Cold War Literature: Writing the Global Conflict

Cold War Literature: Writing the Global Conflict

Cold War Literature: Writing the Global Conflict

Cold War Literature: Writing the Global Conflict

Synopsis

This collection of essays analyses the literary response to the coups, insurgencies and invasions that took place around the globe during the Cold War, and explores the thematic and stylistic trends in world writing prompted by Cold War hostilities.

Excerpt

From rhetoric to rollback
Introductory thoughts on Cold War
writing

Andrew Hammond

The ‘Cold War’ is an erroneous term for a global conflict which, spanning several continents and a multitude of coups, civil wars, insurgencies and interventions, was characterized by ongoing armed aggression. From the crisis in Korea, through Vietnam, Dominica, Afghanistan, Angola to the US invasion of Panama, societies worldwide were torn apart by violent hostility. For a Western population, certainly, the military confrontations may have appeared distant phenomena. The eternal round of diplomacy, arms talks and rhetorical exchanges that marked the more immediate dealings between East and West suggested that the appellation ‘cold’, and associated terms such as ‘freeze’, ‘thaw’ and ‘refroidissement’, had some applicability, capturing the frostiness of superpower relations. Globally, however, the Western experience is a clear exception to the norm. In all, the Soviet sponsoring of left-wing regimes and the US rollback of communism resulted in over a hundred wars through the Third World and a body count of over 20 million. In Asia alone, some 11 million died in the fighting in Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, where native communist movements gradually triumphed over US-backed nationalist forces. In Latin America, at least one million died as a result of the right-wing coups that, with US military and financial aid, brought to power ‘some of the most barbarous regimes of the modern world’. Through Soviet engagement in Somalia, Ethiopia, Angola, Afghanistan and elsewhere, close to three million lost their lives. Even in Eastern Europe, tens of thousands were killed in border incidents, in prison camps and in the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The itemization of the dead does not even begin to acknowledge the devastating effects in these years of environmental destruction, forced exile, imprisonment, poverty, torture and disease.

To designate the international conflict as ‘cold’, with its suggestion of inertia and equilibrium, is to do more than falsify the record. The act of understanding a historical period exclusively through the Western experience of that period partakes in the same hegemonic Euro-Americanism that defined the conflict itself, privileging a limited range of subjectivities and relegating all others to insignificance. It is an approach that remains in post-1989 Western historiography, in which the victims of military . . .

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