New Adventures in Historical Revisionism

Ron Christie – whose credentials as a historian are, shall we say, limited – is also shocked that Obama would think to give other countries credit for helping end the Cold War:

First, Mr. President, I daresay the people of Russia and Eastern Europe hardly decided to stand up and decide that the Cold War’s conclusion would be peaceful. You might ask the citizens of Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria — to name a few countries — if their polite request for the Soviet Empire to withdraw from their borders was met with a peaceful response.

Leaving aside the fact that no one – least of all Obama – has ever suggested that the groundswell of opposition to Russian occupation was “polite,” this is pretty much exactly what happened. There was no war. The Poles and the Estonians and the Hungarians did not sack Moscow. The Soviet withdrawal was largely peaceable. Except in Christie’s fevered imagination, the Marines did not, in fact, liberate Warsaw.

When you’re in a hole, the general rule is to stop digging.  Christie procures a backhoe. The next paragraph manages the neat trick of preemptively refuting his own argument:

Second, I fail to comprehend how a sitting president of the United States would travel to Russia and announce that the end of the Cold War was not the result of “any one nation.” How about the country Mr. Obama was elected to lead? The United States held the Russians at bay while supporting the Solidarity movement led by Lech Walesa in Poland and others who dared to rise up against the Soviet Union in their quest for freedom and democracy.

So after crediting the United States with sole responsibility for ending the Cold War, Christie proceeds to mention Lech Walesa and the Poles, who “dared to rise up against the Soviet Union.” Perhaps those foreigners had something to do with the end of the Cold War after all? You would think that this neatly proves Obama’s point about recognizing other nations’ contributions, but according to Ron Christie, you’d be wrong.

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11 thoughts on “New Adventures in Historical Revisionism

  1. There is a difference between being “revisionist” and being “spectacularly wrong.” Christie’s collection of words and punctuation – any other description gives too much credit – falls into the latter category.

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  2. I think Obama’s critics would do well to criticize him on the 101 legitimate reasons he should be criticized rather than these weak attempts to smear him. All this does is divert attention away from the legitimate criticisms because everyone starts arguing about the unfair criticisms.

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  3. It’s not fashionable to say this, but the Afghans can take more credit for the downfall of the Soviet bloc than any Europeans, including the Poles.

    The book to read is The Hidden War, by Artyom Borovik, a Soviet war correspondent who documents in awful detail what the war did to his generation.

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    • That’s an interesting point, Patrick, and probably worth its own post. The central question, I think, is this: What factors prevented the Soviet regime from forcefully reasserting control in the late 1980s? I tend to think it was an internal crisis of legitimacy, spurred by a loss of confidence among people like Gorbachev and the emerging groundswell of opposition in Eastern Europe. Afghanistan may have contributed to this, but I’m not sure it was the decisive factor.

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  4. Will, I was there in 1989 (Leningrad), and my overwhelming sense was that the gas had been taken out of people not so much by what was going on in Europe, but by what had happened in Afghanistan (for which I give Reagan, Charlie Wilson et al little credit).

    I’m not old enough to recall Vietnam except in the most childish sense (I recall wondering why we were fighting gorillas), but my belief is that what Afghanistan did to the Russian people was worse than what Vietnam did to America. Consider that another nail in the Soviet coffin was that Afghanistan emboldened minorities within the non-Russian Soviet, almost none of whom (Belarus being the exception) were ever really reconciled to being part of a Russian empire.

    Since I’m comparing things that aren’t really that similar, Gorbachev did share a few traits with Jimmy Carter as well. He was a well-meaning but exceedingly weak man (for a ruling politician) who had the misfortune to follow a line of spectacularly corrupt politicians. He is regarded as a disaster by most Russians today.

    Poland is certainly important, but not as important as what was going on in Russia, a spiritual decay that began in the 1970s, accelerated in Afghanistan, and continues today.

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  5. Patrick –

    Interesting stuff. I was actually in Berlin in 1989, and although I’d like to match your anecdata, I’m afraid I was a toddler at the time. Having said that, one proximate factor we haven’t really discussed is Chernobyl – which, according to my parents, did immense damage to the regime’s popular legitimacy.

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