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November 9, 2011

Melting hearts to bring down a wall of ice

Whatever happened in Iran Contra, that didn’t win the cold war.

The Berlin Wall didn’t come down until after Reagan left office, but most of us knew that the fall of communism was just a matter of time. By the end of Reagan’s presidency, Perestroika, Glasnost, and sympathetic soviet characters in children’s cartoons showed us that we no longer saw the Red Peril as a serious threat.

According to one retired officer, Reagan won the cold war at Yalta. He disclosed, by bluff or threat, a new kind of weapon that terrified his Soviet counterpart. This wasn’t star wars or anything that could win a nuclear war, but something more terrifying than nuclear war.

There was allegedly a kind of bomb, or device, that when detonated would destroy all human life (and probably animal life) within a target area, but would leave the agricultural, or plant life, intact.

Others say the Soviets outspent themselves. While Reagan was trying to reign in the budget, Soviet military spending (putting down rebellions in Eastern Europe and having adventures in places like Afghanistan) outpaced Soviet income.

The United States had its own disasters, like the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. I remember we were meant to watch it take off in school. I think I missed it, maybe I was ill that day. No one expected it. No one was blamed.

That explosion reminded us how random, uncertain, and yes, unfair, life could be.  Everyone took control of their own destinies, but we knew that humans were helpless compared to the vast universe.

From selling art at Pow Wows to cat breeding, mothers across America were starting their own small businesses. Dads who were laid off were thinking of buying junk food franchises. Tupperware parties were just a springboard to a whole new alternative to getting laid off. As the union fell out of favor, and the boss grew more powerful, Millions of Americans wanted to be their own bosses again.

The small business wasn’t new, but they felt new, like part of the Reagan age. Suddenly, everyone considered themselves to be middle class, even when they were broke.

American art softened its approach to the East, but not to communism. GI Joe featured Russian allies which helped the Americans against their Cobra foes.  However, in the comics the “Oktober Guard” seemed to be enemies longer than friends.

Even the bad guys at Cobra were easy to sympathise with. We watched with trepidation as Destro fell for a disguised version of his Baroness girlfriend. Yes, it was the Baroness, but he seemed to think she was someone else, and she knew that he thought she was someone else. Complicated? Yes. Children’s TV didn’t talk down to you in the eighties, at least not in America.

Russians also opened their minds to the West. Perestroika and Glasnost were buzzwords that made Mikhail Gorbachev popular with many Americans. Little did we suspect that he would remain a die hard communist well into the 21st century.

However, his “evil empire” would soon crumble.

Whatever the reason for the USSRs failure, most historians agree that both sides used a muscular approach. However, unlike the statues of him in Europe, President Ronald Reagan wasn’t a man with a heart of stone.

(as promised, the final part and conclusion is in part 7…)

(to be continued…)