I'm fascinated by the idea that such a colossal power like Soviet Union could loom so large and vanish so quickly. Though it's been dead for about thirty years, it still casts a long shadow. The Cold War flavored movies, spy novels, comics, and TV to this day. Think of Red Son, or The Americans, or James Bond throughout the decades. The threat of Communist expansion also spurred into existence all of the military machines I love to watch at air shows, fleet weeks, or see in museums. The internet came to be through DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) which was founded by Eisenhower to get a leg up on the Soviets.
"What happened?" is the question I found myself asking. Was it Reagan, equipped with magical traits acquired in cowboy westerns, who finally wrestled the Soviet Bear into submission? I've been imbued with that assumption for as long as I can remember. But why did it happen in the late 1980s/early 90s? Why would Reagan be able to do what no US president for decades had been able to? As I delved into this more, reading several books along the way, I came to realize that, as with most things, the picture is complicated. Macro-economic trends, incremental diplomatic steps, and individuals all played a part in sending the USSR to its grave.
But if we are going to focus on the impact of specific individuals on this outcome, no one person had a larger role than the young General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union who came to power in 1985.
Links and media commentary
Ghost Wars, Steve Coll: The secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. My friend, a retired USAF Lt. Col. who worked intelligence for the Air Force in this region, recommended this to me. (I'm hopefully soon to have him on the podcast). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it details the astonishing and machiavellian--as well as remarkably short-sighted--tactics of the CIA in Afghanistan against its Soviet occupiers in 1980s. What could possibly go wrong dumping money and guns with abandon into the hands of people with questionable attitudes toward the United States? (Amazon)
Hogs in the Sand, Buck Wyndam: The first Gulf War from the perspective of an A-10 pilot. Crazy stories about blowing stuff up and near misses with surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. (Amazon)
[Podcast] Dan Carlin's Supernova in the East: This is the best audio-based portrayal of the Pacific Theater of the Second World War bar none. What's more, it's told with an emphasis on the Japanese view of the war. Strap yourself in for absolutely brutal and riveting depictions of some of the largest naval battles and nastiest jungle warfare in history as told by Carlin. (YouTube)