By Chet Yarbrough
The Cold War (A World History)
By: Odd Arne Westad
Narrated by: Julian Eifer
Odd Arne Westad (Norwegian author, historian, professor of History and Global Affairs Yale University.)
Westad argues “The Cold War” rises from the industrial revolution.
Od Arne Westad’s book is summarized here but not fairly assessed based on his erudition and the book’s voluminous facts and opinions. He argues the industrial revolution improves economic conditions of the world’s population via two fundamental forms of government, i.e., one Democratic and the other Socialist.
Westad notes America and the U.S.S.R. are principal representatives and antagonists of “The Cold War” because of their way of capitalizing on the industrial revolution.
Westad implies communism is a form of extreme Socialism. Some might argue America is a form of extreme Democracy. The facts Westad reveals show both countries have autocratic tendencies and have made historical mistakes that have cost millions of lives. The irony of those mistakes is that America became a more socialist-capitalist country and the U.S.S.R., now Russia, became a more capitalist-socialist country.
In broad outline, Westad’s historical facts define “The Cold War” as it developed in the 20th century. Westad covers most of the world in recounting the consequence of “The Cold War”. He notes key players like Indira Gandhi, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Joseph Stalin, Josip Broz Tito, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Yasser Arafat, David Ben-Gurion, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and others.
There are so many stories of so many leaders, one may lose sight of Westad’s argument–“The Cold War” is defined by the industrial revolution. In some ways, Westad gives short shrift to the significance of one person’s impact on “The Cold War”. However, historians choose their facts to make their point.
The importance of Gorbachev is perfectly identified by Westad’s characterization of the Gorbachev era. The impact of glasnost on world history is a book by itself.
When Khrushchev gave his speech that revealed Stalin’s atrocities, Mao lost all respect for U.S.S.R. leadership. President Xi is a strong proponent of the ideals of Maoist communism which implies Russian/Chinese’ relationship is utilitarian more than ideological. The same might be said of Russia’s and China’s support of North Korea.
Westad implies Mao considered Stalin a near God.
The importance of Gamal Abdul Nasser to the Arab world is exemplified by Westad’s explanation of Nasser in Egypt. A similar misreading of history is dispelled about Indira Gandhi and the lack of respect given by Nixon and Kissinger of her role in India.
Westad’s explanation of Stalin’s disrespect of Tito is enlightening. Tito idolizes Stalin but that feeling is not reciprocated by Stalin because, to Stalin, there could only be one leader of the communist movement.
In a trip to the countries formed out of Yugoslavia, it is interesting to note the respect the older generation had for Tito. That respect for authoritarian leaders is noted by Wested when he writes of Stalin. In spite of the millions of Russians murdered or incarcerated by Stalin, improvement in living standards of many Russians endeared him to many citizens.
Wested’s history reminds one that autocracy is not limited to any particular form of government. Just as Tito was an autocrat of Yugoslavia, one might view Trump as a Wanna-Be autocrat of America. Both had their committed followers.
In the modern age, Russia’s hegemonic role in the world has been replaced by China. Like Russia, China adopted a more socialist/capitalist economic system. “The Cold War” continues but the major representatives have changed.
The only political ideal that saves humanity from tyranny is freedom within rule-of-law.
A peaceful settlement of the #RussianUkrainianWar will be difficult. It is not America’s or other countries’ job to pick winners and losers. Ultimately, it will be Ukraine’s decision whether the #PutinWarCriminal prevails or fails.
What one is left with after finishing Westad’s history is the belief that neither Democracy, Socialism, nor Communism offer final answers for the future. Autocracy infects all three systems of government.