July 26, 2010

"Farewell" -- French cinema's tribute to Ronald Reagan

From my review in Taki's Magazine of Farewell:
We won the Cold War two decades ago. Do we yet know why?

As T.S. Eliot noted in Gerontion, “History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors…” In 1945, Winston Churchill banned all mention of the immense Ultra project that had broken the Nazi Enigma code. Ultra’s 1974 declassification rewrote the history of WWII. Hence, there’s time for new insights into the conflict with Communism to emerge.

The Cold War offers a trove of gripping and unfamiliar stories. Slowly, European filmmakers have begun turning their attention to the biggest story that happened on their continent from 1946-1991. For example, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s film about Stasi surveillance in East Germany, The Lives of Others, was, to my mind, the best movie of 2006.

, an engrossing French spy movie in which Ronald Reagan is one of the heroes, is perhaps the finest film of this year. Veteran character actor Fred Ward (astronaut Gus Grissom in The Right Stuff) plays Reagan in a supporting role, while Willem Dafoe (the Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man film) portrays his CIA director William Casey.

makes the audacious claim that our Cold War victory was substantially hastened by a lone KGB colonel codenamed “Farewell.” In 1981, Vladimir Vetrov, a fed-up Russian engineer, began copying KGB technology documents and delivering them to the French equivalent of the FBI. Socialist François Mitterrand, who had been elected president that year with the help of the Moscow-controlled French Communist Party, demonstrated his anti-Communist bona fides by personally passing along the “Farewell Dossier” to Reagan on July 19, 1981.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.


dearieme said...

I've always viewed "Socialist François Mitterrand" as a pretty loathsome piece of work, the only counterargument being that Mrs Thatcher once said that she could rely on him as an ally more than .. I can't remember how she phrased it, but she meant the loathsome weasels of DC. More evidence here of the wisdom of the old girl, eh? Thank God that Reagan was no weasel.

coldequation said...

We won the Cold War because the people in Communist countries stopped believing in Communism. There was no technological or military reason why they couldn't have continued to this day.

Matra said...

I recall around 1988 a poll of Europeans asking them who was to thank for the arms control treaty and the general lessening of tensions between the USA and the USSR. France was the only country in which Reagan got as much credit as Gorbachev. In every other European country (including Britain) most thanked Gorbachev by a considerable margin over Reagan.

(I can also recall from that period neocons attacking Reagan for selling out to the USSR. These same neocons became the French-bashers of 2002-3 over France's lack of loyalty to the US president's foreign policy).

I've always viewed "Socialist François Mitterrand" as a pretty loathsome piece of work, the only counterargument being that Mrs Thatcher once said that she could rely on him as an ally more than .. I can't remember how she phrased it, but she meant the loathsome weasels of DC.

Mrs T never forgot that Mitterand's support during the Falklands crisis.

Anonymous said...

I had a number of personal insights into the failure of the Soviet Union in the nineties when I supervised a bunch of ex-Soviet immigrant software engineers.

They were deeply divided over the USA and their place in it. They had all been educated in communist doctrine in school. My buddy Alex assured me that he and all his friends secretly laughed at the propaganda. But there were certainly others who had absorbed the lessons. A few of the young men still felt the tug of socialist ideology. These were no doubt the ones who posted the banner of Lenin above my desk. In any case all of them knew about the University of California - the software Mecca of UNIX across the Bay. They all hated the capitalist associated Microsoft.

Alex once explained to me how Russian engineers created microchip designs with sand paper. You take a US made chip and sand off the plastic coat and then each layer in turn photographing as you go. This gets you a layer by layer diagram of the circuitry. The Soviet Union had had half the engineers in the world but relied on stealing American designs.

While I was there we got a new guy Slava from Leningrad. After I met Slava I never again entertained the notion that I was a top flight programmer. He was scary smart. The other coders mostly Ukrainians were in awe of this man from the north. In fact most of my coders were very good except Yuri. Yuri was an older guy and a complete idiot. He was nice enough but he couldn't code his way out of a paper bag.

