Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hollywood revisionists

I was reading the Huntress' post about upcoming films Hollywood has in regards to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it occurred to me that they had a point of view that reminded me of the revisionist view of the Cold War.

My next exam is on the Cold War. And I have been studying up on it. The historiography of the Cold War went through many stages, and it was interesting to read John Gaddis' take on it, in We Now Know. Unlike other conflicts, like WWI and WWII, historians didn't wait until the war was over to start writing about and interpreting the events. As the conflict lasted for four and a half decades this was reasonable enough. However, in result, the histories of the Cold War lacked equivalent access to archives on each side, and they were written without knowing the outcome. Thus according to many scholars these histories lacked the detachment that comes from following a historical epoch and not reflecting it.

Whether orthodox, revisionist, or post-revisionist most of this scholarship gave one side disproportionate attention: whether critical or complimentary, most of this scholarship focused on the United States, its allies, or its clients. It neglected the fact that two superpowers dominated the post-1945 world; that each often acted in response to what the other had done; and that third parties responded to – but sometimes manipulated – each of them. It emphasized interests, which it mostly defined in material terms – what people possessed, or wanted to possess. It tended to overlook ideas – what people believed, or wanted to believe.

Until the 1960s, most historians' view of the Cold War was: the Cold War was the direct result of Stalin's aggressive Soviet expansionism. This is called the traditionalist/orthodox view. The revisionist view was blamed the US for the Cold War. This ‘revisionist’ approach reached its height during the Vietnam War when many people suggested that America was as bad as Russia. As time went on, however, a group of historians called the ‘post-revisionists’ tried to present the foundations of the Cold War as neither the fault of the Americans or the USSR.

In 1991, Communism in the Soviet Union collapsed. This has allowed historians to get to see the Russian archives, and to investigate what Russia was really about in this period. In Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev (1997), the Russian historians Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, use declassified Soviet documents to analyze Stalin’s part in causing the Cold War. They reveal a fanatic belief in Communism, lots of personal faults and mistakes, but above all a genuine desire to avoid confrontation with the USA. Many of these recent studies of early Cold War history are increasingly portraying the Cold War as a clash of ideologies, as a clash between Capitalism and Communism.

Although I am loathe to say this, as I have learned that every epoch in history is quite different from other epochs, I feel that historiography is repeating itself in regards to the war in Iraq..

Only after the war, with equal access to all sources, will we be able to create a less lopsided analysis. I am not saying that one shouldn't analyze events until they are over. I just wish that analysis was less lopsided. We don't have access to many sources on the other side of this conflict. We are just operating with what we know and understand: our side.

It is easier to blame oneself for a problem than to blame someone else, because there is a sense of control over the situation. As in: “if we just elected someone other than Bush,” or “if we just pull out of Iraq,” or “if we stopped supporting Israel,” or "if we weren't so dependant on oil" etc.

If you assign partial responsibility to someone else, it is more difficult to find a solution, because it is easier to change one's own behavior than someone else's.

Like in the Cold War though, this is a clash of ideologies. Ideologies which reject the other.

Gaddis' words with regards to the end of the Cold War:

“For the events of 1989-91 make sense only in terms of ideas. There was no military defeat or economic crash; but there was a collapse of legitimacy. The people of one Cold War empire suddenly realized that its emperors had no clothes on. As in the classic tale, though, that insight resulted from a shift in how people thought, not from any change in what they saw.”

Perhaps this is just a sense of self-preservation. I think a collapse of legitimacy will end this conflict, too. Not as quickly as the Cold War, but similarly. However, I don't want it to be a collapse of legitimacy of Western ideas and a victory for the oppressive ideologies behind al-Qaida, the Taliban and other such brutal groups.

I am not exonerating the West for any perceived wrong doing. I will be the first to admit that US foreign policy, along with domestic, is occasionally quite flawed. However, I refuse to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. I want our ideology to survive. And I don't want to watch Hollywood films, which try to convince us that this is a futile fight.


Blogger Jon and Billie said...

OK, my brain hurts after reading this. hee hee I'll comment on the blog in a while.

For now I have a question. What are you getting your degree in? I am assuming this is your masters, right?

6:15 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Excellent post. I was going to write a long comment and decided it wasn't necessary. You've covered it all. *grin*

8:36 PM  
Blogger airforcewife said...

"It is easier to blame oneself for a problem than to blame someone else, because there is a sense of control over the situation"

You are so absolutely right.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

aaaahhhh...a classic CVG post.

I can probably count on one hand how many times I've seen the word historiography while reading blogs. It was actually a comfort to see it.

Without confronting your text, I think you have succintly summated a problem within history: the writing of history while it happens.

I've always been in the group of historians that considers anything that happens before noon the day of to be considered history. Most historians hate such a notion.

I think Marx teaches us that history happens for a reason. And Mark Twain teaches us that history doesn't repeat itself, it merely rhymes. Given both of those DWM versions of history, and the inclusion of the different versions of the Iraq war in which you mention, history becomes not a study applicable to learning about today, but a study of learning about tomorrow. And the most certain thing in all of history is in who gets to write it. It has always been the winners.

That brings us to something very similar to the clash of ideologies that you mention, and which I agree with. We have now a clash of winners and losers writing history.

Very nice read. Almost makes me want to pick up a book and read. But I know that ain't gonna happen ;)

7:43 PM  

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