In Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World, new this month, Masuda Hajimu reveals social and political forces normally seen as products of the Cold War actually to have been instrumental in fostering the conditions from which the conflict sprung. Below, he examines how the dynamics he identifies as having contributed to the pervasive global logic of the Cold War can be seen anew in our own time, when the “War on Terror” becomes ever more entrenched as the rubric with which we explain the world.
Many thousands of volumes have been written on the issue of the Cold War. Many other “Cold War” products are available, as well, whether directly related to the history of the Cold War or not. If you go to the Amazon website, for example, you can find nearly 80,000 items related to the term “Cold War,” from John Lewis Gaddis’s history books to a Cold War Veteran license plate frame, to the new album from American indie rock band Cold War Kids. However, none of these books and items, with a few exceptions, dare to explore a simple but fundamental question: What, really, was the Cold War?
The answer has been taken for granted: It was a global confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, fought within geopolitical, diplomatic, ideological, and cultural arenas in the second half of the 20th century. The conflict began, it is commonly believed, with the conduct (and misconduct) of top leaders, such as Harry S. Truman, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and so on, and ended abruptly with the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. However, such neat narratives do little to further our understanding of the Cold War, and even less to help us understand our world today.
When I began my project in 2005, I did not expect to write my book in the way I did, but, looking back, I think I was feeling uneasy about the ways in which the history of the Cold War had been written, remembered, and pushed aside. What I tried to do in my book, therefore, was to think about another meaning and function of the phenomenon we call the Cold War, and, in so doing, to deliberate on what it really was. Viewed in this different way, I see the essence of the Cold War world lingering today in our lives and thinking in this age of the War on Terror. In fact, to think about contemporary implications of my book right now is a bit hard and even depressing, because it is so deeply relevant for us, especially in the post-Charlie Hebdo world.