Wednesday, August 31, 2005
August 31, 1980, twenty-five years ago, was the day Lech Walesa declared victory over Poland’s Communist Masters, in announcing, "We have free, independent trade unions." Unlike the bitterly disappointing Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia, this spontaneous rising of the people represented the first large crack in the Iron Curtain, and would foretell the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, and ultimately doom the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) itself.
As Captain Ed recounts:
Walesa showed the world that the Soviet hegemony could be challenged, a particularly poignant demonstration given the track record not only of earlier attempts such as Prague Spring in 1968 but the track record of the United States in recent years prior to Walesa's challenge. Jimmy Carter's kiss still remained fresh on Leonid Brezhnev's cheek when Walesa stood up to the Polish Communists, bolstered by Pope John Paul the Great and a sense that justice eventually prevails against tyranny.I share Captain Ed’s belief that this was an event of tremendous significance to the world, to the quest for freedom, for inspiration for “we happy few” who have the privilege to serve on the front lines of freedom.
Walesa touched off a series of events that took time to for their momentum to build into a movement. Americans rejected the defeatism of Carter and instead looked to Ronald Reagan for the same moral clarity in the war against Communist oppression that the Gdansk dock workers showed. His success and avoidance of imprisonment emboldened others to dissent. Within a decade, the superpower status of the Soviet state had crumbled into dust, and communism as a political philosophy got consigned to the ash heap of history -- in other words, limited to Western academia.
If you have an opportunity today to take a look at a map of Europe, draw a line through Germany and then look between that line to the edge of Russia. One man led a small movement at a Polish dock that eventually freed all of that territory without a shot being fired -- one of the truly remarkable events in human history, and an anniversary well worth celebrating.
It is unfortunate, but no less true, that Western academia remains a mausoleum, holding out more stubbornly than the Tomb of Lenin, and enshrining the hopelessly utopian mirage of “might have been,” in the face of decades and decades of bitterness and death. The shrines of Socialism are still tended, and its acolytes have mustered in defense of they know and care not what, as long as the battle forms against the old enemy of the West.
I don’t hear it remarked on enough, but there are many parallels between the Cold War fight against Communism, and our current struggle against radical Islamic Terrorism. We must fight our elites, and political opposition, as fiercely in rhetoric and debate, as we likewise fight our Al Qaeda opponents and other forces of tyranny. War makes strange bedfellows, and Ideology is the lust that passes between them. The philosophical and spiritual underpinnings of the current lust for the greater Caliphate are the same old, tired and empty Marxist and anti-Capitalist slogans that motivated Wobblies, fellow travelers, and, in later generations, the eco-terrorists, pan-globalists and neo-isolationists (like I said, strange bedfellows), and of course, the anti-establishment press.
Europe, most all of Europe, now breathes free. Thanks in large part to Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party, some pro-Defense Democrats, Pope John Paul, internal contradictions and economic fault lines of the Eastern Bloc itself, and Solidarity in Poland.
I was part of our Intelligence effort against the USSR and Warsaw Pact in the mid ‘80s. I remember the sense, often bitterly described, of the brinksmanship we played with the failing Soviet Masters. I remember the intense importance of medium range nuclear weapons in Europe and the Near East. I remember the raging debates about whether a tough approach, or détente was best suited to keeping the world from total destruction yet containing Soviet aggression. I remember thinking Reagan a wild man, a puppet of hidden masters, and the great likelihood of needing to have an escape plan to Switzerland. (Not seriously, but the thought of it.)
The longer I studied the threat, the more immersed I grew with the subject of our scrutiny, the less certain I was in my own preconceptions. Yes, the USSR was greatly weakened economically, and even military (that was clear to anyone watching well), but the threat was still great, and the evil was real and largely underappreciated.
I remember the nervous years between 1980 and 1989, not knowing how the winds would blow, how the edifice might crumble, and how fiercely they would fight if collapse was to come. It was perhaps too much to hope that all of Eastern Europe would be free, that the USSR itself would fragment into near constituencies.
I remember August 1980 well, a time of truly remarkable events.
Links: Mudville Gazette (Backup Site), Outside the Beltway, Basil's Blog
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