Three Perspectives on the Cold War

Often times in American history, we are taught to view historical events from a single perspective. However, it is important that we take into consideration various international standpoints as we analyze events such as the Cold War. For example, President Truman, Soviet Ambassador Novikov and Indian Prime Minister Nehru interpreted the Cold War and their roles in it completely differently. In order to fully grasp the Cold War and its extreme complexity, one must consider each of these men’s viewpoints.

For instance, According to President Harry Truman, The Cold War was the result of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union’s desire to spread communist values internationally. Up until the Russian Revolution there were only two prominent ways of organizing a society – monarchies and democracies. Many citizens across the globe were intrigued by the prospect of communism and the value that it placed on justice as opposed to the value of equality which was most important under the capitalist system. President Truman believed that the United States was obligated to protect fellow democracies – such as Greece and Turkey – from potential Communist insurgencies supported by the USSR. He proposed in the Truman Doctrine that this should be achieved through a system of containment which would allow communism to exist where it had already been established, but prevent its further expansion. President Truman states in his doctrine that, “No other nation is willing and able to provide the necessary support for democratic government[s].” He is not wrong about this, Europe was in a state of both political and economic unrest after WW2 concluded in 1945 and would not have been able to enter into a confrontation with such a powerful and economically independent nation as the Soviet Union. For this reason, President Truman believed that it was the United States’ duty to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities [Communist insurgents] or by outside pressures.” In this way, Truman deemed the United States as the world’s sole protector in the face of communism and felt an obligation to defend democracy – freedom.

In comparison, Soviet Ambassador Nikolai Novikov believed that the United States was using Europe’s instability and economic dependency as a way to subtly create an “American Monopoly Capital,” and subsequently achieve world domination. Ambassador Novikov believed that the United States significant military expansions and the establishment of a substantial peace time army directly following the conclusion of WW2 was evidence of this plan. His claim was not unreasonable, and the Soviet Union’s initial concern over the United States’ decision to not demobilize was not entirely unwarranted.  According to Ambassador Novikov it was due to this fear that the USSR created “broad plans for expansion [were] developed.” Following WW2, the Soviet Union was one of the only global powers apart from the United States to “continue to remain economically independent,” and for this reason the USSR felt that it was the only nation strong enough to stand up to the United States and prevent the United States’ post-war world domination. Ironically, both the United States and the Soviet Union felt that they were spreading positive values – that they were doing the right thing for the international community.

However, the events of the Cold War are possibly best explained by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who asserted that if the world was divided into two polarized sides, “the inevitable result would be war.” Prime Minister Nehru feared that if he were to submit to either of these sides – “communism” or “anti-communism” – he would lose his identity. He believed this because he did not fully agree with either side’s position; for this reasons, he chose to maintain a policy of nonalignment under which he claimed that India would not become involved in a war “unless we have to defend ourselves.” Prime Minister Nehru argued that for Asian and African states, who just recently earned their independence from the imperialist European powers, to submit to either the United States or the Soviet Union would be “to degrade [and] humiliate themselves.” So, as you can now see, each of these three men had drastically different perspectives on the motives behind the Cold War, and what their role in the war should be. These perspectives differed according to both nationality and ideology and they worked to dramatically influence the both the reality of the Cold War as well as the ultimate result of it.

King Leopold’s Legacy in the DRC

Slavery is deeply entrenched in our worlds history, and has taken many different forms throughout time – some more overt than others. One of the most audacious, and unknown, instances of slavery is that of the Congolese people under King Leopold II. Under the guise of philanthropic and progressive action, King Leopold II laid claim to the Congo in 1885 and proceeded to enslave many of its indigenous tribes – forcing them to provide free labor to Belgium for his own personal gain. King Leopold misconstrued the African continent (and more specifically the Congo) as an area plagued by violence and savagery; he utilized the ever-popular “white-savior complex” to convince the international community that if Belgium colonized the Congo, the indigenous tribes would benefit from the introduction of European systems of health, education, etc. and the Christian faith. The colonization of the Congo by Belgium, and the remainder of Africa by various other European nations, severely impeded Africa’s ability to progress independently due to the creation of colonies (and eventually countries) that did not take into account the natural borders created by the indigenous tribes of the continent. While the European nations developed rapidly during and after the Industrial Revolution, African countries lacked the necessary freedom to benefit from the revolution. For this reason, we still see an extensive amount of slavery in Africa today – much of which shares commonalities with the slavery practiced by King Leopold II.

