History Part I: The Rise and Fall of the Cold War [13]

The end of World War II marks the beginning of American global power. Britain and France, prior to World War II, were the big dogs in town. But the war left both nations and much of Europe in general destroyed. This allowed the U.S. to step up to the plate and claim super power status. Bailing out the Brits and French meant that they owed us. Now we all know that we didn’t enter the war to specifically help them. No way, we weren’t stupid. We had kept our distance for as long as possible, and we may have stayed out all together if Japan hadn’t decided to bomb Pearl Harbor. At that point we obviously could no longer stand aside. We suited up and went to war.

Almost every country of significance and every continent except Antarctica was involved in the Second World War. In terms of money, it was the most expensive war of all time. And in terms of human life, it took the breath of fifty-seven million people. This included deaths due to hand-to-hand combat, carpet bombings, various types of gassings, and of course the nuclear bombs dropped upon the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This war was no light affair. As Mushroom Cloud Condi said, it shifted the tectonic plates of international affairs. And when all was said and done, America came out ahead. Not only were Britain and France politically indebted to us, but just about all of Western Europe was financially indebted to us through the Marshall Plan. From 1948 to 1951, we gave over $13 billion dollars—which nowadays would be about $100 billion—of economic and technical assistance to sixteen European countries. The Marshall Plan, intended for European reconstruction, tipped the scales in our favor and set the stage for more than forty years of U.S. dominance.

The war began in 1939 and ended in 1945 with both Germany and Japan surrendering separately and at different times. The world, war torn, ravaged, and in disarray, would soon be guided by a different global ordering system: massive bipolar bureaucracies.

Although Americans and Soviets allied with each other during the Second World War, we became bitter enemies for the coming decades. Historians argue over who did what to begin the Cold War. Needless to say, it was a battle between divinely-inspired free market capitalism and god-less dictatorial communism. We were obviously the good country and they were obviously the bad country. We wanted access to the Eastern bloc and they wanted to spread socialist revolution through the Western bloc. And we each had our satellite countries. Britain was on our side. So too was France, who had little choice since we saved their assess from the Nazis. And countries like Japan and Italy came to understand the benefits of our system in the post-World War II years. The Soviet Union had allies, too: China, Cuba, a few sporadic and unruly Latin American countries, and most of Eastern Europe (Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, etc.). Germany became divided in 1961 with the construction of the Berlin Wall—the East became communist and the West became capitalist. Korea was divided, with the North going to the U.S.S.R and the South going to us. Vietnam was similar, with the North going to the Soviets (really the Chinese) and the South going to us (really the French). The world was literally divided. But it was stable. Everything was upfront and you knew the names and faces of your enemies and allies. There was comfort in that.

The Cold War period saw some close calls. And we’re not talking about just the longer, more drawn out conflicts like Korea and Vietnam. Consider for instance the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 in which we almost initiated a nuclear war [14]. Fidel Castro was being a stubborn old goat, wheeling in nuclear arms from Russia. The nerve of some people! We obviously couldn’t let that happen. Not only is that a threat to our national security, but a blow to our national ego. Only the U.S and the countries we deem allies can have such weapons. Once one person starts challenging our authority, others will follow and all of a sudden we are no longer the head-honcho on the block.† So rather than losing face, we told Mr. “shaggy beard” Castro to either lose the missiles or face the consequences: nuclear war. We started the countdown and came pretty darn close to sending a little phallus of destruction down south. But the situation was averted when President John F. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade against Soviet ships carrying missile equipment. This acted as a deterrent, scaring off the big tough revolutionary Castro. A hard-line president like Dum’ Dum would have probably pushed through with a nuclear launch, proving the point beyond soft-interpretation. Now that would have been something! But all in all, it was probably a good thing that war didn’t happen. A conflict with Cuba would have been a conflict with the Soviet Union, and who knows where we’d be now. We probably wouldn’t be selling hamburgers and value meals in third world countries.

