ecuador, where he has been granted asylum. Like Cardinal Mindszenty, Assange is stuck in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.
Washington will not permit its European vassal states to allow overflights of airliners carrying Edward Snowden to any of the countries that have offered Snowden asylum. Snowden is stuck in the Moscow airport.
In Washington politicians of both parties demand that Snowden be captured and executed. Politicians demand that Russia be punished for not violating international law, seizing Snowden, and turning him over to Washington to be tortured and executed, despite the fact that Washington has no extradition treaty with Russia.
Snowden did United States citizens a great service. He told us that despite constitutional prohibition, Washington had implemented a universal spy system intercepting every communication of every American and much of the rest of the world. Special facilities are built in which to store these communications.
In other words, Snowden did what Americans are supposed to do — disclose government crimes against the Constitution and against citizens. Without a free press there is nothing but the government’s lies. In order to protect its lies from exposure, Washington intends to exterminate all truth tellers.
The Obama Regime is the most oppressive regime ever in its prosecution of protected whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are protected by law, but the Obama Regime insists that whistleblowers are not really whistleblowers. Instead, the Obama Regime defines whistleblowers as spies, traitors, and foreign agents. Congress, the media, and the faux judiciary echo the executive branch propaganda that whistleblowers are a threat to America. It is not the government that is violating and raping the US Constitution that is a threat. It is the whistleblowers who inform us of the rape who are the threat.
The Obama Regime has destroyed press freedom. A lackey federal appeals court has ruled that NY Times reporter James Risen must testify in the trial of a CIA officer charged with providing Risen with information about CIA plots against Iran. The ruling of this fascist court destroys confidentiality and is intended to end all leaks of the government’s crimes to media.
What Americans have learned in the 21st century is that the US government lies about everything and breaks every law. Without whistleblowers, Americans will remain in the dark as “their” government enserfs them, destroying every liberty, and impoverishes them with endless wars for Washington’s and Wall Street’s hegemony.
Snowden harmed no one except the liars and traitors in the US government. Contrast Washington’s animosity against Snowden with the pardon that Bush gave to Dick Cheney aide, Libby, who took the fall for his boss for blowing the cover, a felony, on a covert CIA operative, the spouse of a former government official who exposed the Bush/Cheney/neocon lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Whatever serves the tiny clique that rules america is legal; whatever exposes the criminals is illegal.
That’s all there is to it.
Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Gerald Celente’s Trends Journal. He has had numerous university appointments. His latest book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Failure-Capitalism-Economic-Dissolution-ebook/dp/B00BLPJNWE/ref=sr_1_17?ie=UTF8&qid=1362095594&sr=8-17&keywords=paul+craig+roberts
There’s no shortage of food, no shortage of wealth to solve social crises. The problem is a system that enriches a few and starves multitudes.
We hear day in day out about the massive poverty and hunger that exists in the world. NGO’s and various non-profits have been around for decades appealing for assistance in feeding the world’s poor. In the third world, water is as precious as gold. Sewage and water sources run parallel in the streets due to the lack of modern infrastructure systems.
More often than not, the experts in the universities and think tanks of the 1% drag the age-old Malthusian explanation out of the closet. There is simply an overpopulation problem. It is the poor that are to blame, if only they’d have fewer children.
But as I have pointed out in previous blogs, it is not too many people that are the problem. It is not the lack of medical knowledge or technical expertise that leads to staggering infant and adult death rates in some parts of the world. It is the lack of social infrastructure and the capital needed to provide it.
The world produces enough food to feed everyone according to Hunger Notes —17% more calories today than it did 30 years ago. But food is a commodity and its production does not take place if the end product cannot be bought and the value added during the production process realized. The capitalist class would call this lack of demand. But in the world of the market, if you can’t pay you can’t play. No money for food, then you starve.
This is the absurdity of capitalism that Marx wrote about, that we starve amid plenty. He wrote in 1848:
“It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.”
