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HERE IN NEW YORK, I WAS INFORMED BY THE BBC THAT “AMERICANS ADMIRED MARGARET THATCHER.” JUST AS I’M TOLD “AMERICANS HAVE MYTHS ABOUT MEXICAN IMMIGRANTS.” AND I ADORE ROYALS. YOUR ROYALS, SPECIFICALLY. I WOULD ASSUME “BBC WORLD AMERICA” – A NAME THAT HAD MY EXPAT CANADIAN BROTHER GNASHING HIS TEETH ON A GREEK ISLAND – WOULD READ THE NEW YORK TIMES. BOB WOODWARD OF WATERGATE FAME, (HOW QUAINT A SCANDAL IN RETROSPECT; HOW FUN AT THE TIME), TOLD A GUARDIAN REPORTER “THE NY TIMES IS THE BEST NEWSPAPER IN THE WORLD”. (TO BE A FLY ON A LIGHT FIXTURE IN GUARDIAN GUY’S REPTILIAN BRAIN PART.) THE NEW YORK TIMES PROVIDED , AS FIX SNOOZE WOULD SAY, FAIR AND BALANCED COVERAGE OF BOTH THE SOLEMN FUNERAL AND THE JOYOUS “WITCH IS DEAD!!!” DEMOS IN PARTS NORTH OF LONDON. SO DID JUST FOREIGN POLICY, A LEFTIST BLOG. THE NATION PILED IT ON, WITH ARTICLES, AND AUDIO OF GREATEST ANTI THATCHER HITS, INCLUDING DYLAN’S “AIN’T GONNNA LIVE ON MAGGIE’S FARM NO MO” GIVEN NEW AND PRECISE MEANING. PBS SHOWED BOTH SIDES MATTER OF FACTLY, NOT OOZING ADMIRATION OR LOATHING. THEY DID SAY, OR INSINUATE, THAT THATCHER HAD IN EFFECT SAID “NO, BOYS”, TO A PLOT BY GORB AND RAYGUN TO ENACT COMPLETE NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT. FACT CHECK, PLEASE. ANYBODY?
ONE THING IS ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN. RONNIE AND MAGGIE DID NOT “TEAR DOWN THAT WALL”.
MAGIC, IT WASN’T. NO HORN OF JERICO. JFK HAD CALLED HIMSELF A BERLINER – A DINNER ROLL, I BELIEVE. CARTER PROCLAIMED HE WAS A HAMBURGER BEFORE HIS TRANSLATOR SAID OUR PRESIDENT WOULD LIKE TO HAVE CARNAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE POLISH PEOPLE. A MAN OF HIGH AMBITION.
AS THATCHER WAS LAID TO REST, AND LITERALLY DEFAMED, MY EX AND I EMAILED EACH OTHER AND QUICKLY CONCLUDED AS HE SAID, “THEY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. THE USSR WAS ALREADY TOAST.”
WE WERE GUESTS OF THE AMERICA INSTITUTE IN MOSCOW IN 1986. I WAS ALLOWED TO ACCOMPANY HIM EVERYWHERE. THE ECONOMIC COMMITTEE TOLD US THEY COULD NO LONGER AFFORD THE COLD WAR AND WERE PULLING OUT OF AFGHANISTAN. MY EX HAD BEEN IN CARTER’S WHITE HOUSE, AND, BEFORE THAT, TREASURER OF THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE, WHERE A WARHOL OF MAO HUNG ON HIS WALL. RICKY JAY MADE A CARD APPEAR ON AN EXTREMELY HIGH CEILING IN THE EXECUTIVE OFFICE BUILDING. FOR ME, A HIPPY FROM ACADEMIA, IT WAS AT FIRST INTIMIDATING, EXCITING, THEN BORING. THREE YEARS, THEN WE MOVED TO NYC FOR HIM TO RUN CARTER’S FATED REELECTION IN N Y STATE.
CARTER WAS TOO “GOOD” A PRESIDENT. NOT “A BAD PRESIDENT”. IF HE’D LAUNCHED A FULL MILITARY INVASION INTO IRAN, HE WOULD’VE BEEN REELECTED BY A LANDSLIDE. HE WOULDN”T HAVE OFFERED AID TO THE SANDANISTA GOVERNMENT. (THEIR REPLY, “NO THANKS. WE NEED YOU AS THE EVIL EMPIRE”.) NO SOLAR PANEL ON THE WHITE HOUSE. NO CIA INVESTIGATION COMMITTEE, POST WATERGATE. AND HE WAS PRESCIENT ABOUT ISRAEL. MANY AMERICAN JEWS WLL NEVER FORGIVE HIM.
RUSSIA WAS FASCINATING. WE WERE ONLY ALLOWED TO GO TO MOSCOW AND LENINGRAD. BETWEEN THEM IN OUR OWN TRAIN CAR. NO CONTACT WITH RUSSIANS OTHER THAN OUR MINDERS, (NOW LIVING IN THE U.S) AND THOSE THEY TOOK US TO MEET. IT WAS FASCINATING TO WATCH HOW CAREFULLY THEY SPOKE, BASED UPON THOSE WITH WHOM THEY CONVERSED. WITH THE DIRECTOR OF “MOSCOW DOES NOT BELIEVE IN TEARS”, THEY WERE OPEN, FUN. WITH SOME, MORE GUARDED BUT STILL FAIRLY OPEN. WHEN WE PICKED UP A KGB AGENT WITH A PERFECT CHICAGO ACCENT AND PERSONA AND WENT TO A RESTAURANT. THEY MUST HAVE SAID SOMETHING, BUT THEY WEREN’T THEMSELVES. I RECALL NOTHING BUT A FEELING OF EXTREME DISCOMFORT. LIVING IN A FREE SPEECH SOCIETY IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE.
