Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Exegeting and confronting our academic role

Reframing history will change the future. This is a battle with existential consequence when we think of how perceptions of the past color conflict today. Convincing people that someone is good and someone else is bad is how these lines get drawn and adversarial conflict can erupt. This is how propaganda works and it is the province of the academicians to correct bad propaganda, or at least to make the attempt.

Janet Martin-Nielsen (2010, p. 138) writes about Cold War linguistics:
This was an era in which language came to be seen and wielded as a tool – a tool for America’s diplomatic and scientific interlocutors, a tool necessary for securing America’s coveted place as the leader of free nations.

Here we see revealed the biased language of the intelligentsia, those who serve the cause and case of the empire. The leader of free nations? How can we still be referring to the US during the Cold War in those terms? We helped to make sure that Iranians, Guatemalans, Congolese and others were not free. We took away their freedom. We overthrew their democratically elected leaders.

The brutality of the Soviet Union and Red China under Mao is well documented. Their people weren't free and they created buffer states without freedom. Few rational people would have chosen to live in those countries rather than in the US.

But the choice in much of the Global South was between being a client state to one of these behemoths or another, and China's reach only extended to border states, so Africa, the Pacific Island nations, the Middle East and South America were, for the most part, the proxy battlegrounds between the Soviet Union and the US. This did not work out well for the freedom of the people on the ground in either case. Communist dictatorships were horrific and the kleptocracies installed and backed by the US were equally as devastating.

What historians and others need to face is that "the free world" was the US, Canada, western Europe, and some Pacific Rim nations, mostly those with post-colonial white citizenry. The US nuclear umbrella hovered over those countries, but especially western Europe. If the Cold War was nothing else, it was the very essence of racist, as though people of color were irrelevant pawns and the fate of European descendants was all that was worthy of evaluation.

Time to revisit and rewrite and reformulate how we refer to history if we hold that peace and justice should be featured factually. The reconciliation process cannot properly begin without this reorientation.


Martin-Nielsen, J. (2010). ‘This war for men’s minds’: the birth of a human science in Cold War America. History of the Human Sciences, 23(5), 131-155. doi:10.1177/0952695110378952

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