December 7, 1941 is a day that shall forever be remembered in infamy. It was also the start of a national experience that shows how outrageous it has been for Ronald Reagan to have been given any credit for “ending the Cold War”. This realization came to me when I was reflecting upon the circumstances of what I am becoming more and more confident will eventually be recorded as having been the last “World War”.
Perhaps the grandest of all right wing myths is that Reagan took on the evil Soviet Empire and vanquished it by proving that challenging American might would forever be futile. As the story goes (and I’m certainly not meaning to imply that anyone has a less than effective memory of those times), Reagan challenged the Soviets to a spending race (or was it an arms race?) and they were so overmatched that they simple collapsed in defeat. And this was “an enemy” that had been portrayed since before the days of Eisenhower as being particularly relentless and fearsome.
Now let’s reflect on our experience with another country that chose to confront us. I’ll not rehash the early days of war in the Pacific, but suffice it to say that we took more lumps than we gave. And then the mines and mills and factories of fortress America gradually gained momentum, and the tide slowly turned. Long before MacArthur redeemed his pledge to return, in fact arguably even as soon as the mistake was made to attack Pearl harbor, the fate of the Japanese empire was sealed. All that remained was for enough blood to be shed, but what an earth shattering collision would be required before the tipping point was reached.
The corpses of man and machine were spread far and wide across the Pacific, and brought the struggle right to the doorway of Japan. The damage was literally cataclysmic, but the Japanese will remained unshaken until the advent of a super weapon. Why, oh why did they resist the evaporation of Hiroshima? That Nagasaki had to meet the same fate was at once so unnecessary and so necessary. And only then came the calm.
For the Soviets, who clearly were at least the equal of the Japanese on the field of battle, the story is completely different. They saw the Reagan challenge and surrendered. No fight, no bloodshed, no body count in the millions. Which, of course, can only mean that they had no fear of us. What World War II proved, if nothing else, is that you can kill an adversary into submission, but scaring them into surrender will never happen. The Japanese fought to the death because they believed that surrender was death, and so war ever has been.
No the Soviets knew that we were no real threat because they were never afraid. Look at their actions, not the words of their military leaders. What America represented for them was the perfect camouflage behind which they justified the sort of weapons creation and accumulation that generals always hunger after. And then the folks in their Homeland saw one TV show too many, realized that they were skrimping and scraping for nothing while we were literally laughing all of the way to the bank, and they simply called a halt to the whole charade. And that’s pretty much the end of the story, so I hope that you found this little tale to be a fitting way to reflect back on an interesting piece of history.
(The unrelenting search for “enemies” shows that our generals were never forced on to the same strict diet, but this truth leads to stories for other days.)