With the increasingly industrial nature of Europe during the 1800’s, many European leaders began looking to expand their nations through colonization – among them was King Leopold II of Belgium. However, at the end of the 17th century, there was only a limited amount of land left – primarily in Africa. King Leopold focused his colonization efforts on what would come to be known as the Democratic Republic of Congo and, while Leopold promoted the colonization as both scientific exploration and philanthropy, it was truly a brutal system of slavery. After coming to the realization that the DRC was host to a plethora of ivory – a highly sought after (and thereby expensive) commodity of the time – Leopold recognized the potential profits that the resource could bring Belgium, and so demanded that massive quantities of ivory be harvested – often times with the infamous brutality of the Force Publique.

In order to do this, King Leopold required the legal rights to the land and game of the Congo, and so tricked the tribal chiefs into signing away their ownership in return for nearly-worthless trinkets and gems. Furthermore, Leopold then continued to enslave the indigenous tribal groups of the area – using them as a labor force that enabled him to exploit the entirety of the colony (nearly four times as large as Texas). Ironically, Leopold managed to gain international support for Belgian colonization of the Congo under the pretense of “stopping the slave trade,” leading the United States and many of world leaders to recognize the legitimacy of Belgium’s claim on the Congo. In its entirety, King Leopold’s ploy was simply a hugely-successful campaign of misinformation that increased his wealth exponentially.

Unfortunately, there are many parallels between King Leopold’s system of slavery in the Congo, and the modern forms of slavery that we see around the world today. Much like during colonization, globalization has led to the expansion of Western corporations into developing nations in order to reduce the cost of production by taking advantage of laxer labor restriction. However, what many people are unaware of is that many of these corporations pay their workers nothing at all – opting instead to enact a system of forced servitude. In the words of Kevin Bales, in his book Disposable People, “consumers do look for bargains, and they don’t usually stop to ask why a product is so cheap” (Bales). Unbeknownst to the majority of people, many of the commodities that we use in our day-to-day lives – sugar, cotton, jewelry, glass, cellphones – are the products of slavery. However, while we are quick to denounce the slavery in our history books, many people would prefer to remain indifferent to the flourishing systems of slavery that are thriving around the world today – we are all too eager to look the other way so long as we can continue our lives unaffected.

Much like the indigenous tribes of the Congo, victims of modern-day slavery are often initially deceived into slavery – lured in with false promises of paying jobs, and better lives for themselves and their families. In addition, many young children are merely abducted from their families and trafficked into slavery while they are still young. Once enslaved, victims are treated with similar forms of brutality employed by King Leopold during his reign in the Congo. Slaves are required to work under intolerable conditions for exceedingly-extended hours in order to meet nearly-unachievable quotas. These men, women, and children are abused both mentally and physically. The enslaved Congolese people were forced to meet rubber quotas, some even resorting “to digging up roots in order to find enough rubber to meet their quotas” in order to avoid the chicotte. modern slaves are also held to unreasonably high standards of production that force them to risk their health to meet (Hochschild). Furthermore, modern-day slaves are forced to work inhumane hours in dangerous conditions without the adequate protections necessary to preserve their health.

In both the case of King Leopold’s Congolese slavery and modern-day slavery around the world, political and economic interests were (and continue to be) merged into a complex that allows slavery to continue unchecked by the government. King Leopold exercised total political control in Belgium, and used his power to facilitate the economic gain of both his country and himself. For this reason, slavery in the Congo continue (and expanded) for many years under the pretense of Christian philanthropy and technological progress – the system benefitted both the political and economic interests of Belgium. Of course, the corporations that implement slavery in the modern world do not often have direct control over the government; however, they do have access to a level of indirect control by providing financial resources to political leaders in return for government approval to continue using slave labor to produce their commodities. Obviously, this political-economic complex invites an extensive amount of corruption into the government; the results of which are perhaps best explained by Dr. Kevin Bales: “When the police become criminals, slavery can take root” (Bales).

Perhaps the most notable similarity between the slavery enforced by King Leopold in the Congo and modern forms of slavery is that each masquerades as technological and societal progress. Under King Leopold, the Congolese were forced to build an extensive railway system throughout the colony – the likes of which the world had not yet seen – and collect huge amounts of ivory and rubber – some of the most highly coveted commodities of the time. To the outside world, each of these things seemed to be significant advances for Belgium. However, what the world did not know until much later was that, although King Leopold presented a front of progress, it was simply a façade to cover what would soon come to be known as “a crime against humanity” (Hochschild). In both cases, the outside world is easily deluded due to its extreme focus on the end result – a railroad, ivory, a chocolate bar, a cell phone, etc. – and its near-total disregard for the process by which it is produced. As Kevin Bales explains in his book Disposable People, while the commodities produced by slaves have incredible value in our society, the slaves themselves are disregarded – their value stolen away from them – their identities stripped, and their voices smothered until they are practically invisible.

