On this day 28 years ago, Mikhail S. Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union and the USSR officially dissolved.
Dec. 26 hasn’t taken its place in the American consciousness like April 9, 1865 (the end of the Civil War) or September 2, 1945 (the end of World War II). That’s in part because, unlike those wars, the Cold War ended without a shot being fired.
But we must not forget that for decades the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were locked in a struggle that brought the countries to the brink of nuclear war.
The United States’ Cold War victory was fueled by the power of the engines of capitalism and free markets, which produced the technological innovation that created America’s military dominance. But the victory was foremost a moral one, a triumph of a system of ideals that respected the basic human rights embedded in our founding documents over a model that oppressed its subjects not just economically but spiritually and politically.
Young Americans seem to forget all this; many never learned it. On this historic day 28 years ago, the oldest millennials were just ten years old, while the youngest wouldn’t be born for another five years.
A new survey finds that 40 percent of 16 to 24-year-olds have never heard of Josef Stalin and 70 percent have never heard of Mao Tse-tung. Stalin killed 20 million people in Communist Soviet Union, and Mao was responsible for 45 million deaths as the dictator of communist China.
These basic historical facts are lost on kids today. Which is why so many of them are open to these horrific ideologies. All they know about socialism and communism is that they’re about sharing the wealth and closing the income inequality gap that progressives identify as the source of our problems.
Just about every week, a new survey is published demonstrating younger Americans’ affinity for ideologies that caused so much suffering for so many in the last century. According to a recent poll, seven in 10 millennials say they would vote for a socialist for president. One recent poll even found that more than a third of millennials approve of communism.
Another survey found that one in five high school students don’t have any interest in studying the Cold War. Twenty-two percent of high school students also said it is not relevant to study the Cold War to understand today’s world. Meanwhile, belief in American exceptionalism is on the decline.
Perhaps most disturbing, in a study published in the Journal of Democracy, researchers found that 72 percent of people born in the 1930s said they believe it is “essential” to live in a democracy; just 30 percent of people born in the 1980s — Millennials — felt the same way.
For the second straight election cycle, Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has emerged as a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. He’s a man who, only three years before the collapse of the Soviet system, visited the USSR and gushed about its health care system, while criticizing America’s. Throughout his trip, local officials took aside members of Sanders’ entourage, telling them that the Soviet system was near collapse. But it didn’t matter. Bernie was a true believer, and still is.
It is no coincidence that Sanders has found his most loyal following among young voters, for whom Soviet communism is something they can learn about only in history books, if at all.
Twenty-eight years is a long time, and particularly these past 28 years. We’ve seen the rise of globalization, 9/11 and the spread of Islamic terrorism, and the emergence of Communist China as a worldwide threat. We’ve also witnessed a collective amnesia about the causes of the Cold War and what led to its peaceful conclusion.
Today, nationalism — identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests — has become a slur, while basic gestures of patriotism are being erased. To take just one example, last year the director of “First Man,” a film about Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11, omitted one of the most dramatic moments in spaceflight, Armstrong’s planting the American flag on the moon. The director said he thought it would be an extreme and inappropriate expression of patriotism.
All of this is newly relevant at a time when Russia’s international adventurism rivals its aggression during the Cold War, and as Mikhail Gorbachev is warning that a hot war may break out between the U.S. and Russia. Meanwhile, the United Nations secretary general recently said that disputes between the U.S. and China could end up causing more havoc than the Cold War.
Nobody wishes to relive the Cold War — including its byproducts, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Cuban missile crisis, and the building of the Berlin Wall. In order to avoid another Cold War, we should never forget why it happened, how it ended, and why we won.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.