REVIEW Faith and risk in the Cold
War The President, the
Pope and the Prime Minister by John
strike against the Soviet Union. No such
thing ever would happen, of course, for no US
president would risk a second strike against the
American homeland to save Germany. Even if the US
were willing to meet its obligation, the Germans
never would know who had won World War III, for
all of them would be dead. That is why Germany's
ruling Social Democratic Party in 1982 saw little
incentive to stick with the alliance, and why
Russia had every
turning Europe into a satrapy.
Pershing II nuclear missiles in Germany with a
six-minute flight time to Moscow turned the tables
on the Soviets. Were Russia to attack Germany, the
Pershings would hit Russia. Russia then might
launch a strike against the United States,
provoking in return an annihilating counter-strike
- something no Russian premier ever would do. That
is why the Russians sponsored an enormous "peace
movement" to prevent the deployment of the
Pershings. Once the intermediate-range missiles
were installed in 1983, and once the US was
embarked on the Strategic Defense Initiative,
Russia had lost the Cold War.
1983, therefore, was the moment of truth for the
Soviet Empire: if it chose to fight rather than go
down to ignominious ruin, that would have been the
time. After Reagan launched the Strategic Defense
Initiative early that year, Russia's military knew
that it could not compete, and US disinformation
succeeded in exaggerating in Moscow's mind the
speed of prospective SDI implementation. That was
the point of maximum danger. The Russians let it
be known that they suspected a NATO first strike
during the November 1983 military exercises dubbed
"Able Archer", and put some nuclear forces on
alert. That story on the face of it is nonsense,
for then Soviet premier Yuri Andropov knew
perfectly well that NATO would not attack; on the
contrary, it was poised to win without a fight.
But the story of a near-nuclear confrontation,
false as it might have been, conceals a deeper
truth. Some of Andropov's colleagues in Moscow's
ruling clique wanted preemptive war against the
West. Fortunately, Andropov overruled them.
O'Sullivan emphasizes Reagan's moral
commitment to nuclear disarmament, stemming from
his conviction that it was immoral to threaten the
destruction of Russian civilians as a penalty for
the adventures of their leaders. SDI ultimately
became a way to push for disarmament. But Reagan
and his national-security team also played a
desperate and dangerous game with the Russians,
knowing that victory in the Cold War brought the
risk of war.
In that respect, O'Sullivan
goes too far in identifying Reagan's strategic
policy with the resistance policy of John Paul II.
Although the Vatican and the White House coincided
in their desire to lift the dead hand of communism
from Poland and other victims of Soviet
occupation, the Holy See could not abide the risk
of war that Reagan was frankly willing to take.
Nor, indeed, could Thatcher, who attempted to
attenuate Reagan's emphasis on strategic defense.
Given the apportionment of ultimate
victory in the Cold War, that is understandable.
The United States was the great winner in the Cold
War. In an important respect the Vatican lost. In
an interview with The Atlantic Monthly, Avery
Cardinal Dulles acknowledged the collapse of
Christianity in most of Europe, insisting,
however, that Poland remained in the fold:
Even in the historically Catholic
countries people are minimally Christian at
best. Germany and the Low Countries give us no
reason to be optimistic. Quebec is a desert.
Ireland is very nearly lost to prosperity. Only
Poland has never fallen away.
Although Poland remains
Europe's most Catholic country on paper, with a
church-attendance rate of 55%, Poland's
demographics tell a different story. Poles may go
to church but they do not bear children. Poland's
population will fall by 30% by mid-century,
according to United Nations projections, while the
number of those under 20 years of age will fall by
60%, ensuring that the population will continue to
decline. In a hundred years the Polish language
will be a relic, surviving a bit longer than
Polish traditional society
embraced the Catholic Church as a bulwark against
the hated Russian occupiers during the Cold War.
The temptations of the fleshpots of modern Europe,
sadly, have been stronger.
Notes 1. The Cold War:
A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin:
New York 2005). 2. Reagan's War, by
Peter Schweizer (Doubleday: New York 2002). 3.
George Herman "Babe" Ruth, Jr (1895-1948) was an
American major-league baseball player from
1914-35. 4. Gaddis, p 214. 5. The year of two
popes, The Atlantic Online, p 5.
The President, the Pope and the Prime
Minister by John O'Sullivan. Regnery,
Washington, DC, 2006. ISBN: 1596980168; 360 pages;