As World War II came to a close, Franklin Roosevelt had conceived of a post-war “new order” in which the United States would have hegemony, but in which there would be a balance of power and cooperation among the great powers, a vision that later was represented in the structures of the United Nations. He saw the new world order as a neocolonial system, and he therefore advocated the dismantling of the colonial empires of the European powers. He believed that political and social stability in the world was a fundamental prerequisite for the growth of U.S.commerce. He believed in the persuasive power of capitalism, and he therefore viewed the Soviet Union as a market to be conquered, and he expressed opposition to the permanent stationing of US troops in Europe (Arboleya 2008:113, 135).
But Roosevelt died before the war ended, and the implementation his vision was complicated by: the ruin of Europe; the high levels of unemployment and difficulties in the reinsertion of soldiers in the post-war economy; and the characteristics of the war industries, including their integral role in the US economy at the end of the war (Arboleya 2008:132).
Thus there emerged an alternative idea that proposed the expansion of the war industry rather than its reconversion. “Winston Churchill was the first to speak of a world divided by an Iron Curtain, but the concepts that served the theoretical base of the Cold War were proposed by George Frost Kennan, a lower rank US diplomat stationed in Moscow, who developed the thesis that lasting peace with the Soviets was impossible, for which reason it was indispensable to strengthen US military power in order that it would serve as the ‘counterweight to expansionist tendencies,’ whose cultural origins go back to the Russian Empires" (Arboleya 2008:133).
In reality, rather than expansionist, Soviet foreign policy sought to construct a cordon of security around its territory and to peacefully co-exist with the capitalist powers, a policy that created tensions in Soviet relations with the anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial revolutions in the Third World during the period 1945 to 1989. However, the extraordinary success of the Kennan thesis, in spite of its mischaracterization of Soviet foreign policy, can be explained by the fact that it served the interests of the arms industries and functioned to justify and legitimate an arms race (Arboleya 2008:133-34).
Thus militarism came to dominate the US political system. “In a kind of militarist application of Keynesian theory, defense expenses replaced public spending as the principal driving force of the economy and the scientific development of the country” (Arboleya 2008:133). Arms production became integral to the economy. “Arms capital merged with other branches of the economy and served the expansion of the large conglomerates and transnational companies of the country. Such was the warning of President Eisenhower, that a military-industrial complex had been consolidated” (Arboleya 2008:134).
In a similar vein, U.S. sociologist C. Wright Mills published in 1956 a classic work maintaining that there had developed in the United States a “power elite” composed of the top two or three executives of the largest 100 corporations, the highest fifty members of the executive branch of the federal government, and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Most of the members of the power elite were born into the upper class, although one-third of its members were recruited from the upper middle class through a process of selection that included socialization into its values. The power elite made the decisions of great consequence for the nation, and members of Congress as well as educational and religious leaders and the mass media had to adjust to the direction established by the elite. It was, for Mills, an economic, military, and political elite (Mills 1956).
The militarism of US society shaped the cultural and ideological formation of the people. “Militarism required US policy to be based on the fabrication of a climate of fear and insecurity, because this was required for the arms market. Communism was presented as a phantasmagoric force that intended the domination of the world” (Arboleya 2008:134).
Anti-communism was an enormously powerful ideological tool, enabling the United States to present a distorted image of Third World anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial movements as manifestations of the spreading menace of communism, thus justifying imperialist interventions throughout the world. Interventions in defense of neocolonial interests were presented as the defense of democracy, and this Orwellian inversion was widely accepted by the people.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Mills, C. Wright. 1956. The Power Elite. New York: Oxford University Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cold War, militarization, FDR, Franklin D. Roosevelt, power elite, C. Wright Mills