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THE SOVIET LESSON
On April 26, 1986, the world changed. It wasn’t immediately obvious, nor would it be for five more years, but the early morning explosion at the #4 reactor operating in Chernobyl, Ukrainian SSR, killed thousands almost immediately, caused tens of thousands of cases of deadly radiation poisoning, irradiated 600,000 survivors, and eventually forced the forced evacuation of more than 350,000 Soviet citizens. More than any other factor or event, Chernobyl also caused a fatal split between the Soviet State and its citizens.
It is impossible to count the exact number of deaths, because the Soviet leaders immediately went into deep cover mode. The local leaders refused to acknowledge that any accident had taken place. National leaders down-played the nature and extent of the accident. Unprotected firefighters died simply because they were denied the most basic radiation protection while they tried to extinguish the graphite fires that spewed tons of plutonium and other radioactive materials into the atmosphere. This official sandbagging has made it difficult to track down victims. Injury and fatality lists were incomplete, and Soviet leaders ordered doctors and coroners to remove the word "radiation" from death certificates. But the people knew. And the more they knew, the worse it got.
Now that the Soviet Union has been dead and buried for almost two decades, it is far more possible to examine the factors that led to the USSR’s demise. It also provides a road map of what is currently happening in Iran, and to some extent, to the United States.
Five years before Chernobyl, a group of Polish dockworkers formed a group called Solidarity, and stood up to the Soviet approved leadership in Warsaw. The shock waves that followed were huge. While Western news sources tended to concentrate on Lech Walesa, (in their insidious need to personalize the news and to create a telegenic hero for domestic consumption), the real story was how quickly and thoroughly the entire Polish society accepted the Solidarity claims and demanded real change in the day to day lives of everyday citizens.
Across the border in the USSR, tanks were ready to roll, troops were called up, and warplanes were being fitted with bombs and missiles. The idea that "freedom" could infect any of the Soviet states scared the Soviet leaders far more than any Star Wars program that the neoconmen’s demigod, Ronald Reagan could construct.
And then there was Afghanistan. Since 1915, the USSR had been a friend and supporter of various Afghan governments. In 1975, revolutions against Kabul had begun. In response, Afghan leaders tried to modernize the entire country, but found themselves unable to do so, except with the aid of a loaded gun. By 1979, the provinces were actively opposing both the modernization effort (which they initially sought) and the ham-fisted and self-defeating way the Afghan government tried to impose change by force.
In December of 1979, Soviet forces invaded, purportedly at the request of the failing Afghan government, and began a nine year, bloody and deadly occupation. In 1987, the USSR had enough and eventually withdrew from that Afghanistan, beaten, bruised, and battered. Because of this huge military disaster, (except for its nuclear missiles), the vaunted Soviet military was no longer a force to fear. The army was suffering 30,000 desertions each year. 15,000 troops and advisors were killed, and more than 450,000 Soviet troops were injured. Despite its best efforts, the Soviet leadership could not cover-up the massive loss of life and the financial disaster that its occupation had brought upon itself. Mothers, wives and sisters sobbing over a sealed coffin (plastered with Afghan transit stickers) became a common sight throughout the Soviet Union. The more the Government tried to keep the coffins and injured out of the news, the worse the story grew.
The problem for the Soviet leadership should have been obvious. It treated Solidarity, Afghanistan, and Chernobyl in identical ways. It hid all bad news, it never invited its citizens to work with it to solve problems, and it continued to allow massive corruption, inefficiency, fraud, and the worst aspects of the Soviet economic and political systems.
Solidarity provided the kindling, Afghanistan the fuel, and Chernobyl ignited the resulting firestorm. This deadly combination, combined with over-reaching government secrecy, official lies, and deadly leadership choices and mistakes, caused the Soviet people to realize that their leaders did not have their best interests at heart, but were simply trying to protect their own lavish lifestyle and massive control over the Soviet population. Far more important than Reagan, the US’ GOP policies, or Star Wars, domestic errors and an "us versus them" mentality infected the Soviet leaders, and caused a split between them that resulted in the death of a nation. The Baltic states stood up to the failing Soviet giant, and walked out by 1991. The rest of the Soviet states followed suit in the following years.
MODERN DAY IRAN
After the 1950’s CIA sponsored revolution, the democratically elected government in Teheran was forcibly replaced by the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, (the son of the true Iranian reformer, Reza Pahlavi) who gladly accepted US help in exchange for allowing CIA spies to operate against the USSR to the north. The US was also grateful for the oil riches that were even more accessible to the US and its favored friends in the west. Shah Reza Pahlavi ruled with an iron fist, sometimes in opulent and bloody ways. Yet at the same time, he tried to force "westernization" upon everyone, not only the urban educated in the large cities.
