Cold War Heats Up

by Sandeep Ramesh | 11/6/01 6:00am

We have all learned about the Cold War in history classes. Terms like containment, the Marshall Plan, Berlin crisis and communism have been spewed at us in the classroom. But it seems that we are at the brink of a new lesson, one in which we become part of history.

The Cold War, to put it simply, began as an ideological battle between democracy and totalitarianism, capitalism and communism. It brought this fragile world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Surely, complexities surround this political war, but that is not the question at hand. More importantly, following the dreaded events of Sept. 11, we must ask ourselves in this time of intense danger, "Has the Cold War ended?"

Perhaps after the dissolution of the USSR, the citizens of the United States have gained a sense of victory. The United States won the Cold War? I don't consider myself so nave. At the very least, the legacy of the Cold War has thrust the world into a tenuous global arms race with the possibility of nuclear omnicide, be it accidental or advertent, increasing with each passing day.

So then, has the Cold War truly ended? The complex, drawn-out answer is no. Just as the United States faced off against an ideological foe, "communism," this nation once again finds itself at odds with another abstract enemy, "global terrorism." Today's war on terrorism is starkly different from the attacks on Iraq and the Kosovo conflict. In those cases, the United States acted resolutely with firm objectives, achieving its goals through military overpowering. Unfortunately, terrorism has no face. Capturing bin Laden or obliterating al-Qaida does not equal the destruction of terrorism. "Defeating" Stalin and the USSR during the 20th-century Cold War similarly did not mean the end of communism. The risk of another terrorist attack from other unstable areas, be it in Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, anywhere, remains just as great even if bin Laden is wiped off the face of the earth. Whoever says, "No, terrorism dies with bin Laden" is hopelessly disillusioned. Need I remind you of Sept. 11? Who could have imagined such a violent act? Sept. 11 should serve as a reminder that terrorism is always a threat.

The parallels between the Cold War of the past and the Cold War of the present extend beyond the fact that the United States faced and continues to face abstract enemies. Bush's call for a "civilization's fight" against terrorism should remind us of the Truman Doctrine. In case you slept through that day of history class, the Truman Doctrine of 1947 invited all nations to "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." Translation: this Cold War, like the last, is not a localized war fought within boundaries of the United States alone. Rather, this war against terrorism, like the war against communism, extends beyond territorial lines. This Cold War, like the last, is indeed an entire civilization against the ghosts of terrorism. And needless to say, the war on terrorism will not be "one battle, but a lengthy campaign" as our President cautions. A single bomb or a platoon of soldiers will not go down in the history books as solving the war on terrorism. Instead, the battle will be fought on numerous fronts just as it was fought once before against the USSR.

Even Bush flat out told the nation that he will employ covert operations that the American populace won't readily know about. Sound familiar? Kennedy's Operation Mongoose during the latter half of the Cold War? In case you aren't nodding your head furiously in agreement, Mongoose was a top secret plan to send in networks of moles into Cuba, plot the assassination of Castro, and a host of other underhanded initiatives that escape us even now. Indeed, this is going to be a war on many fronts -- diplomatic, ideological, shady underhandedness and yes, military.

Since the Cold War has been resurrected from the dead (or has it ever died?), the task of learning from history's mistakes will definitely be put to the test. Whether we take notes, study up, and ace this new test, I don't know. But I do know that if we are not careful, more instability in Afghanistan or neighboring areas could result from the nation's actions in the war on terrorism exactly like the instability that remained after the bout with Russia -- the disasters in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

If that is the case, the Cold War may never truly end. Instead, it will keep heating up.