Monday, November 09, 2009

The enemy that never was

Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the symbolic end of the Cold War. I can remember watching the events unfold on TV with joy and elation. It was the end of an era. My entire life had been lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation by the Soviet enemy. Now that time was over and the world could look forward to a peaceful future.

We were free to visit Eastern Europe and Russia. I ended up marrying a Ukrainian whom I would never have met if this had not happened.

Meeting Ukrainians and being married to one has allowed me to see the Cold War from a different perspective. Most Russian people are amazed that we in the west believed that they would start another war. For them, America was the danger. Russia had lost tens of millions of men during the second world war and millions more in wars going back to Napoleonic times. They wished simply to ensure that this would never happen again. Having a strong military backed up by nuclear weapons was essential to prevent further invasions of the Soviet motherland which they believed America might attempt if they were not strong enough to prevent it.

I'm sure that many people particularly Americans who read this having been subjected most of their lives to the propaganda that communism was an enemy that needed to be fought against and eradicated will have trouble believing this. But the Russians I have met do not seem to me to be aggressive, warlike people. They would much prefer to sort things out round the table over a few bottles of vodka. The attitude of some Americans, on the other hand - particularly those who insist on "the right to bear arms" - I find quite scary.

So if you ask me whether Russia was ever likely to start World War Three my answer would be no, except by accident. I'm more inclined to believe the views of the Russian and Ukrainian people I have met than those of Western politicians, militarists and arms manufacturers who had an enormous vested interest in talking up the threat of communist world domination.
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