Is the concept of cold war an expression of self-damaging Euro-American egocentrism?

    By Tarek Ali Hassan
    Monday, November 04, 2002

In the US and the West we automatically speak of the cold war, 1945-1991.

To the millions in the non euro-american world it has been the longest, bloodiest, and most devastating war in history. America and the West need to understand that in depth, in order to forstall and causally neutralise mounting negative perceptions in many devastated societies that crave understanding and help to heal, rebuild and develop

Is the concept of cold war an expression of self-damaging Euro-American egocentrism?

By Tarek Ali Hassan

In the US and the West even the former Soviet Union, everyone automatically speaks of the cold war, 1945-1991. The concept has become a universal automatism.

Yet, the continued reference to the great war of 1945 - 1991 as the cold war is a reminder that in the minds of the leading powers of the world, even
in the mind of many intellectuals and historians in the West,
the people of the south, especially when they belong to other cultures or religions, do not really register or count in a comparable way. To the “others” in the South the cold war was the hottest and, in human terms, the most costly war in man's history.

Is the very concept of the “cold war” a loud diagnostic sign of an injurious double standards syndrome? Or is it an expression of deep self-defeating egocentrism? Is it perhaps an automatic unconscious egocentrism and racism in peoples who like to think of themselves as upholders of freedom and democracy and examples of fairness, justice and anti-racist even handedness. Being a habitual automatic and unconscious phenomenon, perhaps the Euro-American Judeo-Christian Worlds most guilty of this conceptual aberration, would therefore willingly try to correct this aberration once they are made aware of it. The history of the real Third World War needs to be written and understood before we plunge ourselves and the world in more wars and more violence.

At this critical juncture, we all need to understand the reality of the Third World War in order to understand the wounds, the disruptions, the ruin and the continued after effects of the hot part of the cold war.

The Third World War, in human, social and economic terms, has been the costliest war in human history. It has been a veritable holocaust. The understanding of how it can be simply dismissed as the cold war is a subject of utmost interest and importance to all of us and certainly to students of sociology, international relations and relations between races, cultures and disparate socio-political entities.

Normally the affected peoples deserve -by precedent- compensation and support for effective restitution and rehabilitation. A sort of a Marshall plan or a German Jewish reparations scheme for the victim peoples of the cold/hot war 1945 -1991.

In the South, outside the arena of EuroAmerican-centrism, the cold war was in every way one of the bloodiest, and most costly and long hot wars in human history. It lasted forty five years from 1945 to 1991, dovetailing into the lesser horrors of the second world war. The adverse effects and after-shocks are still unleashing themselves on the inhabitants outside Euro-America. ( Study casualty statistics in all the nations and groups of nations that became an arena for the cold/hot war confrontations. Study in particular the high percentage of casualties in non-combatants, civilians, women, children and the elderly. Study also the numbers of refugees and displaced persons and detainees without trial sometimes for the duration of their effective lifetime. The staggering figures surpass those for the first and second world wars put together) The terrible journey goes from Greece to Iran to Korea to Cambodia to Vietnam to Indonesia to the Middle East to Guatemala to all of South America Chile, Argentina and Africa. I suppose many would say all for the good cause of freedom and security of the civilised West and stopping the epidemic of communism. How many in the Euro-American West have contemplated how it all looked from the OTHER side?

Millions of innocents killed or uprooted; many social, political and ecologically balanced life systems were completely disrupted. As the Western and Eastern blocks struggled over zones of influence and strategic advantages, each pouring expensive and sophisticated arms into the interface areas as the dynamics of the hot confrontations in the south unfolded, millions were suffering an unprecedented and complex holocaust ignored.

