Happy Anniversary:

On this date in 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceased to exist. As detailed by University of Hawaii political science professor R.J. Rummel on his website "Powerkills", the 20th century was humanity's worst century of genocide and democide (the latter including mass killings not based on religion, race, or ethnicity). By far the greatest perpetrators of genocide were Communist regimes. Although a few of the Communist genocide perpetrators eventually developed hostile relations with the U.S.S.R., none of the Communist regimes would ever have come to power without the support of the Evil Empire that arose in October 1917, and which began styling itself as the "U.S.S.R." in 1922.

Rummel's website provides excellent quantitative data on genocide/democide all over the world. You might also want to check out Rummel's fine weblog "Democratic Peace."

A retrospective article on the Heritage Foundation website reminds us how bitterly President Reagan was attacked for his magnificent speech at Westminster in 1982. Reagan was mocked as a deluded idealist by so-called "pragmatists" who thought they knew better. Yet Reagan was right when he declared:

It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens...
...the march of freedom and democracy...will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history...
The collapse of the Evil Empire came sooner than even Reagan had hoped. The Cuban efforts to impose new dictatorships on Nicaragua and El Salvador failed completely. Solidarity became the elected government of Poland, and later yielded power to another government following a free election. The Warsaw Pact is now nothing more than a scrap of paper, and all the countries which suffered under its jackboots are making their way--some faster than others--towards stable and democratic government.

Within the former U.S.S.R. itself, the Baltic Republics are making great progress, while Central Asia languishes under tyranny, and Russia itself is retrogressing into dictatorship. Dictators still oppress many hundreds of millions of people, and are still perpetrating genocide and promoting terrorism.

Today's anniversary, however, should remind us that the true pragmatists are those who recognize that totalitarianism is in constant danger of collapse because of its own internal contradictions, and that if free nations remain strong and resolute, they can bring down a superpower.

Bottomfish (mail):
Now let us apply the above sentiments to the Iraq situation.
12.31.2005 7:30pm
Darleen (mail) (www):
Born in 1954, I grew up with drop-drills and the Doomsday clock. I remember when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1968 (and argued the point with my very leftist high school history teacher that very fall as he was wont to praise the Soviets and how they selflessly "helped" all their client states).

I thought the fall of the Berlin wall was unbelievable, I never imagined the fall of the Soviets during my lifetime.
12.31.2005 7:30pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
Unfortunately, it isn't all over yet. With Putin in charge, Russia is slipping back into totalitarianism. This is Bush's friend, mind you, into whose soul the our leader did gaze.

And don't even get me started on formerly Soviet Uzbekistan, another brutal dictatorship we support...
12.31.2005 7:34pm
Vovan (mail):
The baltic republics that you so greatly praise as "making great progress" have recently enacted a monument to the fallen Nazi soldiers, and continue persecution of ethnic Russians living in their country.

And in Russia itself, one of the most popular parties among young people is "National Bolshevism", and other assortment of Nazi groups are on the rise.

Say what you want about Soviet Marxism Leninism, but as a Russian I would take it over Fashism or Nazism any day of the week
12.31.2005 7:46pm
Tom Anger (mail) (www):
But why not choose liberal democracy (in the best sense of that term)?
12.31.2005 7:59pm
Greedy Clerk (mail):
I do not think we objected to Communism because of its totalitarian aspects, but because of its Communist aspects -- i.e. it was a threat to our (the West) economic system. I do not see how anyone could reasonably argue otherwise given that we allied ourselves with some real bad people (Saddam Hussein, for example) in our fight against Communism.

Not making any moral judgment; just stating a fact.

As to Vovan's statement, "Say what you want about Soviet Marxism Leninism, but as a Russian I would take it over Fashism [sic] or Nazism any day of the week." Ask a Lithuananian, Latvian or Estonian about your statement and they would say the precise opposite. Soviet Marxism Leninism was as bad, if not worse under certain circumstances, than German Fascism. Certainly, it was worse than Italian Fascism.
12.31.2005 7:59pm
Mahan Atma (mail):

The Economist of 7 September states: "Uzbekistan, in particular, has jailed many thousands of moderate Islamists, an excellent way of converting their families and friends to extremism." The Economist also spoke of "the growing despotism of Mr Karimov" and judged that "the past year has seen a further deterioration of an already grim human rights record". I agree.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 political and religious prisoners are currently detained, many after trials before kangaroo courts with no representation. Terrible torture is commonplace: the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water. Two leading dissidents, Elena Urlaeva and Larissa Vdovna, were two weeks ago committed to a lunatic asylum, where they are being drugged, for demonstrating on human rights. Opposition political parties remain banned. There is no doubt that September 11 gave the pretext to crack down still harder on dissent under the guise of counter-terrorism.