FORGET OLIVER STONE’S UNTOLD STORY. LEAVING, WE TOOK BA TO LONDON. NO ONE SPOKE UNTIL THE PILOT CAME ON AFTER A WHILE AND ANNOUNCED, “WE HAVE JUST LEFT USSR AIRSPACE.” CHEERS AND WILD APPLAUSE FROM AN INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE!!!!
THE EX GAVE A TALK ON HOW COMPUTERS WOULD MAKE REPRESSION MORE DIFFICULT, IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE. GORBACHEV HAD MADE A SERIOUS MISTAKE. SEEN FIRST IN MEETING THE FILM DIRECTOR, WHOSE MOST RECENT EFFORT, (A COMMAND PERFORMANCE?) WAS ABOUT THE HORRIFIC EFFECT OF VODKA ON THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE. WE WENT TO THE BEST AWFUL RESTAURANTS. ORDERED RED WINE. OUR HOSTS PLEADED, “ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T VODKA?” RUSSIA WAS THIRSTY!! NOTHING WOULD DO BUT VODKA. WE ORDERED IT. AVAILABLE TO US AS GUEST TOURISTS AND PARTY HOT SHOTS AT RESTAURANTS AND SPECIAL STORES. I THOUGHT OF GORBACHEV’S MISTAKE WHEN PUTIN HAD MEDEDEV TRY TO DECREASE VODKA CONSUMPTION IN RUSSIA.
WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WALL? IT HAD BEEN LEAKING AROUND THE EDGES SINCE LECH WALESKA’S FORMATION OF LABOR UNIONS IN A WORKER’S PARADISE. WE DON’T KNOW THE NAME OF THE MAN WHO FINALLY TURNED THE SWITCH AND OPENED THE GATE. HE DID IT. NOT THATCHER OR REAGAN. JUST AS A SOVIET SUB COMMANDER SAVED THE WORLD BY NOT PUTTING HIS KEY IN TO A LOCK TO FIRE NUKES AFTER HE AND HIS CO COMMANDER LOST TOUCH WITH MOSCOW DURING THE CUBA MISSILE CRISIS. ODD THE LRB HASN’T COVERED THE MOST TERRIFYING THING OF ALL. OR NOT ODD. FIDEL’S ATTEMPT TO GET HIS OWN NUKES TO START ARMAGEDDON TO THE GREATER GLORY OF EVERY DEAD CUBAN MAN, WOMAN AND CHILD. NOT TO MENTION THE REST OF THE WORLD. BASED ON A REPORT BY PROFS AT WATERLOO UNIVERSITY IN CANADA. AND CONFIRMED BY THE BBC. A RUSSIAN WHOSE WIFE WAS DYING AT HOME HAD TO STAY THERE AND TALK FIDEL DOWN. TWO MORE HEROES OF THE COLD WAR WHOSE NAMES WE DON’T KNOW.
WE DO KNOW THEY AREN’T MARGARET THATCHER OR RONALD REAGAN.
Gotnotruck, in her memoir-dithyramb, has hit a series of solid notes that professional historians should pay attention to, especially regarding the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR and its satellite regimes (though, not surprisingly, elements of those regimes continue to prosper in their new capitalist’s sheep’s clothing – apparently it’s easier to take the Commie out of the man than the good old nasty (hu)man out of the Commie). East or West, we were always pretty poor stuff from which make the New Man (and Woman). An interesting corrective to older revisionist fantasies about the US (and/or West) being the bogeyman responsible for starting the Cold War can be found in Robert Gellately’s recent book, Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War. Diehard revolutionists (heads up here, S.Žižek) should read it and weep, though they will more likely read it and come up with baroque “dialectical” rationalizations about why Utopia failed to materialize. Couldn’t agree more about Carter – a man who was hammered every time he spoke an uncomfortable truth, because it didn’t make us feel all warm and wonderful like Reagan’s sappy sentimentality and” heroic” rhetoric and bluffing (the saving grace here is that that man was good at bluster but not inclined toward deeds). And, indeed, there were a host of other actors – both the known and the unnamed – who were far more important in bringing down the iron curtain than presidents and prime ministers. Of course the unsung heroes didn’t get what they wanted (who does?), but at least they produced a situation in which not all political developments were foregone conclusions. It looks like those cheap minibusts and portraits of Thatcher will be tucked away in the desk drawers of our American neoconservatives (along with those of Churchill, whose long, stormy and up-and-down political career remains unknown to almost all Americans) to be pulled out and venerated or used as clubs whenever the immediate future looks like it’s not going their way. What a comedy! The remarks about Castro in his hissy-fit days (though rightfully furious about the US’s plans to squash him, an episode that casts Bobby Kennedy in a very unflattering light), willing to wipe us all out – Socialism or Death! – are on the mark too, and necessary to counteract the unqualified admiration for him in some quarters. After all the following misadventures (Bolivia, Angola) he did calm down. But, along with many fellow dictators of the Left and Right (and like his patron Khrushchev) he was clueless about much of his own buffoonery; men of this ilk are all-purpose “experts” on everything from art and agriculture to zoology, and their pratfalls make for hilarious reading, though with grim consequences for the ruled. More black comedy.
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