divided into the World War II, Cold
War, and End of the World
from September 1, 1939, to the present
2.1. The first image is the Holocaust, an image of fire and destruction that represents Adolf Hitler's "final solution" to the problem of supposedly unfit peoples who would contaminate the "true" Germanic populace or who stood in the way of the German people's need for "living-space." In his attempted genocide of entire population-groups, Hitler murdered six million Jews, along with at least five million others.
2.2. The second image is the atomic bomb. When United States President Harry Truman decided to drop an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, he unleashed a new order of terror upon humanity and effectively determined the underlying theme of the second half of the century. The bomb obliterated half the city and killed one-fourth of its 320,000 inhabitants. It also created devastating physical effects among the survivors that are felt to this day. Three days after dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, President Truman ordered an even more powerful bomb dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The nuclear world had come into being. [Click here to read a personal account by one of the survivors of the Hiroshima bomb.]
3.1. The concept of "Cold War" reflects the notion of each side that it had a universally valid ideology that was deeply rooted in Mediterranean tradition (European-style), along with a procedure in which both Russia and the United States used much of the rest of the world as a kind of "back yard" for their struggle against each other. By keeping the struggle confined to particular localities, they reduced the risk of a third, nuclear world war.
3.2. Since the Cold War flowed seamlessly out of World War II, we might say that it began on September 3, 1945. The Truman Doctrine of 1947, which promised military and economic aid to nations threatened by Communist aggression, made opposition to Communism and Soviet influence the focus of United States foreign policy. Initially, the Truman Doctrine applied to wars in Greece and Turkey. When the Russians closed off overland access to the German city of Berlin in June 1948, a crisis began that looked like it would lead to the "front yard" war that everyone feared. For nearly a year the United States led the way in airlifting supplies to the city. By the time the Russians backed down in May 1949 and the nation of Germany was divided into eastern ("Soviet Bloc") and western ("free world") segments, it was clear that the Cold War would be around for a long while. The mighty wall that divided the city of Berlin into two parts symbolized both the nature of the Cold War and its "back yard" aspects.
3.3. The Soviet Union broke apart during the years from 1987 to 1992, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. Failures within the system combined with Gorbachev's new policies of glasnost (political openness, freedom of speech) and peristroika ("rebuilding," economic reform moving toward greater freedom) to remove the fundamental causes of the Cold War. On August 29, 1991, the Supreme Soviet, the parliament of the U.S.S.R., suspended all activities of the Communist Party, bringing a formal end to the institution. On December 25th Gorbachev resigned, and the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen separate countries. In January 1992 a new entity was formed, called the "Commonwealth of Independent Republics." [Click here for more details about the "fall" of the Soviet Union.] As this process was taking place, the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989. On October 2, 1990, Germany was reunited as one country for the first time since the end of World War II. The Cold War formally came to an end on November 21, 1990. A "Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe" resulted in the signing of the "Paris Charter" by the United States, Canada, and every European nation except Albania. The agreement affirmed a commitment to democracy and economic well-being for each nation, and Warsaw Pact (former Soviet Bloc) and NATO ("free world") conventional forces were reduced in acknowledgment of the end of the Cold War.
4.1. First, the chronological sense of "End of the World" denotes the "post-Cold War" situation, with all its complexities. Here we have a straightforward "end of the world": the end of the Cold War world. After more than a decade, what are we to make of developments after the Cold War? We can easily observe that the world does not seem to have become a more peaceful place, although the nuclear tension of the Cold War has, on the surface, diminished (but not vanished). Ever since the Peace of Westphalia, the world of nation-states has been plagued by war. The first decade of nation-states after the Cold War has revealed no signs of fundamental change in this respect. At the same time, it would seem that naive hopes pinned to the value of "freedom" have not panned out very well -- either politically or economically -- in the short run. In "Why We Will Soon Miss The Cold War," John J.. Mearsheimer uses the term "hypernationalism" to signify "the belief that other nations or nation-states are both inferior and threatening." In our terms, hypernationalism could be described as a particularly vicious form of ethnocentrism, and we need to keep asking ourselves whether the post-Cold War World is becoming more, rather than less, ethnocentric.
