Category Archives: Global conflicts

Tiananmen Square and China’s 1980s – Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon

China in the 1980s can sound like a Paradise Lost—paradise crushed by tanks on Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, paradise erased by massacre and state propaganda ever since, an unmarked memory hole. Except that people remember: the freedom of Democracy Wall; longhair students steeped in Confucian classics but sampling Virginia Woolf and Nietzsche for the first time, and dancing to Bob Dylan. Cosmopolitanism was in: Mao was dead, and Time magazine made the new ginger man Deng Xiaoping its man-of-the-year. John Denver of Rocky Mountain High cheered China’s long march to modernization. Bob Hope cracked jokes and swung his golf club in an NBC special from Tiananmen Square—till, poof, everything changed.

What we know of Tiananmen Square is mostly the tanks turned against plain people 30 years ago. What’s just as compelling in restored memory is the charged air of hope and possibility in Tiananmen, and in China of the 80s, until just days before the crackdown, the end of reform. Tiananmen Square had more and bigger Speakers’ Corners than Hyde Park in London: students, workers, artists plying agendas; musicians trying tunes, rehearsing democracy, you could have supposed. It was a romantic proving ground of blooming civic virtue and community spirit, and the American audience loved it, too.

Benn Steil: The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War | Pritzker Military Museum & Library | Chicago

the wake of World War II, with Britain’s empire collapsing and Stalin’s on the rise, U.S. officials under new secretary of state George C. Marshall set out to reconstruct western Europe as a bulwark against communist authoritarianism. Their massive, costly, and ambitious undertaking would confront Europeans and Americans alike with a vision at odds with their history and self-conceptions. In the process, they would drive the creation of NATO, the European Union, and a Western identity that continues to shape world events.

Focusing on the critical years 1947 to 1949, Benn Steil’s thrilling account brings to life the seminal episodes marking the collapse of postwar US-Soviet relations—the Prague coup, the Berlin blockade, and the division of Germany. In each case, we see and understand like never before Stalin’s determination to crush the Marshall Plan and undermine American power in Europe.

Given current echoes of the Cold War, as Putin’s Russia rattles the world order, the tenuous balance of power and uncertain order of the late 1940s is as relevant as ever. The Marshall Planprovides critical context into understanding today’s international landscape. Bringing to bear fascinating new material from American, Russian, German, and other European archives, Steil’s account will forever change how we see the Marshall Plan and the birth of the Cold War. A polished and masterly work of historical narrative, this is an instant classic of Cold War literature.

BENN STEIL is a senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. His previous book, the prize-winning Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order, was called “a triumph of economic and diplomatic history” by the Financial Times, “a superb history” by The Wall Street Journal, and “the gold standard on its subject” by The New York Times. He lives in New York with his wife and two boys.

Hidden Forces podcast episode 93: Stephen Walt | America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Harvard University’s Professor of International Affairs Stephen Walt, about the arch of American foreign policy and the decline of U.S. primacy.

The conversation begins by addressing the major arguments made by America’s foreign policy elite in favor of US engagement and American military leadership abroad. Before the end of World War II, there was no foreign policy “community” in the United States, as there was in the United Kingdom or France. The US was still largely an isolationist country, and the expectation was that it would return to isolation after the allies signed the Paris Peace Treaties in 1947, just as it had after the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Though demobilization started in earnest shortly after the conclusion of the war, the process was arrested soon after it began as the allies came to realize that the Soviet Union presented an altogether new type of threat to Western countries. In 1946, George Kennan, the American charge d’affaires in Moscow, sent what would become arguably the most important telegram in American foreign policy history, rivaled only by that dispatched on behalf of Arthur Zimmermann in 1917: an 8,000-word telegram to the Department of State detailing his views on the Soviet Union and U.S. policy toward the communist state. Known as “The Long Telegram” or “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” George Kennan’s analysis provided one of the most influential underpinnings for what became America’s Cold War policy of containment. With the Soviet Union’s detonation of its first Atomic weapon on August 29th, 1949, the Cold War was off to the races.

If the Cold War began with a bang, it ended with a whimper. Forty years after the Soviet’s tested their first atom bomb, the Berlin Wall was torn down by Eastern Europeans and Russians tired of living under totalitarian communism. And yet, rather than demobilize or ramp down America’s military presence abroad, the United States doubled down on it. In the thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States has invaded, occupied, bombed, and sanctioned more countries than almost any American can find on a map. Why this aggression? What are the assumptions that underlie American foreign policy? What has been the arch of international relations since the end of World War 2 and is there a better way forward? These are just some of the questions Stephen Walt and Demetri address in this phenomenal, seventy-minute episode on the past and future of American foreign policy.