Ronald Reagan, the final president of the Cold War era, ended the period of détente by increasing military spending and undertaking a rhetorical campaign against the Soviet Union specifically, and communism generally. Reagan revived the language of American exceptionalism, calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” He also returned to the containment policies of the Truman, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Johnson administrations, promising to “rollback” communism wherever it appeared. He continued the Carter policy of arming rebel groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and even invaded the small Caribbean nation of Grenada to prevent the election of a pro-communist government.
During the first years of Reagan’s administration, the Soviet Union faced a leadership crisis. Soviet politics finally stabilized with the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as Premier of the Soviet Union in 1985. With the Soviet economy floundering, and facing an increasingly difficult international environment brought about by the policies of Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II, Gorbachev moved towards compromise and reform. He introduced two major policies in 1986, “glasnost” and “perestroika,” meaning opening and restructuring respectively. Recognizing the impact of this change in leadership, Reagan moved to more diplomatic tactics.
Reagan pushed Gorbachev to accept further arms reduction agreements, and argued that peace would be impossible while the Soviet government continued to espouse communism as a governing philosophy. The Soviets responded. Reagan himself visited the Soviet Union in 1988 for a final arms reduction summit. He was even invited by Gorbachev to lecture on free market economics, and saw fit to rescind his judgment that the Soviet Union was an “evil empire,” saying that those words applied to another era of Soviet politics. In November of 1989, ten months after Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall was, in fact, torn down. One month after that, the Soviet Union was officially disbanded, replaced by the Russian Federation and multiple, newly autonomous states on Russia’s periphery.
- The ending of Soviet communism occurred just as the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was trying to reform it. Revolutions often occur when a tyrannical regime is reforming, instead of when persecution is at its worst. Why do you think this is?
- Following the tearing down of the Berlin Wall by youthful protestors, a number of interesting films were made describing the experience of living in a totalitarian state. The Lives of Others is a great example. A comedy film called Goodbye Lenin is also worth watching to get a glimpse of life behind the Iron Curtain.
3. In Goodbye Lenin, a hospitalized character is tricked into thinking that the protestors are breaking into East Berlin, rather than out. Can you imagine a scenario in which people would want/need to break out of the West? Why or why not?
This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense Government eBook. Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for use by students and teachers. Click Here to download the Common Sense Government materials.
3, Nov. 2018, Brandenburg Gate [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <google.com>.