As everyone should know by now but probably does not, this is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The first breach in that wall set off a chain reaction that would eventually topple Communist governments and liberate people across half of Europe. It would also end the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Block, substantially diminishing the possibility for nuclear annihilation. However, when people say that the West–or more particularly, America–won the Cold War, I’m not exactly sure what they mean.
Of course, America still exists as a country while the Soviet Union does not, but in a war that is supposedly about ideas and ideals, victory must me something more than outlasting your opponent.
I think the more appropriate way to look at the matter is to ask: who has benefited the most from the end of the Cold War? Clearly, it is the peoples of East Germany, Poland, Estonia, etc. that have gained the most. They are far richer than they were twenty years ago, and more importantly they are able to speak and think as they please without fear of imprisonment, torture, and possibly death at the hands of their governments. Even Russia, which is still far from free, is a much freer place than it was under the Soviets. Dissident journalists do still turn up missing, but to be known as a dissident journalist in the Soviet Union was almost an impossibility. The post-Communist states all have a long way to go to complete freedom, but with few exceptions, they are all now much closer to that ideal than they were twenty years ago.
But can we say that the people of the United States also won the Cold War? Sadly, I do not believe so. After World War II, the United States’ standing army likely would have shrunk back to the small peacetime numbers that existed for most of our history if it weren’t for the Cold War. Instead, the U.S. military spread across the world, allegedly to keep the country free from the horrors of Communism. Ironically, keeping the people of America free required enslaving a large percentage of her young men through the country’s first peacetime draft. And of course, soldiers must be housed, equipped, fed, and paid, which required a higher level of taxation than Americans were used to in peacetime. Twenty years ago, the United States could have reversed this course and reaped the peace dividend, but instead the government pressed ahead and extended American influence into the former Soviet Block–taking on new powers and responsibilities along the way.
No, America lost the Cold War. We may be richer than when it started, but a larger portion of our incomes go to the government. Even worse, the United States now leads the world in imprisonment–not just by rate but in absolute terms as well, with 1 out of every 150 Americans behind bars. This is largely a consequence of the War on Drugs, which is a war the American government wages upon its own citizens. In the years of the Cold War and since, we have become substantially less free.
One right that is still largely intact is the Freedom of Religion, but most versions of American Christianity today bear little resemblance to the teachings found in the Gospels. In this country today, people tend to worship the American Jesus, more known for killing “hajis” than offering salvation. Christianity has become a state religion in this country as it was for the Roman Emperor Constantine, and it is put to the same use of justifying military power. Perhaps even worse than using the Prince of Peace for war, the president (provided he is of the right party, of course) is now viewed by most as an avatar of God on Earth if not God himself. Many American Christians have rendered everything unto Caesar and have nothing left for God.
The world is a far freer place than it was twenty years ago, but America is not. Kierkegaard once wrote “What slave in chains is as unfree as a tyrant!” As the tyrant of the world, America is enslaved to all. Truly, America has gained the world, but lost her soul.