Unicef estimates that between 2000 and 2010 92 million children died form hunger and diseases, “…many of the illnesses and conditions that children suffer are easily preventable, technically.” says Global Issues, in other words, they are really what we might refer to as “man made” deaths. They are in actuality, market induced deaths. Almost 2 million children a year die form diarrhea due to lack of safe drinking water, another market induced crisis with which even the UN seems to agree:
“We reject this [Malthusian perspective that global water problems are a problem of scarcity and population growth]. The availability of water is a concern for some countries. But the scarcity at the heart of the global water crisis is rooted in power, poverty and inequality, not in physical availability.” (2006 UN Human Development Report, p.2)
The cost of bringing people safe water is negligible when compared to the concentration of wealth. “The world’s billionaires — just 497 people (approximately 0.000008% of the world’s population) — were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP).” According to the World Bank. The world’s richest, Business Week claims, have a collective net worth of $2.8 trillion.
Anyway you measure it, there is plenty of money in the world. These characters spend half their time hiding this wealth to protect it, form ex-wives, estranged children and the rest of us. But how do they get it?
Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who is squabbling with his wife over a $9 billion nest egg and who has his cash stashed all over the world, made most of his money (including $500 million in art, $36 million in Jewelry and an $80 million yacht) “…from the sale of two potash fertilizer companies for a combined $8 billion…” Business Week adds.
But how did he come to own these huge operations; and in such a short period? It’s quite simple really and one of the reasons Gorbachev was so popular with the B movie actor and US president Ronald Reagan and the global 1%. Gorbachev was a former leading Stalinist bureaucrat. He was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the period when one of the most repressive totalitarian regimes in history began to draw its last breath and collapse under its own bureaucratic weight.
Gorbachev and his old buddies including many former KGB thugs like Putin who reached the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel, wasn’t about to go down with the sinking ship. What happened in a nutshell, and why we see so many prominent Russian millionaires and billionaires is that the old KGB and moribund party men appropriated the collective and collectivized wealth of the Soviet and Russian people.
The US capitalist class welcomed the plunder and their former KGB credentials were a thing of the past as long as capitalism could flourish. That’s where Rybolovlev and other Russians like him got their wealth.
No doubt readers are getting a bit bored with it but there is a need to hammer it home to counter the propaganda of the world’s bourgeois that there is not enough money to feed, clothe, house and provide humanity with a decent and productive life. I am talking about the claim by the Tax Justice Network that wealthy individuals, (we’re not talking corporations here) stashed as much as $32 trillion in offshore accounts in 2010 in order to avoid taxes. This amounts to the combined GDP of the U S and Japan. “Fewer than 100,000 people own $9.8 trillion of offshore assets,” BW claims. This exists as more than 9 million people die worldwide each year because of hunger and malnutrition; 5 million of them are children.
This situation is not something that cannot change. It is not an insoluble dilemma. It is not the fault of the victims, of “human greed” in the abstract or of “natural disasters” or the by-product of supernatural squabbling between a benign god and his disgruntled fallen angel.
It is a very simple; the Russian billionaires for example attained their rapid billionaire status simply through the transfer of the collective wealth of society to individuals including the means for generating that wealth.
We solve the problem by transferring collective wealth, and more importantly, the means by which it is created, the ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, from private individuals to the collective.
Through this process, we can emerge from the depths of depravity to the apex of civilization. True freedom.
Can the body’s immune response help treat cancer?
In recent years, researchers have looked at how to stimulate T-cells to combat tumors.
In the summer of 1890, an adventurous seventeen-year-old from New Jersey named Elizabeth Dashiell travelled across the United States by train. During the journey, she caught her hand between the seats of a Pullman car. The hand became swollen and painful, and, when it didn’t heal after she returned home, Dashiell consulted William Coley, a young surgeon in New York City. Unable to determine a diagnosis, he made a small incision below the bottom joint of her pinkie finger, where it connected to the back of her hand, to relieve the pressure, but only a few drops of pus drained out. During the following weeks, Coley saw Dashiell regularly. In the operating room, he scraped hard, gristly material off the bones of her hand. But the procedure gave only fleeting relief. Finally, Coley performed a biopsy that showed that Dashiell had sarcoma, a cancer of the connective tissue, which was unrelated to her initial injury. In a desperate attempt to stop the cancer’s spread, Coley followed the practice of the time and amputated Dashiell’s arm just below the elbow. But the sarcoma soon reappeared, as large masses in her neck and abdomen. In January, 1891, she died at home, with Coley at her bedside.
