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I grew up idolizing Winston Churchill. I was a devotee of the American branch of something close to a post-WWII religion, which we might call “We Won The War.” I came to recognition of this — well, almost cult — through Peter Hitchens’s book, “The Phoney Victory,” in which he describes the original, British version […]
Katherine Clark was an investigative reporter active between the 1940s and 1960s. She was the first female Allied war correspondent entering Berlin in 1945. Her 1950s beat was Eastern Europe. There she spoke truth to power, what investigative reporters are supposed to do. But she spoke the wrong kind of truth about the wrong kind of power. So, unlike those widely lionized today, like I.F. Stone, Clark has been allowed to be forgotten. Until now.
“The Double Life of Katharine Clark: The Untold Story of the American Journalist Who Brought the Truth about Communism to the West,” by Katharine Gregorio, brings Clark’s biography to the attention of a new generation of Americans. What a story it is.
Gregorio focuses the story on Clark’s Eastern European years, when Clark covered anti-Soviet uprisings in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. More importantly, it reveals her efforts on behalf of Milovan Djilas, one-time vice-president of Yugoslavia. An ardent Communist who became disaffected with Communism, he was stripped of his position and the privileges and power that went with it after speaking up against its totalitarianism.
This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-host Cara Candal talks with John Lewis Gaddis, the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of George F. Kennan: An American Life. He shares some of the wider background knowledge, major historical themes, and key events that today’s students should know about the Cold War and its impact. He discusses the life and legacy of George F. Kennan, the subject of his Pulitzer-winning biography, who was the architect of America’s Containment policy toward Soviet communism and understood the true character of the Russian people and why communism would fail. They survey some of the outstanding political, military, literary, and religious leaders, as well as the murderous dictators, of the Cold War era. Prof. Gaddis explains why the West has often seemed less resolute towards Communist China and Putin’s Russia since the Cold War, and explores what teachers, students, and the public should know regarding Russia’s long-standing goal of dominating Ukraine. The episode concludes with a reading from Prof. Gaddis’s book, The Cold War: A New History.
Stories of the Week: In Massachusetts, education policymakers are moving ahead with a second review of the Boston Public Schools (BPS), which may lead to state receivership, after reports found that 16,000 BPS students attend schools performing in the bottom 10 percent statewide. Pioneer Institute’s Senior Fellow Charles Chieppo, most recently co-author of a RealClearPolicy op-ed on this topic, joins Cara for an in-depth discussion.
This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Charles Moore, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, and the authorized, three-volume biographer of Lady Margaret Thatcher. Lord Moore explains why Lady Thatcher is considered the most important female political figure of the 20th century, and reviews the challenges she faced at home and abroad, from trade union strikes to high inflation rates and political discord. They talk about Prime Minister Thatcher partnering with American President Ronald Reagan and standing in solidarity with Poland’s Lech Walesa to face down Soviet communism. Lord Moore describes her middle-class background and a leadership style that led to her 12-year tenure as prime minister in the male-dominated arena of British politics (including nearly 700 sessions of the world-renowned Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons). They also discuss “Thatcherism,” her foundational economic principles and their applicability to other domestic policy topics, as well as lessons for today’s world. The interview concludes with Lord Moore reading from his biography of Lady Thatcher.
Stories of the Week: Attorneys general from 14 states are suing the Biden administration over the Department of Justice’s calls to monitor parental protests at school board meetings. In Alabama, a group is seeking to address the teacher shortage by suspending the requirement to pass a Praxis content mastery exam.
One popular argument about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that Ukraine “had it coming” because of NATO expansion. This is not a moral justification, and not a reason to consider Russia’s actions excusable or even reasonable. This argument and its antecedents rest on a flawed equivalence between NATO and Russia, the “neo-USSR”.
The specifics of “not one inch eastward” are from a phone call between then-Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, and in a different context. Even Gorbachev has said that this was not a binding agreement. Naturally, Putin rejects this fact, as it is inconvenient to him. So let us dispense with this “broken promise” rhetoric and focus on the qualitative difference between NATO, a voluntary defensive alliance against Russian expansion, and Russia, the expansive inheritor of the Soviet coercive prison-state. There is no moral equivalence between the two systems, and forgetting that fact will lead to moral failures.