4.1.1. Some of the consequences of the enlargement of political ethnocentrism have been addressed in speeches by Michael Parenti and Noam Chomsky.
4.1.2. In "Super patriotism" (August 1988), Parenti argues that hype, fear, and mindless flag-waving are supplanting informed debate, commitment to democracy, and real patriotism. Superpatriots are those people who place national pride and "American" supremacy above every other public consideration, those who follow leaders uncritically, especially in their war policies abroad. Superpatriotism is the nationalistic hype propagated by officialdom, the media, and various flag-waving groups. Parenti demonstrates how superpatriotism attaches itself to religion, sports, the military, the schools, and big business. He questions whether its top politico-economic propagators are themselves really patriotic, given how they evade taxes, export jobs, pollute the land, and plunder the public treasury. Parenti treats such questions as: What does it mean to love one's country? Why is it so important to be Number One? What determines America's “greatness”? Are "we" really God's gift to humanity? He examines how US leaders and the corporate media fan the flames of fear to win support for huge arms budgets, global aggrandizement, and the suppression of political dissent at home and abroad. Finally, he poses an alternative to superpatriotism, arguing that the real patriots are those who care enough to educate themselves about United States history and its present plight. He points out that it is not “anti-American” to criticize unjust social conditions at home or oppose global policies pursued the leaders. Rather it is the citizens' democratic right and patriotic duty to do so. [Table of Contents: What Does It Mean to Love Our Country?; “America -- Love It or Leave It”; The Importance of Being Number One; Military Patriotism: For Flag and Missile; “USA! USA!” Sports for Superpatriots; The Divine Politicos; Messianic Nation; Follow the Leader; Patriotic Fear; The Menace Within; Are the Plutocrats Patriotic?; Support Our Troops (Cut Their Benefits); Rulers of the Planet; “Why Do They Hate Us?”; Real Patriotism]
4.1.3. In "U.S. Foreign Policy in a Globalized World" /speech given at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, March 13, 2000; The 2000 Johns Hopkins Symposium on Foreign Affairs/ Noam Chomsky raises the question of whether democracy is possible in an economic system of capitalism. Here is a quote from the speech: "Remember, every business firm, like even a mom and pop grocery store, is a market imperfection. A firm is defined in economic theory as a market imperfection introduced to deal with transaction costs. And the sort of theory is that the imperfections, the firms, are kinda like little islands in a free market sea. But the problem with that is that the sea doesn't remotely resemble a free market, and the islands are bigger than the sea; so that raises some questions about the picture. But these market imperfections, like a firm, or a transnational corporation, or a strategic alliance among them, this is a form of administering interchanges. And there's a real question about whether we want to accept that. Why, for example, should the international socioeconomic system, or for that matter our own society, be in the hands of unaccountable private tyrannies? That's a decision, it's not a law of nature."
4.2. A second sense of "End of the World" is less chronological. In a way, we could say that its recent manifestations flow seamlessly out of the Cold War, and we might find their immediate roots in the visions inspired by the "Space Race" and the images of totalitarianism that were among the Cold War's prominent features. Numerous literary and film scenarios postulate either the end of society as we know it (for instance, Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, 1971), or the end of human life (for instance, Kramer's On the Beach, 1959). Our second end of the world, then, is the end as it exists in the literary-cinematic imagination. The deep roots of the imaginary end of the world go back more than twenty-five-hundred years in Mediterranean tradition. Generically, they are usually grouped in the category "apocalyptic." (The deep roots of apocalyptic itself extend backward at least an additional fifteen-hundred years, to the cosmogonic creation texts of ancient Mesopotamia.) As the "millennium" (a favorite apocalyptic motif from the Apocalypse of John onward) loomed, the decade of the nineties was a particularly fertile seedbed for literary-cinematic visions of the "end of the world."
