A Visit to the Cold War Era

20th century, last century of the previous millennium has shaped much of the world that we see today. It was a century that saw the fallout of ambitious rivalries, exposed the sham of “civilizational superiority” of industrialized nations and saw the catastrophes caused by rivalry of two ideologies.

So during the World War II, though the Soviets and the USA had fought on the same side, the ideological gap between them had been expanding ever since, and reached the point of rupture in the aftermath of the war. And then began the ‘Great Games’. Games of action and reaction.

The Korean peninsula, snatched from the Japanese was divided by the 38th Parallel. The North was given to the Soviets and South to the USA. It was agreed that the two Koreas would be united later. Elections in South Korea were held and USA conveniently installed a pro-West Regime there. But Soviets delayed elections in the Northern part and installed a Communist leader Kim Il Sung as a counterweight to the South. And with encouragement they egged on North to invade the South, which it did efficiently in 1950. Alarmed at this, UN Peacekeeping forces were sent and forced the enemy back to the Chinese Border. The newly formed Communist China regarded this as a threat from the US and entered the fray, pushing the UN peacekeeping Forces back to the South. Ultimate Ceasefire line was almost the same as the 38th parallel, in 1953. And Unification of Korea? Dream on.

A convoy of U.S. Army trucks cross the 38th parallel during the Korean War. The parallel marks the dividing line between North and South Korea.
Korean War: A convoy of U.S. Army trucks cross the 38th parallel during the Korean War. The parallel marks the dividing line between North and South Korea.

Initially, after the Communist Revolution in 1949, China had emerged as a Communist State after carting the West backed Nationalists off to Taiwan. The country enjoyed a sort of friendly relations with the USSR. But the course of events put the two countries on a divergent road. The USSR considered itself elder brother and more Communist than China. China resented this, but didn’t respond. But after 1961 when the USSR signed a peace treaty with USA, refused to give the atom Bomb to China and denounced Stalin after his death the honeymoon was over and China broke all its treaties with the USSR in late 1960s. Taking advantage of this the US under Nixon reached out to China through Pakistan and extended a hand of friendship. This visit was reciprocated by visit of Deng Xiaoping to the US in 1979 and that’s when the USSR and China were officially on collision course.

Joseph Stalin: Regarded as “Father of the Revolution” in China, ruled USSR as a dictator with an iron fist and whose agricultural policies killed millions of people.
Joseph Stalin: Regarded as “Father of the Revolution” in China, ruled USSR as a dictator with an iron fist and whose agricultural policies killed millions of people.

Next game was played out in Vietnam. When the US, afraid of victory of a Communist North Vietnam over South Vietnam, invaded it, in 1968. They imagined that a small and poor country in the East would not be able to stand up to the might of a superpower. Alas! They were mistaken. The US suffered a heavy defeat and owing to the public outrage in the country, had to pull out of Vietnam in 1973. Such a loss of face. But they did help in bringing about a change in the region. They indirectly helped in installing the amazing regime of Pol Pot in neighbouring Cambodia, in 1975, who was such an efficient dictator that he wiped out a quarter of population of Cambodia with his eccentric policies. Naturally Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 due to Pol Pot’s regular tantrums.

A procession in the US against the useless and expensive war in Vietnam
A procession in the US against the useless and expensive war in Vietnam

Interestingly, Cambodia was also an ally of China, which declared a war on Vietnam in retaliation. And Vietnam was an ally of the USSR. Despite both being Communists, China and USSR, had shared frosty relations after the demise of Stalin. But when Communist China declared a war on Vietnam, Soviets made all the right noises but they didn’t really come to the rescue when the war actually started. In hindsight, it’s apparent that Vietnam didn’t really need much help as they demolished the Chinese army single-handedly. So Vietnam had scored a major victory over the US, China and Cambodia in a single decade. The lesson that the Chinese wanted to teach Vietnam, learned it themselves. From then on it was all about modernising the Chinese Army to take on foes. And as we can see they have done a good job at it, the Chinese.

Location of the next Great Game was Afghanistan. In 1979 after getting disappointed by a fellow communist regime in Afghanistan, the USSR decided to invade the country, and as we’ll see, it proved to be a costly mistake. So when the Soviets entered Afghanistan, a party that they had not factored in till then became a major player, Pakistan. Alarmed at being surrounded by India on one side and India’s ally on the other side, Pakistan decided to help the USA in repelling the USSR from Afghanistan by creating the Mujahedeen to fight in Afghanistan. Zia Ul Haq was the military dictator of Pakistan at that time. And these fighter were so efficient in their Guerrilla warfare against the Soviets that after 10 disastrous years, the Soviets decided to withdraw from the country. This war also featured close cooperation between two eternal foes, Pakistan and Israel, over a mutual enemy Russia. World Geopolitics sometimes do lead to awkward situations like these.

 

Then there are other side stories of Arab-Israel conflicts of 1967 and 1973, in which the US sided with Israel and Russia sided with Arabs. Another long story of how the involvement of two superpowers in a festering conflict can create a sticky situation.

In the end, just to counter the spread of Communism in the World, the US ended up supporting awful regimes in the Latin American countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala etc., and even helped in overthrow the democratically elected Allende regime in Chile. Ultimately after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, the world finally had to put up with one police, the US. So it kept itself busy in policing other parts of the world like, protecting its ally Saudi Arabia from Iraq in 1991, then invading Iraq in 2003 to get rid of an antagonist Saddam Hussein. And recently, Afghanistan. While US has spent chunks of its economy on these policing missions abroad, China has been rapidly catching up and soon before we know it there will be another hegemon, another world police.

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