Norman Stone’s marvellously venomous, myopic history of the cold war awards some surprising medals, but never fails to entertainby Victor Sebestyen / April 26, 2010 / Leave a comment
There is a still point in the turning world and at its centre is the historian Norman Stone, who has never stopped tilting at creaky old windmills and fighting the battles of his beloved 1980s—“the most interesting decade of the last century,” he claims in this blunderbuss of a book. It is rare nowadays to read the classic triumphalist narrative of the collapse of communism presented as a victory for the west led by the forces of conservatism, one of whose distinguished high priests was, of course, Stone. But this is a deeply old-fashioned book that might have been written in the first flush of excitement after the fall of the Berlin wall.
Only two genuinely heroic figures emerge from these 600 or so pages: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It was they, Stone claims, who slew domestic dragons and brought down the evil empire of the Soviet Union. If it had been left to the Democrats in the US, the wet, consensus-seeking establishment in Britain or, God forbid, the rest of Europe, the communists might still be in the Kremlin. Reagan’s anti-Soviet rhetoric inspired Americans anew to battle for freedom, while his economic policies made them rich, the argument runs. He outspent the Soviets. It was Reagan’s multi-trillion dollar arms build up in the early 1980s and in particular, the Star Wars project, his dream of a shield that would protect the west from missiles, which defeated the USSR.
This stirring story was the standard version of events for around a decade after the fall of the Soviet empire, predicted by almost nobody. It is well re-told and argued here, though Stone has produced more elegantly written books. He has little time for the idea that “We the People” opposition to communism played any significant part in the east European revolutions in 1989, or the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The former—however dramatic to witness and to live through—were, he claims, “staged by the KGB,” though it would be interesting to see the evidence.
Stone has clearly steeped himself in the vast amount of material available since the early 1990s from the former USSR and east bloc. Much of it establishes the internal reasons for the collapse of the system—how ready the Soviets were to abandon their empire, how imminent was economic collapse, how embarrassing defeat in Afghanistan created a crisis of confidence. Soviet-style communism destroyed…