Speaking of our Latin American friends, there was that little thing called the “Reagan Doctrine” during the 1980’s. This is a key ingredient to the Cold War since it helped crush the Soviet Union. The Gipper, president from 1980-1988, believed that communism should not be contained but rolled back—i.e., pushed back by military force. The old Gipper didn’t play to tie but to win the game. He of course knew that we could not start launching weapons halfway across the globe. No, that’s bad PR and probably a little unhealthy. Instead, he decided to actively, and often covertly, assist anti-communist forces in Third World countries. As his famous quote goes: “We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives—on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua—to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth” [15]. (Hey, did he just mention Afghanistan?)

The Gipper Doctrine played itself out in many forms and across many countries. It was applied particularly in Central America. One famous example is in Nicaragua, where we funded the contras (counter-revolutionaries) to fight off the Sandinistas, a leftist revolutionary government. The Sandinistas came to power through a revolutionary movement. Their pro-Marxist/Socialist agenda meant that they wouldn’t be buying too many of our pocket calculators. So the Gipper, being the foreign policy expert that he was, decided to help the contras. The funny thing is, he couldn’t really do that. Congress ordered against it, and officially called it off in 1984. But some folks in Gipper’s Administration decided to bypass Congress. This sidestepping eventually led to selling arms to Iran and using the profits to fund the contras. But Iran was in a heated war with a Cold War ally of ours—Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. (Did we just mention that evil bastard Saddam?) Congress found out and had a few things to say about this operation. And the international community, as a whole, had a few concerns about our double dipping foreign policy. Why would we deal arms to Iran when we were backing Iraq? This whole thing, known as the “Iran-Contra Scandal,” is pretty indicative of the Gipper’s approach to anti-communism, Latin America, and Third World management in general. Ah, the Gipper Doctrine, that’s some sound policy thinking.

The Reagan Admnistration was known for bringing many presents to the world

In the late 1980’s, the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the end of the Cold War. George “Read My Lips” Bush was president and called for a huge celebration. Fireworks, bright dazzling lights, and hurrah, hurrah, shish-boom-bah! No more lithium needed, bipolar disorder be gone!

East Berlin, the communist side, was undergoing economic and political turmoil and restructuring. This led to a November 1989 announcement that the boarder with West Berlin would be opened, allowing citizens to take private trips abroad. Thousands of people flocked to the boarder, hammering, chiseling, and smashing the Wall, marking the end of the divide. The symbolic and material destruction of the Wall sparked the end of the Cold War. Soon after, other communist regimes, including Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Rumania, fell apart. The Soviet empire was crumbling. The Cold War officially ended in 1991 with the Russian people electing Boris Yeltsin to power. Citizens of Russia and many other eastern European countries were now free to consume worldly products and strive for economic success. Capitalism shone through as the superior way of life and the United States stood bravely as the world’s only super power. We were about to embark on a new world order of economic utopia and humanitarian interventions.

History Part II: McWorld, here we Come![16]

The end of the Cold War ushered in the golden age of globalization. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect January 1, 1994. The World Trade Organization (WTO) was ratified in 1995. The International Monetary Fund, established way back in 1944 at the close of the war, feverishly imposed economic austerity programs upon numerous countries. And the World Bank, also a throw back to 1944, continued to impose multi-billion dollar debts on poverty-ridden nations. (And those bastards better pay up.... the freebees died with the Iron Curtain.... people nowadays work for a living!)

Thomas Friedman, New York Times journalist and a dear corporate friend, understands economic globalization as a “golden straight jacket” [17]. You either wear it tight or don’t wear it at all. And if you choose to reject it, then you will be passed over by this historical epoch of great financial prosperity. The smaller, less-well-to-do countries may have less “wiggle” room than they’d like—hey, that’s the nature of the straight jacket. But that jacket is lined with gold. Listen to us; we’re the bigwig countries, the Great Seven economic powers (G7). We will guide you in the right direction. This game we’re playing stops for no one, not even us, the great powers. So play by the rules, strap on the austerities, open up your borders to our transnational corporations, and you’ll be okay. It’s not really a choice of globalization or no globalization, but rather, of globalization or more globalization. In many ways, Friedman preempts Dum’ Dum’s “you’re either with us or against us” slogan—which implies that you either side with us or fall to the wayside and be forgotten by the world to come. It sure is strange how history plays itself out.

