L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 318, May 8, 2005
The Big Red Machine
Special to TLE
Life was better under Soviet rule.
Well, actually, let me rephrase that. What I mean is, I liked it better when Americans lived in fear of the Soviets.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union "a genuine tragedy." Now, technically, I think he's way off base here. His perspective is that it was better for Russia when former Soviet republics were under Russian rule. Well, no kidding. That's like saying Guns N' Roses was better when it contained real members of the Guns N' Roses band (instead of just W. Axl toiling away in a basement on the End of Days soundtrack). The Soviet government killed millions of people. Its collapse was not a genuine tragedy. But perhaps it was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century"... for Americans.
Now, why would I say this? Why would I suggest that the end of the Cold Waroften hailed as one of America's greatest accomplishmentsis something to bemoan? Well, that's simple: Because it is. Americans just haven't noticed it yet.
See, foreign policy is a lot like boxing. You're only as good as your competition. That's why Mike Tyson could never have been better than Muhammad Ali. Great fighters beat other great fighters. Who'd Tyson beat in his prime? Michael Spinks? Trevor Berbick? Give me a break. Those guys couldn't've carried Jerry Quarry's jockstrap.
The same thing goes for America's legacy. How will historians remember modern Americans? (Okay, besides fat and lazy?) Gone are the days of brave-new-world Americathe America of Main Streets, pastels, and hot cups of joe. It's more of a manifest destiny America now. We're ever-expanding, even spreading some lofty ideals. But it's just not the same. We're not the America of lore. We're the America with unbridled firepowerlike the '96 Chicago Bulls, who went 72-10.
America is at its best when it's up against stiff competition. And against the Soviets of old, today's enemies just can't compete. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm a little tired of the Cold War/War on Terror comparison. No offense, but it's hardly a comparison at all. In fact, it's a slap in the face of our worthy Soviet opponents. That's why Putin was right when he called the Soviet Union's collapse a "geopolitical catastrophe." For America, that's exactly what it was.
Think about this. When it was the USA vs. the USSR, you knew what you were up against. Ostensibly, it was a battle of capitalist pigs vs. communist hacks. But today? Today, we face terrorism. That's like facing botulism. It's not an enemy; it's just a problem.
Nor am I buying this idea that we're at war with radical Islam. Sure radical Islam hates us. But radical Islam hates everyoneregular Islam included. If America's going to have an archenemy, shouldn't it be America's archenemy? We're capitalists. We're not supposed to share.
This brings me to my next point: Marketing. Now, obviously, the Nazis had the best ad campaign of all our 20th Century enemies, but give the USSR some creditthey were pretty well-marketed, too. The Soviets had their own insignia, for instance. You know the one I'm talking about. Red background. Yellow hammer and sickle. We're talking major brand awareness here. Conversely, terrorism is no-frills. It's Brand X. The store brand. What's their symbola VHS tape? Army fatigues? A gibberish alphabet Americans can't even comprehend? Please. Hire yourselves a graphic designer. Then get back to me.
The Soviets had credibility. Terrorists don't. The USSR could've conceivably conquered our country. You think terrorists could do that? Why? Few of them have any experience in political office. And those that do make Russia's old leaders look like pillars of competence. The 9/11 hijackers couldn't have hoped to change our culture; conservative Christians have been trying to do that for years. And without a couple of nukes, they wouldn't've beaten us militarily, either. They haven't got an army. They don't even have airplanes. They had to borrow ours.
Oh, and what's with this "Teach me to fly but not how to land" crap? If '80s cinema could portray the Soviets as bumbling idiots, then terrorists are the square root of stupidity.
Finally, there's the terrorist M.O.namely, living and working amongst us. Yes, it's a frightening gimmick, but it's also the oldest trick in the book. (Joe McCarthy, anybody?) Furthermore, terrorists talk more about our presence in their land than their presence in ours. The way I figure, if they stopped aiming for women and children, ditched repression, and simply resorted to snide remarks (like Canada), a lot of Americans might even agree with them. Hell, between "free speech zones" and taking your shoes off at the airport (which, itself, can be construed as a terrorist act), we're probably just as annoyed with our Soviet-style government as they are.
Terrorists hit us hard on September 11thharder, I might add, than the USSR ever did. But to be fair, it was merely a series of well-delivered punches. And, thankfully, they haven't hit us since. Maybe that's because we're fighting them in their own countries now. Maybe it's because they were meek and pathetic to begin with. I don't know. But at this point, they're basically our Buster Douglas.