Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Real War 1

I started Richard Nixon's 1980 book, The Real War.  Nixon's argument in this book is essentially that Communism is expanding throughout the world, and the United States is losing the Cold War.

I have a certain degree of nostalgia as I read this book, to tell you the truth.  I grew up reading right-wing books and magazines about the expansion of Communism, and I actually enjoyed reading them.  Why?  For a variety of reasons.  For one, there was a dramatic quality to them.  You had your good guys, your bad guys, your conspiracies, etc.  Second, these books and magazines allowed me to feel like the smartest person in the room because they questioned prominent narratives that many held, allowing me to feel like they were informing me of things that others did not know.  This literature questioned the narratives that FDR was a good President, that Joe McCarthy was a bad guy, that Gorbachev was truly liberalizing the Soviet Union, and the list goes on.

I used to write papers for my seventh-grade Social Studies class that had a John Bircher sort of spin on history and current events, and my teacher one time asked me, "Do you sleep that well at night?"  That was a good question.  I slept very well at night.  As a matter of fact, reading Bircher-like material was like a bed-time story for me.  How could I have slept so well, if I thought that the Russians would take the U.S. over?  I don't know.  Did I take what I was reading all that seriously?  I thought I was.  Perhaps I believed that Christ would come back and set things right, so I didn't have much to worry about.

I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I feel nostalgia when reading Nixon's book.  It's easy for me to sit in my nice, comfortable room, reading a book about the Cold War.  The fact is, however, that these were events that dramatically affected people's lives.  People lost their homes and their lives during the Vietnam War, to use an example.  This happened as a result of American bombing, but the Communists in Vietnam were also far from perfect, for they themselves killed and murdered without compunction.  Recently, I watched Oliver Stone's Salvador, which was about El Salvador during the early years of the Reagan Administration.  It's sad that we were backing that cruel, murderous regime.  And yet, what else could we have done, when Communists were trying to take over the country, and Communists had already succeeded in setting up satellite states throughout the world?  I think that it was Gorbachev who remarked that nobody "won" the Cold War.  Considering the loss of life that accompanied this conflict, I have to agree with him.

Nixon in The Real War is not a John Bircher.  But he is concerned about the expansion of Communism throughout the world.  He argues that the aftermath of World War II weakened certain bulwarks to Communist expansion: Britain, Germany, and Japan.  Nixon argues that Stalin even during the war had an eye on its aftermath, as Stalin set up armies in Eastern Europe so that he could gain control of those countries once the war had ended.  Nixon here reminds me of something that was said in Joe McCarthy's book, America's Retreat from Victory, and John Stormer's 1964 classic, None Dare Call It Treason: McCarthy and Stormer argue that Churchill wanted for the allies to attack Germany by coming up through Italy rather than by entering through Western Europe, since the former strategy could prevent the Soviets from gaining a foothold in Eastern Europe.  McCarthy and Stormer seem to believe that the allies' failure to pursue Churchill's policy was deliberate on the part of certain high-ranking American officials, whereas Nixon attributes it more to short-sightedness.

Nixon's discussion of the Middle East is interesting.  He is critical of Middle Eastern leaders who nationalize Western industries in their country.  On page 83, he says that Prime Minister Mossadegh's nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company led to disastrous results: a slowing of oil production and economic development, a lagging in the Shah's land reform, and the thriving of the Communist Tudeh party.  Nixon essentially acknowledges that the CIA played a role in overthrowing Mossadegh, and Nixon----one who often denies that the U.S. was aggressive in its treatment of other countries----seems to express no problem with that.

Nixon laments the fall of the Shah in Iran, for he argues that the Shah was a bulwark against Communist designs on the Persian Gulf, designs rooted in the Communists' desire to influence the supply of oil to Europe.  Nixon's discussion of Iraq caught my attention, for, while Nixon does not think that Iraq will be pro-Western, he does note with some favor that it has suppressed internal Communists.  If I'm not mistaken, this was during the Saddam Hussein years.

Another interesting part of my latest reading was Nixon's journey through Russian history.  Nixon essentially argues that the Communists in the Soviet Union are a continuation of the Tsars, who were autocratic and expansionist.  Nixon even notes that Karl Marx was a critic of Tsarist Russian expansionism, which was ironic, considering the expansionism that Russia later made in his name!  And yet, Nixon argues that Communist ideology serves Russian expansionism in that it allows the Soviets to maintain that their imperialism champions the cause of the lower economic classes.

I'll close this post by quoting something that Nixon says on page 27, about why dictators in Africa might consider becoming a Soviet proxy to be attractive:

"When the leaders of African nations go shopping, the Soviets offer them a tempting grab bag.  The Soviet military-industrial complex runs overtime, so they always have ample supplies of weapons to offer, sometimes at bargain prices, and without the delays occasioned by debates over the 'morality' of trafficking in arms.  The Soviet catalogue lists many other accessories for the dictator: East German 'security' experts, Cuban troops, timely tips from the Soviet intelligence networks, and, as Luttwak neatly puts it, 'The broad support of Soviet propaganda, which will ceaselessly proclaim their virtues, even if they do have a weakness for executing people at random.'  Aggressive marketers, the Soviets have recently taken to shipping their clients whole proxy armies as well.  They demand payment for their goods in the currency of power.  The Soviets have not made the na[i]ve mistake of assuming that African leaders care most about economic development for their people.  From their own experience the Soviets know that the first priority of many of these leaders is to maintain themselves in power, and they, not we, offer the most effective 'foreign aid' for this purpose."

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