All posts by Emily Bishko

Mind Map: Cold War Superpower Responsibility for the Current Middle East

new-mind-mapIn my RBA, I will be examining how the impacts of the Cold War had on the Middle East helped set the stage for the region’s current crises. Particularly, I will be arguing that a lack of foresight and the tendencies for US and the USSR to view these nations as mere complements to their own objectives cemented the rise of current causes of disorder in the Middle East. This mind map identifies the various topics I need to be sure to address in my RBA in order to successfully weave a persuasive narrative of how the US and the USSR can be considered responsible for some of the region’s current turmoil. The mind map was made through Bubl.us (can be viewed at https://bubbl.us/?s=7459346#Mzc1ODAxMi83NDU5MzQ2L2ExMzFhMjk1MGZiOWQzNmZlMWE2OTk1OWEwMGU4NDQx?X).

 

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The Cold War in the Middle East

For my RBA, I will be investigating how the Cold War played a crucial role in the development of the Middle East during the 20th century, with a specific focus on how this ideological conflict contributed to the 9/11 attacks a decade after its end. It’s a very important topic, as we have to be sure to account for the way external intervention can lead to future issues that we may not originally think of.

There have been a variety of scholars discussing the influence the Cold War on this Middle Eastern region. From the Suez Conflict to the mass of refugees sent from conflict zones, the influence of the US and the USSR has played a major role in the decisions made by regional powers. Much contention exists over who is to blame for what occurs: who is the aggressor, was it morally acceptable for these external powers to get involved in the way they did, and was the sovereignty of the Middle Eastern regions compromised? These different opinions come through in prefaces, article journals, examinations of statistics, and military/history briefings. Many of the sources I am looking to use date back to before 9/11, which would grant me a view of Middle Eastern politics with the emphasis on the Cold War instead of the current war on terror. My goal is to examine these sources alongside recounts of the causes for the 9/11 attacks in attempt to show how the Cold War involvement in the Middle East set the stage for this renewed age of terrorism. I hope to take a more historical approach to the topic, as I really am interested in how actions of the past brought us to our situation today.

Not Just any Proxy War on a Tropical Planet

Fiction has always been potent at revealing truths about reality that may otherwise have remained hidden. Often, it is able to do this by suspending audiences’ preconceived notions on the fiction’s subject; after all, only a representation of the subject is given. The fictionalization allows the creator to add their own perspectives on the subject discussed.

As illustrated by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes in his article “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of US Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series”, this is exactly what occurs in the Stark Trek episode “A Private Little War”. From its jungle setting to the role of proxy powers, this episode’s battle between the Klingon-backed Appellas to the federation-backed Tyrees, this episode echoes what actually occurred in the Vietnam War. In it, the protagonists of Star Trek visit a planet and discover that a native group on the island, the Appellas, has had a very recent and sudden advancement in their weapon technology (going from learning to forge iron to having flintlock guns), realize that this is due to intervention by the Klingons, the series’ primary antagonists, and thus in turn offer reluctant support to the other group on the planet, the Tyrees. In case it was not explicit enough that the federation protagonists represented the US, that the Klingons symbolized the USSR, that the Appellas denoted North Vietnam, and that the Tyrees exemplified South Vietnam, a conversation between two of the show’s protagonists, Captain Kirk and Spock, directly compared this fictional event to the Vietnam War, which is said to have happened in the futuristic, science-fiction universe in which Star Trek occurs. Ultimately, as Sarantakes explains, this dialogue and the episode were “designed to illustrate the morally ambiguous position of the United States in Vietnam”.

As Sarantakes assesses, “the only reason Star Trek could deal with the war was the program’s futuristic setting”. This is particularly important because the episode aired at the height of the Vietnam War itself; if it had dealt with the exact conflict outright, it would have been considered as political commentary, which may have severely hurt its reception. However, as fiction, the episode is still able to comment on the morality of American intervention in the war while escaping this scrutiny. After all, questioning the war’s morality is to question the government. Additionally, discussing the war through science fiction also increases the audience’s ability to internalize this message, as they are entering the discussion of the fictionalized conflict without their biases on its real-life inspiration.

