The Cold War, part two

The tensions of the Cold War caused governments in the USA and the USSR—and, often but now always, in their respective allies—to view events in the world entirely through the filters of communism vs. capitalism and totalitarian control vs. freedom. Even internally, the two governments responded to their citizens based upon the rhetoric of Cold War opposition.

Since their governments were totalitarian, the USSR and its allies could be expected to shut down opposition. Citizens were watched, jailed, put on trial, imprisoned, and even executed for speaking against the government and its actions. The Soviet Union sent soldiers and military equipment into Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) to quell opposition and stifle revolutions. The USA warned that it would not tolerate similar interference with the people of Poland when they resisted their government in 1980; still, the Polish armed forces grew suddenly with soldiers who spoke no Polish and wore hastily-made uniforms, using military equipment recently repainted to obscure the identification marks of the USSR.

Communist leanings had been socially acceptable in the United States in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Those same leanings, or a history of such, were no longer tolerated in the 1950s. Government workers, entertainment figures, and other citizens were questioned by Congress about their sympathies toward Communism. Some lives and careers were unfairly maligned by these hearings, but a few traitors were also detected. Government officials (notably, J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI) continued to suspect Communist influence in mass movements of the 1960s, including Civil Rights demonstrations and anti-war protests. For the most part, though, freedom prevailed in the United States. Progress was made in the area of human rights, and government officials continued to respond to the feelings and opinions of American citizens. An air of mutual suspicion continued, however, and its effects are felt down to the present.

In Europe, the allies of the USA reduced their military capacities, having endured the horrors of two World Wars in the twentieth century. Sheltered under the umbrella of NATO, they trusted the Americans to stand up to the Soviets and prevent a military take-over of western Europe. Reduction in military spending allowed western European governments to experiment with non-Marxist forms of socialism, with varying results. These governments also sought greater economic power in the world by combining their resources. Beginning with the economic alliance of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (which was named “Benelux”), the alliance gained more members and became the European Common Market. Assets of the Common Market were greatly strengthened when the United Kingdom joined in 1972. These countries were prepared for an even stronger economic union when the Cold War ended and several nations leaving the Warsaw Pact sought a place in the Common Market. This delayed the implementation of Union for a few years.

A major turning point occurred when the government of Egypt seized the Suez Canal in 1956. Britain and France wanted to intervene militarily to keep European control of the Canal, but the United States demurred, seeing an opportunity to gain friends in the so-called “Third World.” As a result, Britain and France became less involved in other events outside of Europe, which is why the Korean War saw an international alliance battle communism in eastern Asia, but the United States was left on its own to battle communism a decade later in Vietnam.

The label “Third World” was coined in the nineteenth century after the colonies of the western hemisphere—the “New World”—became independent. Colonialism continued in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, and those colonies were called the Third World. During the Cold War, Latin America was added to the perceived Third World, as it became a description of those places where agents of the USA and the USSR openly competed for political control. In Latin America, hostility toward the United States had been growing ever since Napoleon III attempted to establish an empire in Mexico. Occasional military intervention by the United States and major economic control of the region prompted resistance. Communist movements existed in nearly every country of Latin America, where most governments still belonged to caudillos, the wealthy (and generally white-skinned) elite. Fidel Castro led one of the few successful overthrows of an American ally in Latin America during the Cold War, and Cold War tensions involving Cuba brought great trauma to the United States. American foreign policy in the Third World assumed that “the enemy of my friend is my enemy.” Therefore, if a dictator professed allegiance to the United States and its values, the United States supported that dictator against any danger of rebellion.

This same principle was followed in Africa. Following the Second World War, European governments granted independence to their African colonies. The same borders drawn by European governments to establish their colonies were used to designate the borders of the new countries, meaning that many tribes were split among more than one country, and many countries contained portions of tribes who had battled one another for generations. Violence in Africa continued beyond the Cold War and still exists today. But during the Cold War, the United States always responded to violence in Africa in light of professed Cold War loyalties. Even in South Africa, the United States supported a government opposed to civil rights while it spoke about civil rights in Communist countries and even offered increased civil rights to minorities in the USA.

Since the end of the Cold War, democratic governments have been given greater opportunity to arise and thrive in Africa. Tribal rivalries remain a problem, and dictators still tend to seize power over African nations. The biggest tension in Africa today, though, is between Christian and Muslim populations. This difference, fueled by tribal differences, remains a source of conflict among Africans in the twenty-first century.

Still to come: the Cold War in Asia. J.

Revolution in the Wild, Wild West, part two

The American Revolution was a liberal revolution. A new country was established, based upon new ideas, including the existence of human rights and the need to limit government’s power through checks and balances. By comparison, the French Revolution was a radical revolution. Everything was attacked, from government and religion to weights and measures and the calendar. The United States settled into a relatively stable country with one dramatic Civil War, while France’s history was marked by instability, with a new form of government attempted every few years. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the western hemisphere entered a new phase of revolutions that were neither radical nor liberal, but were largely conservative in nature.