After Dashiell’s death, Coley was distraught, and searched through the records of New York Hospital for similar cases. He found one patient who stood out from the grim stories. Eleven years earlier, Fred Stein, a German immigrant who worked as a housepainter, had a rapidly growing sarcoma in his neck. After four operations and four recurrences of the cancer, a senior surgeon declared Stein’s case “absolutely hopeless.” Then an infection caused by streptococcal bacteria broke out in red patches across Stein’s neck and face. There were no antibiotics at the time, so his immune system was left to fight off the infection unaided. Remarkably, as his white blood cells combatted the bacteria, the sarcoma shrank into a bland scar. Stein left the hospital with no infection and no discernible cancer. Coley concluded that something in Stein’s own body had shrunk the cancer.
Coley spent the next decade hoping to replicate Stein’s extraordinary recovery. In “A Commotion in the Blood,” published in 1997, Stephen S. Hall describes how Coley inoculated cancer patients, first with extracts of streptococcal abscesses, termed “laudable pus,” and later with purer cultures of the microbes. He claimed several successes, but the medical establishment did not embrace his approach, because his results could not be reliably reproduced. His primary critic, the pathologist James Ewing, believed that the new technique of radiation was the only scientifically sound way to treat cancer.
Coley’s work was financially supported by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a classmate of Dashiell’s brother who had considered Elizabeth his “adopted sister.” But Rockefeller also donated to Ewing’s research. While Coley told stories of miraculous recoveries, Ewing presented numbers that consistently demonstrated the power of radiation. Ultimately, Rockefeller chose Ewing as his scientific adviser. Rockefeller’s support led to the creation of what is now the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, one of the foremost institutions studying and treating malignancies. The idea that the body’s immune system could play a crucial role in eradicating cancer was largely discarded. One doctor at the time called Coley’s hypothesis “whispers of nature.”
In the last hundred years, progress in the treatment of cancer has come mostly from radiation and chemotherapy. Previously fatal blood-cell cancers, such as childhood leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease, are now curable. But solid tumors, which grow in the lungs, the colon, and the breast, have stubbornly resisted treatment once they spread beyond their initial site.
In 1971, the Nixon Administration declared a “war on cancer,” promising Americans that within ten years the disease would be beaten. At the time, many researchers believed that cancer was caused by a virus that speeded up a cell’s metabolism, resulting in uncontrollable growth. After all, they had discovered some hundred viruses that caused cancer in amphibians, birds, and mammals. In the early seventies, interferon, a drug that had been developed from a protein released by white blood cells during a viral infection, was widely thought to be a possible cure for cancer; in 1980, it appeared on the cover of Time. The tumors of mice shrank dramatically when treated with the drug. But in patients interferon failed to cure solid tumors, and melanoma responded only occasionally.
Over the next decade, other proteins produced by the body as part of its immune response were made into drugs, most notably one called interleukin-2. In 1988, Armand Hammer, the ninety-year-old oil-company magnate who chaired Ronald Reagan’s cancer panel, sought to raise a billion dollars, with the aim of curing cancer by his hundredth birthday. He touted interleukin-2 as an immune booster that could achieve the goal. But most solid tumors were impervious to it, too.
In the past fifteen years, as tumors have been found to contain genetic mutations that cause them to grow unrestrained, the focus of research has shifted to cancer’s genome. Targeted therapies, which are designed to disarm these mutations, are now at the forefront of care. The first successful targeted therapy was Gleevec, which caused rapid remissions in chronic myelogenous leukemia, with few and mild side effects. Herceptin, a targeted therapy that attacks HER-2, a protein that is found in some twenty to thirty per cent of breast-cancer cases, has also been effective.
Advances such as these caused Coley’s approach to fade into obscurity. Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate and the director of the National Cancer Institute, told me that until very recently, “except for monoclonal antibodies, every therapy that exploited the immune system was pretty abysmal. There weren’t any good ideas about why immune therapy failed.” But now patients who did not respond to available therapies have shown dramatic and unexpected responses to a new series of treatments that unleash the immune system. Coley’s theories are suddenly the basis for the most promising directions in cancer research. In March, 2011, the National Cancer Institute announced that it would fund a network of twenty-seven universities and cancer centers across North America to conduct trials of immune therapies. Mac Cheever, the director of the program, who is at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, described it as a way to speed the practical work of developing treatments. “All of the components needed for effective immunotherapy have been invented,” he said.
Is the Euro a Weapon of Mass destruction
There has been a very conscious use of the Euro to drive these right wing politics through, behind the backs of voters, who have constantly been lied to about the real intent of their European project.
How much longer are people of Ireland going to be fooled ?
