Posts tagged with: cold war

To celebrate his 63rd birthday last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin participated in an exhibition hockey game. This was no ordinary pond hockey, however. It featured a cast of former NHL and professional stars. It also featured a stellar performance from Putin, who netted 7 goals in his team’s 15-10 victory.

This is a notable athletic achievement, particularly for a full-time politician who never had the chance to devote his life to sport. It is second only, perhaps, to the exploits of Kim Jong-Il, former North Korean dictator and “the greatest golfer in history.”


Mikhail-Gorbachev-Ronald-ReaganEarlier this month I argued that the moral center and chief objective of American diplomacy should be the promotion of religious freedom. When a country protects religious liberty it must also, whether it intended to or not, recognize a host of other freedoms, such as the freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech. Once these liberties are in place, it becomes more difficult for a country’s government to maintain a single, totalizing ideology.

President Reagan seemed to intuitively understand how increasing religious freedom can shape a nation’s ideology and relationship to the rest of the world. In his new book new book Reagan: The Life, historian H.W. Brands reveals a private conservation between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at the 1988 Moscow summit in which the president encouraged the Soviet leader to embrace religious liberty:


Keith Lambert has a riveting first-hand account at his new blog about Cold War Communist informant Herb Philbrick. Some key excerpts:

Back in the 1980’s I was more interested in dating his daughter than I was in learning about the man she called her father. Nevertheless because of his poor night vision my mother-in-law to be Shirley pulled me aside and asked me to drive the two of them to Boston for an appearance of Herb’s on a locally syndicated television show called “5 All Night Live All Night”….

I was in my late teens and I only knew the basics of Herb’s background: that he was a private citizen who for 9 years had secretly informed to the FBI all while working his way up through the ranks of the New England Communist Party, and that in 1949 he had appeared in New York federal court as a surprise secret witness at the trial of the top 11 New England Communist Party members who were later convicted of conspiring to overthrow the US government by force and violence. To me he was just Herb, a quiet, Christian man who worked for the sleepy southern Hampton Union Leader as a journalist … (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Uwe Siemon-Netto, a journalist and Lutheran theologian, reflects on the upcoming half-century anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall, “And the wall fell down flat.” He relates the story of the Christian peace movement and its role in tearing down the spiritual walls that helped to hold up the Berlin Wall.

He talks about the social and spiritual consequences of the flight of so many from East Germany to West Germany: “By the time East German leader Walter Ulbricht ordered the Western sectors of Berlin sealed off, up to 2,500 left his country every day. Its economy was about to collapse. Entire branches of industry no longer functioned because their skilled workforce had run away.”

But there were much more than economic effects, as he notes:

Ironically, the flight of highly qualified craftsmen, of scientists, engineers, professionals and farmers, was not just a catastrophic loss to the Communists but also had a religious dimension. These refugees belonged primarily to the social strata that had been the Christian Church’s mainstay. Ulbricht’s regime was intent on establishing a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, relegating the former upper and middle classes to an inferior status, and driving them out. This was the main cause for the decline of church membership from some 95 percent of the population in 1945 to one quarter at the time of East Germany’s collapse in 1989.

But even so that one-quarter of the population was behind the Christian peace movement that helped to “tear down this Wall,” in the words of Ronald Reagan.

Siemon-Netto describes the contours of the movement, including its “most momentous demonstration,” which “occurred on 9 October 1989.” But following that massive public expression of faith, the religious dimensions of these eastern areas of Germany have continued to diminish. Political and economic freedom in itself has not sparked religious revival.

He concludes,

It is now 50 years since I saw the Wall go up and 22 since it came down. The Christian movement in eastern Germany seems to have collapsed. When Germany was reunited on 3 October 1990, most Protestant churches did not even ring their bells in gratitude, in contrast to Catholic churches, which did. Once again, eastern Germans are turning their backs on the Christian faith in droves. Next to the Czech Republic, the former GDR is the most secularized region in Europe, and Berlin is the most godless city.

Let us hope and pray that the spiritual walls too might come tumbling down and that godlessness is not the lasting legacy of the Berlin Wall.

Update: More on the “the spiritual dimension” of the Berlin Wall story today from Siemon-Netto.

It’s worth noting that the original context of engagement of the ecumenical movement by figures like Paul Ramsey and Ernest Lefever (two voices that figure prominently in my book, Ecumenical Babel) had much to do with foreign policy and the Cold War, and specifically the question of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Last week marked the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki detonation. As ENI reports (full story after the break), the ecumenical advocacy against nuclear weapons has not abated since the 1960s.

