How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America

How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America

How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America

How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America


Hours after the USSR collapsed in 1991, Congress began making plans to establish the official memory of the Cold War. Conservatives dominated the proceedings, spending millions to portray the conflict as a triumph of good over evil and a defeat of totalitarianism equal in significance to World War II. In this provocative book, historian Jon Wiener visits Cold War monuments, museums, and memorials across the United States to find out how the era is being remembered. The author's journey provides a history of the Cold War, one that turns many conventional notions on their heads.

In an engaging travelogue that takes readers to sites such as the life-size recreation of Berlin's "Checkpoint Charlie" at the Reagan Library, the fallout shelter display at the Smithsonian, and exhibits about "Sgt. Elvis," America's most famous Cold War veteran, Wiener discovers that the Cold War isn't being remembered. It's being forgotten. Despite an immense effort, the conservatives' monuments weren't built, their historic sites have few visitors, and many of their museums have now shifted focus to other topics. Proponents of the notion of a heroic "Cold War victory" failed; the public didn't buy the official story. Lively, readable, and well-informed, this book expands current discussions about memory and history, and raises intriguing questions about popular skepticism toward official ideology.


In 1991, only a few hours after the USSR collapsed, Congress began making plans for organizing the official memory of the Cold War. The 1991 Defense Appropriations Act included $10 million for the creation of a “Legacy Resource Management Program” that would “inventory, protect and conserve the physical and literary property” of the Cold War so that future generations could understand and appreciate its meaning and significance.

Conservatives dominated the proceedings that followed. Their effort to shape public memory of the Cold War deployed powerful tools of political and cultural persuasion. The ideological apparatus engaged in this effort was famously influential and effective: Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the National Review, the Weekly Standard, the Heritage Foundation, an endless stream of op-eds and opinion pieces, and of course the voices of leading senators and congressmen as well as that of the Republican president.

Their message: the Cold War was agoodwar, like World War II. George W Bush explained it in his 200 3 State of the Union address, in which he drew an analogy between defeat of the Soviets and defeat of the Nazis: both the Nazi and Soviet regimes had been led by “small groups of men [who] seized control of great nations, built armies and arsenals, and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world. In each case, their ambitions of cruelty and murder had no limit. In each case, the ambitions of Hitlerism, militarism, and communism were defeated by the will of free peoples, by the strength of great alliances, and by the might of the United States of America.” The history of the twentieth century is thus a history of the battle between freedom and totalitarianism, good and evil, and it has two chapters: in the first, FDR led the Allies to victory over Nazi Germany; in the second, Reagan led the Free World to victory over the Soviet Union.

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