Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Did We Almost Lose the Cold War?

During the years usually defined as the Cold War era, roughly 1946 to 1990, there were times during which the West, i.e., the United States and its NATO allies, thought that it might be losing. Was that perception correct?

In all epochs, historians are faced with a tension between the state of affairs and various perceptions of that state. What was the situation? What did people believe about the situation?

In 1964, historian John Stormer reviewed the course of the Cold War up to that date: a span of almost twenty years. He argued that the West was in fact losing ground. He describes the global situation at the beginning of the Cold War:

ln 1945, the communists held 160-million Russians in slavery. They controlled a land area smaller than the Russia of the Czars. Soviet industry had been largely destroyed by the Nazi war machine. Communism was a third rate power, militarily, industrially, and economically.

Stormer then describes the situation as it stood when he was writing:

Today, after the United States has spent $600-billion to fight communism and sacrificed the lives of 50,000 of its youth to thwart Red aggression, the Kremlin has grown to become the absolute slavemasters of one-billion human beings. The communists openly control 25% of the earth’s land mass. Their puppet, Fidel Castro, has been installed in Cuba, just 90 miles from our shores. The hidden tentacles of the communist conspiracy exert unmeasured influence over the rest of the world.

Over two decades, the number of people and the territorial area under communist oppression had expanded greatly. It began with the Soviet Union, an area of around 8,649,500 square miles and the population which Stormer indicates above. By 1964, nations and countries suffering under brutal Soviet Socialism included North Korea and Cuba, the eastern European bloc (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, etc.), and China.

Although one cannot definitively say that the West was ‘losing’ the Cold War, it does seem that John Stormer had reasons to be worried.

Of course, the Cold War is called ‘cold’ because there was no major direct military confrontation between the United States and the USSR. There were smaller ‘proxy wars’ between smaller allied countries.

There has been no “big” war because the communists are winning without one.

Regional proxy wars, revolutions, and coups occurred “in China, Malaya, Indonesia, Algeria, the Congo, Cuba, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, Hungary, Korea, Angola, Burma, Tibet, and Egypt,” as well as “in Laos, Viet Nam, and on the Indian-Chinese border.” Korea was an ongoing hotspot, and communist terrorists were active throughout Africa.

The world seemed awash in Soviet Socialist violence. Glumly, John Stormer wrote:

The forces of freedom have Iost or will lose them all.

Believing that he was witnessing the decline and fall of civilization, Stormer asked:

Where have we failed?

Writing in 1964, John Stormer could not have known that the Cold War would last another 25 years, or that the United States and its allies would ultimately win the Cold War. He was correct to be concerned, but wrong to predict failure: things were bad, but not as bad as he thought.