The question of nuclear weapons is a complex one, that involves distinctions between ius ad bellum and ius in bello, strategic and tactical nuclear devices, and combatants and non-combatants. Kishore Jayabalan has also made the case that we also need to distinguish between different kinds of regimes.

It may well be that the question of nuclear weapons is analogous to the question of capital punishment: the government might well have the theoretical right to prosecute it, but given the practical limitations of human fallibility, there may be no morally-sound way to practically implement it.

As Paul Ramsey wrote of the nuclear question in 1967, however, the position that it is acceptable to possess the weapons only on the condition that they never be used is incoherent:

The actuality of deterrence depends upon a credible belief, mutually shared, that one might use a nuclear weapon. If the government of one of the great powers were persuaded by the churches never to be willing to use any nuclear weapon under any circumstances, and this were known, there would be instantly no deterrence and therefore no practical problem of finding a way out. Likewise, the morality of deterrence depends upon it not being wholly immoral for a government ever to use an atomic weapon under any circumstances.


I want to second Marc’s article recommendation from earlier today. The phrase “a must read” is badly overworked, but in this case I can’t help myself: Claire Berlinski’s A Hidden History of Evil in the latest City Journal is a must-read. A few excerpts:

Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.

For evidence of this indifference, consider the unread Soviet archives. Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can’t get anyone to take much interest in them at all.

Then there’s Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who once spent 12 years in the USSR’s prisons, labor camps, and psikhushkas—political psychiatric hospitals—after being convicted of copying anti-Soviet literature. He, too, possesses a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which, as he writes, “contain the beginnings and the ends of all the tragedies of our bloodstained century.” These documents are available online at, but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function. “I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them,” Bukovsky writes. “Editors shrug indifferently: So what? Who cares?”

Stroilov claims that his documents “tell a completely new story about the end of the Cold War.” … They suggest, for example, that the architects of the European integration project, as well as many of today’s senior leaders in the European Union, were far too close to the USSR for comfort. This raises important questions about the nature of contemporary Europe….

According to Zagladin’s reports, for example, Kenneth Coates, who from 1989 to 1998 was a British member of the European Parliament, approached Zagladin on January 9, 1990, to discuss what amounted to a gradual merger of the European Parliament and the Supreme Soviet.

Zagladin’s records also note that the former leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, approached Gorbachev—unauthorized, while Kinnock was leader of the opposition—through a secret envoy to discuss the possibility of halting the United Kingdom’s Trident nuclear-missile program.

“We now have the EU unelected socialist party running Europe,” Stroilov said to me. “Bet the KGB can’t believe it.”

Bukovsky’s book about the story that these documents tell, Jugement à Moscou, has been published in French, Russian, and a few other Slavic languages, but not in English. Random House bought the manuscript and, in Bukovsky’s words, tried “to force me to rewrite the whole book from the liberal left political perspective.” …

In France, news about the documents showing Mitterrand’s and Gorbachev’s plans to turn Germany into a dependent socialist state prompted a few murmurs of curiosity, nothing more. Bukovsky’s vast collection about Soviet sponsorship of terrorism, Palestinian and otherwise, remains largely unpublished.

No one talks much about the victims of Communism. No one erects memorials to the throngs of people murdered by the Soviet state….

Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia’s most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta.

The full 3000-word essay is here. It’s well worth the time.

Blog author: rnothstine
Monday, November 23, 2009

shirley-reaganPresident Ronald Reagan was far from the common Republican. If anything he was the exception to the rule in a party dominated by moderates and pragmatists. It’s one of the overarching themes of Craig Shirley’s new and epic account Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America. The book follows Shirley’s masterpiece Reagan’s Revolution, a study of Reagan’s 1976 insurgent candidacy against President Gerald Ford.

Shirley is exceptional at taking the reader back into the time period rather than reading back into the history from today’s vantage point. The account chronicles Reagan’s run against the Republican primary field and President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Today many think Reagan’s victory over the Republican field and his general election landslide over Carter were inevitable and Shirley is superb at recalling all the forces lined up against Reagan during this time. Since Carter could hardly run on a positive record his campaign strategy was to “scare the hell out of them with Ronald Reagan.”

Echoing a topic addressed by Hunter Baker in the pages of Religion & Liberty, Shirley discusses Reagan’s broader appeal:

He proposed a fusion between those mercantile and economic interests long associated with the GOP, who were mostly concerned with government regulations, and social conservatives, who believed the fabric of society was also threatened by big, intrusive government.

