Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Thinking About the End of the Cold War

It really struck me at the time that the tone of the message and the way it was carried out - the reaction to the “siege" at Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, and that guy in the cabin in the woods whose name I forget - were all very similar to the “we must stop the red tide of Godless commies trying to take over our country”, except now they were targeting ATF agents instead of the Ruskies! So it seems to me that all the fighters who are flocking to ISIS from around the globe are following the same “Rage to Oppose” that has given us today’s extreme-Libertarian movements in the US, such as the “freedom fighters” flocking to the Bundy Ranch, and all of the “open carry” groups showing up at Starbucks.

It so happens this is another issue I've given a lot of thought to - but before I was ever a journalist. My graduate dissertation was on English settlers and Indians in 17th century New England. I dealt particularly with the greater level of trade and labor interpenetration between the two peoples than was then commonly understood and the more widespread level of inter-communal violence.

That there was violence between settlers and Indians is no surprise. What was less appreciated is how much these groups were living on top of each other, not separated by a frontier. In any case, there was a war in 1675 when the settlers basically killed and expelled the overwhelming proportion of the Indian population within the English zone of settlement. After 1676, you really did have more of a racialized 'frontier'.

When I was writing and researching the topic was in the early years after the end of the Cold War. I started graduate school in 1992 and was actively engaged through about 1997. So the end of the Cold War became a thinking tool for me to consider the ways in which a society is destabilized or can turn in on itself or against itself when a stable relationship with a competitor suddenly disappears.