Having spent ten years training for the day when Soviet tanks rolled through the Fulda Gap in Germany, it was quite a shock to me when the Berlin Wall fell and suddenly the central plains of Europe were just another place on a map. I remember the infectious joy on the faces of the young East and West German men and women atop the remnants of the wall. I remember how strange and wonderful it was to see people walking freely across the former checkpoints across what had been the iron curtain.
I never thought I'd want to go back to the bad old days of the Cold War.
And yet, stories like those flying about the media about clandestine prisons in countries that used to be behind the iron curtain, run by our very own CIA have made me long for the days when the US could condemn such prisons run by the Soviets - and do so without irony. The mouth-breathers on the right can scoff all they want when those of us with even a rudimentary knowledge of history sadly call that prison system the American Gulag; the term is more apt than they can ever admit.
That old saw about repeating history has rarely had such resonance. The Bush administration has already expressed its disdain for the "reality based community," and they have embraced and - in a sense - enforced ignorance as a virtue and so the lessons of the past are thrown out with the lessons of biology and evolution and physics. And so while history never so much repeats as it does rhyme, we have echoes of the Soviet gulag system spread out across Eastern Europe in the same states which celebrated the fall of the USSR.
The buildings are the same, grey and institutional, anonymous on the outside. Many of the techniques used to obtain "information" are the same. Much of the results are the same; forced confessions to crimes that may or may not have ever happened, poor intelligence and a growing group of people around the world who will hate us for seven generations. Even the denials of their existence are as transparent as anything utterd by the aparatchiks of the KGB.
The only difference is that the people running the prisons speak American accented English instead of Muscovite Russian.