If you harbored any doubts, dismiss them. It is now an utter certainty: The Cold War is over.
The Committee for the Free World, the last citadel of old-time Cold Warriors, is folding its tents. The international organization of anti-communist intellectuals has announced it will shut down for good Dec. 31.
The group does not credit itself entirely for the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. But it does not feign modesty, either. In a letter mailed this week to the group's supporters, Midge Decter, the organization's executive director, declared that they could take satisfaction in a job well done.
"Except in certain enclaves of absurdity and irrelevance, such as the universities and the Public Broadcasting System," she wrote, "virtually no one in the world believes any more that there is a system preferable to ours: more benign, more equitable, more productive."
"Another way many people liked to refer to what we were doing was waging 'a battle of ideas,' " the letter said. "That battle, at least among serious people, is now over. We have won it."
In an essay in the last issue of the group's newsletter, Decter took a parting shot at her radical adversaries, saying "it is the sight of these stricken, homeless orphans of the Left that convinces us that our work in this Committee has been successfully concluded."
Political organizations come and go, of course, but the disbanding of the Committee for the Free World is a milestone of sorts. Among the many conservative groups, few so distilled the essense of neo-conservative revolt against liberalism. The group built no missiles, lobbed no grenades, but fired off thousands of words at intellectuals and journalists whom it regarded as friends -- witting or unwitting -- of the enemy.
The names that adorned its masthead correlated almost perfectly with the world of neo-conservative journalism: They included Decter's husband, Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary; Melvin J. Lasky, the editor of Encounter; Irving Kristol, the editor of the Public Interest; Hilton Kramer, the editor of the New Criterion; William Barrett, editor of Partisan Review; and Jean-Claude Cassanova, editor of the French magazine Commentaire.
"We were a modest group of scribblers who looked around and felt we had some cultural clout," Decter said in an interview yesterday. She was careful to apportion most of the credit for communism's collapse to brave dissidents in Eastern Europe.
The committee had its roots in one of the classic Cold War institutions, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which started a slew of publications around the world but ran into controversy in the '60s when it became public that its intellectual endeavors had been financed by the CIA. Decter noted that "not a penny" of Free World money came from government sources.
If there was one thing that united all these folks, it was the perception that the intellectual world was unremittingly hostile to America, American ideas and American values. In its initial manifesto, released in 1981, the organization bemoaned "the climate of confusion and complacency, apathy and self-denigration, that has done so much to weaken the Western democracies."
As recently as last winter, the organization still saw enemies lurking. Decter wrote to her supporters about the lefties, in universities and elsewhere, who regularly joined the "chorus of disaffection toward their own country and its political and social institutions."
From the point of view of the committee's long-term survival, the bad news was that the bad news was wrong. Decter now acknowledges that the old communist enemy had less staying power than the committee's members might once have thought. But she argues that the intellectual work of the committee's supporters helped dig Bolshevism's grave.
"The Poles were reading our magazines and they were getting their intellectual strength from us. So were the Czechs," she said. "These things matter. How much do these things matter I can't say. But as to whether they matter, they certainly do."
The early signs of the breakup of the organization's family came at a conference last spring on the theme "Does 'the West' Still Exist?" During the meeting, longtime allies like Podhoretz and former U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick sparred fiercely over whether the rise of glasnost and perestroika really meant that the anti-communist outriders could now relax a bit.
After Frank Gaffney, director of the Center for Security Policy, enumerated all the reasons why American still needed to fear Soviet power, Kristol remarked acidly: "I must say, listening to Frank Gaffney, who is a very, very shrewd and fine analyst, I thought I was listening to someone in a time warp." When the intellectual architects of Cold War thinking can't agree there's a Cold War anymore, how can the battle go on?
Even without the Cold War, Decter still thinks that there are dragons to slay, especially among intellectuals. She expects to keep busy by turning her attention to what she sees as liberal travesties within the education system, such as curricula based on theories of "self-esteem," and attacks on Western civilization.
The main threat now, she thinks, comes from intellectuals whose stock in trade is attacking "those terrible dead white European males who have produced this monstrosity called Western culture."
And though the battle against the totalitarian temptation, Western complacency, American self-hatred, radical chic, moral equivalence, the blame-America-first crew and the wallowing-in-guilt crowd will be missed, Decter said she's quite happy to be done with the whole thing.
"It's time to say: We've won, goodbye."