Robert Mundell, evil genius of the euro – Greg Pallast
The idea that the euro has “failed” is dangerously naive. The euro is doing exactly what its progenitor – and the wealthy 1%-ers who adopted it – predicted and planned for it to do.
That progenitor is former University of Chicago economist Robert Mundell. The architect of “supply-side economics” is now a professor at Columbia University, but I knew him through his connection to my Chicago professor, Milton Friedman, back before Mundell’s research on currencies and exchange rates had produced the blueprint for European monetary union and a common European currency.
Mundell, then, was more concerned with his bathroom arrangements. Professor Mundell, who has both a Nobel Prize and an ancient villa in Tuscany, told me, incensed:
“They won’t even let me have a toilet. They’ve got rules that tell me I can’t have a toilet in this room! Can you imagine?”
As it happens, I can’t. But I don’t have an Italian villa, so I can’t imagine the frustrations of bylaws governing commode placement.
But Mundell, a can-do Canadian-American, intended to do something about it: come up with a weapon that would blow away government rules and labor regulations. (He really hated the union plumbers who charged a bundle to move his throne.)
“It’s very hard to fire workers in Europe,” he complained. His answer: the euro.
The euro would really do its work when crises hit, Mundell explained. Removing a government’s control over currency would prevent nasty little elected officials from using Keynesian monetary and fiscal juice to pull a nation out of recession.
“It puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians,” he said. “[And] without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.”
He cited labor laws, environmental regulations and, of course, taxes. All would be flushed away by the euro. Democracy would not be allowed to interfere with the marketplace – or the plumbing.
As another Nobelist, Paul Krugman, notes, the creation of the eurozone violated the basic economic rule known as “optimum currency area”. This was a rule devised by Bob Mundell.
That doesn’t bother Mundell. For him, the euro wasn’t about turning Europe into a powerful, unified economic unit. It was about Reagan and Thatcher.
“Ronald Reagan would not have been elected president without Mundell’s influence,” once wrote Jude Wanniski in the Wall Street Journal. The supply-side economics pioneered by Mundell became the theoretical template for Reaganomics – or as George Bush the Elder called it, “voodoo economics”: the magical belief in free-market nostrums that also inspired the policies of Mrs Thatcher.
Mundell explained to me that, in fact, the euro is of a piece with Reaganomics:
“Monetary discipline forces fiscal discipline on the politicians as well.”
And when crises arise, economically disarmed nations have little to do but wipe away government regulations wholesale, privatize state industries en masse, slash taxes and send the European welfare state down the drain.
Thus, we see that (unelected) Prime Minister Mario Monti is demanding labor law “reform” in Italy to make it easier for employers like Mundell to fire those Tuscan plumbers. Mario Draghi, the (unelected) head of the European Central Bank, is calling for “structural reforms” – a euphemism for worker-crushing schemes. They cite the nebulous theory that this “internal devaluation” of each nation will make them all more competitive.
Monti and Draghi cannot credibly explain how, if every country in the Continent cheapens its workforce, any can gain a competitive advantage.
But they don’t have to explain their policies; they just have to let the markets go to work on each nation’s bonds. Hence, currency union is class war by other means.
The crisis in Europe and the flames of Greece have produced the warming glow of what the supply-siders’ philosopher-king Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction”. Schumpeter acolyte and free-market apologist Thomas Friedman flew to Athens to visit the “impromptu shrine” of the burnt-out bank where three people died after it was fire-bombed by anarchist protesters, and used the occasion to deliver a homily on globalization and Greek “irresponsibility”.
The flames, the mass unemployment, the fire-sale of national assets, would bring about what Friedman called a “regeneration” of Greece and, ultimately, the entire eurozone. So that Mundell and those others with villas can put their toilets wherever they damn well want to.
Far from failing, the euro, which was Mundell’s baby, has succeeded probably beyond its progenitor’s wildest dreams.
P.J. O’Rourke: “Giving money and power to the government is like giving car keys and whisky to teenage boys.”
“When politics are used to allocate resources, the resources all end up being allocated to politics.”
“Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit.
“God has no role to play in politics except to make sure politicians go where they belong. To hell.”
“Politicians are interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.”
Joseph Sobran: “The difference between a politician and a pickpocket is that a pickpocket doesn’t always get indignant when you tell him to keep his hands to himself.”
