Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cold War Revisionism

If you think you know the origins of the Cold War and/or the true intentions of the USSR, please take a moment to consider this: the Cold War did not have to happen and was a surprise to many when it did happen; Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union did not want a Cold War; based on his lingering fear of Germany, Stalin wanted his Grand Alliance with the United States and Great Britain to stand up over time; and, based on its domination of, and economic demands at, the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944, the United States was the true aggressor during the forty-year expanse of the Cold War.

Such were the theses floated about during CSUS history professor Arthur Williamson's talk on the Cold War Wednesday night in the Sacramento Room. These not often considered - even refreshing - ideas comprised the engine that drove the talk.

Knowing what most of us know from our Cold War experiences, it's difficult to think of the conflict as anything other than a battle of ideologies and a series of bitter proxy wars. However, with the exception of Great Britain, neither the United State or the Soviet Union possessed empires of any great size; meaning, neither state was particularly aggressive. What's more, each member of this Grand Alliance venerated the rights of man and the element of equality, values that speak to Sir Thomas More's Utopia. So much in common and so much to gain together.

The center did not hold, however, and once parties and coalitions representing communism in France and similar groups representing laissez-fare principles in Poland are outlawed, the dominoes started to fall. At Bretton Woods, the establishment of the IMF and the World Bank, placed the United States in the domineering position vis-a-vis world finances, prompting the Angst of a certain non-signatory in the Soviet Union. So, based on this, who was the true bully?

Were Soviet advances into Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia nothing more than responses to Yankee aggression? After all, Ho Chi Minh chose to be a communist of his own free will years before North Vietnam ever existed. Is it too outlandish to presume that Ho - although greatly aided by Moscow - would have risen to power regardless of the existence of a Soviet Union. With the fall of the pre-War colonial paradigm, inigenous populations had the freedom of choice.

Certainly, 30 million Soviets had given their lives for Mother Russia and the non-Fascist world. Communism bore the brunt of the fight and 'saved the world.' It should not be surprising then that many throughout the world and third-world might embrace the Soviet Union and her egalaterian ideals. In the end, were the Cold War and the Truman Doctrine nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy for a military-commerical-industrial complex wanting the stretch its legs into undeveloped markets? Some say...yes.

A final thought relates to who actually won the Cold War. The world of the late twentieth-century has lost its balance of power and now we live in a reality of asymetric threats. The military-industrial-complex that 'Ike' spoke so forbodingly of is gone and where have the defense jobs migrated? The Euro is growing increasingly stronger and the Dollar is ebbing away. Some even argue that the country' sense of civic and political efficacy is dying a slow death. So go the spoils of victory.

This is not a library endorsement of the thesis, merely a presentation of a viewpoint not commonly considered and one proffered in the February 13 presentation.

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