By Greg Godels
August 18, 2022
Few people alive today would remember, first-hand, the ugly origins of the first Cold War. But surely events must have proceeded much as they are unfolding today.
Within the highest echelons of the US government, factions feared that they were losing control over global developments after World War II. The burgeoning credibility of the Soviet Union and the various Communist parties was earned by serving as the bulwark against fascism. Accordingly, they were seen as posing a challenge to the US and other capitalist powers. To many in the Washington centers of power, Communism conjured a far greater existential threat to the capitalist world order in the post-war era.
Those fears spread like a wildfire to all other elite factions. Fear of a threat –or fear of appearing to be “soft” towards that perceived– threat captured commitment from the entire US ruling class. Those who embraced or tolerated Soviet anti-fascism were summarily cowed into submission, joining the broad consensus.
A compliant, lapdog media accepted the consensus and swung into line. Newspapers, radio and television stations parroted the Cold War line far and wide.
Cold War fear permeated every nook and cranny of social and institutional life.
Of course, some factions sought to turn a Cold War into a hot one. Still others sought to conduct a hotter war through proxies and covert actions. For some, the long-term benefits of profits from a war economy alone justified the Cold War. Many different goals, but a common purpose.
When the first Cold War ended, the defense spending of the US for the war’s entirety was conservatively estimated by one source to be 13 trillion in 1996 dollars (24 trillion today), with well over 100,000 US deaths, and with the deaths of untold millions elsewhere. With non-direct military spending added (the nuclear weapons r&d, the nuclear weapons industry, veterans’ benefits, other associated government expenses), the dollar cost would be much, much higher. Further, the lost incomes, benefits, and welfare from the investment of military funds which could have been invested into more productive and socially useful areas is incalculable. Few of us who are today absorbed with the environmental impact of Styrofoam cups have stopped to calculate the real and potential damage of the forty-plus years of Cold War environmental destruction and pollution by the belligerents.
We are now embarking on a new Cold War. It is not a matter of speculation or foretelling. The new Cold War is happening now.
The fear driving the new Cold War is unquestionably rooted in the rise of The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the defiance of a number of other independent countries, loosely or relatively more closely aligned with the PRC. Whether Western hostility, common interests, or some commitment to anti-imperialism drives them closer to each other, they are perceived by the US and its closest allies as threatening to the existing global balance of power, a balance arranged by and maintained by the US.
It doesn’t matter that none of the countries said to “threaten” the US pose any real military threat to the integrity or sovereignty of the US or its NATO allies; rather they are portrayed as outlaws– as representing systems inconsistent with what are touted as historically validated Western values.
That these so-called values are neither historically validated nor appropriate for different social and cultural experiences is never considered. Instead, they are simply assumed, though they are largely founded on myth and arrogance. Despite the many hundreds of foreign military bases, the regular and frequent covert and overt intervention in nearly every country’s affairs, the economic and physical sanctions, the frivolous “terrorist” designations, and boundless sanctimony, the US and many of its European allies feel qualified to serve as judge and jury on the behavior of the world’s diverse states. Add hypocrisy to the list of Western sins.
It takes incredible hubris to abuse the political system of capitalist Russia as “undemocratic” when it mimics Western bourgeois democratic institutions, shares their flaws, and ill-serves the people in exactly the same manner as the corrupted, corporately owned “democracies” in the US and Europe.
Where Putin is portrayed as a “dictator,” though elected by the same flawed pseudo-democratic mechanisms employed in the West, the PRC government earns even harsher condemnation, earning the ultimate Cold War insult of “totalitarian” governance– a charged, but fatally ambiguous memento of mindless anti-Communism. Cynically, NO high-paid courtier of the capitalist commentariat has ever noted that even Western opinion polling shows the PRC government to be more trusted, more highly approved than any of its Western counterparts. Apparently, the peoples of the PRC wholly embrace “totalitarianism.” Therefore, the people sorely need Western liberation offered by governments with little popular trust and minimal approval!
