Global Cold War

Featured Interviews

'It's Not Rocket Science': Nuclear Disasters in and beyond the Soviet Union—An Interview with Kate Brown
Interviews | November 8, 2019

'It's Not Rocket Science': Nuclear Disasters in and beyond the Soviet Union—An Interview with Kate Brown

"About 50 deaths." This was the long-standing consensus held by scientists and worldwide audiences on the death toll caused by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. "Was this really so?" asked Kate Brown, a historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as she started to investigate the oft-overlooked social and environmental hazards in the communities affected by the world's infamous nuclear catastrophe. Her latest book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, departs from the consensus and has sparked a global discussion on both the contemporary consequences and history of nuclear energy exploitation in and beyond the former Soviet Union.

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Writing the Histories of People in Motion: An Interview with Laura Madokoro
Interviews | November 14, 2018

Writing the Histories of People in Motion: An Interview with Laura Madokoro

Laura Madokoro spotlights the history of migrants leaving the post-1949 People's Republic of China for the then-British colony of Hong Kong and beyond. This movement—and the millions of people who fled China—was largely ignored, especially when compared to displaced peoples in Europe. In addition to recovering these stories, Dr. Madokoro argues that framed in the context of the Cold War they can tell us much about humanitarianism, geopolitics and the shadow of settler colonialism, from the Antipodes to North America and South Africa. We met with Laura Madokoro in Montreal, where she works as a historian at McGill University, and discussed the politics of migration during the global Cold War, the revelatory nature of language when describing people in motion, and her current and future research plans.

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Development Politics and India's Cold War Triangle: An Interview with David Engerman
Interviews | October 24, 2018

Development Politics and India's Cold War Triangle: An Interview with David Engerman

In The Price of Aid: The Economic Cold War in India (Harvard University Press, 2018), David Engerman, a leading historian of US and Soviet modernization ideology and expertise, extends his focus to the intricacy of Cold War competition in India. Through an adroit study of Indian, American, and Soviet domestic and international politics regarding aid for Indian development, he analyzes the complex dance behind how and why particular development projects were built. The debates that surrounded these projects attempted to shape, and were in turn shaped by Cold War conflict and the political maneuvering of the Indian state. Our conversation ranges widely—from the arc of Engerman's remarkable intellectual career, the evolution of the historiography on development, and the relationship between decolonization and the Cold War, to that of governmentality and geopolitics.

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Echoes of Weimar in American Cold War Politics: An Interview with Daniel Bessner
Interviews | May 30, 2018

Echoes of Weimar in American Cold War Politics: An Interview with Daniel Bessner

In Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual , Daniel Bessner tells the story of a previously little-known German sociologist who changed the way we think about the role of intellectuals in American public policy-making. Speier worked as a lecturer at the Hochschule für Politik, a college of worker's education. With the rise of Nazism, Speier's infatuation with Marxist theory, socialism, and the people waned. Democracy, after all, had put Hitler in charge. When Speier moved to America, he brought the trauma of the crisis of Weimar with him. This crisis was the result of excessive trust placed in an inherently untrustworthy demos. He consequently advocated expert governance as an alternative to broad-based popular rule. To defend democracy against both Nazis and Soviets, Speier argued, the United States had to become more authoritarian. His story traces the rise of the American "defense intellectual" as well as the emergence of what has come to be known as the U.S. "military-intellectual complex."

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Soviet Socialism with Chinese Characterisics? Understanding the Collapse of the Soviet Economy with Christopher Miller
Interviews | June 1, 2017

Soviet Socialism with Chinese Characterisics? Understanding the Collapse of the Soviet Economy with Christopher Miller

Could things have gone differently? Could the Soviets have reformed their economy into something along the lines of the Chinese success story? Could there have been a Soviet Tiananmen Square scenario that would have prevented Boris Yeltsin from coming to power, and thus averted what Vladimir Putin dubs the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century"? It's a huge question—one that Christopher Miller (the Associate Director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy at Yale) takes on in his recent book The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR.

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Policing the "Slums of the World": A Conversation About Exporting American Police Expertise with Stuart Schrader
Interviews | November 24, 2016

Policing the "Slums of the World": A Conversation About Exporting American Police Expertise with Stuart Schrader

As Americans debate their choice of President, enthusiasm for long-term ground wars in the Middle East seems at an all-time low. Both candidates debate the merits of drone warfare in distant lands, or even the desirability (and viability) of a ban on Muslims' entry to the United States, but what does seem unanimous after two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the U.S. role in the region is best handled by some combination of deploying remote force against "them" over "there," and preventing "them" from coming to "us" "here." With many debating whether the country can police its own cities in a way that does not reinforce racial injustice or systemic hierarchies, American appetites for reconfiguring foreign societies to police themselves appears to be at an all-time nadir. Yet even if Americans seek a more reclusive role vis-à-vis the world (or at least societies wracked by civil war and conflict), what remains clear is that the effects of those wars are rebounding into America itself.

