With the news today of the passing of former Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev, forever known as the Soviet Leader who brought Communism in Russia to an end, and the object of President Reagan’s admonition to “Tear down that wall” with regards to Berlin, it’s interesting to know he was more popular in the U.S. than he was at home. Depending on who you spoke to, Gobachev was the best thing to ever happen to Russia or the worst thing. During one of his early trips to America he was greeted with “We Love You Gorby” placards at practically all of his stops and news reports often referred to his appearance in America as “Gorby Mania” – not like that at home.
This address, given at the very same place and on the very same rostrum former Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his fateful “Iron Curtain” address, and what was considered the beginning of the Cold War, Gorbachev came, in a way, to mark the end of that Cold War.
Mikhail Gorbachev: More than 46 years ago Winston Churchill spoke in Fulton and in my country this speech was interpreted as the formal declaration of the “Cold War.” This was indeed the first time the words, “Iron Curtain,” were pronounced, and the whole Western world was challenged to close ranks against the threat of tyranny in the form of the Soviet Union and Communist expansion. Everything else in this speech, including Churchill’s analysis of the postwar situation in the world, his thoughts about the possibility of preventing a third world war, the prospects for progress, and methods of reconstructing the postwar world, remained unknown to the Soviet people.
Today, in paying tribute to this eminent statesman, we can evaluate more quietly and objectively both the merits of his speech and the limitations of the analysis which it included, his ideas and predictions, and his strategic principles.
Since that time the world in which we live has undergone tremendous changes. Even so, however paradoxical it may sound, there is a certain similarity between the situation then and today. Then, the prewar structure of international relations had virtually collapsed, a new pattern of forces had emerged along with a new set of interests and claims.
Different trends in world development could be discerned, but their prospects were not clearly outlined. New possibilities for progress had appeared. Answers had to be found to the challenges posed by new subjects of international law. The atmosphere was heavy — not only with hope, but also with suspicion, lack of understanding, unpredictability.
In other words, a situation had emerged in which a decision with universal implications had to be taken. Churchill’s greatness is seen in the fact that he was the first among prominent political figures to understand that.
Indeed, the world community which had at that time already established the United Nations, was faced with a unique opportunity to change the course of world development, fundamentally altering the role in it of force and of war. And, of course, this depended to a decisive degree on the Soviet Union and the United States — here I hardly need to explain why.
So I would like to commence my remarks by noting that the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. missed that chance — the chance to establish their relationship on a new basis of principle and thereby to initiate a world order different from that which existed before the war. I think it is clear that I am not suggesting that they should have established a sort of condominium over the rest of the world. The opportunity was on a different plane altogether.
If the United States and the Soviet Union had been capable of understanding their responsibility and sensibly correlating their national interests and strivings with the rights and interests of other states and peoples, the planet today would be a much more suitable and favorable place for human life I have more than once criticized the foreign policy of the Stalinist leadership in those years. Not only was it incapable of reevaluating the historical logic of the interwar period, taking into account the experience and results of the war, and following a course which corresponded to the changed reality, it committed a major error in equating the victory of democracy over fascism with the victory of socialism and aiming to spread socialism throughout the world.
But the West, and the United States in particular, also committed an error. Its conclusion about the probability of open Soviet military aggression was unrealistic and dangerous. This could never have happened, not only because Stalin, as in 1939-1941, was afraid of war, did not want war, and never would have engaged in a major war. But primarily because the country was exhausted and destroyed; it had lost tens of millions of people, and the public hated war. Having won a victory, the army and the soldiers were dying to get home and get back to a normal life.
By including the “nuclear component” in world politics, and on this basis unleashing a monstrous arms race — and here the initiator was the United States, the West — “sufficient defense was exceeded,” as the lawyers would say. This was a fateful error.
So I would be so bold as to affirm that the governing circles of the victorious powers lacked an adequate strategic vision of the possibilities for world development as they emerged after the war — and, consequently, a true understanding of their own countries’ national interests. Hiding behind slogans of “striving for peace” and defense of their people’s interests on both sides, decisions were taken which split asunder the world which had just succeeded in overcoming fascism because it was united.
Thirty years ago and it was a different set of circumstances and a different leader. There may be no Soviet Union, but a looming presence has taken its place.
Here is that complete address along with remarks by Neal Conan and Daniel Schoor, as aired by National Public Radio on May 6, 1992.
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