In the post-war period, fear of Communism soon reached hysterical levels. No claims about the Soviet Union were too ridiculous to make. No policy toward its government was too risky to take.
Some say that US and European vitriol aimed at the PRC today is unprecedented. That would be to belie the horrors of the rabid anti-Communist crusade of the 1950s.
Yet, events are moving quickly in that direction.
Professors, think tankers, and media pundits are stepping on each other in a rush to paint Peoples’ China as an aggressor, a danger, an existential threat.
A recent lengthy article in the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal gives a foretaste of just how ugly things can get. Two academics and think-tank fellows, Hal Brands and Michael Beckley, charge that “Mr Xi’s China is fueled by a dangerous mix of strength and weakness. Faced with profound economic, demographic and strategic problems, it will be tempted to use its burgeoning military power to transform the existing order while it still has the opportunity.”
To any casual observer of global politics, this description seems to capture Mr. Biden’s US better than it does Mr. Xi’s China. Mr. Biden’s US is mired in a nagging stagflation that only exacerbates a huge, fast-growing income and wealth gap. Racial, class, and political divisions pose challenges to a dysfunctional, discredited political system.
Internationally, Mr. Biden’s US holds its allies together with a tenuous dollar-diplomacy that is failing to guarantee both the unity and stability of its capitalist allies. More than ever, fear of the US and its sanctions drives their allegiance.
The PRC, on the other hand, has just completed a campaign to eliminate extreme poverty, has tightened the screws on corruption, and consistently enjoys economic growth at least two percentage points greater than the US does. The PRC has few foreign military bases and has engaged in no major military action for decades, while the US has hundreds of foreign bases and has been at constant war over those same decades.
Do Brands and Beckley have the two countries confused?
The authors continue with further exaggerations, fables, and distortions.
Take this wild claim, supported by nothing and worthy of the most extreme Cold Warriors:
They want to absorb Taiwan, make the Western Pacific a Chinese lake and carve out a vast economic empire across the global south– all part of the “national rejuvenation” that will return China to its former place as the most powerful country on Earth.
Like the fear-mongering of the first Cold War, these writers want us to see a benign PRC as an aggressor biding its time until it takes over the world– an utterly ridiculous projection based on no historical evidence whatsoever. But the real danger that these two distinguished professors pose comes from their zealous prescription of more US aggression, more weapons, more provocation– in short, their irresponsible war-mongering.
The US also needs to ensure that its military doesn’t have a glass jaw [incredible!]… the US must scatter those forces across dozens of small operating sites in East Asia. The few big bases that remain must be outfitted with hardened shelters, robust ballistic missile defenses and fake targets to absorb Chinese missiles… a ramping up production of key munitions, so that America has adequate stockpiles and active production when the shooting starts [my emphasis] …
No doubt these acts would be received well by the Communist Party leadership in the PRC. They go on:
If Taiwan doesn’t pick up the pace [of military spending], there is nothing the US can do to save it. If Taiwan redoubles its efforts, however, then America should provide money, hardware and expertise to make the island a tougher target… The US can help by donating ammunition and sensors, subsidizing Taiwanese procurements of missile launchers and mine layers, matching Taiwanese investments in vital military infrastructures and expanding joint training on crucial defense missions [and on and on…]
No doubt Brands and Beckley’s recipe for Taiwan’s “defense” will be met gleefully by the weapons industry. No doubt the rest of us will see chicken hawks meeting Dr. Strangelove. Brands and Beckley’s book, Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China, is to be published on August 16. We can expect the mass media to fawn over the new book, adding even more fuel to the New Cold War.
With war raging in Ukraine, the escalating New Cold War against the People’s Republic of China manufactured by the US and its allies raises the risk to peace and raises the likelihood of global war to levels unseen in decades.
The absence of a mass antiwar movement further increases the risk of catastrophe.