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.


Unknown said...

Just like there is no sterotypical "American" in reality, there is no stereotypical "Russan" or "Ukranian". I work with several Russians who describe their heritage and people as barbarians and warlike. However, interestingly enough, they themselves are not. Go figure, but it does show that myths and fables are better explanations for stereotypes than reality ever is.

Steve GW7AAV said...

One reason I got into radio was the ability to see things from the other side as it were. I would listen to news reports on the BBC world service, the US forces network, Russian and Chinese English language programs and hear the biased reporting of all sides. Somewhere in the middle was the truth, but truth always depends on your perspective and my truth was not necessarily the definitive truth. I could not say that one side was lying only that their personal experience led them to believe something different than I did. The emergence of the Internet should have allowed everyone to see each other from their own perspective and to some extent it has, but some people simply cannot stretch their minds that far and distrust and bigotry are as prevalent as ever.
Personally it was the warlike barbarian image that I admired in the people from the Soviet Block, I just could not understand how such a strong people they became so oppressed by their leaders. Now in the police state that is the UK I see it happening here and I feel helpless to do anything. Smile at the CCTV cameras because big brother is watching you.

Unknown said...

One thinks about the Cossacks, and of course those people in the Caucasus like the Georgians and the Chechens are a tough lot, but I think European Russians are more noted for stoicism than aggression.

Us Brits have a reputation as the "bulldog breed" but the big brother state has arrived by stealth and we just rolled over and let it tickle our tummies.

But look what has happened in America with the rise of home owner's associations. We all know the powers they have for preventing hams from having antennas, or even for radio activity of any sort, but they can dictate how often home owners mow their lawns or paint their houses,. Who asked for this form of communism and however did it take a hold in a country that prizes personal freedom?