What Happened to the Soviet Union? How and Why American Sovietologists Were Caught by Surprise

What Happened to the Soviet Union? How and Why American Sovietologists Were Caught by Surprise

What Happened to the Soviet Union? How and Why American Sovietologists Were Caught by Surprise

What Happened to the Soviet Union? How and Why American Sovietologists Were Caught by Surprise

Synopsis

Examines how and why Soviet experts in American academia responded to the growing evidence of Soviet collapse.

Excerpt

How did American Sovietology think and write about the USSR during the final two decades of the Soviet Union’s existence? Why did the delegitimation of Communism in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991—and the Gorbachev initiatives that precipitated these dramatic events—catch so many political scholars by surprise? Why did the vast majority of U.S. Soviet experts fail to anticipate the possibility of significant innovation, or of virtually any kind of political, economic, or social change taking place in the USSR? And why did most American Sovietologists miss the sure signs of Soviet change that were evident during the 1970s and 1980s? These questions and their likely answers are the central concern of this study.

This book is about what happened in 1989 and 1991. More fundamentally, it is about the process of Soviet change, and it chronicles how and why so many American Soviet experts thought that what happened in 1989 and 1991 couldn’t happen.

Of course, it is a different world today than it was ten years ago—let alone fifty-five years ago, when World War II ended and Soviet-American relations turned ice cold. Perhaps that is why some people view the East-West conflict as a relic of the past. Indeed, in the harrowing days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some political columnists and television pundits argued that the lessons of the Cold War are less relevant than ever, because “everything has changed” and because we are now fighting “a new kind of war” and a new enemy—terrorism.

Well, yes, everything’s changed. And perhaps nothing’s changed. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. My own view is that the Cold War and Soviet-American relations are more relevant than ever—for exactly the reasons some say they’re now irrelevant—because “America’s new war” against terrorism resembles the “long twilight struggle” of the 1950s and 1960s against Communism and because our new enemy seems every bit as ruthless and un-

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