One of the areas where Reagan was transcending politics was his appeal among Democrats. In many open primaries he had strong crossover support from Democrats that helped him carry states. “As for Reagan, the [Washington] Post discovered an astonishing fact: the Gipper’s commercials were more popular with Democrats than they were with Republicans,” Shirley writes. The book also notes how many in the new right and followers of Reagan were making a visible break with big business. “Big business has become the handmaiden of big government,” said Congressman Jack Kemp. Shirley elaborates further on his appeal:

Reagan spoke to these urban, ethnic Democrats in a way no other politician had since JFK. He talked about community, responsibility, privacy, patriotism, the evils of Communism, and their children’s future. Although Reagan was Protestant, his father had been Roman Catholic and he had inculcated in his young son a parish perspective. As an adult campaigner, the Gipper still preferred the pronouns ‘us’ and ‘we’ over ‘me’ and ‘I,’ and these voters loved him for it. He made them feel good about themselves and, by extension, America. ‘Reagan has a personal following all his own,’ noted Time magazine.

Of course one of the biggest jabs against Reagan was that he wasn’t intellectual and was often referred to as a “simpleton” or merely a performer. Clark Clifford famously called him an “amiable dunce.” Shirley recalls many of the attacks on his intellectualism from the media and opponents. He also delves into the manner in which Reagan was so successful at popularizing conservative principles. The author captures the great wit and lines of Reagan from the campaign trail as well as some embarrassing gaffes.

Some who lived in this period may not remember just how hard George H.W. Bush fought Reagan for the nomination. He ended up lasting through many of the primaries and had many supporters in the party who were terrified of Reagan, but loved Bush too. Bush had a lot of support from GOP moderates. He capitalized on some of Reagan’s early mistakes and the author discusses how Bush and other candidates used the age issue against Reagan. Bush of course famously attacked Reagan’s tax plan dubbing it “vodoo economics.” The two absolutely did not like each other, and privately Reagan called Bush “a wimp.” Tough words from a man who was known for his graciousness. Of course after Bush was chosen as Reagan’s running mate a lifelong and genuine friendship would emerge, so much so that the 41st president would eulogize his former boss saying with a cracking voice, “As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did.”

In the general election campaign of 1980 Reagan hit Carter hard on the economy. He delivered this memorable line in front of the Statue of Liberty:

Let it show on the record that when the American people cried out for economic help, Jimmy Carter took refuge behind a dictionary. Well, if it’s a definition he wants, I’ll give him one. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his!

The crowd was largely an ethnic blue collar constituency and at the end of his speech when Reagan embraced Stanislaw Walesa, the father of Polish labor leader Lech Walesa, the crowd went wild.

Another focus of Shirley’s is just how nasty the Carter campaign was at attacking Reagan. Carter said Reagan would bring about the “alienation of black from white, Christian from Jew, rich from poor, and North from South.” He continually predicted that a Reagan presidency would bring the country to a nuclear precipice. The author also notes that Carter’s campaign approached Ted Kennedy after he defeated him in the primaries, asking Kennedy to attack Reagan as anti-Catholic. Kennedy refused the request.

There are some very moving quotes by Reagan in Shirley’s book about the connection between God and the free society in America. Reagan said world peace was “jeopardized by those who view man not as a noble being, but as an accident of nature, without soul, and important only to the extent he can serve an all powerful state.” He brought to the forefront the importance of America’s spiritual commitment and made deep moral contrasts with Soviet totalitarianism.

This is a lengthy book that is well over 600 pages. It is wonderfully researched and is a treasure trove of information from the 1980 campaign. It is incredibly moving too. However Shirley is also responsible by covering many of Reagan’s weaknesses and how at times it almost cost him the presidency. There are numerous new books about Ronald Reagan, and while many don’t offer a lot of new information, this one does.

The epilogue is very emotional in that the author discusses the Reagan legacy and examines all the political forces who try to claim the Reagan mantle. Inspiring words about Reagan from Alexander Solzhenitsyn can be found in the pages of the epilogue. A friend of the Acton Institute, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar said simply, “Without this man, I would be somewhere in Siberia in chains.” Included also is a gracious quote from Reagan’s most ardent opponent in the Senate not just on domestic policy, but foreign policy as well. Ted Kennedy called Reagan at his death, “the president who won the Cold War,” and added, “His deepest convictions were matters of heart and mind and spirit – and on them, he was no actor at all.”