It was twenty years ago that the one of the most astounding events in my lifetime occurred. After 69 years, the Soviet Union was no more. For a Cold War kid, this was unthinkable. For as long as I could remember, it was the good ol’ US of A versus the USSR. The glorious Eagle versus the Russian Bear. Truman versus Stalin, Kennedy versus Khrushchev, Carter versus Brezhnev, Reagan versus Andropov, Chernenko and finally, Gorbachev.
We learned Duck ‘n Cover, practiced diving under our school desks and hectoring our parents for not building fallout shelters in the backyard. Those dirty Commies were aiming ICBMs at us, so we had NORAD and SAC on constant alert. They want to threaten us with their Badger bombers? Fine, we’ll threaten them with our B-52s. Mutually Assured Destruction…a nuclear standoff.
When they blockaded Berlin, we responded with the Berlin Airlift. When they created the Iron Curtain of eastern European puppet regimes, we created NATO. When they pumped out Marxist propaganda, we blared Radio Free Europe.
They backed North Korea and North Vietnam, we backed South Korea and South Vietnam. They supported left-wing coups, we supported right-wing coups. They financed corrupt anti-Imperialists, we financed corrupt anti-Communists. They had the KGB, we had the CIA.
We were Superman, and they were our Lex Luthor.
And then, seemingly overnight, it was over. The fearsome Russian Bear was gone. The Evil Empire had not been vaporized in a massive retaliatory nuclear strike; it had simply vanished. The last act of the last President of the Soviet Union was not to push the launch button; it was to lower the hammer & sickle from above the Kremlin.
So just like that, the Cold War ended and we won. But it was all a little anticlimactic. Without our sworn enemy, who were we supposed to be? We had just spent nearly half a century fighting the Red Scourge in Europe, Asia, Africa, South and Central America. Now what?
Of course, it didn’t take long for us to find new enemies. 9/11 certainly saw to that. And during those early days of the War on Terrorism, through the ill-advised Iraq war and the ongoing quagmire of Afghanistan, it’s awfully tempting to pine for the days when those lousy Russkies were the only thing we had to worry about.
Wal-Mart’s annual income is nearly equal to that of Russia.