Selective Remembrance of Post-Cold-War History

Article excerpt

Thanks to Washington Beltway conservatives, the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet empire has given rise to celebratory events and publications. From a gala dinner last May arranged by the American Conservative Union to a Heritage Foundation-sponsored study of Cold War heroes by Joseph Shattan, Washingtonians are watching the past return as selective commemoration.

The problem with the latest Cold War hero lists is methodological, as well as moral: They tell more about the current conservative quest for centrist or Cold War liberal respectability than they do about who did more than someone else to defeat communism. Thus, we end up talking less about architects of Cold War victory and more about whom Beltway centrist conservatives would like to put into their political pedigree.

Not surprisingly, Ronald Reagan makes it onto every movement conservative short list of who won the Cold War. As a serf-described conservative president, and as someone who pushed the Soviets into ruinous competition with U.S. military expenditures, Reagan continues to shine as a Cold Warrior. He also is a sufficiently contemporary national figure so that he remains a familiar name even to those younger than 30, unlike such mid-century conservatives as, say, Robert Taft and Richard Russell.

Give Shattan's new book, Architects of Victory: Six Heroes of the Cold War, credit for picking former German chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) as an anticommunist great. By the time Adenauer became head of the government in 1949 (much to the unease of Harry Truman who favored his socialist opponent), his outspoken dislike for the Nazis had led to his imprisonment and near execution, while his sharp tongue and social conservatism caused the occupying Allied forces to distrust him. As chancellor, Adenauer built close alliances with both France and the United States, and he resisted any temptation to seek the reunification of his country under Soviet auspices. This option remained open into the early fifties, as Stalin worked to neutralize Germany. Adenauer, however, remained loyal to the anticommunist Western side, knowing that this meant the indefinite postponement of German reunification.

Shattan picks Pope John Paul II as another one of his Cold War heroes for his defense of human rights and religious freedom, and for his ties to the Solidarity labor movement in Poland. While the pope may be an admirable man, with fans in moderate conservative circles, it may be questioned whether he played a more decisive role as an anticommunist than a recent predecessor now termed "reactionary." Into the early fifties the now fallen-from-journalistic-favor Pope Plus XII had hurled pastoral attacks against the godless communists and had threatened to excommunicate those Catholics who might support the enemy with their votes. Catholic intellectuals on the anticommunist right (many of them converts) applauded these papal positions.

Two of Shattan's heroes featured in neo-conservative hagiography, Winston Churchill and Truman, were both far less consistently anticommunist. Contrary to the impression created by Shattan and by Claremont Institute guru Harry V. Jaffa, Churchill was rather erratic in this matter. Nor did his anticommunism fit the now prescribed form of waging crusades for global democracy. In the 1920s Churchill's dislike for the communists invariably was linked to a defense of Latin fascism, as in his 1927 interview with the New York Times in which he praised fascism's triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism and held it up as the necessary antidote to the communist poison.

At the outset of the Cold War, it was not the ousted Churchill but his Labour Party opponents in power, Clement Atlee and Ernest Bevin, who resisted the Soviet takeover of Europe. And, despite the speech delivered in Fulton, Mo., in 1946 about the "iron curtain descending," Churchill shamelessly had appeased Stalin during and after the war -- from hiding Soviet atrocities committed against England's Polish allies to collaborating in the return of Soviet refugees to Stalin in Operation Keelhaul. …