Even the most powerful nations and even the wisest planners of the future remain themselves creatures as well as creators of the historical process.
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (1952)
“All great world-historical facts and personages occur twice,” Karl Marx wrote. “Once as tragedy, and again as farce.” Reagan for Truman, Brezhnev for Stalin, Afghanistan for Korea, and Poland for Poland; events and personalities at the end of the 1970s looked to confirm Marx’s point. After Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter situated US foreign policy on an invigorated Cold War footing; Carter’s successor launched an anti-Soviet revival. “They are the focus of evil in the modern world,” Ronald Reagan proclaimed in 1983. The rhetoric recalled the early Cold War—and so did the risks. As millions of people took part in antinuclear protests on the streets of Bonn, London, and New York, new incidents brought the superpowers to the brink of conflict. The Soviet Union in September 1983 shot down a Boeing 747 operated by Korean Air Lines, claiming 269 victims, including a US Congressman. Two months later, Soviet leaders misconstrued a NATO exercise, Able Archer 83, as a preemptive nuclear attack and initiated preparations for retaliation. Cooler heads prevailed, but the Cold War was back....
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