4.3. Our third and final sense of "End of the World" takes us back to the beginning of the twentieth century, to the perceived loss of traditional humane values in the catastrophe of World War I. Since World War II and the Matrix it generated have radically extended the sense of loss, the last sixty years have contained many alternative proposals for a restructuring of thought and society that would lead back -- or forward -- to a more significant level of humaneness. (So this application of "End of the World" is not chronological at all, but rather generic.) Feelings of loss, of something missing, of unknown changes that must be made ... these feelings play a profound role in contemporary society. For an example that offers solutions that look backward, we might consider PostModernism. Whatever its intellectual inadequacies -- or merits! -- we can see in PostModernism the concern about quality-of-life and the ideology of subjectivity that characterized nineteenth-century Romanticism. For a more future-oriented vision, we might consider the mysterious implications of chaos-physics and its child, complexity. In the nineties, various thinkers began to explore the inherent possibilities of these scientific "truths" for the living of human life. Whatever else the voices of PostModernism and applied physics might signify, they call for the "end of the world" as we have known it.
6. In significant ways, World War II may be viewed as merely an extension of World War I. The two wars share four fundamental similarities:
The same types of nationalistic aspirations provided the motivations for both wars. Since its establishment in 1871, the German Empire had constantly looked for ways to expand its influence, an effort that culminated in World War I. Having failed in World War I, Germany reduplicated the effort in World War II. The chief aggressor of World War II was Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler. Hitler had argued since the early 1920s that a new war to resolve the humiliation inflicted on Germany at the end of World War I was the only possible way of restoring German national pride. German nationalism clashed with that of another twentieth-century titan, Russia. The ideological issue over which they fought was the attempt to achieve the most perfect system of state socialism, but the substantial issue was nationalism in its totalitarian form.
As World War II developed, its power alignments were essentially the same as those in World War I: the basic "Axis" of World War II running from Germany to Italy (and then extending to Japan) was opposed by the "Allied Powers" of Great Britain and France (with the United States eventually joining).
The same futile diplomacy failed to stop both wars: in the case of World War II, the initial response to Hitler's acts of aggression was appeasement -- appeasement of a man who had written of his plans for conquest in the 1920s and repeatedly announced them through the 1930s!
Finally, tens of millions of people died in each war.
7.1. Governments assumed even greater control of the lives of individuals, with a corresponding reduction of civil liberties. To see the impact of this trend in the United States, one has only to chart the fate of the "Bill of Rights" from the 1950s to our own time. [Click here to see a "history" of the Bill of Rights.] With scarcely a murmur of protest, the people of the United States have yielded, step by step, the most basic freedoms guaranteed them by the Enlightenment vision of a democratic society. The aftermath of World War II created an urgent sense that this is a dangerous world, and there has been a willing trade-off of freedom for (a sense of) security. The ongoing fall-out of 9-11 provides a dramatic example.
7.2. Governments assumed even greater control of research and invention, largely by establishing a material context for much research that made them the only social institution with enough money to support the research. The inventions that typify our lives are largely limited to the interests of governments, and the interests of governments have centered on war. (For example, the World Wide Web is a by-product of the Cold War.) Since we don't know what might have been invented if governments had different interests, we take for granted the types of inventions that characterize our world. We can't, however, help but notice the other main result of government control of research and invention. The pace of technological change has accelerated to the point where adjusting to it is virtually impossible.
7.3. Bureaucracy continued to develop into the "normal" condition of contemporary life around the world. For example,
The end of World War II resulted in predictable bureaucratic constructs. The United Nations is exemplary, in that it revived the failed League of Nations created after World War I. An unshaken faith in bureaucracy remained in place. The bureaucracy just needed to be "fine-tuned." Again, the aftermath of September 11th provides a good example. No matter how the bureaucracy fails, it simply mutates into an even bigger, more costly, form.