Yet on 8 September the US State Department certified that Uzbekistan was improving in both human rights and democracy, thus fulfilling a constitutional requirement and allowing the continuing disbursement of $140 million of US aid to Uzbekistan this year.
12.31.2005 8:43pm
Robert F. Patterson (mail):
Having taught Russian history for 27 years--though NOT pretending to be an expert--I was surprised by the omission in the introduction of this blog, of Pope John Paul's role in bringing about the Soviet Union's demise. The two recent television biographies of John Paul, especially the second, did a good treatment of the Pope's support for Solidarity when the USSR got its first effective challenge.
12.31.2005 8:50pm
Robert F. Patterson (mail):
I was quite interested to read the comment about the three "Forgotten REpublics." As a matter of fact, I lived and studied with two Lithuanians who grew up under, first, the Nazis, and then under the Communists, Gediminas Kijouskas and Casey Trimikas, and they both assured me many times that they preferred the Nazis to the Communists. Of course, both were Christians, not Jews.
12.31.2005 8:57pm
Dustin (mail):
There have been so many tyrannical regimes over the years that it's pretty difficult to say whose worst. The Nazis are at least in the top three because they were so racist and they killed so man people. The Stalinists also, would have to be in the top three, though they weren't racist they killed even more people. Both were fascist horibbly.

Saying the Soviets weren't as bad as the Nazis is a intellectually dishonest defense. Satan isn't as bad as the Nazi's either. he still is a jerk.
12.31.2005 9:44pm
Mike Lief (www):
I was working at a newspaper in New Jersey when the Berlin Wall came down, and I remember crowding into the editor-in-chief's office to watch the footage of joyful Germans dancing on the wall as East German border guards stood by and watched.

It was a sight I thought I'd never see, a mere four years after getting out of the military, where'd we'd constantly sparred with the Soviets.

I too remember duck-and-cover drills, where we'd sit in the inner hallways of my school to avoid the worst of the blast effects from the anticipated nuclear attack.

Ronald Reagan gets more credit from the former Communist leadership for their defeat than he receives from the American Left.

Says a lot.
12.31.2005 9:50pm
I'll give credit to Reagan for being right about the USSR being evil. But in terms of its collapse, maybe just a little credit should go to that fact that Marxist economic systems simply don't work and will inevitably fail given enough time. The massive arms race certainly hastened this end, but we might yet regret it when some of those weapons get sold to people far less interested in self-preservation than the Soviets were.

And I'll strongly second Greed Clerk's opinion that our real opposition to communism was that it reduced the number of our productive trading partners. We clearly don't have any real problem with totalitarian regimes per se. (I should note that only the second part of this point is meant as a criticism. We are right to want more people to have the economic freedom to trade with us; we are wrong to continue to support totalitarian regimes.)
12.31.2005 11:06pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
When Chernenko died in 1984 (I think that was the year), I was 6 years old. Elections were held, and my grandfather asked if I wanted to accompany him to the polling center. Hesitant initially, I agreed to go, upon being promised an ice cream for my participation.

What I found striking, even at that tender age, is that there was only one name on the ballot - Mikhail Gorbachev. Now, this was incongruent with what I believed to be an election. We had recently had one in class - a real one. As I began to articulate this complaint to my grandfather, he hushed me. I was further pacified with the delivery of the promised ice cream.

Now I know that the reason my grandfather participated in the sham election was in order to keep his good standing with the Communist party. The reason, I also now know, he had to be a member, was to keep his prestigious job as a surgeon. After all, if a non-Communist can make a good surgeon, then what's the world coming to? A Jewish non-Communist surgeon? That would make Lenin's mummified and wax-enhanced body turn over in its mausoleum.

Sorry for the rant, but let this serve as a big thanks to Reagan, Thatcher, et al., for helping put an end to that mess...
12.31.2005 11:21pm
DRJ (mail):
Why is it so hard for some people to be grateful that the former Soviet nations (not to mention Iraq) are now free or at least more free than in the past? Clearly, hatred for Reagan and Bush runs so deep that they would rather sacrifice millions of people to totalitarianism than to see a Republican President get any credit. How sad.
1.1.2006 12:13am
Stuart (mail):
Greedy clerk, you need to read some of Jeanne Kirkpatrick's old speeches explaining the difference between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. You can grimace and deal with one, but not with the other, because one is bad but the other is EVIL.