Ronald Reagan represented a fundamental shift from the long bipartisan consensus on the Cold War. After Presidents Truman and Eisenhower oversaw the Korean “Conflict,” our strategic leadership and thinking turned pessimistic. We shifted from an assumption that our system had greater viability and resilience to a defensive crouch, hoping the horse might learn to sing before the bear and the dragon consumed the world. Reagan radically rejected that dark view. Today, we face a continuation of the same struggle in a new guise, and once again people who identify as conservative are mostly pessimistic, believing that the best we can hope for is a long delaying action, ending in leftist victory. Donald Trump represented a shift in the cultural war, the internalized Cold War between freedom and totalitarianism.
Korea and Nuclear War: doubting democracies’ durability
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, America stood alone as a superpower. We alone had achieved dominance on land AND air AND sea. America alone had the demonstrated ability to rain nuclear fire on its enemies. In this context, George Kennan’s famous 1946 “Long Telegram” expressed confidence that the United States could prevail, without open warfare, against the Soviet Union.* His conclusion is well worth our reading or re-reading in today’s context, so I reproduced it below.
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Paul Reid, co-author, with William Manchester, of the New York Times best-selling biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965.
Reid shares how he was enlisted to complete William Manchester’s biographical trilogy on the greatest political figure of the 20th century, which became a best-seller. They discuss Churchill’s remarkable foresight about the dangers of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, his courageous World War II leadership, and what students should know about his central role in the Allies’ defeat of Hitler, as well as big-picture lessons on statesmanship during times of crisis. They review the significance of Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech, delivered in Missouri 75 years ago, a seminal Cold War event warning about communist totalitarianism. Reid offers insights on Churchill’s liberal arts education and grounding in classical history, which informed his actions as well as his 43 book-length works and extraordinary speeches. He also sheds light on the more private side of this great figure, who was an ambitious, driven workaholic, yet also charismatic, playful, and artistic. The interview concludes with a reading from Reid’s Churchill biography.
Strategic clarity plus skillful diplomacy won a Beltway battle, setting conditions for Cold War victory. This is a story of a star among senior military leaders, U. S. Army General Donn Starry. He was not alone, but was a key change agent when the armed services were floundering post-Vietnam. General Starry, an Army officer, had no power over his Air Force counterparts. Yet, over the course of several years, Starry both kept the scale of the Warsaw Pact threat clear and persuaded senior Air Force staff, with their congressional backers, that there was a win-win solution between the two services. He was one of the leaders at the heart of the AirLand Battle doctrinal shift. General Starry’s story offers lessons for successful leadership and organizational change beyond those rare occasions when orders command action. In addition to leadership lessons, we will have a brief cautionary tale about the dangerous power of a tale well told.
Not just equipment
One of the best essays I have ever read is P.J. O’Rourke’s “The Death of Communism: Berlin, November 1989” from his essay collection Give War a Chance. O’Rourke was the foreign correspondent for Rolling Stone in the late 1980s and early 90s and reported from many Cold War hotspots. In this essay, O’Rourke writes poignantly and humorously about the collapse of the Berlin Wall. First, he contrasts the free Germans of West Berlin with their communist brethren on the other side of the wall:
West Germans are tall, pink, pert and orthodontically corrected. With hands, teeth and hair as clean as their clothes and clothes as sharp as their looks. Except for the fact that they all speak English pretty well, they’re indistinguishable from Americans. East Germans seem to have been hunching over cave fires a lot. They’re short and thick with sallow, lardy fat, and they have Khrushchev warts. There’s something about Marxism that brings out warts–the only kind of growth this economic system encourages.
Thomas S. Power, the Strategic Air Command’s leader in the late 1950s and early 1960s was easily caricatured. The ultimate bomber baron, he was routinely mocked as a warmonger. Dr. Strangelove’s General Buck Turgidson was a parody of Power. After retirement, to ease the path of the fighter mafia in taking control of the Air Force, its establishment tacitly supported criticism of Power.
“To Rule the Skies: General Thomas S. Power and the Rise of the Strategic Air Command in the Cold War,” by Brent D. Ziarnick is a new biography of Power. It provides a more balanced view of Power’s life and his contributions to the Strategic Air Command and to peace. In it Ziarnick overturns many conventional wisdom myths about Power.
Power came from an immigrant family in New York City. Ziarnick traces Power from these origins to his eventual rise to command. Power never attended college, and may not have graduated high school. He scrabbled his way into the Army Air Corps studying to be a flying cadet at night, working construction during the day.
This review may be a bit premature, considering I’m only halfway through the podcast, but it’s already too good to not share! I had two semi-long car rides over the past weekend, so I decided to try out this audio documentary that had been sitting in my feed for months. I did not regret it! […]
“It is much easier to initiate a war than to end one.” With this sentence, I begin both my most recent book — Sparta’s Second Attic War — and a blogpost put up this morning on the Yale University Press site.
