Blogs > There's No There There > Losing Our Souls or Why the New Cold War Will Be Worse than the Old Cold War

Oct 16, 2016

Losing Our Souls or Why the New Cold War Will Be Worse than the Old Cold War

tags: Edward Pessen;Gorbachev;LeCarre; Murray Polner

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

The older I become the more I realize that the movies I watched as a kid  somehow taught us how to deal with enemies, real and imagined, at home or abroad. In my beloved cowboy films everything boiled down to good guys/bad guys, moral oversimplifications and victories delivered by six-shooters. It was clean, swift and uncomplicated, with no remorse.

A very smart, if cynical John LeCarre put it another way with his more realistic "Rule One of the Cold War," which is just as true in today's emerging new Cold War: "Nothing, absolutely nothing is what it seems. Everyone has a second motive, if not a third." That's certainly true in today's Syria and everywhere else.

And here's another long forgotten gem.

Jacksonian scholar Edward Pessen's modest but invaluable warning in Losing Our Souls: The American Experience in the Cold War, the old one, that is. It was published in 1993 after Pessen died (it was completed by Athan Theoharis, the distinguished historian who tracked Hoover's relentless and often illegal attacks on nonconformists).

Pessen's most credible lesson for Americans today is simply this: "The most baneful affect of our anti-Soviet policy is the unprecedented insecurity it brought to the US. For the first time in the nation's history it could be almost destroyed and most of its people killed in matter of minutes by weapons against which we had [have] no effective defense."

Nowadays, Washington's gung-ho cold warriors, few of whom have ever worn a military uniform, and  our obsequious mass media, have convinced far too many Americans  to dutifully accept the Grand Illusion that, despite many failures since 1945 and an ongoing  fifteen year war,  America's role is to right the wrongs of the world, a mission with little or no penalties or costs for the home front save the loss and crippling of  hundreds of thousands of killed and wounded U.S. troops not to mention millions of  dead civilians we allegedly set out to save.

The lessons our foreign policy elites drew from the old Cold War, wrote Pessen, aren't much different from today, namely, the itch to intervene everywhere, relying on "sabotage, demolition, assassination and out and out warfare." Brutal dictatorships were backed with arms and money and support for torture and death squad hoodlums. "National Security," a Cold War term that predates 9/11, was the mantra.  Along the way, after the collapse of the USSR and the coming of rational politicians like Gorbachev, our cold warriors threw away the chance for peace.

Today, far from terrified and dying refugees and appalling photos of Aleppo and the potential for more death and destruction in Mosul, Yemen, Crimea, Kabul, Kiev and the South China Sea, assorted foreign policy mavens, aware as we all are of the catastrophe in Syria and elsewhere, want the U.S. to do "something" to settle the mess once and for all, while glossing over the possible consequences and ignoring our spectacular diplomatic and military failures.  Let us pray they don't have in mind a "no-fly zone," the latest panacea proposed by hawks who once cheered on the invasion of Iraq and which could well trigger another Sarajevo, but this time a nuclear one.

The battle for Syria is in reality an extraordinarily complicated and multifaceted proxy war between the U.S., Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, ISIS, a variety of jihadists and what's left of Assad's Syria. While weeping crocodile tears for the monumental humanitarian crisis they alone have created they are there for no other reason than to maintain their regional influence and power.

We'd all like the bloodletting and suffering to end. The best solution I can think of is to provide humanitarian aid and try and try and try again for a deal with the Russians and the others. It may not be much and hard to deliver but does anyone have a better idea?

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