We can win this Cold War, too
Some years ago, when I was editor of a now-defunct newspaper in El Paso, Texas, my wife and I bought a house with a deteriorated, spider-filled, filthy, underground fallout shelter in the backyard. It made me shudder, not because of its appearance, but because it represented past fears of the Soviet Union perpetrating radioactive death with nuclear bomb explosions. The Soviet Union’s description? Dictatorial, imperialistic, communistic, death-dealing and evil.
The context was the Cold War that did have hot-and-bloody outbursts. It was between the Russian-led Soviet Union with its allies and the United States with its allies and lasted from roughly the end of World War II to 1991. At stake were liberty, a decent world and maybe even humanity itself. While the fallout shelter would likely have saved no one, its mere existence symbolized the alarm embedded in what was happening.
But despite political conflicts and errors of varied kinds, our democratic nation and others hung in there. The Soviet Union, at one point running out of money if not cruelty, adopted a well-intentioned leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who instigated reforms and negotiated a nuclear-control deal with President Ronald Reagan. East Germany’s Berlin Wall came down. The Soviet Union started crumbling. At last, it was done, and now, as the Cold War has just mercilessly returned owing in part to our own laxities, we must hang in there again. We must deal seriously with the murderous, clever Russian President Vladimir Putin, now in the act of viciously squashing innocent, courageous Ukraine.
Another Gorbachev he is not. He is more nearly Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator who helped win World War II and agreed at a conference with President Franklin Roosevelt and British Premier Winston Churchill that we would then have independent, liberated countries throughout Europe. Stalin instead practiced domination, oppression and starvation through communism of those Eastern European countries that Russia was supposed to keep an eye on.
He built what Churchill called an iron curtain. To be sure, Stalin once studied to be a priest but didn’t make the grade and learned different tenets from Vladimir Lenin. Some hold him personally accountable for 20 million deaths.
Putin is not there yet and has had to play a far more careful game even though his unhidden ambition is to rebuild the Soviet Union, starting with Ukraine and getting the Baltic nations and others to line up with Russia, whatever it takes. He has enjoyed putting his nuclear weaponry on display while building closer relationships with China and Iran. President Joe Biden has moved on some solid sanctions while holding back on a particularly significant financial hit and blockages of some Russian energy sources that Europe needs.
There is no suggestion from any responsible party of U.S. military confrontation with Russia unless Putin tries military moves against NATO countries we have vowed to protect. So far, Europe seems to be pretty much, if not wholly, in agreement with what Biden is inclined to do. While no one is calling for out-and-out war with Russia, some American observers are calling for a far tougher approach while there are also some saying what the heck, stay out of this thing. Those in this last group don’t seem to get it that staying out of this thing now would mean dealing with far worse things in the future.
We made mistakes in the first Cold War and we will make mistakes in this one, but we and our allies can see this through if we put high principles and care for others above misled ideologies. I will end by saying I had a reporter friend in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down and he gave me a hunk I put on a shelf. I just looked at it and was encouraged.
— Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.