I grew up behind the Iron Curtain, in a Warsaw Pact country. We were taught that this is the great alliance of socialist countries banding together to counterbalance the evil imperialist NATO. Lead by the great and both technically and socially advanced USS. And in my childhood naivety, I really believed that the USSR is The Land Where Tomorrow Already Means Yesterday (“Země kde zítra již znamená včera”, a bonmot that was bandied about very often). I believed in USSR exceptionalism.
We were taught a lot of things about how evil NATO is and how good the Warsaw Pact is, but we were not told that the Warsaw Pact is possibly the only ostensibly defensive alliance in history that has never defended anyone from anything but attacked its own members instead – the occupation of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. I do not remember ever learning about that at school, but admittedly the regime fell apart at about the same time when we were reaching recent history in our curriculum.
Later on, when I learned about it, it was a revelation. Not an exceptionally sudden one, it did not come to me as an epiphany one sunny morning, but one that evolved and matured over the years as I absorbed new and new information about what NATO did and what Warsaw Pact did, but a revelation nevertheless. And not a nice one – the world superpowers are not divided into good guys and bad guys, they are divided only into bad guys whose badness depends on your vantage point.
One can justifiably show to various parts of the world, mostly in the Global South and in the Middle East, where the USA and NATO have done a lot of harm. There were coups instigated, democratically elected governments overthrown, countries unjustly invaded, and war crimes committed. The end result was invariably political chaos and instability from which none of the afflicted countries has fully recovered.
However, in central and eastern Europe NATO was not the bad guy. Here the bad guy was the USSR. People in Eastern Europe in general and in Ukraine specifically do not, on average, need much encouragement to not like Russia and like NATO. And they do exactly that, in fact. Using their own thinking, deciding in their own interest. NATO never harmed them. The USSR (Russia) did. Czechia, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – none of them needed to have their arms twisted to want to join NATO as security against Russia who never really ceased to be a threat and whose occupation forces have left just one generation ago – with scars from that occupation still being visible to those willing to look.
With the war in Ukraine, a lot of people in the comments at FtB are spending a lot of time bemoaning the evils of NATO and how it was NATO’s evil machinations that have caused the Ukrainian people to turn on their pro-russian president in 2014 and kick him out. But the EU, Russia, and the USA all have a political and financial stake in Ukraine, yet apparently only the USA and the EU have managed to persuade Ukrainians to want to ally with them. And why is that? It is not some unique evil capability that only CIA has that has persuaded the Ukrainian people to decide to want to join the EU and NATO. It is because Russia has harmed them. And now continues to harm them and tells, quite loudly, that it intends to continue to do so.
The right-wingers think the USA is exceptional, the Shining City on a Hill, unique, perfect in every way. That is daft. But to believe that every decision everywhere that aligns with the USA interests is always and only the result of some nefarious USA machinations is equally daft. It is American exceptionalism too, only turned inside out. If you consider yourself a leftist, really try to treat all people equally. Allow both pro- and against-USA-aligned actors to have their own agency.