Every rule has an exception, and in this case the exception is Haiti. Spain and France had divided the island of Hispaniola between them, both colonial governments honoring the thirteenth century reformer Dominic by their names—Santo Domingo for the Spanish, and Saint Domingue by the French. The principle exports of the island were sugar and coffee, and the cultivation of these crops led to a population that consisted of ten black slaves for every white European citizen. During the French Revolution, the slaves living in the French half of the island revolted, declaring an independent nation called Haiti. Embroiled in its own conflicts, France was unable to squelch the rebellion. Finally in 1804, when Napoleon was in charge of France, the new nation of Haiti was recognized as independent, and it has remained such to the present.

In 1807, France and its allies invaded Portugal, and the next year Napoleon placed his brother on the throne of Spain. These conquests led to unrest in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of the New World. The Portuguese royal family escaped to Brazil where they maintained a government in exile. Brazil achieved a semi-independent status from Portugal during these years. When Napoleon was defeated in Europe, most of the royal family returned to Lisbon, but Dom Pedro remained in Brazil and achieved control of the new Brazilian Empire, whose independence was finally confirmed by the Portuguese government in 1825. Some battles were fought in Brazil during the struggle for independence, but the revolutionary war and independence were largely accomplished without bloodshed.

Argentina, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking colonies experienced similar exchanges of power, although none of them received royalty from Europe. Revolutionary leaders, including Simon Bolivar, hoped to create a grand, western-hemisphere, Spanish speaking Republic, but regional differences prevented that goal from being accomplished. With military support from Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay fought for independence from the Argentine government in Sao Paolo; further north, Columbia and Venezuela and Nicaragua and Guatemala and other regions each formed their own government instead of cooperating to form the grand republic imagined by Bolivar.

These new countries were not based on the proposition that all people are created equal, endowed with human rights. Nor did they espouse the concept of limited government. Instead, they continued the traditional belief that only a few people have the gift of leadership; the bulk of the people are followers, whether they are free workers or slaves. Cut off from European royal families, these nations placed control of the government into the hands of caudillos, strong rulers who maintained the status quo in each nation. If they were challenged and overthrown, their replacements were always from the same class, a new caudillo seizing power and ruling in the same manner as his predecessor.

The fifth President of the United States, James Monroe, warned European powers to respect the independence of American nations and warned them not to interfere in the western hemisphere. Weakened by the Napoleonic wars, most European nations did as Monroe asked. Only the United Kingdom challenged the Monroe Doctrine, continuing to trade with the former Spanish colonies, deriving raw materials while selling finished products made in Europe. The United States treated these neighbors in much the same way. Industrialization remained, for a time, in Europe and North America, while the rest of the Americas joined Africa and Asia in subjugation to those nations formed by Enlightenment ideals, capitalist economies, and industrial successes.

One attempt to override the Monroe Doctrine happened while the United States was distracted by its Civil War. Napoleon III of France supported Archduke Maximilian of Austria in an attempt to create a new empire in the western hemisphere. Maximilian and his forces captured the capital, Mexico City, and held it for a time, but they never gained control over the rest of Mexico. Instead, they were overthrown by the Mexican population, with the chief Mexican victory won in the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 (thus creating the holiday Cinco de Mayo). One legacy of the conflict was a bit of propaganda created by Napoleon III to drive a barrier between the new nations of the west. Distinguishing the Spanish, Portuguese, and French speaking nations from their English speaking neighbors to the north (the United States and Canada), Napoleon described the former group as “Latin America.” Not only did the label remain; the attitude of division has remained, as citizens of Latin American countries continue to regard the United States and its leaders with suspicion and distrust.

If the thirteen colonies had remained under British rule, slavery would have been abolished there by the Act of 1833. Abolition of slavery throughout the world followed industrialization, the development of machines to replace human labor. Slavery effectively ended in the islands of Great Britain by 1800; the slave trade was ended in 1803, with abolition of slavery enforced throughout the Empire thirty years later. The idea of abolishing slavery was already strong in the northern states by the time of independence, but compromises allowed slavery to continue in the southern states, and new states were admitted into the nation in pairs—one a free state, the other a slave state. Meanwhile, the fledgling nation grew in population and in size. Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon. Settlers from the United States moved into northern Mexico, then declared independence, forming the new country of Texas. A year later, Texas voted to join the United States. Military opposition from the Mexican government led to war, with the further loss to Mexico of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. Tensions between the slave-owning south and the abolitionist north finally boiled over in a Civil War which was won by the industrialized north. Through it all, the United States continued to prosper, discovering gold and other minerals in its western territories, accepting immigrants by the thousands from Europe and Asia, and putting to work industrial accomplishments such as the railroad, followed in the twentieth century by the automobile and the airplane. But many other new things were happening in the rest of the world that would also reshape life in the American nations. J.