“The Cold War’s Hot Demise” September 2010

WAMC Audio for “The Cold War’s Hot Demise

Steven A. Leibo Ph.D.
Professor of International History & Politics

“The Cold War’s Hot Demise”

So there I was, sitting there depressed as the Cuban Missile Crisis headed toward a nuclear exchange that would have devastated human civilization. And all I could think of was that I would never ever be able to own a go-kart, something I had coveted for most of my twelve years of existence.

But of course we survived. At least on a global level that terrifying nuclear exchange never happened. But the century’s core battle over that ubiquitous human question:

“What should the relationship be between the government and the economy?” Never seems to go away.

Of course that core ideological debate of the cold war between the capitalist west and the command economies of the east never reached that ultimate moment of confrontation. While today, as a professor of modern world history, I have found myself for years teaching students about the Cold War, college students who, born after the collapse of the Soviet Union, have understandably no idea what communism was even about.

Young people with no idea about that basic ideological question that was thought so critical that we gambled hundreds of millions of lives on it

“Better dead than red” .. as the saying went.

Though it’s true my students certainly do have a sense of that obsolete battle’s more subtle domestic reflection, that somewhat less nuclear, verbal battle that has so often divided today’s Americans –

conservatives from progressives, republicans from democrats.

The battle that still rages over that simple question of the role of the government in the economy, fundamental to ideological battles from regulating health care to Wall Streets’ bankers.

But frankly, I never thought that that ever so familiar struggle would one day return us to those dark days of the Cold War when not elections but existence was on the line.

When the fate of humanity once again hung in the balance between those two contending economic organizational models, and yet today, that is exactly where we find ourselves as one contemplates the current battle over humanity’s reaction to the phenomenon of man- made climate change.

A battle that has been extraordinarily well documented in three new books:

Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming

By James Hoggan

The Climate War True Believers, Power Brokers and the fight to Save the Earth

Eric Pooley

The Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

By Naomi Oreskes & Eric Conway

Three very different works that patiently walk the reader through the wonderfully well documented tale of how humanity’s perhaps last fatal battle, the question of how the battle over dealing with the impact of our carbon emissions on the belt of green house gases that have always regulated the planetary heat balance, was sidetracked by the old Cold War era ideological battle over the role of the government in the economy.

Yes, all those single minded over committed ideologues that are so afraid that recognizing the reality of global warming might force them to recognize necessity of a greater regulatory role for the government in moving us toward a safer less carbon intense energy future that they have become incapable of appreciating the enormous body of science behind the threat of man made climate change.

After all, if the science is wrong, we don’t need to get to that next and ever so obvious conclusion that to forestall this emerging catastrophe of so called “extreme weather” we need the regulatory powers of government to take this on.

A conclusion that has simply become a bridge too far for so many of the extreme right especially so for some of our leading tea party type political contenders this month from Nevada’s Sharon Angle to Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, from California’s Carly Fiorina to Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson.

Leaving the rest of us, those who still remember that earlier potentially fatal ideological confrontation and those too young to remember how lethal it could have become dangling in the wind of ever more common “extreme weather” events. Yes, our very existence at risk over a potentially fatal ideological battle that a huge percent of us had already forgotten.

About Steven Leibo

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