The Greatest Cold War Myth of All

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Similarly on the other great cold war issue, Third World revolution: The real enemy, the Democrats protested, was not communism but deprivation. In the great debates over El Salvador and Nicaragua, liberals insisted that to see these conflicts in cold war, East-West terms was again to miss the point.

"If Central America were not racked with injustices, there would be no revolution," said the Democrats in a 1983 televised address opposing military aid to El Salvador. "There would be nothing for the Soviets to exploit. But unless those oppressive conditions change, that region will continue to seethe with revolution -- with or without the Soviets."

As history has demonstrated: wrong. No one would dare claim that in Central America poverty and injustice are gone. But the region no longer seethes with revolution. What happened? Injustice did not disappear. The Soviets did, and with them the sinews and romance of socialist revolution.

The evil empire was the enemy. That was the central tenet of American cold warriors. Liberals deplored such talk as crude Manichaeism. Now, after 20 years of deriding anticommunists for being blinded by the Soviet threat, they wistfully recall how the Soviet threat brilliantly illuminated the foreign policy landscape -- and lament how obscure it all is with the lodestar gone. Ah, the Golden Age when everything was easy and we all joined hands in the cold war battles of Vietnam and Nicaragua and the Euromissiles.

Yesterday, cold warrior was a liberal epithet. Today everyone pretends to have been one. My father, who had a Frenchman's appreciation for cynicism, had a term for this kind of after-battle resume revision. Maquis d'apres-guerre: resistance fighter, postwar.

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