The point of the latter is simple enough: the settlement imposed at the end of one war — say, the First World War — often lays the foundation for the next war, and that is what happened not only at the end of Sparta’s First Attic War, but also at the end of the First Punic War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and, yes, the Cold War.
The error that statesmen and citizens alike tend to make is to fail to recognize that those who accepted terms and have merely yielded to circumstances and are in no way broken in spirit are apt in the future to be lying in wait for an opportunity to strike.
Between 1946 and 1992 the Strategic Air Command was the United States’s main shield against Soviet aggression. Its bombers flew constantly, fueling aloft to reach any point in the world.
“SAC Time: A Navigator in the Strategic Air Command,” by Thomas E. Alexander, is the memoir of a man who spent three years in the Strategic Air Command and thirteen years in the Air National Guard.
Alexander served the Strategic Air Command as a junior officer. He was a navigator, not a pilot. Rated a bombardier, navigator, and radar bombardier, he did not crew SAC’s jet glamorous bombers. He navigated KC-97 Stratotankers, a piston-engine aircraft that refueled other aircraft. The book may be the more interesting because of this perspective.
Exchanging schnitzel (or maybe Swabian Maultaschen) for waffles and tiramasu? For those who want the twelve-second take, the Pentagon’s concept stated today basically says this: Belgium & Italy are big winners. Poland is a winner. Germany–specifically Stuttgart–is the loser. Of course this will take years and involve much diplomacy and political battle. I recommend listening […]
The Korean War began 70 years ago, June 25, 1950. The coldest war in the Cold War never ended, settling into ceasefires and an armistice that never led to a peace treaty. This June 25, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump went to the Korean War Memorial.
They laid a wreath, Taps was played, then they greeted the South Korean ambassador and his wife, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and a small group of Korean War veterans. While there were no handshakes, and distance was maintained in this outdoor setting, no one was covering their face and the old warriors sat and stood shoulder-to-shoulder.
U.S. Army Major Arthur D. Nicholson was called the last Cold War casualty, killed in 1985, 35 years ago. I argue he was not, tell the rest of the story about his death, and offer a brief account of a young soldier who died, as I recall, in 1988. Both Major Nicholson and a number of service members who are known mostly to their families and former unit members died in defense of our nation during the long Cold War.
Major Nicholson was in uniform, accompanied by a sergeant when he was shot dead in East Germany by a Soviet soldier. His sergeant was held at gunpoint and made to watch the major bleed to death. The Soviets were making a point. Major Nicholson was a true hero, not to be confused with “true heroes” as medical personnel who actually face minimal risk of death treating COVID-19 patients.
Can this be forty years ago? It’s hard to explain to younger people what an earth-shaking, tear-jerking win the 1980 gold medal in hockey was for us. This was no simple rivalry. This was David vs. Goliath. This was Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader. This was Hobbits vs. Mordor. And the good guys won.
To provide some necessary background for the younger readers: Western countries such as the United States and Canada were constrained by the Olympic rules, which had long mandated that athletes must be amateurs. Our teams were composed of college players who had not yet begun their professional careers. The Soviets, as usual, simply cheated. They took their very top adult players, world-class, full-time athletes with years of international experience, and gave them phony job-assignments with the military or government so that they could be called amateurs. It was like putting the all-stars of the NFL against a college squad. It was a joke. Of course, they always won the gold medal, and they always would win the gold medal; it was a fact of life that would never change, kind of like the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. Nothing to be done, we were just supposed to suck it up. Then this team of scrappy college kids did the unthinkable. They brought down Goliath. And less than ten years later, the citizens of both sides of Berlin brought down that “fact-of-life” wall with simple tools and bare, bloody hands and tear-stained faces. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Lord of the Rings: “Where tears are the very wine of blessedness.” This hockey game, this “miracle on ice” was the prelude to that miracle in Berlin.
Thursday, November 7, 2019, brought three significant actions by President Trump: two Proclamations and one award ceremony. They all addressed service, freedom, and gratitude.
On this National Day for the Victims of Communism, we remember the more than 100 million people who have died as a result of communist oppression. Today, we renew our commitment to helping secure for all people a future of peace and prosperity founded on the core tenets of democracy—liberty, justice, and a deep respect for the value of every human life.
October 4, the 62nd anniversary of the Sputnik satellite launch, is a good day for a review of Boris Chertok’s great memoir, Rockets and People. Chertok’s career in the Soviet aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high […]