Later I learned that Yuri had been a major in the KGB and was tasked with targeting American cities for Soviet ICBMs. My boss Dimitri who had been in America for decades said that when he learned that Yuri was the guy aiming the rockets at him, he finally felt safe.

The Soviets failed in large part for bad personnel selection. They seemed to prefer docile fools.


Mike said...

How odd that the French, of all people, should portray President Reagan favorably in a movie. Hell will freeze over before anything emanating from Hollywood does.

Geoff Matthews said...

That was an engaging review. I'll definitely check it out.

tender foreplay specialist said...

... his beloved teenaged son, an engineering prodigy for whom Vetrov wanted a country of “careers open to talent” rather than Brezhnev’s regime of hereditary privilege and incompetence.

This last is what the U.S. left is in the process of accomplishing, and should be the issue stressed by the right in in speaking to youts.

Harmonious Jim said...

Reminds me of the story that in the 60s the Soviets tried to steal the design of the Concorde airliner. When the French got wind this they passed on doctored blueprints. The result: the Tupolev tu-144 Konkordski -- looked just like the Concorde but was a dud. Crashed on its unveiling at the Paris air show and never went into service. A good story, if true.

David Miliband's Daddy said...

One great thing about the collapse of communism was that the US was able to disband NATO and bring its troops home from hundreds of bases around the world, resulting in enormous savings in the "defense" budget. Er, wait a second...

Um, another great thing was that massive government intervention in the economy and every other aspect of human life was finally completely discredited, and the smug leftist schemers who run the media and academia were forced to admit they were wrong and quit promoting their poisonous doctrines. Er...

At least we got rid of communist inspired speech codes and hate speech laws and the kiddies are no longer taught in accordance with commie propaganda in grade school to hate privileged white folks...

Wait... which side won the cold war?

Anonymous said...

I have two close friends from former eastern block countries - one from Czechoslovakia and one from the Soviet Union. They both said that the came to the realization that Marxism-Leninism was based on a swindle - one in which the intellectual elites con the working class into believing that the elites are really looking after their interests and deserve their support. In this way the intellectual elites would gain political ascendancy and could pretty much do whatever suited them, so long as the swindle could be maintained.

After this realization, whenever they had to write an essay in their Marxism-Leninism classes, they always applied the principle of the swindle to the subject matter at hand and ended up getting the highest grades. My Czech friend even said that one of his M-L professors congratulated him on his excellent grasp of the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

As to how much that is reminiscent of contemporary American politics, I leave as an exercise to the readers...

Mel Torme said...

Oh, I left out the 2nd part. Do you want to know who won the Cold War for America? ( I mean in the'60's through '80's, not nowadays).

I'll tell ya. Ronald Reagan and a few million mechanical and electrical engineers. That's who won it.

Anonymous said...

How odd that the French, of all people, should portray President Reagan favorably in a movie. Hell will freeze over before anything emanating from Hollywood does.

Apparently my version of that observation got nixed by Komment Kontrol [no doubt for its overt anti-semitism].

Gene Berman said...


You simply don't know what you're talking about. That's not to point out that you're stupid--because I have no suspicion that you are. But it is to point out that you're ignorant (as are somewhere in he neighborhood of 99% of people everywhere) of economic realities.

Everyone was stunned when the USSR simply ceased to exist--the 99+%, that is. A superpower as we turned in for the night--and gone when we awakened. But some were not surprised. Expected it, as a matter of fact, in somewhat the way it occurred. Ronald Reagan was certainly one who expected it and was not surprised. I was another.

There is a small group of economists long considered a "fringe" group--the Austrian School; all those of that persuasion expected a collapse of the USSR--"any day now"--for years. It had been predicted as long ago as 1920 by Ludwig von Mises, the unofficial "dean" of that school, as the certain outcome of what he called "the impossibility of economic calculation by the socialist commonwealth." He saiod it might take several generations due to a certain effectiveness of sheer brutality but that one day, it would collapse completely, "like a house of cards, almost as though it had never existed."

