The Cold War

  • Borstelmann, Thomas. The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003.
  • Canaday, Margot. The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton University Press, 2011.
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

This week’s readings move us out of World War II (mostly) and into the of the Cold War. Gaddis and Borstelmann go quite well together, especially when Gaddis is read first as the sweeping political narrative followed by Borstelmann’s contextualizing racial narrative of the Cold War. Canaday represents somewhat of an outlier when compared to the other two texts but is certainly engaging and important in her analysis and discussion of sexuality and the state.John Lewis Gaddis’s The Cold War: A New History is a political narrative running the length of the Cold War. He positions his text to “complicate the causations” surrounding the surprising collapse of the USSR when only a few years before, they seemed dominant enduring. Furthermore, Gaddis highlights the struggling transition that the United States took in moving from an isolationist country to a global super power. The beginnings of the Cold War are located in the settlement following WWII when the Allied powers were deciding what the political landscape would look like. While the United States wanted to restore power in Europe and remove its troops, Stalin’s primary goal was “security for himself, his regime, his country, and his ideology” through domination of the continent of Europe. These divergent ideologies laid the “roots” of the Cold War along four major points: 1. the second fronts and separate peace for Germany following the war, 2. Dividing Europe into separate spheres of influence, 3. the handling of defeated enemies, and 4. the importance and influence of the atomic bomb. Gaddis then goes on to outline the rising tension, conflicts, and programs that detail the framework of the Cold War. The atomic bomb and increasing arms of both the USSR and the United States brought about the notion of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) where both countries essentially held each other’s populations hostage causing a sort of “cease-fire.” The Cold War was not only about arms but about competition between ideologies and political systems. Each country sought to increase their allies with countries around the globe. Both saw the “losing” of a country to the other’s system as a major loss and detriment to the Cold War. Gaddis notes how this increased the autonomy of these smaller countries, with many of them using their neutrality as a bargaining chip. Moving into the later 20th century, Gaddis discusses “detente,” the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, and the fostering of a more predictable and less incendiary relationship. Finally, he notes the changes imposed by Reagan, which included the removing of “detente” and the labeling of the USSR as the last imperialistic nation, the USSR eventually crumbles under the modernizing efforts of Gorbachev. Gaddis’s text is truly a trumpeting of capitalism’s and the United State’s winning the Cold War.

Borstelmann’s monograph, The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena places the Cold War political history into a racial context and narrative. Borstelmann notes that he intends to “reunite the internal and external sides of the American past” by putting the story of racism and white supremacy in the same narrative of the Cold War. He wants to trace the ways that the United States responded to the demands for the end of racial discrimination. Furthermore, Borstelmann’s text shows how the events and people so closely tied to a domestic narrative of civil rights and race were actually important on the international stage. Following WWII, the United States was largely positioned as a world leader and under the watchful eye of other nations and leaders. With the Cold War being a war of ideology and political systems, the racial struggles of the United States could be understood as symptoms of the shortcomings of democracy and capitalism. Borstelmann breaks down each administration’s actions and record, beginning with Truman, regarding racial equality. Events discussed by Gaddis take on new meaning such as the “Long Telegram” from Kennan, the Korean War, ending of colonialism, and the Vietnam War. Each of these, as well as other points, are reassessed in this racial framework that illuminates the continuing struggle the U.S. government had over Jim Crow and white supremacy. Additionally, events such as Little Rock, Sharpeville massacre, Birmingham, African diplomats confronted by Jim Crow, the voting rights bill, and others add to the complexity of an increasingly globalized world. Borstelmann ably illustrates the connectedness racial discrimination and the struggle for equality had on Cold War policy and development.

Finally, Margot Canaday’s The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America moves away from a strict Cold War history and instead narrates the growth and development of the policing of same-sex sexuality in a multitude of arenas (one being the postwar years). Canday seeks to “complicate what has now become a standard interpretation within the field of gay and lesbian history” stating that the state repression of sex and gender nonconformity was the result of their sudden visibility post-WWII. Canaday instead shows how prior to WWII, the state (as portrayed by the Bureau of Immigration, the military, and agencies administering welfare benefits) had been confronted with sex and gender nonconformity since the beginning of the century and that the development of state bureaucracies and homosexuality occurred coterminously. Before WWII, Canaday argues that the policing of homosexuality or perversion occurred “nascently” or through regulations aimed at other issues (poverty, violence, crime, etc.). Immigration relied on public charge clauses and the laws that barred the immigration of those convicted of “moral turpitude.” Similarly with the military, at the point of induction and screening, officials tried to weed out perverse bodies less as degenerates and more as a psychopathic type. The Federal Transit Program and the Civilian Conservation Corps are used to highlight the struggles of the welfare agencies. The FTP was forever burdened by the perception of hoboes and bums as homosexual and the stigma surrounding “single, able-bodied, men on relief.” [92] Following WWII and the expanded bureaucratic state, explicit regulations were formed against an increasingly defined category of homosexuality. The GI Bill comprised the “the largest portion of welfare state expenditure at midcentury” and was aimed to aid the returning soldiers who faced a transient and unattached life. However, the GI bill was in a heterosexual norm and modeled to deliberately exclude homosexuals. The early cold war military increasingly focused on purging homosexuality from their ranks and did so by largely focusing on women. While investigations of homosexuality among men “focus on the commission of an act, women’s romantic attachments, social networks, and emotional ties were all scrutinized for evidence” of homosexual tendencies. Lastly, immigration law continued the focus of the military by excluding and sporting immigrants not for the commission of the act but for being a homosexual. Homosexuality became increasingly, and then fully, defined outside of medicine and seen as a legal term. Canada thus traces the rise of the straight state across the twentieth century and the construction of the homo-hetero binary.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does the inclusion of race and the juxtaposition of the Cold War and racial discrimination in Borstelmann change the thesis or argument of Gaddis?
  2. In what ways does Borstelmann and Gaddis connect with Canaday’s discussion of a police state?
  3. Both Borstelmann and Canaday focus the struggle over defining the body, how do their narratives support each other? Are they different or opposing in any way?
  4. Canaday identifies the turning point for the policing of sexuality as the pre and post war years, how does this match with other texts we have read for the course?
The Cold War

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