By 1978, the people had had enough and were beginning to protest. Half the protesters were students and urban dwellers, as well as the millions angry at the fraud, corruption, and ham-fisted way that the Shah’s bullies ruled over their lives. The second largest group consisted of peasants and rural Iranians, led by a highly conservative muslim group that found the Shah’s (and his cohorts and family) behavior unacceptable.
In 1979, the people revolted and overthrew Shah Pahlavi, much to the surprise of the CIA and NSA, who were convinced that the best way to control the Iranian population was to increase its domestic military spending. In the wild years that followed, two competing groups emerged: one, a highly organized religious group that thought Iran’s salvation could only be based in a muslim theocracy, and the other, seeking democratic changes and freedom from the Shah’s bullies.
In the bloody, sometimes deadly, aftermath, the theocrats won and imposed new rules that governed pretty much all aspects of life. At first, most of the population rejoiced, because the inherent corruption and violence that existed daily under the Shah was eradicated. But as time continued on, the theocrats became as entrenched and as corrupt as the Shah that they had replaced.
Once again, a war reared its ugly head. In 1978, Iraq, who had competed with Iran for power and respect for centuries, was warned by the Shah’s intel forces that the USSR was planning to overthrow Saddam’s government. As a thank you, Iraq deported Ayatollah Khomeini from Iraq (where he was previously protected from the Shah’s assassins). This was probably the only high point throughout the long history of Iranian-Iraqi relations. Soon after the Iranian revolution, they were back mutual hatred, fear, and loathing.
In 1980, Saddam invaded Iran. The US (initially under Carter, then much more strongly under Reagan) secretly supported Iraq with poison gasses, dual use military equipment, arms, and intelligence. The war continued for eight years, with the Iraqis, then the Iranians seeming to have a slight advantage at different times.
In 1986, the UN attempted to issue a proclamation against Saddam Hussein’s use of poison gases against Iranian troops. The US was the only country to veto that proclamation.
Iraq lost close to 500,000 lives over the eight year war. Iran’s fatalities were closer to 1,000,000.
This weekend, the world changed forever again. This time the election in Iran is the key. Since 1979, the Iranian people fought on behalf of the theocrats, believing (rightly) that the western world was against them, and that we threatened their freedom and their lives. When the Iranians eventually voted in a reformist government in the early 2000s, the ayatollahs managed to sour their victory by making it pointless and without impact. The ayatollahs removed reformist candidates, they took away power from the the reformers who still managed to be elected, and in some cases, they arrested leaders who became too popular. In 2005, the theocratic candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, won easily, mostly because the youth and urban voters boycotted the election in protest against theocratic policies.
When the mullahs and ayatollahs claimed victory on Saturday, pretending that a widely unpopular Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected with truly unbelievable numbers, the Iranian leadership lost all respect it previously had with its citizens. Iran now stands in the identical place that the USSR stood after Chernobyl. All trust between the two is gone and cannot be repaired. The revolution and overthrow of the mullahs and ayatollahs is a given; the only question is how soon it will occur. It may take weeks, months, even a couple of years, but the result will be the same. Iran will undergo a fundamental change and will throw out its theocratic leaders, along with their brutal thugs who enforce the politico-religious decrees, and will gingerly rejoin the modern world.
We can only hope that it does so with as little bloodshed as possible. But the West should not delude itself. Iran is now a wounded animal, and even internally wounded animals strike out unexpectedly. For that reason we must take every precaution possible to prevent external interference in Iran’s developing change. If we, or more likely Israel, are perceived to be taking advantage of Iran’s internal battles, the reformers will stop their efforts, and quickly return to supporting the status quo against an interfering intruder. That means that assholes like Dick Cheney, Frank Gafney, and other neoconmen need to shut up and sit down. Or at the very least, our MSM needs to grow a pair and muzzle or ignore those war-mongering cluster fucks.
It also means that the US (with the help of the rest of the middle east, China, Russia, Turkey and India) needs to sit on Israel and keep them from doing something extremely stupid – like attacking, or more likely provoking some event that would support a future Israeli attack.
It is hard to say which will be harder, muzzling the war-mongering neocons, or forcing Israel to behave in a civilized fashion for a change. After all, the countries involved in the most wars of choice in the Muddle East have been the US and Israel, not necessarily in that order. Iran, except for a counterattack in 1985 against Iraq, has never invaded any other country throughout its thousand year history.
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PS. It would also be amusing (?) to compare the current US status with the last years of the Soviet Union. We now spy on our own citizens. We have a deadly, pointless, and very expensive war in Afghanistan. Our economy is collapsing, in some part, due to corruption, fraud, and the huge costs of our Iraqi and Afghan invasions. The US now hides data FROM ITS CITIZENS about poisoned imported toys, food safety, and and growing deadly threat caused by millions of tons of coal ash. Are we losing trust in our government? Very likely. Are we in the same place that the soviets found themselves in 1990? We won’t know for another decade.