Reagan's college degree was as an Economics major--of th mainstream variety. But, somewhere along the line, he had become an "Austrian," certainly no later than 1976, when he described to a reporter (as Gov. of CA) that, except for officially-necessary reading, he now read daily, on his own time, nothing but works in the Austrian tradition by authors such as Mises, Hayek, Bastiat, etc.

You can calculate economically. So can I. So can a hot-dog vendor or a corporation, large or small. But there isn't a single government anywhere on earth that can come close to doing it, whether it's the Soviet Union's or our own. The difference is that, with a few exceptions, our government doesn't even try--they leave it to the "private sector." And, where they do try (as they do with various product/service categories--education being a prime example--they fail consistently and continuously on an order of magnitude not all that different from the "socialist paradise."

And, whether you'd want to believe it or not, the entities most responsible for enabling the high degree of coordination of all the economic calculation being constantly performed are the world's financial markets and the stock markets in particular; without them, nothing like the high degree of integration of worldwide industrial and agricultural effort (not to mention productivity) would be remotely possible.

Gene Berman said...

David Miliband's Daddy said:

You're exactly right. "They" couldn't do it to us but we've been doing it to ourselves for quite some time. The real problem is that, if we "lose," there'll be no "winners."

TGGP said...

Gene Berman, North Korea is still around. Poverty is surprisingly stable. And Mises admitted that his calculation argument didn't actually apply to the U.S.S.R because they could make use of capitalist prices.

For something you don't see every day, Charles Kenny argues that communism was not actually bad for economic growth. Instead he thinks it shifted countries into different trade-blocs, hurting places like East Germany & North Korea (moved out of rich trade blocs) but benefitted countries in the center of the communist bloc. He also points out that capitalist countries in latin america had fairly terrible growth.

Anonymous said...

Few comments from a Russian immigrant.

Albertosaurus: In the USSR, nobody with half a brain took Soviet propaganda seriously. Not at least after around mid 1970s. Also, elite Soviet education was extremely, outstandingly good. It's the management that proved to be a sticky part.

Harmonious Jim: Tu-144 was in service. Just not for a very long. Like the Concorde, it was simply too expensive to operate. And the "market" demand for it was even lower than one available to Concorde.

Mel Torme: Ronald Reagan had absolutely nothing to do with winning the Cold War. That claim is a piece of propaganda for internal consumption. By the time Reagan was elected, the USSR was already irreversibly rotten. Reagan or no Reagan, it was just a matter of time. Even Politburo and GRU didn't believe the cause enough to turn Cold into Hot war. Afghan war was lost for the same reason as Vietnam - lack of political resolve. Excessive military expenditures did not break the economy - the economy was crumbling no matter what.

In general: today's PC climate and the MSM propaganda here do not seem overly different from what I experienced living in the USSR in the 1980s.

adfasdfasdf said...

A french movie... sympathetic to gipper...

are donkeys flying?

I'll have to look out the window.

dfasfasfasdf said...

LIVES OF OTHERS was good but not great. Also, it was liberal-elite-o-centric. The movie seems to be saying East German communism was bad because a priivleged cosmopolitan boho-yuppie-ish Artiiiiiste didn't enjoy the freedoms of his counterparts in the West--people like the NY Times crowd.
Indeed, the hero of the movie is supposed to be a noble person because he switched his loyalty from apparitchiks to the boho-yuppie-artist.
I loathe communism, and may diehard commies burn in hell, but isn't Europe being flushed down the toilet by elitist globalist cosmo liberals? At least the commies in Lives of Others cared about their nation and people. These globalist liberal elitists only care about themselves and the 'global village'. They piss on their own people, their racial and national kin.

