the biggest thing that has happened in the world, in my life, in our
lives, is this:
By the grace of God, America won the Cold War. …
the world trusts us with power, and the world is right. They trust us
to be fair, and restrained. They trust us to be on the side of
decency. They trust us to do what’s right. …”
– US President George H. W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 28, 1992
I remember hearing this speech as it was given and the strangely unenthusiastic response to the declaration, “America won the Cold War.” We knew something was off, we just didn’t know what.
Bush also used the phrase “imperial Communism” in this speech. On such small distinctions rest the fates of nations. If we were fighting to stop the idea of communism: from each according to ability, to each according to need, we wouldn’t be able to say we were fighting for freedom, but against freedom. It was the aggression that we were fighting, the imperialism, the attacks on other countries and the exportation of weaponry to help a minority win so that they would be reliant on foreign troops and technology to acquire and maintain power. Yet that was exactly what we were doing as well!
In Angola, a dispute over power by opposing tribal leaders would have been carried out with knives, spears, and single-shot rifles, but the United States, Cuba, and the Soviet Union weighed in and added modern weapons: machine guns and land mines. When an election was held and our guy lost by significant margins, he took our machine guns and our land mines and turned outlaw, terrorizing his homeland for years. Furthermore, this conflict sparked and supported similar wars throughout Africa.
In Cuba, we strongly supported the dictator, Fulgencio Batista, but when Fidel Castro ousted him, we rebuffed any and all attempts by the new Cuban leader to reach an agreement. I think more than anything, U.S. politics wouldn’t allow it. Too many powerful people had too many ties to the old neo-colonial regime. This, in turn, led to Cuba participating in many Cold War conflicts throughout Africa and South America, adding additional carnage.
In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, fearing aggression from traditional enemy and former conqueror, China, as well as the new threat, the United States, went to France to secure an air defense system for Hanoi. When that mission failed, he turned to the Soviet Union and received a state-of-the-art air defense missile system and about 100 technicians. In our eyes, this made him a “Communist.” President Eisenhower was persuaded to start sending a few “advisers” and a lot of modern weaponry to support the “anticommunists.” Once we had opted in, we believed our own rhetoric.
You can see how important the labels were. Had we called Hanoi “anti-colonialists” (the same people opposed a succession of occupiers) or “freedom fighters” (Vietnam is democratic and independent) or even “anticommunists,” (since they opposed the Cold War efforts of Communist China as well), we would have known right away that we were fighting on the wrong side of the war. Instead, we called them “Communists”, though I don’t think most Vietnamese were or are. As it turned out, we had to wait until three million Vietnamese were killed and 58,000 of our own, until we had to leave and the Chinese invaded, to see that the Hanoi government had been opposed to all invaders and occupiers and was now on our side of the Cold War.
When the Cold War ended, it was an easy transition for our “enemies” to morph into “preferred trading partners.” Since it was all veneer and illusion, it happened very quickly. The Soviet Union freed much of the Eastern European territory she had acquired in World War II as our ally but kept her colonial aspirations alive in the Asian sectors of the former Soviet Union. Russia has patterned her foreign policies after the United States model where ostensibly “independent” governments are installed and protected.
We were not fighting the Soviets or the Chinese during the Cold War. The closest we got to war with another superpower was the Cuban Missile Crisis where they were putting missiles 90 miles from Florida. Had we developed an effective anti-missile system, we would have welcomed the escalation. Unfortunately, having been part of NORAD, I know that the only effective deterrent to nuclear ICBMs is a ban against them, a solution unacceptable to billionaire “defense” contractors calling the shots behind the scenes. So, for a week, there was a direct confrontation.
We refused to sign SALT II, not because it wasn’t a good thing, but because it would slow the military-industrial gravy train. I was part of this boondoggle in charge of a bunch of nuclear warheads that cost millions to build and maintain and were a greater threat to the unsuspecting farmers next door than to any ICBM or well-informed enemy bomber pilot. Our weapons were more likely to be hijacked and used to extort a major city than to stop hostile activities.
One needs to fully understand that the Cold War wasn’t rational. It was an extension of the activities of the House Unamerican Activities Committee, where we saw bogeymen everywhere and called all kinds of people “communists” when their agenda didn’t exactly match our own. The exercise created extraordinary political power, massive wartime profits and unprecedented national debt in what would otherwise have been peacetime.
Even before “ending” the Cold War, Bush managed to entice Iraq into invading our neo-colony, Kuwait, by sending our ambassador to tell him that we were neutral in the conflict. We wanted half a million servicemen in Saudi Arabia! We wanted the conflict. We wanted war.
This lust for war and conflict wasn’t just our leadership and their friends and business associates in the defense industries. When the Twin Towers were destroyed by a small group of suicide terrorists, our response wasn’t an international hunt for those supporting the perpetrators; it was an irrational and unwarranted attack on a country completely uninvolved in the incident: Iraq. About 75% of our citizens and 99% of our Senators supported this illogical, immoral, unethical, and ineffective1 response.
The reason for this is quite simple: we’re loyal citizens. And we’ve been taught from infancy that violence will fix whatever is wrong in the world. So violence is the answer. It didn’t work – hell, it rarely if ever does, but we believe in it anyway. That’s why we armed an illegal, unrepresentative government in the newly created “republic” of South Vietnam even though we knew it wasn’t really a republic. Still, they were fighting the “enemy,” so they’re on “our” side.
Thinking too deeply about such things gets us confused. We don’t like being confused, so we rely on simplistic and generally misleading labels.
