Thursday, June 12, 2014

LANDJUT campaign background: 1980

Forgive me if I give a bit of a history lesson, but it's unavoidable in order to set up the situation in which my campaign will take place. It's the history professor in me. I can't help myself. This blog entry deals strictly with real historical facts.

During the course of 1980, Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union, was watching three unfolding events and growing increasingly nervous. First, the absolute refusal of Afghans to quietly accept Soviet rule following the December 1979 invasion. 
Second, the steady increase of unrest associated with the Solidarity movement in Poland.
And finally, Ronald Reagan's run for, and the growing likelihood of his winning, the American Presidency.
Soviet intervention in Afghanistan is too lengthy and complex a subject to cover here, so this will be the Cliff's Notes version. In 1978, an agrarian revolution swept a pro-Communist government into power in Kabul. A "friendship" pact was immediately signed with the Soviet Union, who then began sending "advisors to assist" the Afghan government in controlling the internal unrest that the country's revolution had provoked. By late 1979, large numbers of Afghans were openly resisting the central government and a crisis was looming. To prop up the puppet regime in Kabul, the Soviet 40th Army was sent in to "protect the Afghan people." An armed insurgency, supplied and funded by the West, as well as by Iran, quickly blossomed and required the participation of ever larger numbers of Soviet troops. 

From the Soviet prospective, the most immediately threatening of the three issues was the Solidarity movement in Poland, which seemed to defy all efforts by the Polish government to quell the unrest. In 1976, rising food prices and wage freezes had led to demonstrations in several Polish cities. By the late summer of 1980, the clandestine Solidarity labor union had burst out into the open at the giant Gdansk Shipyard and by the end of the year, it would have a membership of almost 10 million. What began as a protest against high prices and low wages soon began to turn into a general anti-Communist opposition movement. By the end of the summer, at Soviet "urging", the Polish government of Edward Gierek had been replaced (for being too "soft") by that of Stanisław Kania, who would also soon prove to be far too conciliatory for Soviet tastes. In the fall of 1980, at the Soviet Union's insistance, the Warsaw Pact held the largest military exercise in its history, called Soyuz 80, in an effort to show the Polish people and government that the growing dissent would not be tolerated for long, just as had been done with East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968. However, the end of the year saw not a resolution of this issue, but rather a continuing escalation of it, due in no small part to the United States, which was secretly funding the Solidarity movement to the tune of about $50 million. 

And lastly, 1980 was an American Presidential election year. By the late spring, it was clear that the Republican candidate would be Ronald Reagan, who was a staunch conservative and widely perceived as a "hawk" and not a "dove". America in the late 1970's and into 1980 was in the midst of what incumbent President Jimmy Carter called a "crisis of confidence". The loss of the Vietnam War, a strong economic downturn, increasing petroleum prices (which drove up the price of everything else), giving back the Panama Canal, and the seizure of the US Embassy and its staff in Tehran, along with the botched rescue effort, had all combined to give America the perception that it was losing its primacy in the world. New blood was wanted. A leader who would take charge, take no crap on the world stage, and lead America back to greatness. The Soviet leadership preferred dealing with Carter, whom they perceived to be weak and easily buffaloed. Reagan had already made it unmistakably clear that if he won, there would be no more Mr. Nice Guy in Washington. Reagan left no doubt that the Soviet Union would be actively thwarted in every way possible. Brezhnev felt that a Reagan win would be an open threat to the Soviet Union. When Reagan won by an overwhelming landslide on November 4th, the Politburo's worst nightmare seemed to be coming true. 

And I, having just graduated high school at the beginning of June, and at the strident insistence of my father, spent the next four and a half months trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. On October 31, 1980, I joined the US Army:
(Fresh out of basic training and headed for AIT. Look at those Army-issue BCG's. Someone should've just shot me!!). 

As 1981 began, a tense world situation was rapidly slipping towards catastrophe....


  1. Sweden, October 1980. I was in 2nd grade. Every adult I knew had a war-time placement in the army (if under 47), Home Guard (if older) or the civil defense if a specialist like my paramedic dad. During National Service you were told straight up that your job was to be a speed-bump for the WP hordes to slow them down enough to give NATO a foothold.
    I will follow this with interest!

    1. Thank you Thomas. I'm glad you enjoy what I write