This day in history: The beginning of the end of the Cold War

Today’s google doodle commenmorates the opening of the Berlin Wall. Buzzfeed has a couple of things on the wall:

I remember it being incredibly emotional, watching it on TV. I can’t imagine who it must have felt to be there. I think that event was a great reminder of what the Cold War actually did to real human beings.


And to think, on that day we all thought the Marxists had finally lost.

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I remember my teacher coming in to school and telling us to all remember the date.

I think this book is worth a read too.

I love Berlin, awesome city.


Yeah… certainly the experiment that marketed itself as marxism lost… Even cold warrior stalwarts have begun to back away somewhat from their “end of history” predictions - look at Fukiyama’s sort of about face on his claims.

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That’s the most 80s thing ever.

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End? Looks more like it was a pause to break out a fresh the deck and for the players to change seats. Or maybe its Cold War 2?

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I’m not so sure. That certainly seems to be the consensus that’s emerging around Putin’s clearly authoritarian state, but I’m not fully convinced that this is what is going on - the Russian economy today seems to have more in common with a fascist economy as opposed to the Soviet economy. He is certainly employing plenty of Soviet era tropes, but I’d argue he’s playing on both nostalgia for the Soviet era (which I hear is quite strong) and Russian nationalism in ways that are historically unique. Some of the things he’s arguing for wouldn’t have worked within the Soviet context, since they really pushed the idea of a “nation of nations.” There has been a spike in anti-gay, anti-western, anti-Jewish sentiment in Russia (not that this things did not exist in Soviet Russia, but that they were directed in different ways). I’d say that all forms of strong states are not the same, and that the context here is very different than in the Cold War era.

I’m not entirely sure Russia is even a major player in the game any more but Putin certainly wishes it was… Putin still loves tweaking Europe’s tired old bottom.

Some of the penny ante players are former Soviet clients who still cling to Mother Russia’s skirts a bit. Some of them are the same, some are new-ish to the game.

From where I sit, China is still playing the game with its “nine dash line” for sure and Korea is still an unsolved problem for several players.

But even in the case of China, the context is different. They are clearly no longer the communist state led by Mao and are into a new era - one that is still a one party state, but that certainly is far more capitalist in their economic policies and that’s connected to the global economy, especially Japan’s (which is tense of course). Whether this will lead to more democracy, that’s hard to say. So far, it has been a no.

As for Korea, that is still a space of cold war antagonism. N. Korea is literally the only Stalinist regime left (Albania fell apart years ago). The Cubans are certainly still a communist/socialist state, but its not Stalinist. Oh, and vietnam, but they are opening up too.

[edited to add] I also think that the defining characteristic of the cold war was the US and Soviet Union staring each other down. I think that the third world movement certainly impacted how the two parties interacted and operated, but it was how the two states represented themselves and their respective ideologies (regardless of the realities of both states) that defined the era. Once the Second World fell apart as a bloc, it effectively ended the period and created a new set of geo-political antagonisms and alliances that are still being shaped today. That’s just my view, YMMV.

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sort of a sidebar, but i think it’s related enough:

there are still ICBMs with nuclear warheads aimed at us, correct? I know some of them were dismantled and the nuclear material evaporated into the black market in some of the former SSRs. But the Russian ones–many of them, anyway–they’re still intact, right? Because I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be. Last I heard, ours are still ready to go, maybe a few disarmed but enough to “win” i.e. irradiate the whole damn planet i.e. lose.

viewed this way, the “end” of the cold war is an end in word but not in deed.


That’s certainly true, though I think some might have been re-directed? I’m not a military historian of the cold war, so its not an issue I’ve personally focused on. I would say that after this set of events, the cultural and social tensions around the bomb subsided and has never really picked back up again, at least in terms of a direct threat from an enemy like the Soviets. If we worry about nuclear bombs, it tends to be related to the war on terror - some guy with a dirty bomb taking out a city. I think, culturally speaking at least, the threat feels less existential to us, even as its still a real threat. Its become almost more regionalized, not globalized somehow, if that makes sense. [edited to add] Maybe we can see if as a shift in focus? Maybe we can even pull out the atomic age as something separate from the Cold War itself, even as it was part of the Cold War?

