America Through the Looking Glass

Not so long ago anticommunist conservatives used to rail against the mirror fallacy, the leftist assumption that the Soviet Union could be studied in Western terms. If only we could strengthen the hand of the doves and "responsible" elements, we could keep the country from falling into the hands of the hard-liners and hawks—the Soviet analogues of Barry Goldwater. After supporting a KGB thug (Andropov) as an urbane. Westernized scotch-drinker, it was inevitable that Gorbachev be seen as the savior not only of his country but of the entire world. All that was left was the Nobel Peace Prize—routinely awarded to butchers and hypocrites (with a joint award to Le Due Tho and Henry Kissinger, they achieved a double word score). Now that he has the Norwegian medal of infamy, Gorbachev has carte blanche to proceed with his plans, whatever they are, for reconstructing his empire.

But if it is illegitimate to hold up the U.S.S.R to the mirror of the U.S.A, the reverse is still a useful exercise, and by looking at recent events in Eastern Europe, we may be able to learn something about ourselves. To tell the truth, I don't know very much about the Soviet Union. Like most Americans who sound off about global conflict, I don't know Russian, and a writer without an adequate grasp of the language is denied access not only to the newspapers, documents, and conversations that are the stuff of history, but also to the...

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