WORLD’s May 18 issue includes an interview with magazine editor/business leader Steve Forbes. Here’s some of what we didn’t have room for in the magazine.
The Cold War period seems to today’s students almost like medieval times. What can you tell them about what it was like? Well, when I was growing up, it was a given that our adversarial contest with the Soviet Union was a part of life. If it hadn’t been for nuclear weapons, we probably would have had a hot conflict, but the prospect of mutual annihilation made the competition continuing in other ways. Ronald Reagan was one of the few, the only serious leader in the U.S., who believed you could bring this thing to a conclusion. You read the history of Soviet communism, and communism in general, and see how much blood was shed because of those totalitarian systems: hundreds of millions of people killed, hundreds of millions more had their lives blighted and destroyed and stunted. And to think it could end with a whimper, and not what we had at the end of World War II, where it was just massive bloodshed before Nazism was brought down.
In 1985 President Reagan made you head of the Board of International Broadcasting, which was responsible for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, both important in the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe and the demise of the Soviet Union. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty showed the power of ideas. The budget of those two radios was a rounding error in Washington, yet we had to fight all the time for survival. The whole point of radio broadcasting was to break the information monopoly of the totalitarian governments. When communists wanted to move in on a country, they found it very important to control radio, to control what outside information you could get. They genuinely believed for a while that if they could control that, they could remold people. They could remake human nature. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broke that monopoly of information.
And let people know others were also battling … We had to overcome jamming, we had to overcome some of the crazy things our own broadcasters would do from time to time, but our radio gave people the feeling they were not alone. That is critical when you fight something evil, seeing you’re not alone, because if you feel you’re alone, it’s much easier to break you down and discourage you and destroy your morale.
The power of ideas? Ideas matter. They are the lenses through which you see the world. And if you get the ideas right, then ultimately policy will follow, personnel will follow, and what seemed the new and unusual becomes passé and conventional wisdom.