ya, I get that, what I’m saying is that it’s a fallacy to think that way. Putin decides he wants Russia back in the driver’s seat, he can do that. But yes, it’s not Soviets vs the West anymore. And that would be a horrible move for him to make and he knows it (which is why it probably won’t happen.) With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the Cold War–to the dictionary definition–is over, but the physical threat that underpinned the entire thing is still fully in effect. In my mind, that’s like telling your guests to go home because there’s no more cake, when fully half the cake is still sitting on the table in full view.

although, political goodwill is perhaps the only real win at this point. the nuclear genie is out of the bottle. even if we and russia actually went through with a total nuclear disarmament, some future state will just build them again, eventually.
EDIT: well, lots of states besides the US and Russia already have them, but I mean like a future superpower that can reach a critical mass of them to hold the world hostage again like we’re doing now–pun intended

I see your point, but I’d still argue that maybe we can think of the nuclear threat and the cold war as different, but related things. It was less the physical threat of nuclear annihilation that underpinned it, and more the tensions between the two that defined it - maybe that’s because of my own position as a cultural cold war historian? I’d argue that if we had had Roosevelt finish up the Cold War instead of Truman, things might have gone differently. FDR had already shown Stalin that he was willing to work with him, and Truman came right out of the gate antagonistically. I think the tension was separate from the nuclear threat, but that just amped the feeling of the threat and probably really restrained actions, except in terms of proxy wars.

As for some super power getting them… I think we might be too economically interconnected for that sort of thing to work the same way. The real or perceived nuclear threat seems more localized - in the Indian Subcontinent, with North Korea, in the Mid. East, with an undeclared arsenal in Israel and Iran looking to maybe make their own (other countries, too, we just don’t talk about those). That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, but right now, I don’t see it as an organizing principle of global politics. The economy is, and the crisis in the middle east is. Those actors are, again, very local and regionalized compared to the Cold War era.

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I deliberately didn’t frame any of what I posted in terms of Mao, Stalin, etc. To me it isn’t really relevant to look at this question in the trope of Capitalism vs. Communism, but more as the struggle/competition between powers and interests which sometimes hots up into war as we usually think of it but is for the most part more like the abstract sense of a “Cold War”.

To put it back in my original framework, it doesn’t matter if those at the table are playing Texas Hold Em or Seven Card Stud, they are still playing poker.

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The hidden author of Putinism

In the 21st century, the techniques of the political technologists have become centralized and systematized, coordinated out of the office of the presidential administration, where Surkov would sit behind a desk with phones bearing the names of all the “independent” party leaders, calling and directing them at any moment, day or night. The brilliance of this new type of authoritarianism is that instead of simply oppressing opposition, as had been the case with 20th-century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting and rendering them absurd. One moment Surkov would fund civic forums and human-rights NGOs, the next he would quietly support nationalist movements that accuse the NGOs of being tools of the West. With a flourish he sponsored lavish arts festivals for the most provocative modern artists in Moscow, then supported Orthodox fundamentalists, dressed all in black and carrying crosses, who in turn attacked the modern-art exhibitions. The Kremlin’s idea is to own all forms of political discourse, to not let any independent movements develop outside of its walls. Its Moscow can feel like an oligarchy in the morning and a democracy in the afternoon, a monarchy for dinner and a totalitarian state by bedtime.

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Which I certainly agree with… but I’d also argue that we have more common interests with china now because of our interactions in the global economy. So, the struggle between powers continues, playing out more within a common market place, and I do think that’s distinct from the struggle during the Cold War proper, where much more division existed in terms of economic differences. The division between the first and second world were real and were distinct economic systems, more so than today. I’m certainly not arguing that there isn’t a power struggle, but I think it’s different.

That looks really interesting! Thanks for the link.

Don’t forget, Russia was buying American wheat during Cold War 1 :smiley: Remember also that the Pacific Fleet is part of a deterrence strategy with China as well.

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Of course! Prior to the Cold War! Interestingly, Hoover ran the program, and it was part of the reason he was elected president, because people thought he was a humanitarian. when the economy went south, a lot of people saw him as refusing to help Americans…

Sure… I still argue our interactions with China are fundamentally different.