The voices, suffering, frustrations, dreams and tragedies of the (other) peoples involved were largely not heard. There was no attempt to hear that voice or to discover it by the power-hungry regimes instituted to harness their own people into the Western block camp or into the eastern block camp. There was no attempt to listen by the super-power in whose sphere of influence the particular Southern Hemisphere people had been placed. There was very little joy from the International community representative bodies whose channels of communication with the relevant voices remained incomplete. For the US and the Western block since 1945, the priorities were simple and clear; contain communism and protect the state of Israel! All other considerations were subservient to this highest priority of containing communism. Dictators and oppressive military and quasi-military regimes were Okayed and fully supported if they were anti-Communist.

It was a case of war emergency there was no space, for niceties like self-determination, democracy and human rights.

But how about AFTER the cold war was lost and won? Has a non-participatory world order where fear rules, non-representative governments survive by great powers’ endorsement. Are we then surprised that mistrust towards the great powers is therefore the norm, an accepted ingrained pattern? I certainly hope this mistrust can be transcended, but there is work to be done to surmount this legacy of the cold-hot war.

What after the anti-Communist hysteria is over?
What after the great Sadat peace initiative and the acceptance by the Arab nations of co-existence with Israel? A major development that should be cemented and built on?!

To contain communism at any price regardless of the interest of the weak and the different was the guiding principle of US and Western block policy. As was the Eastern block policy a mirror image of the same attitude i.e. gain points in the global power struggle with complete disregard to the real interests of the peoples of the zone-of-influence-interface countries.

Arms were poured into interface areas. Power hungry adventurers mostly from the petty military ranks were encouraged and supported to set up dictatorships of one revolutionary description or another. Religious fundamentalism and fanaticism was condoned, encouraged and supported by the West as an excellent barrier against communism. The big mess was all justifiable as part of the fight against communism which had to be contained and destroyed. From the other side it was all justified in the cause of the fight against capitalism which had to be contained and destroyed. What now?

It is important not to cast a blind eye to this recent history, because it underlines that inspite of all easy pretense to the contrary, we have a long way to go towards validating a new belief in plurality and in the inalienable right to human rights of those millions of (others) so ruthlessly entangled in the big superpower struggle of the great war of 1945-1991.

A concerted policy of rehabilitation, restitution, compensation and support is imperative. To those who find the argument in this article far fetched it is informative to analyse the human death and devastation data during the hot/cold war in Asia, in the middle east, in Ethiopia, Uganda, Zaire, in Angola, in Rwanda, in Iran, in Afghanistan, in Cambodia, in Indonesia, in South and Central America, amongst the military and civilian victims of all ages and social strata not only in the form of casualties and displaced persons. A subtle untold damage to these communities was being perpetrated in the form of an enforced abortion and modification of normal socio-political dynamics conducive of natural growth and development etc. Syndromes of development-arrest secondary to variations of involvement in the cold/hot war front with massive influx of modern arms to non-modern communities are worthy of deep study.

We need to reconstruct the history of that Great War 1945 - 1991 and assess the real losses inflicted on its silent and voiceless and sometimes unsuspecting victims.

It is unfair to all and certainly to the US to cast a convenient blind eye to that history of social devastation and (collateral damage) just because the millions involved are unable to communicate in a manner coherent to Western ears the depth and gravity of the Holocaust they have been subject to.

It is a devastation that will not just vanish and it is unfair to have the syndrome of accumulated hurt and anger, as the gap between privileged and underprivileged widens, erupt periodically into anti-US and anti-western sentiment or actions regardless of present commitment and honest aspirations for a just and pluralistic global peace in the future. Past hurt and damage must be understood and resolved in order to build present and future on a sound basis.

To turn into reality the declaration of human rights and to validate in action the belief in pluralism may be a difficult and expensive process at all levels. A dispassionate farsighted analysis will show that in the end it is our least costly and most effective road to peace and security.

The hot/cold war has left an enormous devastation and mess in the South. It is in the North’s interest to address that mess effectively whatever the cost in a way that is much deeper than to institute non-representative friendly regimes that chronically fail to identify or address the far reaching problems of social devastation and of modern arms in non-modern societies


  home    articles    top