Nov. 9 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the gradual tortuous end of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe.

By any measure, it was a top monumental event of the 20th century. Yet, in a searing irony, neither the CIA nor the KGB expected it and informed their respective governments. It came as a total surprise.

The 40-year-long Cold War evolved largely along the Iron Curtain. It witnessed some of its most crucial events ranging from the Berlin Blockade, NATO, the Warsaw Pact, to the Berlin Wall and Kennedy’s famous speech.

Each of the two Super Powers tried to sustain allies and impose its will and ideological principles through military, diplomatic and economic means. At monstrous cost, each supported its diplomatic-military interests with several hundred thousand soldiers heavily armed with the latest nuclear weapons and nerve gases.

Western capitalism confronted Eastern communism for four decades, and no one believed in any sudden transformation in spite of the fact that both sides were saturated with spies.

As is the case with most overwhelming historical events, its beginnings were insignificant. In Poland, some workers’ strikes and actions on part of the Catholic Church preceded the catastrophic, sudden and politico-economic transforming event.

Self-caused and intractable economic problems inherent in the unworkable communist economic theory co-joined by Russia’s costly and failed foreign military adventures in Afghanistan, among other elements, provided the larger context in which communism vanished.

Karl Marx, the founder of the communist theory, viewed religion to be the “opiate of the masses.” He advocated removing religion, especially the traditional senior religious advisers to royal governments, from royal governments and substituting them with communist social scientists.

In 1917, the future confrontation between the two emerging Super Powers began with Leninism starting to compete with Wilsonism and Wilsonism competing with Leninism. Both practiced universal missionism. One drew its inspiration from Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” while the other drew its inspiration from Manifest Destiny.

Both forged ideologies which axiomatically assumed human nature to be good. Both tended to condemn the old and regaled in utopian futures. Both deified politics which dangerously neglected ethics and morality.

While Wilsonism wanted to make the world safe for democracy, Leninism soon formed the Third Communist International to make the world safe for communism. In an uncompromising, crusading fashion that emphasized unconditional surrender, the two future Super Powers, over the long term, prepared the groundwork for placing the primacy on foreign policy over domestic policy.

Within the context of the primacy of foreign policy over domestic policy, the U.S. forged NATO, to which Russia responded with the Warsaw Pact. In so doing, the Iron Curtain was consolidated. Neglected was the fact that putting priority on foreign policy eventually cost trillions of dollars and entailed futile and devastating wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc.

The cost associated with these toxic and death-spreading policies eventually prompted the Iron Curtain to rust. The millions who suffered became restless and, with the help of the clergy, tore down the Berlin Wall and forged massive reforms from the bottom up.

Essentially, in a relatively bloodless revolution the people bypassed their governments and simply walked across the rusty Iron Curtain. It was an awesome spectacle which deactivated governmental actions and neutralized it in effect.

It was a classical demonstration of “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” which witnessed the separation of communist social scientists from the government and the emergence of many clergy transitioning into politics.

After the dust settled, the West said, “We won the Cold War.” Yet, in Europe, in order not to offend Russia, it was “Everyone won the Cold War.” Neither explanation describes reality accurately. The correct interpretation is that everyone lost during the Cold War. Its trillions of wasted dollars are the top cause of the decades-long relative decline of the U.S. living standard and Russia’s inability, like the U.S., to translate its vast natural resources into a higher living standard.

In this sense, both Super Powers since 1917 were Stupid Powers which neglected domestic focus for unattainable global utopian mirages.

Sutterlin, who earned a doctorate from University of Minnesota in diplomatic and economic history, is a former Senior Fulbright Scholar. He is retired from the faculty of Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, where he resides. His email address is

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