Rock & Radiation, Not Reagan, Brought Down USSR
Rock & radiation, not Ronald Reagan, brought down the Soviet Union
By Harvey Wasserman
No greater nonsense will accompany Ronald Reagan to his grave than the idea that he brought down the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War.
Among the many causes of Soviet collapse two words stand out, and they aren't Ronald Reagan.
They are rock and radiation.
The GOP military's 1980s attempt to "spend the Soviets into oblivion" certainly feathered the nests of the defense contractors who contributed to Reagan's campaigns here, and who still fatten George W. Bush. Lockheed-Martin, Halliburton and an unholy host of GOP insiders have scored billions in profits from Iran-Contra to Star Wars to Desert Storm to Iraq.
But these were not the people who brought down the Kremlin. If anything, they prolonged Soviet rule with the unifying threat of apocalyptic attack.
No, it was rock & roll that wrecked the USSR. From the late 1960s on, the steady beat of the Beatles and Motown, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, shattered Stalinism at its stodgy core.
Precisely the things most hated by the Reagan's rightist culture warriors here eroded and helped dissolve the old-time Soviet culture there. Beamed in by radio, smuggled in on records and tapes, the "youth music" was unstoppable.
When Mikhail Gorbachev announced Perestroika, it was at least in partial response to the irresistible subversion of the western counterculture. Rock and roll was doing to the remnants of Stalin's Russia what it had already done to Eisenhower's America.
The final blow came not from Ronald Reagan's beloved nuclear weapons, but from the Soviets' own Three Mile Island.
After Chernobyl Unit Four exploded on April 26, 1986, Swedish radiation monitors detected huge clouds of radiation pouring out of the Ukraine. Gorbachev lied about it. Critical days passed before his "open" regime acknowledged the catastrophe.
As apocalyptic radiation poured over their land and into their bodies, millions of Soviet citizens were infuriated to learn from sources outside their country how horrific the disaster really was---and that their lives were in genuine danger. Cancer, birth defects, stillbirths and more soared out of control. Gorbachev's credibility was forever shattered.
Soon a staggering 800,000 draftees---"liquidators"--- were forced into deadly manual clean-up. The horrific maelstrom of resulting disease fed a fierce organization parallel to the US's Vietnam Vets Against the War that remains an uncompromising political force throughout the former Soviet Union.
With the fury aimed at Gorbachev came devastating economic fallout. Untold billions went to evacuate and quarantine the Chernobyl region. The costs are still escalating. The danger of a renewed melt-down still boils beneath the surface.
The epidemic of radiation-related diseases has also taken a huge psychological toll, with countless evacuees and victims---many of them children---still in pitiable condition.
Himself a pusher of atomic power since his "Death Valley Days" working for General Electric, Reagan never mentioned the devastating impacts of Chernobyl. He also never thanked the Beatles.
But a cultural revolution and a nuclear malfunction cracked the Kremlin's core. Reagan's beloved Cold War made his GOP buddies even richer. But it was rock and radiation that finally did in the Soviets.
HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is available at www.harveywasserman.com.