Fighting Dirty: The Real casualties of the Cold War: America and the third world countries Essay
It seems to be that the most memorable aspect of the Cold War which lasted roughly from the time that Hitler fell in 1945 at the end of the Second World War to its end in the seventies is that America earned the status of world super power and the once indomitable Soviet Union was fragmented. The Cold War for most people simply marked the defeat of communism; that supremely evil way of living that would stifle economic and democratic advancement if it was given the chance. It was an institution that anti-communists perceived as worth tearing down and stamping out completely because it opposed capitalism and freedom.
But was the defeat of the Soviet Union the only thing that happened during the Cold War? There is more to this story from which America emerged smelling like a rose and putting itself on the pedestal of world redeemer; after all, it had been the nation instrumental in freeing the world from the clutches of Hitler and then afterwards, barely snatching the world from Russia’s snapping communist jaws. Who really paid the price of victory? It was the defenseless and even back then, marginalized third world countries which, depending on what kind of resources that the U.S could draw from them, controlled with the skill of a master puppeteer. This was mostly done by putting into place right wing dictatorial leaders who would ensure that these mostly new democracies would not be lured into communism and gang up with the Soviet Union against the U.S. The end results were disastrous to say the least, and it was these broken countries that were left behind to pick the pieces as America stood on an international podium to receive accolades for her victory.
It is no secret that with the abolition of slave trade in the late 1800s the little interest that the United States had in Africa simply petered out. The colonialists had divided the continent into territories that they claimed for themselves and ran ragged as they chose. America, being an anti-colonialism nation, disapproved from a distance but did not step in to intervene. However, after the Second World War and with the rise of the Cold War, America’s interest in African states was on full alert.
America had this fixed perception of African countries and other third world countries as not being ready for their own democracy. She saw African countries as being too primitive and backwards for self governance. The U.S believed that African countries had to be guided into self governance as it was something completely beyond their comprehension. This resulted in years of U.S meddling with African affairs that has persisted to date.
Why the United States suddenly took an interest in the affairs of African nations is because they believed that these nations were not ready for independence. The United States was afraid that the freshly independent nations, who had such limited experience of democracy, would be exposed to communism and that they would embrace it instead of capitalism. But the U.S could not afford to have an Africa aligned to the Soviet Union; hence they became active in African affairs because now they had a vested interest.
The only way to avert such an eventuality was by determining what kind of governments that there would be in these ‘unstable’ African nations. The kind of governments that the U.S preferred were the authoritarian types which were not tailored on true democracy. Such governments would ensure that the people stayed in line and could feed propaganda to the masses as they deemed fit.
The U.S took it upon itself to not only tell African states how to govern themselves but also chose African leaders who she felt would forward her own agendas. Right from the beginning America’s strategy did not work. There were rebellions and revolts in countries such as the Congo against American imperialism; the people of Congo refused to accept Mobutu Sese Seko as a leader his ascent into power had been stage managed by the CIA. The damage that was done by Mobutu Sese Seko in the thirty years he was in office will take much longer than that to repair. He unabashedly looted the national coffers, draining the country while he himself amassed fortunes in foreign bank accounts. The masses lived in deplorable circumstances that only got from bad to worse. Poverty bit hard, there were no social amenities or infrastructure to be heard of, rebel groups and guerilla fighters terrorized the innocent. Yet through out his rule, he was lauded by Washington as being an exemplary African leader who was advancing capitalistic
Why the Congo as a country so absorbed the U. S as a country was for a number of factors. One was its geographical location as well as it size. Congo was set smack in the heart of the ‘Dark Continent’, neighboring nine other countries and above all, the vast almost untouched wealth in minerals that it had.
But even with the assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba whom the U.S felt had strong communist leanings, there had to be the show that America was keeping its nose clean and was detached from the goings-on in the country. Thus, the only interest that the U.S outwardly exhibited in the Congo was approving the sending of peacekeeping troops to settle the upheavals that were stirring allover the country.
South Africa is country that has got numerous natural resources. When the white settlers ‘discovered’ it and claimed it for their own, they were dazzled by the abundance of it riches and clang on like stubborn leeches even when the black natives cried and clamored for their independence. The diamond mines in South Africa dazed the minds of the colonialists with lust for more and more riches; and then there was the gold, and the breathtaking beauty of the velds and the coastline at the cape of Goodhope. There was simply no way they could easily let all these things go.
The U.S worked on the greed and ambition of the colonialists to ruthlessly advance their own desires. Unlike most of the other colonized African states, South Africans had had more exposure to the rest of the world and were generally better educated. It meant that they were more susceptible to communism and this could not be allowed. The American government pushed for a radical separatist South African government which would apply pressure into silencing the black man clamoring for independence. Those who fought for freedom were brutally silenced; there were bottomless prisons and detention camps that could fit one more agitator. The likes of nelson Mandela were detained indefinitely in Rhodes Island and other facilities like it.
