Political Recollections with Richard Bleil
As tensions continue to arise between Russia and the United States because of the Ukrainian invasion, I can’t help but be brought back to the lengthy war between our nations that many of you may not recall. The war between Russia (then the USSR) and America started pretty much at the end of the last war to end all wars, World War II, which was the only war in which our nations were allied against Nazi aggression. The war with Russia continued until circa 1990. If you don’t remember it, the war of which I speak was called the Cold War, a war of economic and political struggle that decimated the Russian economy and ended as Gorbachev simply declared that they gave up. Not a single round was fired, at least not as far as either side is willing to acknowledge.
The Cold War saw the Iron Curtain put up. This was a total media and cultural blackout. News did trickle out, but for the most part, we never knew what was happening inside of the Soviet Union (behind the iron curtain) unless it was so big that the news simply had to leak. For example, in 1986 the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had a major meltdown, creating a fire that burned for decades and spewing so much radioisotopes into the air that even today the land surround the power plant is unusable. Although a part of the Ukraine, when the accident happened the Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union and would not be an independent nation for another five years in 1991. But the disaster was so bad that news of it flowed out from behind the iron curtain because, frankly, it couldn’t have been contained.
There were some interesting items that did manage to eek out from behind the Iron Curtain. For example, a Russian programmer developed a game that became so popular that it hit the US computer markets. I never knew if it was smuggled out to the west, or if the Russian government saw this as an opportunity to bring some much-needed foreign capital into the struggling economy. Today, a version of that game, Tetris, is one that I have on my virtual reality game system and it is still very popular.
Of personal interest to me is a series of books from two Russian physicists named Landau and Lifshitz. They were, simply put, brilliant and wrote a number of books on thermodynamics, quantum theory, statistical thermodynamics and much more. Their books were very expensive, but the Russian government recognized the quality of their work and let their books be published in the west. I always assumed that the Russians allowed this as a way of basically showing off the work of their scientists.
The iron curtain fell when one nation, I believe it was Turkey, opened up its boarders to Warsaw nations. In 1989. The news was actually “broken” by an American guitarist who was visiting in then West Germany when, in an interview, he said that there was a kind of excitement in the air and he thought the wall was coming down soon.
The Berlin Wall was erected as the Soviet Union declared half of Germany to be part of the Warsaw pact, nations under the Warsaw treaty as an answer to NATO. The NATO nations claimed western Germany as they split up Germany as the spoils of war. The Soviet Union erected the Berlin Wall to prevent citizens from Eastern Germany from entering NATO allied Western Germany. Unfortunately, once completed, the Soviet Union immediately declared it active, splitting families who didn’t already migrate from one side to the other. There are even stories of workers that were just on the wrong side of the wall and couldn’t get home again.
When that nation opened its borders, there became a path from Warsaw to NATO aligned nations, and there was nothing that the Soviet Union could do to stop it. As such, the effectiveness of the Berlin Wall was decimated, and soon thereafter, so was the wall itself as Germany (with many struggles) reunified.
The end of the Cold War actually came about thanks to Reagan. He proposed a missile defense shield that, frankly, couldn’t have worked. Physics just wasn’t on his side when he declared that it would be completely effective. Regardless of the feasibility, the Soviet Union had to respond in kind just for political clout, but their economy was already very weak, and the cost of this program caused an economic collapse. This brought about Gorbachev’s “surrender” and the end of the cold war. With the Ukraine, we’re still not in a “hot” war with Russia (unless you consider it a war by proxy as our weapons are being pitted against theirs), but the main elements of the cold war are again in play.