Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, six heroes get the credit they deserve
Nov 15, 1999, Vol. 5, No. 09 • By VICTORINO MATUS
The end of the century has been a good thing for the publishing industry. Indeed, 1999 could be called the Year of Lists, bombarding us with catalogues of the century's best books, best movies, best advertisements, and so on -- and on and on.
One new compendium for the century's end, however, deserves a kinder judgment: Architects of Victory: Six Heroes of the Cold War, in which Joseph Shattan explores the lives of Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Pope John Paul II, and Ronald Reagan -- looking at the critical choices that eventually led to the defeat of communism. Shattan spent several years working in the Reagan and Bush administrations. He was Vice President Quayle's speechwriter when the Berlin Wall came down ten years ago this week, and it is the belief that we owe "a debt of gratitude to the heroic figures who made our victory possible" that drove him to write this book.
By now it's no surprise to find Reagan and the pope on a list of Cold War heroes. But before they got there, others had paved the way. When Truman became president in 1945, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were fairly warm. But Truman quickly began to realize that kind words, cajoling, and even written agreements would not stop Stalin's drive for domination in Europe. By the time Soviet foreign minister Molotov came to meet with the new president, Truman was prepared to give him a tongue-lashing -- and when Molotov complained, "I have never before been talked to like that in my life," Truman responded, "Carry out your agreements, and you won't."
Thus began a transformation of American foreign policy. But Truman's change of heart came with the help of others. Shattan gives credit to the likes of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Clark Clifford, and George Elsey. And of course, there's Winston Churchill, the first leader to realize the threat Bolshevism posed. As early as 1918, at the height of the Russian Revolution, Churchill urged intervention.
During the Second World War, Churchill understood that Germany posed a greater threat than the USSR. But he also knew that Stalin, if given the chance, would grab as much of the continent as possible. This is why, as Shattan points out, it was of utmost importance for the Allies to carry out Churchill's plan of liberating Europe via the Balkans and not France. But Churchill's warnings of Soviet trickery would go mostly unheeded by the Americans. Only in March 1946, with his famous "Iron Curtain" address in Fulton, Missouri, did heads begin to turn in Washington.
In parts of Europe, however, the fear of Soviet tyranny was already high. And in postwar Germany, with the creation of the German Democratic Republic in the East and the Federal Republic in the West, German citizens found themselves at ground zero of the Cold War. The West badly needed an ally among the Germans, and it found one in Konrad Adenauer.
A former mayor of Cologne, Adenauer was sixty-eight when the Nazis threw him into Brauweiler prison in 1944 as an enemy of the state. Above his cell he could hear the screams of torture victims -- screams that would haunt him years later on his deathbed. But that death did not come until 1967, when he was ninety-one. And before that, Adenauer would found the Christian Democratic party and become West Germany's first chancellor. Like Truman and Churchill, he would stand firm against Soviet intimidation, linking his country's security to the West.
If Adenauer, Truman, and Churchill are the political fathers whose ideas and examples impressed Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and Ronald Reagan, then one of their spiritual fathers, according to Architects of Victory, is Alexander Solzhenitsyn. By the 1970s, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was touting the triumph of socialism over capitalism, and many in the West believed it. But then, in 1974, The Gulag Archipelago was published, and it became impossible not to see that behind the Soviet facade lay the world's most oppressive regime. Solzhenitsyn, a Russian writer and former Marxist-Leninist, had been sent to the Gulag from 1945 to 1953. There he counted himself among the lucky ones, as he explained, for having only experienced "limited" torture consisting of sleep deprivation that lasted for a week at a time. But it was his account of the brutal treatment of others that reminded the world that the fight against communism was indeed a moral struggle.