WASHINGTON — Washington. -- After more than 40 years as a dedicated anti-communist, I felt tears in my eyes when I watched the red flag of the Soviet Union lowered from its place above the Kremlin.
It's not that I'm worried about losing business, as an arms industry executive or a right-wing politician might be. I am sad for what so many people suffered so needlessly, for so long, beneath that red banner.
I want to weep for Leonid Vladimirovich Lovtsov, a friend with whom I spent hundreds of hours exploring Moscow and places beyond, a man who knew the ins and outs of Soviet life so well that my family never went without anything it needed -- or wanted -- as long as he was with us.
Less than two years ago, he visited this country for the first time. He was impressed, but less able to appreciate the wonders we take for granted than he would have been when we worked together. He suffers now from Parkinson's disease, and because Soviet medicine has been unable to help him, he depends on medicine sent regularly by his friends in America.
I am sad for Zinaida Alfredovna Yakoby, who sat across a desk from me for three years without disclosing a single thought that differed in any way from whatever the party line was in Pravda that day. She monitored the Soviet press and radio, and did her best to defend their twists and turns against my taunting questions.
That she knew better, I am certain. She was Jewish and an intellectual, in a time and place where both qualities were quietly persecuted. She also was a realist, who had lived a long time, and she had better reason than I to assume that whatever was said in that office was being heard by others.
My heart mourns for Dusya, whose last name I am ashamed to admit I have momentarily forgotten, these 30 years later. She was the picture of rosy-cheeked peasant strength, the living denial of some people's myths about how Russians are lazy and slovenly. Her loyalty and the love between her and my children were beyond price.
I understand that Dusya has died, much too young. I wonder if it were some illness that could have been treated if she were here, or if routine medical care in Moscow had entered the 20th century.
As the red flag dropped, I felt for Vladimir Vashedchenko, Vadim Biryukov, Anatoly Krasovsky, Vitaly Petrusenko -- for all the Soviet journalists I knew who labored for decades in the service of an immense lie. Surely they understood its fraudulence even better than we did. In the pit of cold war, it was hard to sympathize with them, but there were moments when they gave me hints of what was in their minds. Most of the time, I could see it in their eyes.
These were among my friends, in an era when personal friendship between Soviet citizens and American correspondents was discouraged, even punished. I am sure that some of them were assigned by the KGB to feel out my politics, to watch my contacts with other Russians. But organized friendship, under the heading of cultural relations, was eagerly encouraged. People managed to convert one kind into the other.
More than for these, my friends, I want to weep for the millions I never met, but knew.
For longer than my lifetime, they suffered. They, more than any other people, more than any world leader, turned back and crushed the vast evil of Hitlerism. For their heroism, before and after the war they were squashed, starved, regimented, lied to. Yet they stood up -- in the trenches, in prison camps, factories and bread lines.
After three-quarters of a century, the red banner and its false promises are gone. It leaves behind chaos and misery. In the great expanse of the former Soviet Union, there is indeed modern technology. But it has served the state, not the people. In fundamental ways, they are hardly better off than at the 1917 revolution.
If the United States should suddenly dissolve tomorrow, its heritage would be democracy -- not only the philosophy of freedom and self-government, but more than two centuries of proof that those ideals can work. The Soviet Union passes on a clear warning of what does not work. The grandiose dream of communism is proven to be the greatest fraud in human history, and its vestiges survive only where they are upheld by force.
Now that it is gone, I am sad not only for those poor people and their years of pain, but for the suffering that awaits them, in the darkness close ahead.