Last week, I ended with a reference to two-time-Pulitzer-winning journalist Walter Lippman’s words in his 1947 book Cold War. He warned that the West’s penchant for seeing everything through the lens of communism-vs.-capitalism, without considering specific circumstances, would cause dangerous blind spots in national policy. In particular, he warned that the biggest challenge the West would face in coming decades would be a global surge in nationalism.
Remember, when a country gains hegemony they have to constantly be involved in issues all around the world in order to protect their (suddenly greatly expanded) national interests. It is like a pipeline in which a constant flow must be maintained, with no leaks or kinks, in order for it all to work. It is no accident I use a pipeline as an analogy, because in the 20th/21st century control of oil has been one of the foremost resource considerations for maintaining hegemony, first by Britain and then by us. Remember, also, third-world countries tend to be controlled by first-world countries… in order to take their resources.
So when third-world countries want to end foreign influence over their resources - perhaps by throwing off the yoke of colonialism and declaring their independence, or simply by taking over national control of their resources and cutting out foreign investors -it creates a kink. It obstructs the flow. It endangers the financial primacy of the hegemon; it conflicts with that hegemon’s national interests, even though it concerns a different nation who want to control their OWN interests. This is what Lippmann meant about nationalism being a challenge - all those formerly colonized countries around the world declaring their independence during the 20 years after the end of World War II and trying to prevent outsiders from controlling their economies and resources. Of course, the Soviets were always willing to cheer such actions on and offer help, caught up as they also were in the Cold War mentality of East vs. West. But those third-world countries were not necessarily looking at it that way - they were promoting their own national interests, as countries do.
In 1952 the people of Iran kicked out their dictator, the Shah, who had been closely allied with the U.S. and Britain. They elected a new leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, who announced he was going to nationalize the oil industry - cutting out American and British companies and putting the Iranian government in charge of their own resources. One year later, he was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the CIA and MI6. He was sent to prison, where he died three years later, and the Shah was put back into power… and the oil flowed freely to the west.
In 1950, Juan Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was fairly elected the leader of Guatemala. Generally considered a moderate, he did give land to peasants and nationalized the fruit industry. The United Fruit Company, based in the U.S., decried that as socialism… and soon the CIA engineered a coup, after which he was replaced by a dictator who protected the interests of American companies. Twenty years later, similar CIA actions put the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet in charge of Chile.
Vietnam was a colony of France and was brutally occupied by Japan during the war. A resistance movement, led by Ho Chi Minh, was funded and trained by the OSS (forerunner of the CIA). The Vietnamese thought when Japan surrendered, they could declare independence, but were instead returned to France. Despite being communist, Ho appealed to America for help, but we did not want to interfere with our French allies. So he turned to the Soviets and China for support - and eventually drove out the French. We took France’s place, not realizing that - communist or not - the real goal of Ho and most Vietnamese was nationalist. They didn’t want to spread communism - they just wanted their country back.
We would have huge problems for decades in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America due to these 1950s actions.
To be continued.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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