Even the Cold War, which emerged from World War II to dominate world politics for the last half of the twentieth century, appears to have been more a (turf) war of high-tech bureaucracies than, say, a war of genuine ideologies. There was a wonderful bureaucratic symmetry about the Cold War: a world divided into two camps, with each camp easily identified on the basis of "collectivization" and "individualization," and each camp with a "home office" (Russia at the head of the "Soviet Bloc" and the United States at the head of the "free world") constantly struggling to maintain its power and control over its "associates." If one peeks below the bureaucratic surface into the content of the Cold War, one finds that the collectivization of democracies in the twentieth century is easily documented, as is the individualization of socialist societies. Just try to find a purely "free market" economy or a "totally controlled" economy! The ideological difference seems to have been more a difference of degree than of kind. This does not make the difference minor, but ideology ran a clear second-place to the bureaucratic thrust for leverage. For instance, as the "head" of the "free world," the United States presented itself as the champion of human rights while at the same time supporting various cruel dictators who might resist the lures offered by the Soviets. /For documentation of this claim, go to the Cold War Page./ As one might expect, the so-called end of the Cold War has generated further bureaucracies, with the ongoing infighting and conflict that are inherent in bureaucratic systems. War itself continues to be one of the staples of human existence.
.034 seconds after detonation
8.1. During the nineteenth century, soldiers fought in fields; during World War I soldiers fought in trenches; but World War II saw the emergence of air as the essential battlefield. With this development the sky itself, always a major topic for human speculation, became more reachable and assumed a symbolic significance that we can apply to the entire Cultural Matrix.
8.2. Consider John Gillespie McGee, Jr.'s "High Flight":
O! I have slipped the surly bonds of earthSuch a friendly and hopeful view of the "heavens"! Conventional wisdom notes that in this poem McGee expresses a patriotic attitude toward war. Do you think this is so? Why? He was a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. He came to Britain and flew in a Spitfire squadron. He wrote the poem on the back of a letter to his parents on September 3, 1941. Mr. McGee was shot down and killed on December 11, 1941 at age nineteen during a training flight from the airfield near Scopwick, Lincolnshire, England. The letter stated, "I am enclosing a verse I wrote the other day. It started at 30,000 feet, and was finished soon after I landed."
And danced the skies of laughter silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds -- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hovering there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, the long, delirious, burning blue
I've tapped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
8.3. Then contrast Richard Eberhart's "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment":
You would think the fury of aerial bombardmentSo much for friendly skies of John McGee. Eberhart was born on April 5, 1904. In his dark view, written in 1947, the face of God cannot be found -- much less touched. Eberhart depicts the heavens as a place of delivery, but not the delivery of human beings. Rather, the sky is a furious battlefield used for the delivery of bombs. The bombers of World War II targeted not only opposing armies, but thousands of cities and their millions of inhabitants. The effect of this new battlefield on the distribution of casualties was enormous: civilian casualties that came as a direct result of military actions vastly outnumbered those of the military.
Would rouse God to relent; the infinite spaces
Are still silent. He then looks on shock-pried faces
History, even, does not know what is meant.
You would feel that after so many centuries
God would give man to repent; yet he can kill
As Cain could, but with multitudinous will,
No farther advanced than in his ancient furies.
Was man made stupid to see his own stupidity?
Is God by definition indifferent, beyond us all?
Is the eternal truth man's fighting soul
Wherein the Beast ravens in its own avidity?
Of Van Wettering I speak, and Averill,
Names on a list, whose faces I do not recall
But they are gone to early death, who late in school
Distinguished the belt feed lever from the belt holding pawl.
11.1. First, the overall effect of television is to enhance a trend in which visual images are gradually replacing verbal language as the dominant form of human speech. (As verbal language is used, its content, logic, and civility seem to be diminishing.)
11.2. Second, the overall aim of television is to sell things, to make a profit. In our technological society, the most important medium of advertising is television. Television advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry, divided into 30-second segments that may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. Television programming exists for the sake of advertising. A 1989 study /Lutz/ of network television showed that the advertising, and therefore the programming, we see on television was controlled by less than 100 corporations. Consider what this might mean for the nature of our society ... for you as an individual.
11.2.1. The connection between visual images and a consumer culture has been repeatedly explored over the last thirty years. The Atomic Cafe is a materialistic place in which mass-produced images create boundless illusions. Any image ever made, sacred or profane, can be produced wholesale and used for any purpose, particularly to sell things. Few have seen this more clearly than the artist Andy Warhol. He made icons of mass-produced commodities like Campbell's Soup cans and mass-produced images like Marilyn Monroe as if they were the same. Warhol knew that the world of images creates a reality of its own. He knew that we, too, could become images! /Moyers/ And this becomes an essential aim in our society.