Along with these international economic breakthroughs came technological and communication advances. The internet boom greatly accelerated the globalization process. Money could be traded and transferred at ever quickening paces. Information was now available in greater doses and higher speeds. International monitoring was made easier. And worldwide customers could purchase all types of merchandise. Don’t forget, either, the onslaught of the twenty-four hour news networks. All the news all the time, everywhere for everyone. Marshall McLuhan’s famous declaration that we are living in a “global village” comes to fruition in the 1990’s.

Our global village and the interpersonal care that it suggests is demonstrated by the relationship between U.S. CEOs and U.S. workers. In 1982, the average pay ratio of CEO to worker was a lowly 42 to 1. In 1990, it was a meager 107 to 1. But in 2000, that baby was bumpin’ at 516 to 1. Wow, now that’s globalization at its best! The ratio dipped a little in 2002, down to 281 to 1. But it’s on the rise again. In 2003 it was 301 to 1 [18]. Some people may argue that economic globalization, as presently designed, creates an upward distribution of wealth. Or, in plain language, it allows the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. But this is a narrow-minded perspective. As the wealthy sectors get more money, they are able to put more money into the system, benefiting the less fortunate. And we’re not talking about those lousy social welfare programs. We all know those don’t work; they just get poor people hooked on the system like an ugly addiction. No. We’re talking about the well-to-do folks investing more money into research for pharmaceutical and weapons industries, communication-technologies, new forms of entertainment, super-duper SUV’s, better public relations and marketing, etc. These things advance our society, making everyone’s lives better.

As Thomas Friedman says, this system stops for no one. What’s good for U.S. citizens is good for Third World citizens. We’re in a global village now, and there really is little distinction between First and Third world populations. We’re all part of the big process. Offshore factories, outsourcing of labor, exporting jobs, and that totally loaded term, “sweatshops,” all point to our interconnected world. The nearly three billion people living on less than two dollars a day sometimes have difficulty with our global perspective, but that’s because they don’t understand comparative advantage and the relativity of monetary and labor standards [19]. What—do they want everything for free? You have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Hey, the U.S. had lots of labor problems early on—child labor, cheap imported labor, twelve-hour days in the coal mines, factory fires and deaths, union busting, the Ludlow Massacre, etc. Those things constitute the backbone of our nation; they’ve made our country great. And if it was good enough for America, then it’s good enough for other countries. Growing pains, folks, that’s all it is. Get over it.

The globalization era of the 1990’s brought much peace and prosperity. Our money-lined pockets and a world without walls meant that we could avoid power-hungry wars and concentrate on the great duty of humanitarian intervention. War for peace and humanity was the motto: the 1991 Persian Gulf War in Iraq to save Kuwait; Operation Restore Hope in Somalia from 1992-93 to defeat warlords and their imposed famine; the military interventions in Bosnia in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999 to stop ethnic cleansing; and Operation Desert Fox of 1998—a three day bombing campaign in Iraq to punish Saddam for his U.N. Security Council violations. Oh, and we did accidentally launch sixteen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, but that was a mistake. (Another case of smart technology, but stupid people.) Anyway, our humanitarianism of the 1990’s had an added bonus: the installation of military bases worldwide. We managed to install military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the port of Aden across from Yemen, and other Persian Gulf states; Albania, Bosnia, Hungary, Macedonia, and parts of Kosovo. (This does not include our already installed bases throughout Western European countries and many Latin American countries.) All of these military bases were of course to help sustain peace and security for ourselves and others. Peacekeeping isn’t easy, but somebody’s got to do it.

The 1990’s, wow, those were some fabulous times.... at least in theory. Little did we know that danger lurked beneath the surface. We didn’t realize it because we were still living in a Cold War mindset. We still believed that everything was upfront; that our enemies would have the decency to show themselves, bicker in public, and walk through the proper channels of international grievance. But that wasn’t the case. Insidious groups were resisting the onslaught of global progress and pluralism and freedom granting modern governments. They were sitting back in the dark, waiting, peering out from their caves. They were preparing to strike when we least expected it. But that’s okay, because it all came to a head. 9/11 revealed the name, game, and poster child of these evildoers: al Qaeda, terrorism, and Osama bin Laden.

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