The Cold War is long gone but its aftermath certainly lives on, at least in the developing world that still suffers from the complications caused by the superpower rivalry. The usual misunderstanding surrounding the Cold War is that it really was a “cold war” where the balance of terror between the two superpowers maintained a fragile peace and avoided the outbreak of World War III. What one forgets in this simplified analysis is that theThird Worldactually stood in flames during this 45-year period in world history. And many of these immensely bloody conflicts had immediate links to the US-Soviet enmity.
In Asia, the Korean War caused one million deaths, in Vietnam 600 000 succumbed and in Indonesia Nixon and Kissinger cheered on as the military dictator Suharto killed off hundreds of thousands of his own citizens. In Iran the British and American intelligence services staged an overthrow of the democratic socialist Mosadeq, paving the way for the Shah who installed a brutal dictatorship that committed horrific violations against its citizens in order to keep itself in unrestricted power. Indirectly, the operation actually paved way for the Islamic revolution and the mullahs’ seize of power in 1979. And depressingly enough, they still rule their poor nation through terror and persecution, mocking the world with their suspected plans to become a nuclear power. Good work!
In Africa, the two superpowers poured their weapons over dictators and rebel groups that had chosen to align themselves with either the US or the Soviets. This way they were able to receive the weaponry they needed to wage war against each other as well as against their own populations in order to stay in power or to seize it. We’re talking Angola, Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Africa and several others. For instance, the South African Apartheid regime received unlimited support from the United Kingdom, Israel and the United States in its attempts to create chaos and mayhem in the neighbouring countries that had socialist governments or contained socialist rebel groups.
Ethiopia was in constant conflict with Somalia and the two countries’ militaries were provided with arms from both superpowers. When Somalia became socialist through a military coup in 1969, it received military support from Soviet while Ethiopia was supported by the US. When Somalia changed sides in 1979, it then got its support from the US. Ethiopia also swapped sides in 1979 and thereafter thus received its support from the Soviets. Simple enough..?
Of course, these two countries didn’t have the means to feed their own populations while receiving all this weaponry. The mass starvation in Ethiopia in 1984 didn’t have so much to do with draught as with lousy governance. Everyone older than 30 or so remembers those TV footages of skeleton children with flies covering their faces. But which news media blamed the regimes? And which newspaper article blamed the unscrupulous superpowers?
Ethiopia as well as Somalia conducted widespread persecution of their citizens to prevent them from supporting the opposition movements. The world community with the US and Soviet in the UN Security Council, certainly had no interest in coming to the rescue of the persecuted, deprived and starved populations of these failed nations. All that mattered was the relentless fight between capitalism and communism.
In Latin America, the US actively aided the Chilean military in ousting socialist president Salvador Allende, and thereby they helped creating a brutal society of terror and fear that lasted for 16 long years. The US gave its unreserved support to every right-wing military dictatorship in Latin America that pursued, tortured and murdered its citizens in order to keep clean from socialism and to secure its own economic interests.
For instance, the military junta of Argentina murdered 30 000 of its own citizens and then dumped them in the sea to eliminate the tracks. What went on in the torture chambers of the dark basements around Argentina we really don’t want to know.
In the backyard of the USA – Central America – an utter inferno of mass murder, torture and suffering was taking place throughout the Cold War. Significantly rotten was the coup d’état in Guatemala in 1954 where American fruit companies (!) happily involved themselves with the coup plans in their own eagerness to keep the poor workers in check and to make themselves even richer. The price was an orgy of slaughter of the country’s rural population including women and children. But who cares? All this slaughter actually went on with the unrestricted permission of the US government.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, on the other hand, was one big relentless digression of slaughter, like carving fetuses out of the bellies of mothers and nail people onto the walls of barns. The Russians were indeed used to this kind of barbarism since, for instance, the counter-invasion of Germany in World War II and the two wars inChechnya (after the fall of the Soviet empire). The Russian army continued the habit of the Soviets by bombing the Chechnyan cities to ashes, murder and rape whole villages on crop fields, and the men got theirs if they dared to complain. Yes, this is Putin’s army of today.
The completely irresponsible and cruel politics the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War were somewhat improved in the early nineties when they turned their backs to several ruthless dictatorships of which many lost their power. But one can hardly say that things turned out nicely. Except for Russia’s ravages in Chechnya, the Desert Storm war in Kuwait (that theoretically was within the boundaries of international law) was conducted with little or no respect for Iraqi civilian lives.
For instance, the US military used radioactive ammunition that caused cancer of several hundred thousand Iraqis. Why did the media forget to report on this? The post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, then, followed the same patterns of ruthlessness and systematic crimes of war.
As if the Cold War wasn’t bad enough in itself, the end of it had horrific consequences in the power vacuum that occurred in many societies as the superpower support was taken away from the governments. Somalia fell like a house of cards around the same time as the collapse of the Soviet empire. Today the country is probably the most lawless place on earth and doesn’t function as a state at all. Simultaneously, former Yugoslavia exploded in full-scale civil war as a direct consequence of the fall of the iron curtain, with horrific human suffering and death in its wake.
Moreover, the former Soviet republics of Central Asia were hit by bloody civil strife as the Soviet Union fell, which caused thousands of victims in the name of ethnic conflict. South Africa, then, was the rare shining star on a Third World heaven painted in blood in the Cold War aftermath. The re-emergence of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela got to symbolize that.