It happened today - August 20, 2015

nullWhile I’m on the subject of coups, and bad actions by the Soviet Union, it’s worth noting that this is the anniversary of the Red Army rolling over the Prague Spring back in 1968 and showing that what Czech Communist Party secretary-general Alexander Dubcek called “socialism with a human face” had a tank tread mark on that face. It was a salutary shock at the high water mark of 1960s radicalism in the West.

In 1968 the American hippie movement was in full swing, or stagger, toward Woodstock the next year. Haight-Ashbury was still cool. Yippies and yappies and whoknowswhatskis were disrupting the Democratic Nationjal Convention in Chicago shouting things like “Down the tube with Hube the cube” (a slogan I admire without sharing its sentiments entirely). And in France the slogan “sous le pavé, la plage” was helping oust Charles de Gaulle.

When the squares tried to argue that such disruption was dangerous to the West, including being disruptive of national security, or as a fall-back that it was only possible in the West, the burst of reform behind the Iron Curtain beginning in January 1968 appeared to prove that “flower power” really was superior, that Mao had been wrong about political power growing from the barrel of a gun, and that in the Age of Aquarius peace would guide the planets and love would steer the stars.

The Soviet intervention put a fairly complete stop to all that chatter. It was tyrannical, brutal and brazenly deceitful. And as events continued to unfold in the West, including ousting Nixon over Watergate, it became clear to most sensible people that the two systems were not equivalent, the United States was not Amerika, and that protests only worked in societies that made a determined effort to respect them.

Radicals did not abandon the dream of revolutions in race relations, the economy, Western foreign policy, gender relations and elsewhere. Some of these ideas were better than others. But the debate over all of them was pulled back in a more sober and reasonable direction by the extraordinary contrast between the crushing of the Prague Spring and the continuing and widening debate over flaws in Western societies.

I am sorry Czechs and Slovaks had to pay such a high price. I wish peaceful transformation could have swept the East Bloc. But all too often the world is not like that and when it is not you need to notice it and act accordingly.