This ability to introduce a perspective judgment-free is why so many creators return to allegory. Personally, my first encounters with allegory came mostly from the Harry Potter series. Of the numerous allegories present throughout the seven novels, the most obvious is the comparison of the antagonistic Death Eater Army to the Nazis, as well as their persecution of “muggle-borns” parallels the World War II persecution of Jews (and most other cases of mass persecution, in some form or other). By associating these acts with the fictional embodiment of evil, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling denounces their actions as well as the actions of their real-life counterparts. Although this allegory is historical, it still presents commentary on similar present and future acts. I know that I, for example, would not be the person I am today without having read Harry Potter at such a young age. After all, the lessons learned in fiction very seldom remain in these imaginary worlds.

Suburban “Citadels”

In his article Disaster and Decentralization: American Cities and the Cold War, University of British Columbia geographer Matthew Farish links the white exodus from cities during the mid-20th century to fear that urban centers are more likely to be targeted by nuclear weapons. This argument comes to head when Farish describes the postwar suburbs as “peripheral, expansive and architecturally, racially and (largely) economically homogeneous. It was these suburban ‘citadels’ that infiltrated the discourse of Cold War geopolitics: they were the quintessential sites of American life, the spaces where history was being actively written. Suburbs embodied order, safety and a deeply gendered consumerism that ‘became as solid a pillar of the United States version of cold war culture as did its remasculinized military’ ”.

In these sentences, Farish acknowledges the set up of the suburbs, their importance to the Cold War and American life, as well as their ability to represent American ideals of the era. “Peripheral” is an interesting diction choice, but it speaks to their location as being still relevant but hopefully removed sufficiently from cities for protection from an aerial attack. This idea of suburbs offering protection is re-iterated through “citadels”, which is emphasized further by being put in quotation marks. Citadels are often isolated, fortified, and protected. By straddling the word between a mention of the Cold War and racial/economic homogeneity, Farish extends this metaphor to paint the suburbs as a residential area intended to be protected from nuclear attacks, communism, and those who do not conform. Additionally, the word elicits images of rich, middle-Europe nobility, thus correlating these areas to upper class, white residents. Farish continues by explaining that these characteristics of suburbs enabled them to create a sense of security; like Elaine Louise May says, home is the bastion of security in this insecure world of the Cold War. Finally, Farish concludes by likening the suburbs to the American military, in the sense that they both exemplify cold war culture. He employs a quote in this conclusion to appeal to ethos. As a whole, this quote illustrates the role of the suburb in Cold War life and in the image of White America. Through it, he balances explaining the effect of the onset of nuclear warfare on American behavior while presenting a cultural phenomenon of this time period, which was his intent throughout his paper.

It’s interesting to compare this very physical response to the onset of nuclear warfare as compared to the onset of terrorism with the 9/11 attacks. A key difference between the two, of course, is that the former was American initiated on foreign soil whereas in the latter, the US was the victim. The images of the falling twin towers provoke fear, empathy, remembrance, and sorrow. They are often positioned as to symbolize a loss of freedom, as if the US was entering in conflict with another foe (which politically, is what happened). Nevertheless, both disasters introduced fear to the American mentality. During the Cold War, it became possible for the US to be directly attacked- their geographic isolationism no longer offered sufficient protection from destructive aerial warfare. With 9/11, they were attacked. The fear both events inspired can be seen in the rush to build nuclear fall out centers or to move to suburbs, just as the 9/11 attacks elicited a war in the Middle East and greatly increased airport security. The imagery of the Twin Towers falling is particularly poignant because it represents direct American danger. Thus, it reminds the American people that despite our newfound physical vulnerability, the nation will still stand strong and triumph.

