Posts Tagged ‘Fidel Castro’

The Cold War, Bernie Sanders and me

March 5, 2020

The divided world of 1980. Click to enlarge. Source: Wikipedia

A lot of politics consists of argument about who was right about conflicts of the past.

The rights and wrongs of the Civil War were a dividing line in U.S. politics for more than a century after it ended.  U.S. intervention in World War One and the Vietnam conflict were issues for a generation or more after those conflicts ended.  So it is with the Cold War, which more than 30 years ago.

When the Cold War began, many people, myself included, saw it as a conflict between freedom and totalitarianism.   Over time, increasing numbers of people, evidently including Bernie Sanders, saw it as a conflict between capitalism and revolution.

Joseph Stalin’s USSR killed millions of its people through purges and through famines caused by government policy.  Mao Zedong’s China did the same.  Their goal seemed to be to seed the world with little junior replicas of themselves.  To me, the danger was clear.

As what was called a “cold war liberal,” I was in good company.  My fellow anti-Communists included many liberals and social democrats, including the great George Orwell, and disillusioned ex-Communists, who had come to realize that Soviet Union was the opposite of their ideal of a good society.

But the opposing view had support, too.  It had support from George F. Kennan, Dean Acheson, John J. McCloy and the other architects of Cold War policy, who in fact saw their mission as the defense of capitalism against revolution.

In their correspondence among each other, they did not express fear of the nightmare vision of Arthur Koester’s Darkness at Noon or George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Their fear was that revolutionary movements would cut off American business from access to markets and raw materials.

Here’s how Kennan, who was head of the State Department’s policy planning staff, explained U.S. priorities in 1948:

We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment.

Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction….

We should cease to talk about vague and…, unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.  The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.  The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

Source: Noam Chomsky.

They didn’t think the U.S. public was willing to accept such harsh truths.  They agreed it was necessary to frighten the American people—to be, as Acheson put it, “clearer than the truth.”

So which side was right—the anti-Communists or their opponents?  Both had facts on their side.  Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China really were murderous dictatorships.  U.S. foreign policy really was more cynical than Americans were led to believe.  The question is: Which facts were more significant?

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The legacy of Fidel Castro

November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro died yesterday at the age of 90.  He ruled Cuba from 1959 to 2006 and was widely admired as a brave patriot and revolutionary who defied the power of the United States.

He was indeed a patriot and a brave man, but I never believed in him or what he stood for.

Fidel Castro in 1964 (Magnum)

Fidel Castro in 1964 (Magnum Photos)

Human beings cannot flourish under any system based on giving absolute power for life to a single person or small group of people can work.  Human life is too varied and complex to be subject to the will of a tiny elite of self-selected masterminds.

A number of people asked me at different times whether giving people bread was more important than freedom of the press or voting in contested elections.  I answered that I didn’t see the connection between giving people bread and denying them the right to ask for bread.

They asked me whether a nation has a right to change its political and economic system.  I answered that they do, and they have a right to change their minds if the first change doesn’t work out.

The Communist dictatorship was established supposedly to safeguard the ideals of socialism.  That was the purpose of all the suppression and regimentation.

Now the government of Cuba, like the governments of China and Vietnam before it, is renouncing socialism and opening itself to the capitalist world market, but the dictatorship remains.

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