Remember: Pinochet was a murderous bastard, but he turned over his country to an elected government, without a war or a coup. Mao never did anything like that. Nor Stalin.
1.1.2006 1:09am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
When a civillian airliner wandered off course over some godforsaken area of the USSR it was summarily shot down and the pilots involved decorated and promoted. Too bad Jimmy Carter wasn't on it, he could have negotiated over the radio with the Soviet pilots and saved the day.
1.1.2006 9:51am
On what do you base the anniversary date? Gorbachev resigned on Christmas Day, 1991 and the Supreme Soviet dissolved itself the following day. I don't know of any significant event that happened on the 31st. I realize I'm being picky but I'd like to know where you got that information.
1.1.2006 11:02am
bindare4u (mail):
We still need to vanquish the last stronghold of the Communist Movement which flourishes in the American Left. Look at the background of many who are leading the marches against the policies of Bush's America in Iraq if you doubt that statement. If we had followed the advice of the Left not only would the USSR still be a World Power but we would probably be under their heel. "Jimmah Carter" wanted to strike a deal with Russia just to assure his re-election. Thank God for Ronald Reagan.
1.1.2006 11:06am
EricH (mail):
The US did not, of course align ourselves with Saddam Hussein in the name of anti-communism.

Iraq was a Soviet client state in the 1980s (look at all those Soviet weapons they had). The Reagan Administration - and many governments throughout the world - provided assistance to Iraq out of fear of a Iranian military victory in their war. The concern was that the Khomeini revolution would spread throughout the region.

And the Reagan Administration shared satellite information, extended grain credits and allowed Iraq to purchase cluster bombs. Except for the satellite data, almost nothing.

And why this issue was raised over a discussion of the defeat of Soviet communism mystifies me. It's irrelevancy should be obvious to anyone.
1.1.2006 11:14am
Yes, according to my memory the Soviet Union ceased to exist on Christmas Day, 1991.

[From Dave Kopel: In response to questions about the source of the Dec. 31 date: it's the Dec. 31 FYEO newsletter, from Perhaps the USSR voted to dissolve itself on 12/25, but made the dissolution effective on 12/31, in order to put affairs in order.]
1.1.2006 11:25am
Putting the Red in Red State:
We still need to vanquish the last stronghold of the Communist Movement which flourishes in the American Left.

I think your sentiment is best expressed in this audio clip. [Warning: 2.3mb file]
1.1.2006 12:31pm
Jim C. (mail):
Mahan Atma posted: " '{the EU is currently considering a demarche over the terrible case of two Muslims tortured to death in jail apparently with boiling water.' "

demarche: 1 a : a course of action : MANEUVER b : a diplomatic or political initiative or maneuver
2 : a petition or protest presented through diplomatic channels

Oh yeah, the Uzbekistan rulers are shaking in their boots.

Funny how the left didn't protest when Stalin or Saddam was doing the killing.
1.1.2006 12:44pm
Henry Bowman:
The link to Powerkills is broken. The correct URL is
1.1.2006 1:17pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
A couple points:

I didn't write that piece; I had included a link in the post, and it somehow did not show up in the post. Here's the source.

"Oh yeah, the Uzbekistan rulers are shaking in their boots. "

Well you seem to have cherry-picked your definition, but hey, you're right: Why should the Uzbeks be worried when the most powerful country in the world is squarely backing them?

Honestly, I can't believe you all want to defend this...

"Funny how the left didn't protest when Stalin or Saddam was doing the killing."

Well I don't know who you think "the left" is, but 1) I wasn't even alive when Stalin was; and 2) I DID actively oppose Saddam. I especially protested our own government's support of him when he was gassing the Kurds.

What president was that again? Oh yes.... Reagan.

As for why I protest the U.S. government more than someone like Saddam: Because it's my government, doing these things with my tax dollars, in my name, and we live in a participatory democracy where a citizen's voice is supposed to mean somtething.

It's ludicrous to say "Why didn't you protest Stalin" and infer that I therefore supported him. I don't usually "protest" against foreign dictators because it's kind of pointless; Stalin or Saddam does not give a damn what I think, no matter how much I oppose them (and I certainly did).

Presumably, our own government cares when its citizens object to its policies (although maybe not this administration).

Think about how silly your logic is: Let's see... Did you ever protested publicly against Charles Taylor, the former brutal dictator of Liberia? No? Aha!! You therefore supported him, didn't you!
1.1.2006 2:17pm
Jim Burdo:
You do know that Uzbekistan has kicked us out because of our criticism of their human rights abuses? It's allying itself with China now.
1.1.2006 5:28pm
Micajah (mail) (www):
My recollection is that the USSR ended on Christmas Day.

This is from the BBC timeline:
"On 25 December, Gorbachev goes on television to announce he is stepping down as Soviet president. The Soviet flag is lowered from the Kremlin for the last time, and the white, blue and red tricolour of the Russian Federation flies in its place. The USSR is no more."