However, the basest tool that was used was that of outright racism in the form of apartheid. America itself was struggling with the civil rights movement at home, with activists such as martin Luther king and Rosa parks among others agitating for equal rights for African Americans. The U.S simply exported her problem to this country so that the native majority could be distracted long enough from thoughts of freedom and communism as they grappled under the weight of apartheid oppression. It was not until 1994 that South Africa finally loosed itself from the clutches of racism and colonialism but the wounds that were inflicted are taking longer to heal.
There has been no escape from American imperialism. A country like Chile knows that very well because its political camps were made of two extremes: those who supported American imperialism and those that vehemently condemned it and tried for a model that was its complete opposite.
Unlike the other countries being examined, Chile did not have much to offer in term of being strategically geographically located or being rich in minerals as well as other natural resources. Yes, Chile had deposits of copper but it was not such a precious metal and its extensive coastlines were not strategically placed enough to warrant the attention of the U.S. This had something slightly different that the U.S could use to its advantage and that was its political success. In the midst of other Latin American countries that had been plagued by civil strife, Chile stood out like a diamond among coal blocks. Though this was not the case America wanted to be seen as the reason behind the political success of Chile so that it could build on its reputation as being a supporter of democracy.
Though Chile had good diplomatic relations with the United States at the time of the civil war, it was a country that was still susceptible to communism. Chile looked up to the Soviet Union as the ‘fatherland’. Since Russia united with the U.S to beat Hitler during the Second World War, the ambivalent feelings towards both sides became more mixed up. The attitude that Chile took towards America was dependent on whether the leader at the time was pro or anti American. But no matter which way Chile tried to cut it, the fact remains that its political, social and economic growth have been greatly shaped by the United States and the international community. Chile had the advantage of having its own political history to draw from and a lower level of U.S interference, but in the long run, it still fell victim to the efforts made by America in wrestling as many nations as possible from the perceived evil arms of communism.
There is a little known island called Timor that is to be found just at the edge of the Indonesian archipelago. There is almost nothing of significance concerning this island that would bring it into world focus. It was colonized by two powers: the Dutch to the east and the Portuguese to the west. When the Dutch gave up the colony, the island, as if it was not small enough, was further divided because the Dutch portion was now given to Indonesia.
The imaginary line that divided the country into Indonesia and west Timor also created social, cultural and economic divides. West Timor remained a poor Portuguese colony while Indonesian Timor reveled in its newly found independence. Why the U.S was interested in this rather insignificant little island was because they had a military base there that they simply could not do without. A whole nation was sacrificed for a military base; that Timor was this dispensable tells a lot about the ethical fiber of Cold War America.
For the Philippines, the Nixon administration termed as being an immense threat because it was a country that could easily be swayed by the communists and the only course of action that could be taken was to appoint a leader who would bring the country under control. The Americans termed Philippines as a country that was on the brink of collapse and its only redemption was to bring in a martial leader, as in the case of Congo. That is how President Marcos came to be appointed with the backing and the full blessings of Washington. Very parallel to the case in Congo, President Marcos went to work stripping his country to the bare bones, stashing his loot where it could not be found. He lived ostentatiously as his countrymen struggled with poverty and disease. His wife Imelda Marcos gained world wide fame for her innumerable pairs of shoes. But was the United States really concerned that Philippines would become a communist state or was there a hidden agenda? Their only interests was that the leader be pro American and as long as he preached America and made sure that his countrymen followed suit, America would vouch him as being very exemplary.
It is very clear that U.S foreign policy was first and foremost self serving. There was no genuine interest that she had in the welfare of the people of third world countries. Whenever the U.S showed particular interest in third world countries, it was because there was something they could get out of the said nation and the fight against communism was just a guise under which they pursued their true purpose. For the Congo, it was its wealth in mineral resources, for South Africa, it was its riches in diamonds, and Indonesia was a military base.
Third world countries that experienced heavy U.S interference during the Cold War suffered heavy economic and civil repercussions. Some have not even been able to regroup and re-stratetegise even at this moment. The Democratic Republic of Congo is still faced with internal civil strife, South Africa, though making economic progress has to contend with the deep divide that apartheid created not only in terms of color or race, but also on the socio-economic level. Chile has only been able to achieve in recent years some sort of internal political equilibrium that is till very fragile and could go awry at any moment.
In re-examining the history of the Cold War, the traditional role of America being the hero and the Soviet Union as the villain can be cast into doubts. The U.S remorselessly used underhanded tactics to get its way. She was very unsympathetic of the feet that might have been trampled in the process of pulling down her nemesis and gaining the status of World Superpower.
The Congo, South Africa, Chile, Indonesia and the Philippines are but a few examples of countries that paid the price for America’s victory in the Cold War. The United States is an unapologetic ‘user’ nation who thinks of other nations not in terms of their cultural or national histories, but in terms of their possible benefit to herself. It is troubling that the U.S has never acknowledged the role it played in putting these countries in the political, social or economic dilemmas they find themselves in today. It is time that people’s eyes were opened to the fact that the U.S is not the white, untainted and righteous saint she tries to paint herself as being.
Schmitz David. The United States and Right Wing Dictatorships, 1965-1989. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2006.)