Monday, October 16, 2006

Bloody-minded Russians

How refreshing, after hundreds of pages of judicious assessments of the Cold War, to read in Max Hastings' The Korean War (p.56) the following picture of the world in 1950:

'It was not only the United States ... which saw in Korea an extraordinary opportunity to draw the line against Communist aggression. In Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East, in Latin America, the advance of communism ... was [seen as] an immediate physical menace. The spectacle of Eastern Europe ... disappearing into the dark fog of totalitarianism had not only dismayed but frightened a host of citizens of free nations. Not merely Greece, but France and Italy also, seemed close to falling under Communist rule. The vision of Russian armies storming across the postwar occupation lines to assault western Europe seemed perfectly plausible.'

That's the world I remember, not the finely balanced one presented by our core texts, which cite the Soviet archives (somehow overlooked in 1950!) to show that Stalin's foreign goals were admirably nuanced.

Hastings goes on to quote the Labour MP Christopher Mayhew, speaking in 1985:

'People have forgotten just how indescribably bloody the Russians were at that time. Because the Soviets have now become more reasonable, less frightening, we should not lose sight of how ruthless and immediate a threat they then seemed.'

Again, that's the world as I remember it.


At 4:16 PM, Blogger David J. Betz said...

Having written large chunks of that course I must admit that I often tried to put myself in the mind of people at the time. It's always difficult to do. I was born in 1969. So I'm old enough to remember a bit of it. I remember talking with my Dad about Vietnam (I was a bit precocious in terms of interest in current events, notably war, basically retarded in most other respects). But for the most part my experience was of the end when the zeitgeist wasn't Soviet strength anymore but empty Soviet markets and toilet paper shortages.


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