“Politicians never accuse you of ‘greed’ for wanting other people’s money — only for wanting to keep your own money.”
“Politics is the conspiracy of the unproductive but organized against the productive but unorganized.”
H. L. Mencken: “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.”
Charles De Gaulle: “Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word.”
Ronald Reagan: “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”
Gerald Warner: “We should be long past applauding politicians of any hue: they got us into this mess. The best deserve a probationary opportunity to prove themselves, the worst should be in jail.”
G. K. Chesterton: “It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.”
Groucho Marx: “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
IN THE EUPHORIC FIRST WEEKS after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German protesters who had risked everything to overthrow their government and were now jockeying for position in the emerging new Germany were puzzled by a growing number of news reports from the other side of the Atlantic.
American conservatives, they kept hearing, were claiming credit for ending the Cold War and “liberating” them from the yoke of Soviet communism.
They were puzzled not just because the names of these conservatives — Gingrich, Buchanan, Kemp — were unfamiliar. What baffled them was more fundamental: they hadn’t received American help at all. The CIA, by its own later admission, was entirely absent during the long months and years when East German dissidents organized covert meetings in churches and semi-derelict apartment buildings, usually no more than a step or two ahead of the Stasi, the all-pervasive secret police.
No Americans had helped the protesters organize a massive rally on the 40th anniversary of East Germany’s founding, on October 7, 1989, which embarrassed the leadership in the presence of the visiting Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. It was not the Americans, but rather a coalition of civic leaders, including the celebrated conductor Kurt Masur, who negotiated a truce in Leipzig two days later and convinced the security forces not to open fire on the 70,000 people in the crowd. Many of the officers, who had been given live rounds and instructed to emulate the Chinese massacre in Tiananmen Square if necessary, put down their weapons and joined the protests instead.
I was in Leipzig as a young reporter just a few days after the Wall fell on November 9, and remember being struck by the hundreds of thousands of people filling the town center on a freezing winter’s night, and the enormous pride they expressed as they pushed to topple the regime. This was their victory, the triumph of “people power,” and they had done it overwhelmingly by themselves. The only discernible American presence was the Tracy Chapman song “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” blaring from loudspeakers in the market square.
And yet, back in the United States, a mythology took hold. Ronald Reagan had set this train in motion, the narrative went, because he had gone to the Berlin Wall in June 1987 and fearlessly told Gorbachev to “tear down this Wall.” And now it had happened. The mythology grew strong enough over time that many people developed the erroneous impression Reagan was still president when the Wall came down. (In fact, he had been replaced 10 months earlier by George H.W. Bush.)
Reagan himself traveled back to Berlin in late 1990 and gave a speech congratulating himself on engineering the end of the Cold War. His signal achievement, he said, had been the decision to station nuclear cruise missiles in West Germany and his pursuit of the Strategic Defense Initiative, the missile shield program also known as Star Wars. But this, as Berliners knew better than anybody, was a convenient and self-serving rewrite of history. It was not true, as Reagan and other conservatives liked to argue, that aggressive increases in military spending had caused the Soviet empire to bankrupt itself as it scrambled for a response; the Soviet economy was already in tatters when Reagan took over, and there was no evidence of significant change in Soviet military spending in the 1980s. Reagan’s 1987 visit to Berlin had been a diplomatic near-disaster, marked by rioting young westerners angry about the cruise missile deployment, and about US policy in central America. The president’s call to tear down the Wall seemed generic at the time — every western political leader who passed through said much the same thing — and had no discernible effect on either the East Germans or the Soviet leadership.
Far from giving Reagan a hero’s welcome on his return, Berliners ignored him; he spoke to row upon row of empty seats. If any foreign leader deserved credit, they felt, it was Gorbachev, who had promised to keep his tanks and troops out of Eastern Europe and issued a striking warning to Honecker on that anniversary visit, that “life punishes those who drag their feet.” Still, it was not Gorbachev who ordered the Wall to be opened. He was in no position to, because it happened largely by accident.
By early November 1989, Honecker had stepped down, East Germans were leaving for the West in droves via Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and the Communist Party was desperate to offer the population a sop so it could retain its grip on power. Günter Schabowski, the government spokesman, was handed a hastily drafted document before his daily news briefing on November 9 and instructed to announce that travel directly into West Germany would now be permitted. The leadership intended to draw up detailed plans establishing ground rules over the following 24 hours, but Schabowski did not know that. So, when asked about the timeline, he peered quizzically at his papers and said the freedom to travel took effect “immediately, without delay.” The sheer weight of people rushing to the border crossings along the Wall that night made it impossible for the regime to backtrack.
