Perpetuating Patriotic Perceptions: The Cognitive Funtion of the Cold War

By Matthew S. Hirshberg | Go to book overview
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7
Balance, Stability, and Change in the Cold War Schema

Heider's ( 1958) notion of structural balance has, over the years, proved to be a useful tool for understanding beliefs and attitudes about international relations (Harary, 1961; Scott, 1965; Jervis, 1976). In the human mind, the family of nations is often divided into opposing camps, one virtuous, the other malevolent. It is assumed that members of each camp support one another, that they oppose members of the other camp, and that they remain true to their benevolent or evil natures. Usually, such balanced belief systems easily simplify international reality, imposing perceptions that justify national chauvinisms. Occasionally, however, complex and changing international realities create pressures for inconsistency and change in the belief systems used to interpret them. Cognitive counter-pressures work to protect balanced belief structures from the threats of inconsistency and change, and to restore balance once it has been lost. New beliefs emerge from this process of conflicting pressures.

According to the cold war schema, the United States and its "free world" allies stand opposed to the Soviet Union and its communist comrades. Salient U.S.Soviet animosity, along with reports of Soviet and communist oppression, bolstered the cold war schema over the years. Popular American use of the cold war schema structured the world in a clear and balanced way that fostered patriotism while justifying national policies and chauvinisms.

International relations, however, are not nearly as simple as the cognitive structures used to understand them. Occasionally complex and changing international realities create pressures for inconsistency and change in the belief systems used to interpret them. Changes in the Soviet Union, and in its relations with the United States, created the sorts of pressures that ignite and power the

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