- Editor's Note
This issue begins with an article by Tuong Vu discussing how the Vietnamese Communists pursued a radical transformation of Indochina after World War II as part of their general drive for world revolution. Far from being a strictly "nationalist" movement (as was alleged by many critics of the U.S. role in Vietnam), the Vietnamese Communists were aggressively internationalist in their orientation, often seeing themselves as the vanguard of a global Marxist-Leninist revolution. Drawing on recently declassified archival materials, Vu shows that the ideological radicalism of the Vietnamese Communists was crucial in shaping all stages of the prolonged warfare in Indochina, from the 1950s through the 1980s.
The next article, by Katya Drozdova and Joseph H. Felter, uses declassified records of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) to appraise the Soviet Army's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988–1989. A significant number of analysts in both Russia and the West have depicted the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as a failure and have claimed that the withdrawal was haphazardly planned and poorly executed. A few scholars, including Lester Grau and me, have long taken issue with these arguments and have shown that in fact the Soviet counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan achieved impressive results and might well have crushed the rebellion within a few years had it not been for the huge quantities of external military assistance reaching the Afghan insurgents. Even with the vast amounts of weaponry that flowed to the rebels from the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, and other sources, the Soviet Army could probably have defeated the insurgency if the political situation in Moscow had not fundamentally changed with the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1985 and the subsequent rise of "new political thinking" in foreign policy. Shortly after taking office, Gorbachev induced the CPSU Politburo to approve the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, a decision that ultimately determined the fate of the war. Yet, even after the Soviet Politburo adopted this decision, the Soviet Army, as Drozdova and Felter show, successfully withdrew Soviet units with minimal losses while leaving behind a Soviet-backed government that managed to stay in power during the rest of the Soviet period, something that would have been impossible when Soviet forces first moved into Afghanistan in late December 1979.
The third article, by Douglas Selvage, is the first part of his two-part analysis of the wide-ranging disinformation campaign launched in the mid-1980s by the Soviet State Security Committee (KGB) with assistance from the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi) to spread a false narrative about the origins and nature of the disease known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The disinformation campaign, which the Stasi codenamed "Denver," relied on forged documents and inaccurate testimony from purported experts to suggest that the Human [End Page 1] Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes AIDS had originated not from infected animals in Africa but from biological warfare research carried out by U.S. military scientists at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Operation Denver proved remarkably effective, indeed even more effective than the KGB and Stasi had originally envisaged. Before long, immense numbers of people around the world (including in the United States) came to believe, falsely, that the U.S. government was responsible for AIDS.
The next article, by Filip Pospíšil, assesses the impact of the musical programming broadcast by Radio Free Europe (RFE) to Soviet-bloc countries during the Cold War. Scholars such as Joseph Nye who have analyzed the role of "soft power" in international politics have maintained that Western popular music, especially jazz, the blues, and rock-and-roll, induced young people in East European countries to look more favorably on Western democracy. These arguments have rested mostly on logic rather than on detailed evidence of the causal link between Western popular culture and sentiments among young people in the Soviet bloc. Pospíšil sets out to determine whether the thesis is accurate and, if so, precisely how this form of "soft power" operates. By poring over declassified archival evidence and sifting through interviews and other first-hand testimony, Pospíšil carefully traces the connection between RFE's musical broadcasts...