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The second approach to the Cold War era is based on the idea that logic alone does not suffice: facts also matter. If so, then to understand the Cold War era we should look at the events that constitute it. Pursuing this course, which seems not entirely unreasonable, we find a more complex and interesting picture, which bears only a partial resemblance to the conventional understanding. The same method of inquiry suggests several reasons why the post-Cold War era may prove to be much like what came before, at least for its regular victims, apart from tactics and propaganda.
Needless to say, if we define the Cold War as involving nothing beyond a confrontation of two superpowers, with their allies and clients tailing along, it follows trivially that that is precisely what it was, and that with the withdrawal of the USSR from the conflict, it ended with a victory for the U.S. side. The question, however, is how to interpret the Cold War era, and plainly that question is not answered by begging it.17 Rather, we want to look into the contours, character, driving forces and motives, and major effects of the bipolar world system that emerged from World War II. These are significant historical phenomena, worthy of study. Just how the East-West conflict finds its place in this matrix is a matter for discovery, not stipulation -- at least, if our goal is understanding.
An understanding of the Cold War era requires not only an account of the actual events, but also of the factors that lie behind them. The documentary record of planning becomes relevant here. We will want to know to what extent policy was determined by specific features of the Cold War era, and to what extent it merely adapted persistent institutional demands to new conditions. To answer these questions, we will naturally ask how the typical events of the Cold War, and the underlying motives, compare with standard practice and thinking before and since. It is also necessary to account for the prevailing ideological constructions and their functions, including the conventional understanding of the Cold War, insofar as it departs from reality.
Approaching the Cold War era with these considerations in mind, we find that the superpower conflict of the conventional portrayal has been real enough, but that it is only a fraction of the truth. Reality protrudes when we look at the typical events and practices of the Cold War.
On Moscow's side, the Cold War is illustrated by tanks in East Berlin, Budapest and Prague, and other coercive measures in the regions liberated by the Red Army from the Nazis, then held in thrall to the Kremlin; and the invasion of Afghanistan, the one case of Soviet military intervention well outside the historic invasion route from the West. Domestically, the Cold War served to entrench the power of the military-bureaucratic elite whose rule derives from the Bolshevik coup of October 1917.
For the United States, the Cold War has been a history of world-wide subversion, aggression and state terrorism, with examples too numerous to mention. The domestic counterpart has been the entrenchment of Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex," in essence, a welfare state for the rich with a national security ideology for population control (to borrow some counterinsurgency jargon), following the prescriptions of NSC 68. The major institutional mechanism is a system of state-corporate industrial management to sustain high technology industry, relying on the taxpayer to fund research and development and provide a guaranteed market for waste production, with the private sector taking over when there are profits to be made. This crucial gift to the corporate manager has been the domestic function of the Pentagon system (including NASA and the Department of Energy, which controls nuclear weapons production); benefits extend to the computer industry, electronics generally, and other sectors of the advanced industrial economy.18 In such ways, the Cold War has provided a large part of the underpinnings for the system of public subsidy, private profit, that is proudly called Free Enterprise.
The call for vigorous action in NSC 68 resounded again as the Kennedy and Reagan administrations came into office, with the same dual thrust: militancy abroad to assert U.S. power, and military spending to revive a flagging economy at home. The rhetoric was also duly revived: "the monolithic and ruthless conspiracy" on the march to destroy us (Kennedy); the "Evil Empire" that is "the focus of evil in our time," seeking to rule the world (Reagan). The decibel level predictably declines as policy shifts course, as in the mid-1980s, when it became necessary to face the costs of the fiscal mismanagement and military Keynesian excesses of the statist reactionaries of the Reagan administration, including the huge budget and trade deficits.