Slices of the toppled Wall now grace the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, and a handful of other sites across the United States. But for the most part history has not been kind to the triumphalist conservative account of the end of the Cold War. Reagan’s most valuable contribution may not have been an offensive move at all, but rather the willingness he showed at the Reykjavik Summit in 1986 to phase out all offensive nuclear missiles, a gesture toward détente that appalled his hawkish fellow conservatives but emboldened Gorbachev in his own quest for glasnost, a new openness in domestic and international affairs.
If the triumphalist account is wrong — if the West, led by the United States, did not bring the mighty Soviet bear to its knees — then that raises some troubling questions. In what meaningful way did we win the Cold War? And, if we didn’t win it, what exactly was the point of those 45 nerve-racking years when every geopolitical tremor threatened to trigger our nuclear annihilation?
Such are the questions at the heart of Jon Wiener’s provocative and fascinating new book, How We Forgot The Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America. Wiener is a historian at the University of California at Irvine and a regular contributor to The Nation, among other publications. But he is not conducting a historical analysis here so much as an idiosyncratic sort of investigation. His premise is simple: if, as certain politicians love to tell us, the Cold War was a grand historical struggle, a story of good triumphing over evil and freedom prevailing over communist tyranny, one would imagine the country dotted with memorials and museums attracting the same crowds that flock to World War II memorials and presidential libraries.
And so Wiener goes looking, only to discover that the memorials scattered from coast to coast, while numerous, are hard to find, scarcely visited, and often focus on topics other than the Cold War itself. (Even the Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, site of the famous Iron Curtain speech, prefers to dwell on World War II and the Battle of Britain.) A couple of places — the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, and the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas — are so ruggedly non-triumphalist they offer critiques of the very conflict that their principal subjects waged so assiduously. “Some historians,” Wiener reads with amazement in a display at the Truman Library, “question the wisdom of the President’s actions during the early Cold War years. They argue that a less confrontational approach toward the Soviets — one which sought to understand the fears the Soviet Union had about its vulnerability to invasion from the West — might have prevented a long and costly confrontation that lasted decades.”
If a museum dedicated to Harry Truman — who first articulated the with-us-or-against-us Cold War mentality and vowed to prevent the spread of communism at all costs — can’t toot its horn without mixed feelings, who can? Wiener finds, throughout his travels, that the only people still actively cheering for America’s role in the Cold War are conservative ideologues and lobbyists. But the monuments and memorials they have erected, or attempted to erect, have invariably been met with hostility, or blank indifference. A plan to build a $100 million Victims of Communism Museum, proposed by Congress in 1993 and approved by President Bill Clinton, sputtered so badly that the museum was eventually downgraded to a single memorial statue on a forgettable corner of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC and unveiled, to a modest crowd of a few hundred, 17 years after the project was first proposed. There is something called the Cold War Museum, but it exists only online and concentrates almost exclusively on Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. What about actual victory monuments? Wiener found just one, a Strategic Air Command plaque tucked into the corner of a garden at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, of all places. And it’s hardly a model of bombastic triumphalism. In fact, its slogan pulls off the odd feat of being both tentative and over-insistent at the same time. “The Cold War didn’t just end,” it reads. “It was won.”
Wiener rightly points out that the hawks in the fight against communism were on the losing side of the Cold War from the beginning. They may have wanted to take the fight directly to the Soviets, but containment and détente were the prevailing watchwords of Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Yes, there were covert operations and military interventions to topple unfriendly regimes and ward off communist takeovers, but no challenges to the immediate Soviet sphere of influence. Berlin was the closest thing to a flashpoint between the superpowers in the early years of the Cold War, but the construction of the Wall in 1961, paradoxically, cemented an uneasy truce that significantly reduced the risk of direct confrontation. The most hawkish American interventions — in Korea, at the Bay of Pigs, in Vietnam — almost invariably proved to be destabilizing, tragic failures. Even under Reagan, who swept to office promising to reassert American power in the world, conservatives advocating “rollback” instead of containment of the Soviet threat were themselves contained; they pushed successfully for a new arms build-up and intervention in central America, but they were never more than second-rung players — Team B, as they were known — and ended up badly embarrassed by the Iran-Contra scandal.
