Iron Curtain 2/26/22

Recollections with Richard Bleil

Today (as of the writing of this blog) Ukrainian President Zelenskyy warned of a new “iron curtain” falling across Europe.  For many years, this term struck me as odd, and I didn’t really understand just what the iron curtain was. 

Beginning in the cold war and symbolized most strongly probably by the wall separating east and west Germany.  Travel and trade between the NATO aligned western European nations and the Warsaw pact Eastern nations was severely restricted.  The cold war was basically a series of economic sanctions and maneuvers in an attempt to erode the political influence of mainly the Soviet Union (at the time) and the US. 

Reagan dealt the fatal blow on the cold war when he started the “Star Wars” defense program.  Touted originally as a space-based missile defense technology capable of destroying all incoming ICBM’s in the event of a nuclear exchange (later quietly downgraded to say “most” ICBM’s).  The program was technologically unsound, but Russia had to respond to look equally strong and started its own program.  Neither took root because the physics involved is just far too complicated, but Russia did not have the resources to cover the expenses involved.  The program resulted in the economic collapse of the Soviet Union that was so bad that they didn’t even have the money to bring a cosmonaut down from the Russian space station for several months longer than had been planned. 

The iron curtain was basically a news blackout.  Communications had been cut, and even reporters were not allowed into Eastern Europe.  Nobody knew what was really happening in Eastern Europe.  One of the Eastern nations eventually announced they would be opening their borders with a neighboring Western European nation, thereby providing a route for people to travel, after many decades, between the two halves of Europe.  Once announced, it was clear that the iron curtain was falling, and the Berlin wall fell.

For the first time in decades, reporters were able to travel to Eastern block nations.  Only then was the damage of the cold war apparent.  Beautiful ancient limestone statues had been eroded to little more than humanoid-like shapes by the acid rain caused by the cheap coal used in their power plants.  The economic state of the nations was desperate, with food lines that would wrap around blocks.  The idea of Communism where the government would distribute goods and crops equally failed miserably, with red tape and inefficiencies resulting in much of the food rotting while awaiting distribution.  Money that should have been spent on feeding people was instead spent on keeping up with American weapons development. 

Putin seems fixated on pre-cold war Europe, or, perhaps more accurately on the Soviet Union.  He insists that the Ukraine needs to be re-annexed by Russia as a step in rebuilding the Soviet Union to its former “glory”.  Then president Gobachev of the Soviet Union basically threw up the “white flag” in the cold war.  He simply declared that they were done with the insanity.  The Soviet Union lost several regions that splintered off and formed their own nations. 

These splintered nations gave rise to a new kind of paranoia.  One of the nations that had won their independence had Russian nuclear tipped ICBM’s on their land, raising the specter of a new country launching a nuclear exchange.  It was unrealistic, because even with the missiles they didn’t have the launch codes.  What’s more, the missiles were probably old, making it less likely that they would successfully detonate.  Still, this gave rise to the SALT treaties and dramatic reductions in the insane numbers of nuclear weapons on both sides.  To make Russia feel more comfortable reducing their own stockpile, the US began voluntarily and dramatically reducing ours.  The SALT II treaty limited the number of delivery methods, and stopped nuclear weapons development and testing.  President Trump shred the SALT II treaties, allowing for new nuclear testing and increases just a few years before Russia’s incursion into the Ukraine.  Isn’t that cool?

Now, the “savvy leader” (as Trump calls him) Putin is trying to draw Ukraine back into the Soviet Union with violence.  We’ll see how this plays out, but I do know that we cannot trust a leader who uses violence to get what he wants.  The war has already spread across the entire Ukraine, far beyond the “breakaway regions”.  I’m hoping that the war remains withing the confines of the Ukraine, but even that sounds harsh.  The people of the Ukraine are carrying the brunt of this as they fight to defend their homeland, but the whole world will feel the pressure.  The people of Russia will be squeezed by the sanctions by many nations, and the people in the countries imposing those sanctions will feel the effect as well.  Yep, this “savvy leader” is certainly making a mess of things.

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