- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2006

2006 marks 15 years since the end of the Cold War. As Veteran’s Day approaches, we should remember those who fought this long war, and the millions of Americans who preceded them in defending our nation from its enemies.

The Cold War — like today’s long war — was a struggle fought on many fronts. Preserving our freedom and our way of life in the face of a totalitarian enemy motivated this effort, and a fundamental choice between tyranny and freedom defined this global contest between two incompatible ideologies.

It is hard to think about the Cold War without thinking about one of the key figures in that long struggle — Ronald Reagan. He was one of the few people who believed that the Cold War could be won and that we should try to win it.

Sometimes, he was even ridiculed for his views, especially when he dared to speak frankly about the nature of the Soviet regime. But Mr. Reagan ignored the critics, and even seemed to delight in defying his detractors. He knew that communism was a failure and that Soviet tyranny denied people basic human rights. He believed that a system that imprisoned political dissenters by the thousands was evil, and he understood that the shortages of everyday consumer items, the black markets and the lack of prosperity were all inevitable outcomes of a command economy. He knew that communism was doomed to fail.

In the end, Mr. Reagan was proved right, and the side of freedom won. The Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet empire in 1991, but the images we have of that nearly 50-year conflict still resonate in the American consciousness: For example, Winston Churchill in Fulton, Mo., declaring that “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent.”

Remember also; Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev at the United Nations, pounding his shoe on the table and promising, “We will bury you!”

• The Cuban missile crisis: Schoolchildren hiding under their desks, practicing nuclear emergency drills.

• The Berlin Wall, with guard towers and machine guns aimed at those who dreamed of escaping to the side of freedom.

• Then-President Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate, dramatically appealing to the Soviet leader and the world, “Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

These images reinforce the perception that the nuclear standoff between superpowers could have turned out quite differently, and that a disastrous war was averted. Indeed, many look back at the Cold War as a great victory that was won without a shot being fired. But it was not a war without loss. Thousands died during this nearly five-decades-long conflict. The Korean War was a product of the Cold War, as was the Vietnam War.

We should remember and honor those whose sacrifices brought about a victorious conclusion to the Cold War, to the enormous betterment of the United States and the world.

Cold War warriors have now entered the history books for their roles in conquering tyranny and freeing millions from communist servitude.

Today, we are engaged in a similar struggle — global, ideological and fraught with peril. The global jihadist insurgency is quite open in its goals, and equally clear in its determination to wage war against us. It took many decades to prevail against the Soviet Union, and this war is likely to be a long war as well.

Today, as in Mr. Reagan’s day, there are those who say that this is a war that cannot be won, and that we must acquiesce to the enemies of freedom. Such naive thinking has never worked.

It did not work at Munich in 1938; it did not work during the Cold War; and it will not work against the enemy we face today.

This war must be fought, and it will be won with the same spirit of determination and courage that led to victory in the Cold War.

War fighters far from home — in Western Iraq’s Anbar Province; on an oil platform off the coast of Iraq; remotely piloting unmanned aerial vehicles near Ramadi; at an isolated communications station in the Indian Ocean; onboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean; or in Kabul training Afghan policemen — are waging war against enemies determined to change our way of life.

We are engaged in a noble mission — just like those who fought for freedom during the long years of superpower struggle.

This Veterans Day let us celebrate the victory of freedom in the Cold War.

Let us remember all those who are playing a role as defenders of a great nation.

Let us resolve to be worthy of the sacrifices made by all those who have died or were wounded preserving the blessings of liberty.

And let us carry on Mr. Reagan’s vision of America as a city upon a hill, a shining beacon of light to the world.

Donald C. Winter is secretary of the Navy.

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