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The Cold War as a historical period: an interpretive essay*

  • Prasenjit Duara (a1)

As a historical period, the Cold War may be seen as a rivalry between two nuclear superpowers that threatened global destruction. The rivalry took place within a common frame of reference, in which a new historical relationship between imperialism and nationalism worked in remarkably parallel ways across the superpower divide. The new imperial–national relationship between superpowers and the client states also accommodated developments such as decolonization, multiculturalism, and new ideologies, thus producing a hegemonic configuration characterizing the period. The models of development, structures of clientage, unprecedented militarization of societies, designs of imperial enlightenment, and even many gender and racial/cultural relationships followed similar tracks within, and often between, the two camps. Finally, counter-hegemonic forces emerged in regions of the non-Western world, namely China and some Islamic societies. Did this portend the beginning of the end of a long period of Western hegemony?

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1 Paul Ricoeur, Time and narrative, 3 vols, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1984–88. See also his ‘Narrative time’, Critical Inquiry 7, 1, 1980, pp. 169–90. For my arguments, see Prasenjit Duara, ‘Transnationalism and the challenge to national histories’, in Bender, Thomas, ed. Rethinking American history in a global age, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2002, pp. 25–46. See also Duara, Prasenjit, Rescuing history from the nation: questioning narratives of modern China, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

2 Michel Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, genealogy, history’, in Bouchard, Donald F., ed. Language, counter-memory, practice, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977, pp. 139–64. Latour, Bruno, We have never been modern, trans. Catherine Porter, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

3 Hobsbawm, Eric, Nations and nationalism since 1780, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990; Hannah Arendt, The origins of totalitarianism, New York and London: Harcourt Brace, 1973 (first published 1951).

4 William Roger Louis and Ronald Robinson, ‘Empire preserv’d: how the Americans put anti-communism before anti-imperialism’, in Duara, Prasenjit, ed. Decolonization: perspectives from now and then, London: Routledge, 2004, pp. 155–7.

5 Arendt, Origins of totalitarianism, pp. 152–3.

6 As quoted in Marshall, D. Bruce, The French colonial myth and constitution-making in the Fourth Republic, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973, p. 44. See also Prasenjit Duara, ‘The imperialism of “free nations”: Japan, Manchukuo, and the history of the present’, in Stoler, Ann, McGranahan, Carole, and Perdue, Peter, eds. Imperial formations and their discontents, Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2007.

7 The Oxford English Dictionary, (consulted 19 July 2011), defines the Roman client as ‘A plebeian under the patronage of a patrician, in this relation called a patron (patronus), who was bound, in return for certain services, to protect his client’s life and interests.’ See also Duara, Prasenjit, Sovereignty and authenticity: Manchukuo and the East Asian modern, Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

8 Doyle, Michael W., Empires, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986, pp. 129–30; Johnson, Chalmers, The sorrows of empire: militarism, secrecy, and the end of the republic, New York: Henry Holt, 2004, 29. For Heinrich Triepel and a summary of the debate, see Münkler, Herfried, The logic of world domination from Ancient Rome to the United States, trans. Patrick Camiller, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007, pp. 43–4.

9 Tsang, Steve, The Cold War’s odd couple: the unintended partnership between the ROC and the UK, 1950–1958, London: I.B. Tauris, 2006, pp. 10, 194.

10 See Paul Marer and Kazimierz Z. Poznanski, ‘Costs of domination, benefits of subordination’, in Triska, Jan F., ed. Dominant powers and subordinate states: the United States in Latin America and the Soviet Union in eastern Europe, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1986, pp. 371–99.

11 Robert Freeman Smith, ‘Republican policy and the Pax Americana, 1921–1932’, in Williams, William Appleman, ed. From colony to empire: essays in the history of American foreign relations, New York: John Wiley, 1972, pp. 273–5.

12 Bacevich, Andrew J., American empire: the realities and consequences of U.S. diplomacy, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002, pp. 115–16.

13 Quoted in Smith, ‘Republican policy’, p. 271.

14 Carl Parrini, ‘The age of ultraimperialism’, Radical History Review, 57, 1993, pp. 7–9.

15 Giovanni Arrighi, Po-keung Hui, Ho-fung Hung, and Mark Selden, ‘Historical capitalism, East and West’, in Arrighi, G., Hamashita, T., and Selden, M., eds. The resurgence of East Asia: 500, 150 and 50 year perspectives, London: Routledge, 2003, pp. 259–333; quotation on p. 301. See also Münkler, Logic of world domination, pp. 149–50.

