And all America watched, amazed and disbelieving. For half a century they had feared that Communist success in one country would lead to communism infecting neighboring states until an entire region might topple into tyranny, like so many dominoes. Now they witnessed the domino theory in reverse; East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Rumania - each embraced liberty, and the Soviet empire ended. The Cold War closed not with Death hewing his sickle through a bomb-ravaged landscape but by people wielding hammers against a symbol of their oppression.
In its wake the collapsed Soviet state left a power vacuum that others rushed to fill. For some, like Yugoslavia, the issues that burned for centuries had been suppressed by Cold War constraints and soon burst forth. For others, like India and Europe, the absence of a Soviet Union offered opportunity to compete for global leadership.
America, however, emerged the lone superpower. With alliances, trading partners, and a military stretched worldwide, no country had ever held such global sway. But there was to be no Pax Americanus. A war with Iraq in 1991 signaled a new challenge. As quickly as Americans were reacquainted with the Persian Gulf, some analysts were warning of a growing threat from Islamic extremists. On February 26, 1993 jhihadists attempted to bring down the World Trade Center building in New York City, using a truck bomb. On September 11, 2001 they achieved their goal using hijacked airplanes.
Facing a future rife with uncertainty and violence, many have looked with nostalgia on the seemingly serene days that were the Cold War. But such attitudes overlook the millions who died at the hands of a totalitarian state, millions more whose freedom of conscience was sacrificed in the frozen gulags and state prisons, and the fear not of invasion from the shores but of missiles from the skies. The ending of the Cold War brought to a close a century of struggle between state-controlled totalitarianism and liberty. Liberty won. And, as President Gerald Ford reminded the nation in 1976, on the occasion of its two-hundredth birthday and in the midst of the Cold War, “Freedom is always worth fighting for, and Liberty ultimately belongs to those willing to suffer for it.”