The end of World War II saw a race between the US and Russia for colonial territory. We took Japan and the Middle East, Western Germany, and (as a special protectorate) the entire British Empire, now a “Commonwealth.” We also took South Korea. They took North Korea, Eastern Europe, and all other nearby territories they could lay their hands on. They wanted to take China and the rest of Korea. So did we. They wanted Afghanistan. So did we. They lusted after colonies and dependent states wherever they could find them. So did we.
The Cold War allowed both sides to expand their areas of economic, military, and political influence. It also allowed massive military expenditures on both sides of the ostensible “conflict.” The winners: billionaire businessmen, de facto emperors, and the people who cooperated or collaborated with them. The losers: all involved Third World countries, the average taxpayer and, of course, the millions of dead, wounded, widowed, orphaned or deranged people it affected directly.
It is important to see the Cold War clearly, as a war for money, power, and control by both sides with the Third World caught in the middle fighting sometimes for the same things themselves and sometimes fighting for self-determination, for the right to run their own country, to keep from having their families’ farms taxed out from under them by foreign laws enforced by foreign armies.
The Cold War was an atrocity committed by young men conscripted into service by their countries for the sole benefit of the already wealthy and powerful on both sides. It was, from the start, dishonest, unethical and immoral. The “free fire zones” created in rural South Vietnam were the United States’ equivalent of Hitler’s concentration camps, a zone where the civilian population was systematically brutalized and murdered because they resisted foreign occupation and control.
Had you spent your entire life growing crops and raising animals on your great-grandfather’s farm, would you leave it to wither and die because a foreign soldier demanded it?
Not one of the succession of dictators we supported in South Vietnam was elected or would have been elected in this temporary subdivision of a country almost five millennia old. South Vietnam was a division created by France as a last-ditch effort to legitimize their appointed leadership in the colony and to make a second withdrawal easier. Ho Chi Minh was a communist, but he was primarily a nationalist and might have been the likely winner of a fair election in South Vietnam. His lifelong opposition was to foreign occupation and control, including the Communists.
We were not fighting for freedom or democracy. We were not fighting to stop the spread of Communism, though we thought we were. We were fighting because we were naïve and uninformed and we wanted to stay that way. We were fighting because it made us feel powerful and in control and somehow virtuous. Like the Nazis of Germany, we saluted our flag and listened to our speeches and were carried away by the belief in ourselves, our causes, and our good intentions which, though undoubtedly heartfelt, never created (or could have created) the benefits they promised.
President George H. W. Bush ended his historical State of the Union address with a declaration of our trustworthiness, our ability to do the right thing, our qualifications for being the world’s only superpower. Obviously, I don’t agree with his assessment. I count the Cold War as a prolonged series of atrocities in the Third World committed because of greed, grandiosity, and gullibility.
Furthermore, I hold us, the American voters, directly responsible. When we rejected responsible leaders such as Jimmy Carter and instead chose people such as Ronald Reagan who told us vacuous lies but what we wanted to hear, who secretly and illegally funded reactionary elements against legitimate elections in Central America2; when we refused to be educated to the truth and demonized the truth-tellers such as Jane Fonda, we cannot blame others for the results.
We didn’t learn from our mistakes, either. A generation or two after the debacle in Vietnam, we embroiled ourselves in Iraq with the same disastrous results – both for them and for us, the voters, the servicemen, and the taxpayers.
Ignorance isn’t an excuse when the result is millions of deaths and millions of lives permanently ruined. This isn’t a mistake we can wave away with a simple “I’m sorry” or a visit to our pastor or priest. This is murder and mayhem on a global scale for the purpose of profit and power. This is the United States’ Holocaust. And, in a slightly altered form, it is still going on and we are still underwriting it.
Today, if you ask an American how many people were killed in the Cold War, they will start adding US and Soviet soldiers and spies, a miniscule percentage of the actual casualties. We didn’t see the real casualties, the millions of people in the Third World whom we brutalized and helped kill.
This mayhem wasn’t, as is generally reported, in defense of freedom but in support of radical or reactionary minority elements. We subverted self-rule and created a dependence on our guns, ammunition, and logistic support. We did this because it was extremely profitable to take from the taxpayers and give to the billionaire barons of industry and because the average American didn’t give a damn about foreign casualties, foreign freedoms, or foreign infrastructure. Whenever a leader waved the flag and cited a contrived or imaginary threat, our knee-jerk reaction was fanatic loyalty.
The hard, incontrovertible facts show quite clearly that George H. W. Bush was lying through his teeth when he proclaimed the United States trustworthy, when he said we would do what’s right, when he vowed to be legitimate defenders of human rights and liberties.
We have rarely been trustworthy. As a society, our only consistent goal is profit. Peace, unfortunately, isn’t as profitable as war. However, peace provides sustained and sustainable profit, not short term windfalls where money from taxpayers flows rapidly into the pockets of a few through destructive and malicious means. We know we can’t keep doing this.
After the Second World War, we rebuilt our former enemies, Japan and Germany and we did it while our middle class thrived. We can do similar things elsewhere if we can restrain our greed and our greedy.
1Suicide terrorism, it turns out, is caused by a country being occupied by foreign troops. Our “solution” to terrorism was guaranteed to exacerbate the problem, as, indeed, it did.
2Look up Nicaragua, the Samosas, and the Iran Contra fiasco. I still wonder if Reagan didn’t secretly negotiate to have the return of Iran hostages delayed until the day he was sworn in. Ronald Reagan wasn’t the “good guy” he portrayed in movies. Close advisers were convicted of treasonous felonies he most likely authorized.
©David N. Dodson, 2015, Phoenix, AZ