Remembering the Cold War

Article excerpt

We are a generation so addicted to anniversaries that only a few years ago a big fuss was made about the 25th anniversary of the release of "Sergeant Pepper." It is odd, therefore, that so little has been made of the epochal events that 50 years ago marked America's entry and charted its ultimate victory in the Cold War.

March 12 marked the 50th anniversary of the Truman Doctrine. In a speech before a joint session of Congress, President Harry S. Truman defined the threat posed by our erstwhile World War II ally, the U.S.S.R., and pledged that the United States would assume the burden Britain could no longer bear as ultimate defender of the West. (The speech took 18 minutes. Eighteen minutes is about the point at which Bill Clinton says, "Let me begin by proposing . . .")

And June 5 marks the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, a plan to rebuild Europe so farsightedly combining altruism and self-interest that it deserves to be called an act of genius. The 12 weeks between these two events mark the period during which America finally assumed its great role as the world's defender of freedom. There was a time - in fact, around the time of "Sergeant Pepper" - when such noble talk about America's role evoked derision. No longer. Both in Truman's time and in ours, the words ring true. Why, with the battle won, even liberals now declare themselves proud veterans of the Cold War. The Cold War did not, of course, have the dramatic intensity of, say, World War II. But it was just as real and just as dangerous. Though often clandestine and subtle, it ranged worldwide, cost many lives and evoked much heroism. Perhaps it would receive more serious attention if we called it the Forty-Five Years War. We know its exact dates. On March 12, 1947, the United States entered the fight (late, as usual: Stalin had been at it at least since V-E Day). And it ended at the stroke of midnight, December 31, 1991, when the U.S.S.R. didn't just surrender, it vanished from the map. Considering the stakes, the scope and the suffering, this was a struggle that surely deserves commemoration. For more than a decade, Washington has been building monuments to America's great 20th century struggles. …


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