Triumphalism is almost entirely absent from Wiener’s tour of Cold War monuments; he is assailed, rather, by stories of waste and failure at every turn. Missile silos and sites like the former plutonium production facility at Hanford, Washington, carry the legacy of cancer clusters and expensive clean-ups, overlaid with the uncomfortable taint of official denial. On a tour of the Nevada Test Site, Wiener hears from one of his fellow tourists that inhaling one millionth of a gram of plutonium would be sure to give him lung cancer; the group is advised to stay on the bus with the windows closed. Pregnant women, he learns, are discouraged from taking the tour — not because of the risk of birth defects from contact with radioactive materials, about which the tour operators are strangely quiet, but “because of the long bus ride and uneven terrain.”
Sites memorializing fall-out shelters are more alarming than nostalgic, and the notion, once seriously touted, that nuclear war is survivable invariably collapses under the weight of its own sinister ridiculousness. This is especially true of the giant facility beneath the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, built in the 1950s, where congressmen (but not their wives or families) were expected to hide out, and keep working, through a nuclear Armageddon. It’s not lost on any visitor that the five-hour distance from Washington alone would have made the facility next to useless; the government itself gave up on it in the 1980s and prepared instead — under the auspices of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — for an emergency government in which Congress played no role whatsoever.
Similar institutional bumbling is evident throughout Wiener’s travels, much of it with tragic overtones. It becomes clear, even at an exhibit as casual as the International Spy Museum in Washington, that the courts and the FBI were overzealous in their prosecution of the Rosenbergs, because Ethel was more than likely entirely innocent, and Julius gave the Soviets nothing of value to further their atomic weapons program. (Wiener contrasts their death sentences with the free pass given to Ted Hall, another scientist at Los Alamos who by his own later admission gave valuable secrets to the Soviets.) The prosecution of Alger Hiss was similarly flawed and clearly over-politicized; a farcical attempt by conservative ideologues to establish a National Historic Landmark to Hiss’s nemesis, Whittaker Chambers, at the site of the Maryland pumpkin patch where Chambers recovered a microfilm supposed to contain incriminating documents, provides Wiener with one of his most humorous stories.
The idea that America did not win the Cold War so much as outlast it is not a new one. As early as April 1990, five months after the Berlin Wall fell, the Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wondered why Americans seemed so uninterested in celebrating and decided it was because they didn’t entirely know what they had been fighting for. No less a figure than George Kennan — the tortured, occasionally ambivalent but undeniably visionary architect of America’s doctrine of containment at the start of the Cold War — believed that the country’s anti-communist belligerence had served only to harden attitudes in Moscow and prolong the conflict. “Nobody ‘won’ the Cold War,” he argued in his book At a Century’s Ending. “It was a long and costly political rivalry, fueled on both sides by unreal and exaggerated estimates of the intentions and strength of the other side.”
What Wiener’s book suggests, most originally, is a possible correlation between the litany of failures he catalogues through his travels, and the adamant insistence of conservatives that the Cold War was a good and noble cause vindicating their political positions. Wiener draws a direct line between the Cold Warriors who once advocated “rollback” and the ideologues who deployed very similar arguments (and were, in several instances, the selfsame people) to push for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
One might go a step further and argue that the ultranationalism of the conservative hawks was in fact born and nurtured out of their thwarted desire, over decades, to drive national policy, and out of the failures their ideology weathered when it did push through — in the McCarthy witch hunts, in the FBI’s illegal spying on civil rights leaders and the 1960s anti-war movement and, most strikingly, in the ill-fated attempt at rollback in Vietnam. European history teaches us that ultranationalism is more often born from defeat than from victory — just look at the Serbs, who even before the excesses of the secessionist wars of the 1990s were still clinging to the memory of their historic drubbing by the Turks in 1389. The bitterness of defeat with which the post-Vietnam generation had to contend led directly to the strain of ultranationalism now most commonly labeled neo-conservatism, which promised a more muscular America projecting moral as well as military superiority over the rest of the world.
Much of the country may have chosen to forget the Cold War, or at a minimum not to celebrate it, but for the neocons and veterans of Team B, victory over communism remains a necessary battle cry driving their agenda — in the wars unleashed over the past decade in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the ongoing “war on terrorism,” and in the wars they are still itching to fight.