Quick Write: Close Mindedness post 9/11

Throughout his chapter “G.W. Bush Administration Narratives of Threat and Containment”, Lugo continuously draws parallels between the containment of the USSR, the containment of terrorism, and the containment of gay couples. All of these notions were categorized as “un-American”, and therefore dangerous. Ultimately, these ideas come to the forefront during Lugo’s discussion of Elaine May’s argument that the “traditional gender roles promoted during the Cold War years “constituted a domestic version of containment” (2001, p. 125)” (Lugo 12), just as they were summarized by GW Bush’s public assessment that “”either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”(2001)” (Lugo 9).

This close-minded binary attitude is worrying. It limits freedom of thought and expression, the very “American” values that are looking to be protected. Likely, these internal divisions, particularly the alienation of the LGBTQ+ community, were created to offer an “other”that, unlike terrorism, could be contained.  As Lugo points out, these “witch hunts” parallel those of the Cold War era. However, all they succeed in doing is antagonizing innocents and creating domestic issues, leading to a less unified front.

My gut reaction to this article was anger. How could we as a nation have been so homophobic, so recently? How could we have thought that public terrorism was equivalent to private home lives, of anyone? Even though Lugo specified this was not the intended Pathos of the argument, it still made me more appreciative of the turnaround we as a nation have had in the past 10-15 years. The war on terrorism continues, but fortunately the domestic divisions of “us vs them” seem to be at long last beginning (emphasis on beginning) to disappear as we become increasingly aware of our collective American identity.

“Avenging” the American Ideal

As fellow blogger “alexkimpwr” pointed out in an excellent post, Marvel’s 2008 Iron Man film replicates the strength-oriented, “us vs. them” rhetoric of the Cold War. However, this film is but one in a series of films and TV shows released and in production by the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the joint intention of building up to 2019’s culminating Avengers: Infinity War- Part 2. Based on the heroes of Marvel’s beloved pre-9/11 comic books, this contemporary cinematic universe combines its heroes’ storylines to forge multiple storylines in one cohesive narrative. Yet despite the futuristic technology and humorous banter between characters, Cold War themes continue to shine through this seemingly non-Cold War tale.

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An illustration of some key heroes in the Universe. Reusable image courtesy of flickr user marvelousRoland.

 

Nowhere is the influence clearer than the alienation of Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff (the Black Widow) and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier). While both these characters are considered “good”, their previous affiliations with the USSR continue to mark them as suspicious. It does not help that they stand in direct contrast to Chris Evan’s Steve Rogers (Captain America), the embodiment of American strength and patriotism.

That Steve is close friends to both Natasha and Bucky does not lessen the fact that the series continuously antagonizes the foreign, and, specifically, Eastern Europe. The (human) criminal masterminds of the story all speak in Slavic tongues/accents and create plots that spur paranoia. Even in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the movie concludes with the discovery that a foreign threat was manipulating characters’ tensions behind the scenes rather than risking to show two American heroes, Steve Rogers and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (Iron Man), at extreme odds with each other (watch clip of discovery here).

After all, the film is still very much about “us vs. them”. In 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, only a visit to the farm home of Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton (Hawkeye) reinvigorates the heroes with the strength to fight by reminding them of the ideal they are trying to protect. The glimpse of American life shown there – the white middle class family of (almost) five living peacefully on an idyllic farm – aligns very closely to the American image projected during the Cold War as both the situation to protect and aspire to. In much the same way, the “other” in this film is a technological advancement that went too far and threatened global destruction in much the same way as nuclear weapons. Indeed, the enemies’ plots in many of the series’ installments involve mass destruction and spur paranoia, as the nuclear arms race of the Cold War did.

It can be argued, of course, that these Cold War cultural remnants are due to the fact that the series’ inspiration came from Cold War era comic books. Nonetheless, the popularity of the films continue to suggest that the Cold War narrative of potential destruction is still one the audience buys into, just as the film’s depictions of “us vs. them” still enforces the idea of these divisions. Although the series has not yet reached its conclusion, so maybe it will eventually cut ties with the Cold War storyline. Maybe.