11.2.2. The sociologist Stuart Ewen points out one of the main things that happens in a society where people are continually having mass images paraded before their eyes -- through television, film, newspapers, magazines, the whole phenomenon of celebrity. In a world where many people feel insignificant and anonymous and unseen and unimportant, one of the main ways that they have access to being important is to become an image. Part of the way in which we distinguish between people who are important and people who are not important is that important people are known and seen. Imagery appears to be the way to become "someone." Ewen says, "I think the primary argument that advertising makes, that the whole celebrity system tends to make, that much of the media makes, is that you can become an image if you only follow the right instructions, if you only do the right things, if you dress for success. If you do what you need to do, you, too, can enter into the spectacle." /Moyers; see Ewen/
11.3. The idea of spectacle leads to a third generalization about television. Overall, television levels out actualities that are really quite different; for example, a situation comedy, a classic drama, a news story about a horrible disaster, a political convention. Television reduces them all to entertainment. The night of the 1997 State-of-the-Union address provided a remarkable example. Newscasters were torn by which to emphasize: the President's speech or the verdict in O.J. Simpson's second trial. As viewers, we could feel the tension mount as the time for the speech drew near and the verdict still had not been given. The question being raised, on air, was not which "event" had more significance, but which event had more entertainment value. We might put the situation this way: if the Enlightenment could be summarized by the "Declaration of Independence" as a representative document, the Atomic Cafe might be summarized by Baywatch, the most-watched television show in the world in its time. In the words of Mark Crispin Miller, "We have now a political culture that is not a political culture. It's a spectacle" /Moyers/. Because it offers everything as entertainment, what we simply watch on television -- whether we enjoy it or hate it -- is not ultimately that important to us. Think about it.
11.4. A fourth overall effect of television is the way in which it sets the course of public language. The form of language (not necessarily verbal) used in all advertisements has been traditionally called propaganda. As we deepen our knowledge of its characteristics, we see that it is the primary form of political communication, and in a subtler way provides the essential principles of television journalism. (The most easily observed dynamic is the "spin" that is put on all major stories, creating a story-world from which it requires significant effort to break free.) As the techniques that make propaganda work have been refined, the breakdown of reasonable verbal communication has advanced. In public life, an ethic of "whatever works" continues to replace an ethic of "whatever is true, just, honorable."
12.1. Television and other forms of high-tech communication have opened a new room in the Atomic Cafe, called the "Global Village." Not only does everyone live in the Atomic Cafe, whether they want to or not, but everyone also peers in the window (of television) to see what is happening. If we dared to draw a global conclusion about the Global Village, it could be this: there is a blemish right on the surface of the bureaucratic-technological society. We can see an example of this blemish in the dismantling of the European colonial empires after World War II. The expectations -- political, civil, and material -- of people all over the world were raised. But many of these expectations have not turned -- and will not turn -- into reality. In the Atomic Cafe there are not enough lunches to go around!
12.2. The human factor can still make itself felt in the Atomic Cafe. Whenever the question is raised of how well the Atomic Cafe meets the basic human needs for recognition, a place, love, or any other human value, the question is raised by a human voice. This can be confusing, because the pluralism of the Global Village is increasingly apparent -- at least it should be. To reside in the Global Village we must listen to a bewildering array of voices.
12.3. Are there other rooms in the Atomic Cafe, rooms that are user-friendly to humans? Movements such as PostModernism and MultiCulturalism say "YES". For PostModernists, the key seems to be that there is no key: reject the past and its "objective" style in favor of a more "subjective" approach. MultiCulturalism operates in the other direction by stressing the value of each group's particular, cultural past. Both movements aim for the obvious: to rescue human dignity in a situation in which such dignity is no longer "built-in." Whether they can really open new doors remains to be seen, but they remind us that the Atomic Cafe cannot obliterate the human factor and its quest for recognition.
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