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The Real War

In a small café in Belgrade nearly 20 years ago, I had a drink with a young man named Michael.  He was an architect and, like many people I met there, was no friend of the Soviet regime, which was the subject of our conversation.  I had just visited the Soviet Union, passing through Belgrade on the way back to America.

In the course of our conversation, the nature of propaganda—especially Soviet propaganda—came up.  Michael was a very perceptive young man who did not buy his own government’s propaganda any more than he did the Soviet line, which he mocked, especially the part about how Soviet soldiers were doing their “internationalist duty” in Afghanistan.  The scenes of grateful Afghans throwing flowers at the “internationalist” troops in Soviet media reports were, indeed, a piece of laughably unbelievable political theater.

I was in full anti-Soviet timber that night, lambasting the moribund superpower’s geriatric leadership, seemingly determined to bankrupt the country in its efforts to spread Soviet-style socialism to lands near and far, which the Kremlin swore would ensure “world peace.”  A regime that had seemed invincible and frightening in the 50’s and 60’s now looked worn out, a victim of its own messianic militarism, its economy in shambles, hated and resented by the very people the Kremlin swore it was duty-bound...

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