Whatever -- it's nice that it's gone.
1.1.2006 5:29pm
tioedong (mail) (www):
Thanks for the reminder...linked to my humble blog...
And don't forget John Paul II...who inspired many in Solidarity...
1.1.2006 5:50pm
Dave Kopel:
Of course JP II was huge in the demise of the USSR. There are so many great names in the roll of honor, including Harry Truman, Scoop Jackson, Francois Mitterand, Margaret Thatcher, and many, many more. And all the soldiers from so many nations who made the ultimate sacrifice in resisting Communist aggression.

The Christmas Day vote to abolish the USSR of course has enormous symbolic significance for Westerners, including, the Vatican. Interestingly, though, Russian Orthodox Christmas is January 7.
1.1.2006 6:06pm
C Ryan:
I am often confused by the insistence of otherwise intelligent people that Ronald Reagan's vast military spending and harsh rhetoric is the defining moment in the United States' triumph in the Cold War. In fact, EVERY other president in the Cold War era had a strong infulence (in most cases stronger than that of Reagan) on framing the war in such a way that not only assured US victory but allowed Reagan to take his particular stance.

A brief recap (certainly not exhaustive) of the events overseen (if not directly influenced) by the other CW presidents:

Truman--Oversaw the birth of the nuclear threat (which, although morally questionable, was crucial in creating the MAD context. Without this limitation on "hot" war, Reagan's actions would have been a lot less palatable.) Marshall plan set the boundaries of the First and Second Worlds, and paved the way for the creation of NATO and corollary organizations. Creation of the UN as (at the very least) a forum for publicly airing the debate between the two sides.

Eisenhower--Furthered the MAD context. Expanded American civilian and military infrastructure.

Kennedy--Despite early foreign affairs missteps, the proper handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis gave the US a badly needed dose of prestige in a war defined by image.

LBJ--Despite a miscalculation of the importance of the psychological domino theory and misunderstanding of the Chinese weight in the overall conflict (more on this later), the civil rights movement began a long and important campaign in America to reframe the debate away from greedy bigoted capitalists fighting righteous socialist crusaders that care about the third world, and towards a free and open society benevolently pushing for reform in cold totalitarian regimes. The truth of either statement is obviously more grey, but this change in the tenor of the debate was instrumental in later presidents' policies (especially Reagan's "Evil Empire" stance.)

Nixon--Arguably the most important CW president vis-a-vis American success (and understand that I vehemently disagree with aout 85% of his presidency.) The rapprochement with China was the essential realist counterweight in tying the hands of the USSR. Like the PRC or hate them, this was the real turning point.

Ford--Stopped the long-since-dead psychological domino theory in practice.

Carter--Conservatives love to rip on Carter for being "soft" and "cutting" the military (ignoring first-hand reports that suggest much of Carter's decisions on cutting military projects had more to do with his background as a nuclear engineer and his inability to sign off on any new weapons, like the B-1, without evaluating it from that standpoint.) Still, without Carter's commitment to human rights, which was the final building block in the reframing of the debate between the First and Second World, Reagan's rhetoric would have rung hollow to many other countries.

H.W. Bush--Many people think H.W. had little more to do than mop up the cleanly won victory of his predecessor. People close to both administrations (including Condoleeza Rice, who wrote a book on the subject) suggest otherwise. Bush I's ability to negotiate was unparalleled; his handling of Gorbachev was truly crucial.

History is often more complex and detailed than spaghetti Westerns with one hero on a white horse. Perhaps we might learn something from this lesson that would inform our support for a certain cowboy in power at present...
1.1.2006 8:14pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Remember: Pinochet was a murderous bastard, but he turned over his country to an elected government, without a war or a coup. Mao never did anything like that. Nor Stalin.

And your point is? Most of the Eastern European countries and even the Soviet Union ended their communist regimes peacefully, either in bloodless coups or even through volutary transfer of power, which destroys your argument. Even the mythical Reagan arms race that brought the Soviet Union to its knees is a right wing fantasy. It simply didn't happen. The Soviet Union didn't sharply increase its defense spending in the eighties in response to increased U.S. defense spending. Any extraordinary increases that did occur were the the result of the war in Afghanistan rather than direct response to conventional arms buildup by the U.S. After Gorbachev took over, he drastically cut back on Soviet defense spending.
1.2.2006 11:31am
Houston Lawyer:
The vast majority of the people who lived behind the Iron Curtain credit President Reagan for the Soviet Union's downfall. The international Left has been trying to hack up this furball from its collective throat for the past 16 years with no success. If President Bush is successful at democratizing a substantial portion of the Middle East over the next decade or so, he too will win international acclaim. His critics too will claim that such results were inevitable.
1.3.2006 10:54am
Freder Frederson (mail):
The vast majority of the people who lived behind the Iron Curtain credit President Reagan for the Soviet Union's downfall.

And you know this how?
1.3.2006 11:00am