Attention to the historical record reveals the realistic core enshrouded in the outlandish rhetoric of NSC 68. The great depression had put an end to any lingering beliefs that capitalism was a viable system. It was generally taken for granted that state intervention was necessary in order to maintain private power -- as, indeed, had been the case throughout the development process.19 It was also understood that New Deal measures had failed, and that the depression was overcome only by the far more massive state intervention during the war. Without the benefit of Keynes, this lesson was taught directly to the corporate managers who flocked to Washington to run the quasi-totalitarian wartime command economy. The general expectation was that without state intervention, there would be a return to the depression after pent-up consumer demand was satisfied. It appeared to be confirmed by the 1948 recession. State-subsidized agricultural production found markets in Japan and elsewhere, but it was feared that manufacturing would languish in the absence of markets. Hence the concern voiced in NSC 68 over "a decline in economic activity of serious proportions" unless military Keynesian measures were adopted. These programs, it was hoped, would also contribute to the revitalization of the industrial economies of the allies, helping overcome the "dollar gap" which limited the market for U.S. manufactured goods.
The call in NSC 68 for "sacrifice and discipline" and cutback in social programs was a natural concomitant to these perceptions. The need for "just suppression" and controls over unions, churches, schools, and other potential sources of dissidence also fell into a broader pattern. From the late 1930s, business had been deeply perturbed by the increasing politicization and organization of the general public, what was later called a "crisis of democracy" under the partially similar conditions of the post-Vietnam period. The same had been true immediately after World War I. In each case, the response was the same: Wilson's Red Scare, the post-World War II repression mislabeled "McCarthyism" (actually, a campaign to undermine unions, working class culture, and independent thought launched by business and liberal Democrats well before McCarthy appeared on the scene and made the mistake, which finally destroyed him, of attacking people with power); the programs of the national political police inaugurated by the Kennedy administration and expanded by their successors to undermine independent political parties and popular movements by subversion and violence. Wars and other crises have a way of making people think and even organize, and private power regularly calls upon the state to contain such threats to its monopoly of the political arena and cultural hegemony.20 The deeply anti-democratic thrust of NSC 68 reflects far more general commitments.
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17 For an example of this fallacy, see Fred Halliday, "The Ends of Cold War," New Left Review 180/1990. Halliday's work on these topics, while often valuable, is marred by persistent inability to comprehend alternative conceptions and curious errors of reasoning, as in this case. See, e.g., his Making of the Second Cold War (Verso, 1983), 27, where he interprets my observation that "the real rivals" of the United States are Japan and Europe, not the USSR (obvious at the time, and by now the merest truism) as implying that the conflict with the USSR was "but a pretext used by the USA for waging conflict" with the EEC and Japan -- which of course it does not.
18 On the crucial role of the DOD in the computer industry, see Kenneth Flamm, Targeting the Computer (Brookings, 1987).
19 It is commonly recognized by economic historians that state intervention is a crucial feature of "late development," but the conclusion holds generally of successful industrial societies, including Britain, the United States, Germany, and Japan. A classic account of the state role in "delayed development" in continental Europe is Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (Harvard, 1962). On Japan, a standard work on the postwar period is Chalmers Johnson, MITI and the Japanese Miracle (Stanford, 1982). On Korea, see Alice Amsden's important study Asia's Next Giant: South Korea and Late Industrialization (Oxford, 1989); and for an overview, Amsden, "East Asia's Challenge -- to Standard Economics," American Prospect, Summer 1990. Also several articles in "Showa: the Japan of Hirohito," Daedalus, Summer 1990, particularly those of John Dower and Chalmers Johnson. On illusions about the effects of openness of the economy and the state role, comparing Latin America and Asia in the past several decades, see Tariq Banuri, ed., No Panacea: the Limits of Economic Liberalization (Oxford, forthcoming) (see chapter 7, section 7). On the crucial role of state-led economic development and social expenditures for the famed "Costa Rican exception," see Anthony Winson, Coffee & Modern Costa Rican Democracy (St. Martin's press, 1989). For more general discussion, including "early development," see Frederick Clairmonte, Economic Liberalism and Underdevelopment (Asia Publishing House, London-Bombay, 1960). For a perceptive early account of the general drift towards fascist-style state capitalist systems through the 1930s, adapted to particular cultural and institutional factors, see Robert Brady, Business as a System of Power (Columbia, 1943). See also the classic study of the abandonment of laissez-faire by Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Beacon press, 1957).
20 See Necessary Illusions, 29f. and Appendix II, sec. 2, for some discussion and references. Also chapter 12. See Crozier, Huntington, and Watanuki, Crisis of Democracy.