By Terah Clifford
An event in the history of conflict in the U.S. came up over and over throughout the readings this last week, one that has personally shaped my life and worldview: the Cold War, specifically the end of it. I had great-grandparents who fought in World War II, and my parents grew up during the height of the Cold War. My dad told me many times about how hard it was growing up and doing nuclear bomb drills in school; even as a child in Kindergarten he knew that his flimsy little desk and the four walls of his classroom would not offer any protection from something as catastrophic as a nuclear bomb. Many Americans grew up hearing similar stories, which means the sentiments of the Cold War are often anything but cool.
While I recognize that the players in the Cold War were from the Western World, the tension between the U.S. and the U.S. affected the whole world in the post-globalization age. While I have experienced how this conflict has affected the way Americans view their interactions with the world, I did not realize how much they influenced the formation of peacebuilding and conflict resolution techniques. Ronald Paris pointed out in The Origins of Peacebuilding that the competing ideologies of the United States and the U.S.S.R. influenced the way countries chose to operate during UN missions. Eugenia’s reading from How the Rich are Destroying the Earth also pointed out that the end of the Cold War propagated the notion that capitalism won over socialism, which leads to interesting questions of the role of the moralization of capitalism on the degradation of the environment. The whole world was caught in the middle of this conflict and the results of the decisions that were made both during and after continue to reverberate almost 30 years after its end.
These are just a few examples of how primarily Western conflicts shape our views and implementation of peace, including the insistence of implementing capitalism and democracy throughout the end of the 20th century. This was seen as the formula that would bring about world peace, mostly based on the popular idea that democracies do not go to war with each other. While this may have proven true in the past, it does not mean that the Western conception of regime change and the implementation of democracy is the magical answer to conflict. Rather, it often contributes to instability within countries and results in many negative consequences. Along these lines, I have become increasingly aware over the last few years of the role the U.S. plays as a superpower and how it is known for acting as a police state, a fact many countries resent. The end of the Cold War is presented in history classes as one of the great achievements of the 20th century, but our relations with Russia are still fraught with tension. A book I read in a security class referred to it as a “hot peace,” which I think is a very accurate description. Perhaps our great success story was not as successful as we think, which means there could still be lessons to be reviewed and learned. As I reflected this week on the role of the U.S. in conflict situations, I can only think that perhaps it would serve us well to act a student rather than always casting ourselves in the role of the teacher.