A quarter century ago today on a ship off the coast of Malta, George H. W. Bush, and Mikhail Gorbachev declared an end to the Cold War.
It was an event that sparked hope in the hearts of tens of millions across the globe.
Ever since the declaration of the Cold War by Winston Churchill in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1945, it was an unmitigated disaster. Domestically it laid the basis for the McCarthy witch-hunts that ruined the lives of tens of thousands and derailed the labor, peace and left movements for decades. Internationally it resulted in the death of perhaps millions as the United States and its NATO allies attempted to contain and roll back movements for national independence, democracy and socialism.
The arms race and drive for nuclear superiority wasted untold billions while children in the U.S. and around the world wanted for adequate food, clothes and textbooks.
The hope, however, that the resources devoted to the perfection of instruments of death would be turned into a “peace dividend” and reinvested in jobs, health care and schools proved short-lived. What was promised in word failed to materialize in deeds. Confrontation, military diktat and intervention continued unabated as imperialism’s need for new markets trumped, time and again, the growing demand for new directions on the environment, health, and growing inequality.
It’s no surprise that the collapse of the USSR failed to slow down these growing crises and in fact may well have accelerated them.
Twenty-five years later, corporate profits still determine politics and policy in our country. In Washington, hostility toward socialism and even socialist orientations remain the order of the day as indicated by the ongoing blockade of Cuba and attempts to isolate and undermine Venezuela. And even though President Obama has on occasion shown some pushback against the most hawkish elements, U.S. policy in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia remains embedded in the fallacy of the U.S.’s “indispensable role.”
But, as recent crises attest, a dramatic change in direction away from confrontation and towards cooperation is necessary. Indeed, the challenges of Ebola, climate change, and combating terrorism in all its forms cry out for it.
And while such change does not come easy, history still holds out the promise that when workers and people get involved and take initiative it will in fact come.
Photo: Wikimedia (CC)