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Monoglot Empire: Tracing the Journey from Scientific Babel to Global English with Michael Gordin
Interviews | July 5, 2015

Monoglot Empire: Tracing the Journey from Scientific Babel to Global English with Michael Gordin

We have lived in a monoglot world before–one, however, dominated by Latin and not the West Germanic language so many of us now call our own. Not only that, the English that has succeeded as the uniform standard has, as any non-native speaker can tell you, plenty of confusing features: phonemic polyvocality ("stiff," "stuff," and "staff" denote very different things), and plenty of irregular verbs ("freeze" in the past is "froze," not "freezed," for example). So why didn't something more logical and, perhaps more importantly, not ethnic–something not already spoken by the English–win out? Why didn't a more accessible constructed language, like Esperanto, succeed? How did this tectonic shift happen? How did we move from linguistic chaos to seemingly greater uniformity?

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Wartime Ghosts and Souls in Transit: Placing Soviet History in a Global Context with Franziska Exeler
Interviews | April 9, 2015

Wartime Ghosts and Souls in Transit: Placing Soviet History in a Global Context with Franziska Exeler

Even at a time of a supposed turn towards more global history, our perspectives of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union remain dogged by an insistence on the inescapability of regional specificities. Not least among these are the names for these places themselves – Eastern Europe, itself a relatively recent moniker, cuts off places that once tallied among the richest in all of geographical Europe, like Prague, from a "real Europe" of Paris, London, and Rome, as if "Eastern Europe" itself has a specific, idiosyncratic but common character in a way not true of "Western Europe." Even if the process of EU expansion and economic integration has rendered formerly ridiculed "Polacks" into Europeans, the same courtesy is not always extended to Ukrainians or Belarusians. As recent Western discourse over the Russian annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine shows, commentators are eager to ethnicize and classify "Russian-speakers" from "Ukrainian-speakers," as if the place is explainable only through reference to ethnicity and identity.

Obviously, the experience of both the Cold War and, for countries further east, membership in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, matters greatly for the present and future of countries like Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and, not least, Russia. But to acknowledge the importance of local specifics or the Soviet heritage is not to admit to its monolithic mattering for the direction of those societies. Kiev and Warsaw as much as Singapore and London can be interrogated with the same array of questions, and with the same comparativist's gaze, that seemingly "more global" sites might invite.

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Of Nation-States and the United States: An Interview with Ryan Irwin
Interviews | January 20, 2015

Of Nation-States and the United States: An Interview with Ryan Irwin

Understanding the present and future of American internationalism requires understanding its past–not only through the lens of America, moreover, but understanding how the American project interacted with exogenous shifts and shocks to the international system, too–the ebb and flow of German, then Russian power, or decolonization, for example.

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The Sino-Soviet Split and the Left as Global History: An Interview with Jeremy Friedman
Interviews | November 17, 2014

The Sino-Soviet Split and the Left as Global History: An Interview with Jeremy Friedman

The Sino-Soviet Split, as it is called in English and Russian ("Sino-Soviet Hostility" in Chinese – zhōng sū jiāo'è), had ramifications that went far beyond the oceans of red dye spilled by the Mercator projections. As country after country "the Third World" gained independence, the Soviets and the Chinese were among the few major powers that offered compelling developmental – and historical narratives – to fledgling nations. But what would the meaning of Revolution be in a decolonizing world? Was Revolution really about anti-capitalism, as the Soviets argued? Or was the real essence of Revolution opposition to empire, as their Chinese rivals put forward? How did the Chinese challenge affect the Soviet outreach to the Third World, and vice-versa? And what was the effect of the Sino-Soviet Split on the intellectual repertoire of a global Left?

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Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii
Interviews | September 28, 2014

Excavating "The Last Empire": Discussing Soviet History and Global History with Serhii Plokhii

Why did the Soviet Union collapse? Since the USSR formally ceased to exist on December 26, scores of books have been written on the Soviet dissolution, an event that resulted in the creation of fifteen new states across Eurasia and that current Russian President Vladimir Putin famously called "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the twentieth century. In his new book, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, Harvard professor Serhii Plokhii offers a definitive account of the end of the Soviet state.

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Featured Articles

INTERVIEW—Toynbee Coronavirus Series: Erez Manela on the WHO, smallpox eradication, and the need for renewed internationalism
Article | June 15, 2020

INTERVIEW—Toynbee Coronavirus Series: Erez Manela on the WHO, smallpox eradication, and the need for renewed internationalism

Toynbee Coronavirus Series—A global historical view of the coronavirus pandemic: Interview with Erez Manela.

"Out of inertia, the US remains the biggest contributor, but diplomatically and politically it doesn’t care. What replaces it are organizations like the Gates Foundation, which in some ways, though not all ways, represents a return to the inter-war period, when the leading spender on global health was the Rockefeller Foundation. You can say all sorts of bad things about the WHO, but the one thing the WHO does is it gives some sort of voice to small nations and was designed to do precisely that." Erez Manela on the concept of global health, the WHO, smallpox eradication, and the need for renewed internationalism amid the pandemic.

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