Brain Pickings

Noam Chomsky Explains the Cold War in 5 Minutes


What the gist of the Cold War can teach us about the nature of international violence, peace, and democracy.

The projects of art photographers notwithstanding, the Cold War was no Wonderland. It was, rather, arguably the most significant nonviolent political conflict in modern history. In this rare footage from a 1985 discussion, Noam Chomsky — one of our era’s greatest living thinkers — explains the whole complex phenomenon of the Cold War in just over five minutes, without resorting to reductionism and oversimplification.

Through history, there has been no correlation between the internal freedom of a society and its violence and aggression abroad. For example, England was the freest country in the world in the 19th century, and in India it acted like the Nazis did. The United States is the most open — politically speaking, forget any social issues — and freest society in the world, and it also has the most brutal record of violence and aggression in the world.”

For an intelligent history of the Cold War, you won’t go wrong with The Great Cold War: A Journey Through the Hall of Mirrors by former British diplomat Gordon Barrass, and for a more controversial take, see David Hoffman’s Pulitzer-winning The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, the first comprehensive account of how the Cold War arms race finally came to an end and what its legacy means for today’s concerns about nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

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