The world was so simple during the Cold War. We had a paradigm which no one doubted – Western capitalism had created a false and yet easy to understand dialectic between itself on the one hand, and an invented enemy on the other – the Soviet Union. Our ideology, our political structures, our military strategy, and our economy were all based on this assumed opposition – and for over forty years it provided us with a stable and peaceful basis on which to build our society. Never mind that it was a lie – most ideologies are; the fact is, it worked, it provided a concrete philosophy for many millions to live by, and it created jobs, and power. So much power.
The end of the Cold War was a shock to the people wielding that power. Sure, the goal of our Western ideology had been to bring down the Evil Empire of the Soviets, but it was dogma more than strategy; no one believed that it would happen, and certainly not with the speed it did. All the people in power, the economic structures and systems of production and consumption of the tools of war – the arms manufacturers and dealers - which depended absolutely on the perpetuation of this false, ideological dichotomy for their survival, were suddenly struck with fear that their very reason for existence was crumbling about them. They needed to preserve their painstakingly built status quo; they needed to maintain the fiction of their invented enemy. Without it, the future was unclear, unstable, a thing of chaos and unpredictability.
Viewed in hindsight, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy with their plight. They had a system which worked – never mind the fact that it was based on a lie. To step beyond that system required a courage and a capacity for dealing with uncertainty and change which was simply beyond them. They set about finding a new Great Enemy, a new target for their ideology of Fear and Loathing, with a vengeance. Within months of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, American and British forces were in Iraq, and a new enemy was being sold to us.
None of this should have been a surprise to us. The First World War was pretty much a gambit organised by the big arms manufacturers; the “straight-line” mapmakers who drew up the new borders of Africa and the Middle East likewise were careful to build in the seeds of conflict and disaffection with every border they drew, separating family from family, splitting nations down the middle, throwing warring communities together. It was a cynical game, but there was no time for subtlety.
So how have we been sold the New Enemy? How on earth is the tired old Cold War paradigm still alive and well today, with the same hackneyed clichés wheeled out to describe completely different realities with the same alarmingly sloppy brush strokes. How did we swallow this? Could it actually be that we no longer care? After the Cold War, a window of opportunity existed to settle upon a new paradigm for a real New World Order, and we missed it. Perhaps there is still time – but now, as we stand on the brink of social upheavals caused by climate change and economic collapse, it seems likely we no longer have the stomach for brave and responsible choices. How has it come to this?