Here are some of the notes I’ve been taking on the Cold War. My sources, not all of which I’ve referenced here, include Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes, Odd Arne Westad’s The Global Cold War and, of course, the Norton.
Notes on the Cold War
45 years from the end of WWII with the atomic bombing of Japan, and the fall of the USSR. We can divide this period into two halves on either side of the 1970s.
There are grounds for deeming the Cold War a WWIII given the level of violence it witnessed and with reference to Hobbes: “War consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting: gut in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is suffiently known.”
It might be hard to understand just how terrifying the prospect of nuclear annihilation was for those who came of age during the Cold War. Yet, on the other hand, the Cold War, despite causing probably 20 million deaths in the 3rd World, can be imagined as two massive sheets of ice in the North Atlantic pressing against one another, locked together. The line dividing “East” from “West” had been largely drawn in the last two years of WWII at Yalta and other conferences between the Allies and reflected the fact that the Red Army was indispensable to victory. The world situation was largely stable until the 1970s. This stability would hold even in open conflicts such as the Korean War. The US was well aware that perhaps as many as 150 “Chinese” pilots were in fact Soviets. The notion of “rolling back” communism globally was a dead letter by 1953, more a matter for US domestic consumption than anything else. The fierce anti-communism of the Cold War were, of course, very useful in national politicking.
The rise of the REagan Right in the United States in the 1980s was in large measure dependent on increasing tensions of the 2nd Cold War. Important to note that Reagan’s administration featured a younger generation of foreign policy wonks who identified as neo-conservative. Many of the same figures would be tapped to serve by the BUsh 43 admin. and leave a distinct mark on his 8 year presidency.
Without getting ahead of ourselves, we can simply note that the 1980s were a very bad time for 3rd world countries vis a vis US anti-communism, particularly in Latin America. Though US interventions in the region began well before WWII, it was in the late 70s that the US began to actively support terrorist “freedom fighter” groups such as the Contras in Nicaragua.
From the Norton:
Soviets looking to establish a buffer zone around Russia at the end of WWII.
US the world’s pre-eminent power after WWII. Establishing bases overseas. Economic reconstruction. Soviets don’t join IMF, which becomes a US led org, as does the World Bank.
“Marxist-Leninist ideology”– for those interested, this marks what some have called the “application” of Karl Marx’s thought, though it’s important to note that when theory goes into practice there is always some degree of transformation of the latter.
Truman sets the tone for CW diplomacy. Tough, highly inflated rhetoric, uncompromising. Origins of CW? As early as the revolution.
The Truman Doctrine: “I believe that it must be the policy of the US to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Which of course could apply to any dictatorship allied to the US.
We also pretended to take a quiz on Monday, which ran as follows:
What was containment?
What two events shook the US political establishment in 1949?
Define three of the following terms/phrases:
In the course of discussing these concepts of necessity we invoked others, such as:
“the National Security State”
Mutually Assured Destruction