No End in Sight

December 13, 2009

I’m in one of "those" moods right now. The dark ones. The ones that come from mental fatigue and a slight helplessness in the face of injustice and the overwhelming forces of history.

I’m in a particular form of this mood that comes over me when something triggers me and sends my mind cart-wheeling back to my days in Tanzania, and the unlocking of my mind that began there. The opening of my eyes to history and how it effects real-live people, on a localized level. The sparks that had me destined to pour years of reading into the so-called Cold War* and Imperialism.

Sometimes, it’s reading something that triggers me. Sometimes, it’s hearing Arabic spoken, or the haunting calls to prayer of an imam. It can be a particular kind of red soil. Or a particular accent. Sometimes, it’s just a smell.

Whatever it happens to be, it brings it all crashing back down on me – what really happened with the "Age of Imperialism" and subsequent Burning-Cold War.

In the States, we’re taught that Imperialism ended. We’re also taught that the U.S. – because it had been a colony, itself – never took part in the carving up of the world. We’re taught to mostly ignore American affairs in Central and South America (some vague references to "spheres of influence"). And we’re never taught what we did to the Americas and Africa during the Cold War (we only get a glimmer of our dirty-work in Asia through references to Vietnam).

Imperialism never "ended." It just re-grouped. As the former colonies around the world gained their "independence," the U.S. took center stage in slapping a new coat of paint on the old forms of world-oppression and turned it into the "Cold War." Wars were begun, coups supported, freely-elected, charismatic leaders were cast down, killed, or both (often with a little bit of torture thrown in, as well).** Entire futures of "free" countries were erased, poverty and terror on enormous scales were encouraged. All to "protect our way of life" in the world.

Then the next joke was played, when we pretended that the Cold War ended. The Soviet Union collapsed, a wall came down, and the rest of the world learned through Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet states that devastating poverty, devastation, and civil "unrest" (oh, what an amazing euphemism) were not limited to the non-white world.

A new color became popular, the Cold War got a paint job, and now we walk in a world where "Globalization" is the new catch-phrase.

Imperialism never ended. Just travel through a handful of the former colonies and tell the people that they have democracy and "equality." Live there for a little while and then come back and tell me that the people of those countries are in full control of their nations’ destinies. Tell me that the U.S., Europe, (and now China, to an extent) don’t still determine – to a large scale – how things go in those places. Tell me that those countries have a fair chance at even falling apart on their own terms . . .

Russia? The ex "Eastern Bloc"? Say that the effects of the Cold War aren’t still running their course. Find out how many people find themselves thinking about the "good old days" of the Communist state.

The Cold War died? Who are the economic powers of the world right now? The U.S. The European Union. And the Communist Republic of China.*** And oh – don’t they all just get along famously?

So what’s my point? I don’t really know. I’m having a "down-time." When I don’t have a real point (other than sh—‘s f—ed up). When I don’t have some nice spin on it. No happy ending here (only fitting, since I’m not in the States, anymore, right?).

But sometimes the curse needs to be named. We can’t fight on while ignoring history’s unforgiving weight. For all those of you who aren’t fully familiar with all the references above – shame on you; you cannot be a true ally against oppression until you have dug yourself in. Oh, God – how it’s painful. It’s depressing. But you can turn on the light and see the beast gnawing at your ankles in order to fight back – or you can leave the lights off and pretend that you just have a painful rash . . .

So, I suppose – this post is a slap. A quick sucker-punch to get your attention. I challenge you all to start digging.**** To start "going there" to get a little bit of the real story. Learn enough to challenge the depressingly hopeless bent of this particular post.*****

Because only then can we have a better idea of how to climb back out of history’s depths and into an unchained future. And that sounds like a nice place to go.

* It’s ironic to me that people refer to that war as "Cold," since it ended up so thoroughly burning the hot lands closest to the equator and the warm South.

** If you don’t already know it, the story of Patrice Lumumba is a good primer to U.S. Cold War policy and action.

*** Certainly a "modified Communism" to say the least, but still . . .

**** I’m not going to give a "recommended reading list" for a number of reasons (most books covering these topics are pretty one-sided in one direction or another), but I will put one name out there: Ryszard Kapuscinski; he was a Polish journalist that found himself almost everywhere a war happened from the 1960s to 1980s. His take is very different from most European authors, as he experienced the World War II Poland, its multiple devastations and almost colonial existence. His works are beautifully-written and striking. That said, it turns out that not everything he writes as having happened to him really did – so take his works as historical fiction, from somebody who was there, as opposed to absolute, literal truth.

***** And I’m not SO dramatic as to ignore the fact that there have been some successes, and progress (in some areas). I don’t think the USSR was some happy place, for instance. So I do hope to hear about more successes that I was not aware of.



  1. Sorta self-promotion here, but it sure is directly relevant to this post. I get in those moods a lot too. The imperialism CVT speaks of has helped make a small but beautiful island nation just 600 miles off our shores one of the most destitute places on the planet. It takes some real digging through all the propaganda to understand this, and I tried to package the important knowledge in a easy-to-understand way.

  2. @ ansel – Took me a while to respond to this, but oh, boy . . . Haiti. And you’re absolutely right about having to “dig through propaganda” about any of this – because both sides (actually, there’s more than two sides to all these stories) have various angles they try to play up without balancing it all. Feel free to “self-promote” anytime you like, especially when it’s conveying some information people should be aware of.

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