The mind is our weapon of choice; Language is our ammunition; and Reason keeps our aim true. – F.P. Romero
Why did the Cold War (1947-1991) unfold? Wars are declared for a reason and fought for a noble idea. WWII was declared in the West when Germany and Russia invaded Poland in 1939 and, in the Pacific, when the Empire of Japan invaded the Republic of China in 1937. Democracy and the Western way-of-life was the noble idea. WWI was declared following the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Bosnia by the ‘Black Hand’, a Serbian secret society. The noble idea was national pride. The preceding is gross oversimplification to be sure; the learned have written volumes on each war throughout known history and through a variety of analytical lenses. However, if the observer is far enough away, the date of the war and the mechanism by which governments mobilized the citizenry to fight and die in it, are fairly discrete and simple. On the receiving side mobilizing the citizenry is very simple; they are fighting to defend themselves. The Cold War does not reduce to a reason and a noble idea. It is vexing.
The Cold War more closely resembles an economic construct; some weird and strange Keynesian cycle whose bubble finally burst in 1991, when President Clinton declared the Cold War over. A British economist, civil servant, director of the British Eugenics Society, director of the Bank of England, part of the Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals, patron of the arts, writer, philosopher, private investor, and farmer, John Maynard Keynes, is one of the founders of modern macroeconomics, and he greatly influenced the economic policies of governments. Developed during the 1930s, Keynesian economics is a theory promoting government intervention in the marketplace and monetary policy as the best way to warrant economic growth and stability and level out the ‘boom and bust’ cycles. In the U.S. in 2007, the intervention first by the Bush administration and continuing through the Obama administration to save the too-big-to-fail companies through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, TARP, and the Federal Reserve’s $80 billion a month bond buying program are direct applications of the theory.
Keynes theories were 180 degrees juxtaposed from the classical (or neo-classical) liberal economists who argued for a free market with the role of government being very small and confined. Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, two such economists, argued that government should be as small as possible in order to allow the exercise of individual freedom. They maintained that free markets would, in the short to medium term, automatically provide full employment, as long as workers were flexible in their wage demands. Not surprisingly, almost all capitalist governments adopting the Keynesian policy recommendations resulting in the crony capitalism that is destroying personal freedom and the marketplace in today’s world. For the record, my bias is to the classical liberal.
Murray Rothbard, another classical liberal economist and philosopher, argued for intellectuals as the ‘opinion-molders’ in society in his book, Anatomy of the State. Rothbard stated, “And since it is precisely a molding of opinion that the State most desperately needs, the basis for age-old alliance between the State and the intellectuals becomes clear.” If Rothbard’s definition of the role of the intellectual as ‘opinion-molders’ in society is accurate, it brings the origins of the Cold War into sharp relief. During the 1930s and the 1940s, the U.S. government had grown accustomed to and enthusiastically embraced its role as the economic orchestra conductor that Keynes argued was their role. The intellectuals molded the opinions of society as the New Deal was inked and, before Roosevelt’s death in 1945, most of the members of that society were celebrating their salvation.
The New Deal eliminated the gold standard and promised Americans FCIC (crop insurance), the FDIC (insurance for small bank depositors), a Social security act to help with retirement, the SEC (to make the stock market transparent), a Civil aeronautics board (to provide federal regulation to the airline industry), the Wagener Act (establishing the rights of union a court (NLRB) to hammer out their grievances), and Fannie Mae (primary mortgage system so more people could own homes). Wow, good stuff and free lunches for everyone; gifts from the government. Not everyone was on board, though. In fact, many citizens felt they had lost their country, but most rejoiced. The federal government was king.
Truman was known to have been uncomfortable with many aspects of the New Deal. When he assumed the presidency in 1945, he had been the Vice President 82 days and had only met with Roosevelt twice. Truman was a compromise candidate and was not in with the in-crowd on the major geopolitical issues or politics at home. He was also completely in the dark, except for rumors, on war initiatives or the Manhattan Project, which was about to test the world’s first atomic bomb. Truman asked FDR’s cabinet members to remain. He informed them that he was open to their advice, but stated clearly that he would be the one making decisions, and they were to support him.
Making the decisions himself may have been a hallmark of the Truman administration but he was not immune to the opinions that had already been molded by the intellectuals. They performed their magic in the decade and a half before Truman; they were the magicians who turned the country on its ear with a huge increase in the role of the central government. The die was cast and the pattern established.
As the blush of the success of the end WWII faded, Truman and others were fearful of Stalin and the Communists. It didn’t matter whether or not Stalin’s takeover in Poland was to increase Russia’s buffer zone. It didn’t matter whether or not East Germany was losing is technical capability every night when they went west to go home from their work in the east when he put up the wall. It didn’t matter whether or not Stalin really wanted compensation for the 28 million people Russia lost or just respect for Russia’s contribution. Certainly, Stalin was untrustworthy, cruel, deceitful, and a tyrant. Others before him in different places and at different times had also been all of those things and the U.S. lived and let live. The Cold War started because the intellectual ‘opinion-molders’ reforming culture in the shape of the Keynesian Economic theory created a society that expected the government to take care of them. Those magic molders also reformed the government to a role it relished; that of king.
It was a quickening; the U.S. would not live and let live as far as Russia was concerned. In March 1946, Winston Churchill delivered the “Iron Curtain” Speech and by March, 1947, Truman declared an active role in Greek Civil War to ‘stop the spread of Communism’. The Cold War game was on, the government could use the military as a political tool and it did. Of course, the Soviets played along when they took over Czechoslovakia in 1948.
Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Bosnia, two gulf wars, and military representation in 78 percent of the world’s countries are a few examples of military men and women fighting, being maimed, and dying for political purposes. Right now, the citizens of this country accept blindly that the military may be used anywhere, for any reason. In most cases, the military has been called to fight to solve political embarrassment at home or to refill the pockets of military contractors; but that is another story.
The unfolding of the Cold War was as wrong-headed as embracing Keynesian economics. Both need to stop. The new intellectuals are fighting back with their minds, their words, and their reason. I am pulling for these ‘opinion-molders’ to open the eyes of society. In that culture, our best and brightest can produce the wealth that benefits us all rather than die on battle fields to save some politician’s career.