Indeed, there is something sick about the Western perspective on communism. The main emphasis hasn't been on the ordinary people who suffered or were killed by the millions but on the elitists, intellectuals, and other such.
For instance, Stalin's forced collectivization killed at least 8-10 million across USSR. His Great Purge killed 100,000s, less than a million. But we hear much more about Great Purge--since mainly intellectuals and communist elites(some of them Jewish)were killed. I mean who cares about all those stinking poor farmers killed by collectivization, eh?
Same with Chinese communism. Great Leap killed 30-40 million. Cultural Revolution killed 3-4 million. Yet there have been far more books on the Cul Rev than on the GLP. Why? Intellectuals were targeted in the Cul Rev. As for the illiterate peasants who died during the GLF, who cares?
And notice how we hear much more about McCarthyism and its impact on the creative/intellectual class--a handful of artists and radicals at than--and far less about the 100,000+ Japanese sent to prison camps. Again, it's intellecto-centrism. And Lives of Others stinks of it.

Dutch Boy said...

Our "victory" in the Cold War was purely of the Pyrrhic variety: the operation was a success but the patient is dying.

Anonymous said...

Ronald Reagan had absolutely nothing to do with winning the Cold War. That claim is a piece of propaganda for internal consumption. By the time Reagan was elected, the USSR was already irreversibly rotten. Reagan or no Reagan, it was just a matter of time.

Im not totally convinced.
Around the same time you had Reagan, Thatcher and the Pope all pushing in an avowedly anti-communist direction in a way that had not been seen for a long time amongst western leaders. The soviet system may have been rotten but I think their pushing must have helped it on the way.

Western leftists hate this sort of thinking, they hate the fact the USSR ended, they hate to think about those three people who might just have helped it on its way.

They just want it all to go away!

adsfasfasdf said...

Intellecto-centrism is part of the problem when we deal with Israel and Palestine. Let's face it, much of our sympathy for a particular PEOPLE is based on how cool, creative, hip, stylish, fun, popular, etc, etc, they are. Steve wrote of how whites are more fascinated with blacks than with Mexicans. Whites may argue it's because blacks suffered more and thereby are more deserving of sympathy, but many Mexicans of Indian origin are survivors of European invasion which wiped out their indigenous culture, killed 90% of the people through disease, and reduced most natives to de facto slaves of the white landowning elites. So, it's bullshit that blacks suffered more. No, whites are more sympathetic to blacks because blacks are more musical, have more style, more muscle, more athleticism, more 'charisma', etc. Blacks are sensually appealing to many whites thanks to blues, jazz, football, boxing, basketball, and MLK's soulful speeches. To some extent, Hitler and the Fascists were right. People respond to IRRATIONAL factors.

Jews may not be athletic physically but they are top athletes intellectually and creatively. Also very funny and quite musical as well. So, Holocaust or no Holocaust, there is much Western and American identification, sympathy, and admiration for Jews that doesn't exist for those dumb, grubby, dirty, nitwittish, and dull-dull-dull Palestinians.
When the American upper middle class thinks of Jews, people like Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Betty Friedan, Steven Spielberg, Carole King, Saul Bellow, David Mamet, Bob Dylan, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Noam Chomsky(even if he's anti-Zionist), etc, etc, etc come to mind. Jews are funny, Jews are creative, Jews are original, Jews are intellectual, etc, etc, in the eyes of the educated classes in America. Intellecto-centrism guarantees Jews will get the first and final say on most matters--and most admiration and sympathy. Notice that on Charlie Rose, most commentators on Iran, China, Pakistan, Israel, Africa, Palestine, Europe, etc, etc are mostly Jews.

In contrast, Palestines are even more boring than Mexicans. There isn't even something like tacos or tequila to make them appealing. Of course, the one HUGE EXCEPTION was Edward Said, who perhaps made the biggest difference in the Middle East equation in educated circles. But his success too was a case of intellecto-centrism. He was supposed to have been so smart and brilliant that even Jewish intellectuals--like Chris Hitchens and Tony Judt--became his friends and even allies at times.
If Palestinians outproduced artists and intellectuals 100 to 1 against Jews, things might be very different in the Middle East. If one Edward Said made such a difference, imagine if there were 50 of them.