16 Hinds, Allister, Britain’s sterling colonial policy and decolonization, 1939–1958, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001, pp. 11, 29–30, 196–7; Louis and Robinson, ‘Empire preserv’d’, pp. 152–61.

17 Louis and Robinson, ‘Empire preserv’d’, esp. p. 157 for the nuclear sabre-rattling exchange.

18 Johnson Sorrows of empire, pp. 23–37.

19 Linda Carty, ‘Imperialism: historical periodization or present-day phenomenon?’ Radical History Review, 57, 1993, p. 43; Moon, Katherine H. S., Sex among allies: military prostitution in U.S.–Korea relations, New York: Columbia University Press, 1997, pp. 17–18.

20 Hanhimäki, Jussi M. and Westad, Odd Arne, The Cold War: a history in documents and eyewitness accounts, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 245–7; Ferenc Cseresnyés, ‘The ’56 exodus to Austria’, Hungarian Quarterly 40, 154, 1999, pp. 86–101, (consulted 20 July 2011); Williams, Kieran, The Prague Spring and its aftermath: Czechoslovak politics, 1968–1970, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, esp. pp. 3–28.

21 For the Soviet Union, see Ronald Grigor Suny, ‘Nationality policies’, in Action, Edward, Cherniaev, Vladimir I., and Rosenberg, William G., eds. Critical companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914–1915, Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997, pp. 659–66. For China, see Rhoads, Edward J. M., Manchus and Han: ethnic relations and political power in late Qing and early republican China, 1861–1928, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2000, pp. 226–7.

22 J.V. Stalin, ‘Marxism and the national question’, Prosveshcheniye, 3–5, March–May 1913, transcribed by Carl Kavanagh.

23 Hirsch, Francine, Empire of nations: ethnographic knowledge and the making of the Soviet Union, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005, pp. 6–8.

24 Tominaga Tadashi, Manshūkoku no minzoku mondai (The nationality problem of Manchukuo), Shinkyō, 1943, pp. 43–5.

25 Hirsch, Empire of nations, pp. 316–18.

26 Brubaker, Rogers, Nationalism reframed: nationhood and the national question in the new Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 18–24.

27 Hirsch, Empire of nations, p. 318.

28 Northrop, Douglas, Veiled empire: gender and power in Stalinist Central Asia, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.

29 Katherine Verdery, ‘Nationalism and national sentiment in post-socialist Romania’, Slavic Review, 52, 1993, pp. 179–203.

30 See for instance Nkrumah, Kwame, Neo-colonialism: the last stage of imperialism, London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1965.

31 Klein, Christina, Cold War orientalism: Asia in the middlebrow imagination, 1945–1961, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003, pp. 7–16.

32 Yuko Kikuchi, ‘Russel Wright and Japan: bridging Japonisme and good design through craft design’, Journal of Modern Craft, 1, 3, 2008, p. 372.

33 Klein, Cold War orientalism, pp. 253–63.

34 Oppenheim, L., International Law, vol. 1, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1905, cited in Nele Matz, ‘Civilization and the mandate system under the League of Nations as origin of trusteeship’, in von Bogdandy, A. and Wolfrum, R., eds. Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, vol. 9, Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2005, p. 61.

35 Tilly, Charles, Coercion, capital and European states, ad 990–1992, Cambridge, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell, 1992, pp. 209, 221. For some examples from Southeast Asia, see Reid, Anthony, Imperial alchemy: nationalism and political identity in Southeast Asia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

36 Stephen Daggett, ‘Costs of major U.S. wars’, CRS Report for Congress, Order Code RS22926, 24 July 2008, (consulted 21 July 2011), p. CRS-2.

37 Jian, Chen, Mao’s China and the Cold War, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001, p. 229.

38 Szonyi, Michael, Cold War island: Quemoy on the front line, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

39 Rouquié, Alain, The military and the state in Latin America, trans. Paul E. Sigmund, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987, pp. 2, 131 (Rockefeller Report cited on p. 138).

