The Cold War & the Intellectuals
Americans are a future-oriented people, disinclined to dwell on the past. Since the cold war reached its abrupt and unanticipated end, their inclination has been to focus on what is to come next, whether it be a new world order, a democratic crusade, or simply a return to pre-totalitarian power politics. This temperamental inclination has been strengthened by what they are turning away from. The cold war went on for a long, long time. It was in many ways a dreary and monotonous conflict in which highlights were few and significant movement rare. After the first few years, the battle lines were clearly drawn, the positions static, the strategies fixed, and the official rhetoric known by heart. What a relief, then—especially for intellectuals, whose preferred game is interpreting the new—to turn away from it and to contemplate an international scene suddenly full of novelty, drama, and unpredictable movement.
And yet the cold war cannot be dismissed as something that is not only over but done with. As well as celebrating victory and trying to anticipate the future, we shall have to go back and think seriously about it again. It is not only that there are lessons to be learned from it, though there are. And it is not merely that there are questions to be answered, and that the way they are answered will determine the allocation of a significant amount of political credit and prestige—though there is that, and it is not negligible. It is that we simply have too much intellectual and moral capital invested in the cold war, have been too much shaped by it, to write it off as an episode that is no longer relevant.
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