40 Greg Grandin, ‘Off the beach: the United States, Latin America, and the Cold War’, in Agnew, Jean-Christophe and Rosenzweig, Roy, eds. A companion to post-1945 America, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2002, pp. 431–3. See also Hanhimäki and Westad, The Cold War, pp. 379–80.

41 Rabe, Stephen G., Eisenhower and Latin America: the foreign policy of anti-communism, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1988, 45.

42 Ibid., p. 58.

43 Grandin, ‘Off the beach’, pp. 434, 441.

44 Hamza Alavi, ‘The origins and significance of the Pakistan–US military alliance’, (consulted 21 July 2011).

45 Hanhimäki and Westad, The Cold War, p. 167.

46 Westad, Odd Arne, The global Cold War: Third World interventions and the making of our times, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, chs. 7 and 8.

47 Nils Gilman, ‘Modernization theory, the highest stage of American intellectual history’, in Engerman, David C., Gilman, Nils, Haefele, Mark, and Latham, Michael E., eds. Staging growth: modernization, development, and the global Cold War, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003, pp. 48–51, 60; Rostow, W. W., The stages of economic growth: a non-communist manifesto, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

48 Scott, James C., Seeing like a state: how certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. See also Szonyi, Cold War island.

49 Richard Madsen, ‘Secularism, religious renaissance, and social conflict in Asia’, Martin Marty Center Web Forum, September 2008, (consulted 21 July 2011).

50 For the development state, see Ziya Oni, ‘The logic of the development state’, Comparative Politics, 24, 1, 1991, pp. 109–26. For its historical legacy, see Duara, ‘Imperialism of “free nations”’.

51 Berger, Mark, The battle for Asia: from decolonization to globalization, London: Routledge, 2004, pp. 225–9.

52 T. Y. Kwak, ‘The legacies of Korean participation in the Vietnam War: the rise of formal dictatorship’, unpublished paper for annual meeting of the American Studies Association, 24 May 2009, (consulted 21 July 2011).

53 Cited in Tilly, Coercion, capital and European states, 213.

54 Curtis Anderson Gayle, ‘Progressive representations of the nation: early post-war Japan and beyond’, Social Science Japan Journal, 4, 1, 2001, p. 9.

55 Victor Koschman, ‘Modernization and democratic values: the “Japanese model” in the 1960s’, in Engerman et al., Staging growth, p. 242.

56 Quoted in Gilman, ‘Modernization theory’, p. 64.

57 Chen Jian, Mao’s China, p. 6; Yang Kuisong, ‘The Sino-Soviet alliance and nationalism: a contradiction’, in Parallel History Project on NATO and the Warsaw Pact, The Cold War History of Sino-Soviet Relations, June 2005, (consulted 21 July 2011); Shen Zhihua, ‘Guanyu Zhong-Su tiaoyue tanpan yanjiuzhongde jige zhengyi wenti … (Several controversial questions in the study of the Sino-Soviet treaty negotiations …)’, Shixue yuekan, 8, 2004, pp. 64–6. See also Heinzig, Dieter, The Soviet Union and communist China 1945–1950: the arduous road to the alliance, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2004.

58 Ross, Robert S. and Changbin, Jiang, eds. Re-examining the Cold War: U.S.–China diplomacy, 1953–1973, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002, pp. 300–1.

59 This was the view in the CIA and State Department in 1969: see Komine, Yukinori, Secrecy in US foreign policy: Nixon, Kissinger and the rapprochement with China, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008, pp. 118, 130. See also Ross and Jiang, Re-examining the Cold War, pp. 16, 67–9.

60 Ross and Jiang, Re-examining the Cold War, pp. 70, 67–9.

61 Shirley Kan, U.S.–China military contacts: issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress, Order Code RL32496, updated 10 May 2005, (consulted 21 July 2011). For the effects of the arms race and SDI on the Soviet Union, see Eric Ringmar, ‘The recognition game: Soviet Russia against the West’, Cooperation and Conflict, 37, 2, 2002, p. 130; also Hanhimäki and Westad, The Cold War, pp. 274–5.

62 Coll, Steve, Ghost wars: the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001, New York: Penguin Press, 2004.

63 Jalal Al-i Ahmad, ‘Diagnosing an illness’, in Duara, Decolonization, pp. 56–63, quotation on p. 62.

* Thanks are due to Robert Schneider, Constantin Dierks, and Humeira Iqtidar for their help with this article.

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