Fortunately, there are many people who have fought, and continue to fight, for the rights of those enslaved both in the past and the present. Take Edmund Morel, a Liverpool Shipping Line employee who noticed that many of the goods being transported to Belgium from the Congo were the result of slave labor and had a “flash of moral recognition” that motivated him to take preventative action that eventually lead to the formation of the first-ever international human rights movement of the time (Hochschild). Even Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, himself had a flash of moral recognition while reading a quote from Mark Twain that motivated him to research the odious crimes committed by King Leopold in the Congo, and become heavily involved as a journalist in the human rights movement. Many others also continue to join the fight to shine a light on modern-day slavery and eradicate the “crime against humanity” that has been allowed to go on for so long.


Works Cited

Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Berkeley, CA: U of       California, 1999. Print.

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial   Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

Drug Trafficking in Mexico

This semester, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Professor Morales-Rodriguez about the negative effects that drug trafficking has had on the citizens of Mexico. Professor Morales hails from Mexico herself, and regarded it fondly during her presentation; however, she explained that the continued prominence of the drug trade has had various negative social, political, and economic effects in the country and is to the extreme detriment of the Mexican people.

As one might expect, the drug trade in Mexico has caused severe violence in the country, and many innocents have fallen victim to it in one way or another. Furthermore, many individuals have gone missing during the reign of the drug cartels in Mexico. Professor Morales noted that many young women were particularly susceptible to being kidnapped.

Unfortunately, the Mexican government has never been stable for any extended period of time, and in the absence of legitimate government many cartels have seized political power (although unofficially). Due to the political influence of drug cartels in the Mexican government, there has oftentimes been a high level of corruption in the Mexican government. Therefore, the Mexican government has historically reacted with relative indifference to the atrocities committed by the cartels during the drug trade.

While current Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto has taken a more proactive approach to solving Mexico’s drug problem, there is still a severe lack of government involvement in abolishing the drug trade and punishing the cartels.

The drug cartels have morphed Mexico into a country in which many parents fear to send their children to school, or let them play outside unsupervised. However, in many communities the drug cartels have had an unexpected positive influence which further complicates the issue. Given that the Mexican government has oftentimes failed to invest in communities, leaving them in dire economic circumstances, some cartels have actually improved the schools and hospitals in local communities in return for the communities permission to carry out the drug trade without local protest.

Dr Morales noted that if the United States’s goal is to cut off the flow of drugs entering the nation, then we should not focus our energy on building a wall on our southern border, but instead focus our attention on assisting the Mexican government and investing in Mexican communities so as to minimize their susceptibility to the influence of drug traffickers.

I Don’t Hate Paris As Much As I Thought I Did, So That’s Nice

After my study abroad experience two summers ago in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France, I wrote in my blog post about how I found Paris to be wholly underwhelming, most likely because it could never live up to how I envisioned it to be growing up. I had other gripes about it that I may not have listed, as well. I found everything there to be expensive, and I personally did not find anyone there to be particularly nice. The food, I felt, was not nearly as good as I expected it to be, and in fact I found it significantly worse than the cuisine we had in other countries or even in other cities in France. Hate is a strong word, but Paris at this point was definitely at the top of my list of most-disliked cities, even beating out Branson, Missouri, which is a feat in and of itself. Needless to say, when my best friend here at OU told me that she had won a film festival in Clermond-Ferrand and was going to be in Paris in mid-February and wanted me to meet her there, I wasn’t very ecstatic. I was absolutely elated to see her again, of course, but just being in Paris was going to bring the mood down, I was sure. But, I booked my train ticket anyways, and come mid-February I was on my way to Paris for a few days.

My first inkling that this might be a different kind of trip occurred before I even got there, as I was pleasantly surprised to find an AirBnb for $25/night with fantastic reviews. I was sure it was a con, so I had a backup just in case, but it turned out to be a really pleasant hostel with a really pleasant host and extremely pleasant people inside! My friend likes to play a game where we eat in whatever three directions we point in, so we ended up at what looked like a really high-end cafe and I immediately felt my wallet start to sweat, remember how expensive the lower-end cafes had cost. Somehow, dinner with wine only cost $14. In fact, the most expensive meal we had was in Tuileries, and that was only about $25, much cheaper than I remember my meals being in Paris over the summer. Also, my friend’s excitement for every little thing in Paris made me excited for everything as well. I had already been to the areas around the Musee D’Orsay and found them underwhelming, but now I noticed the small shops and the vibrant air surrounding the area. It was nice. We visited many of the same places that I visited during my first trip, and I constantly found myself enjoying it a lot more than I had the first time and, surprisingly, experiencing it a lot more than I had initially. While I can chalk it up to simply being around my friend, I think I also didn’t give myself the ability to do this the first time I went to Paris simply because I got disappointed at first glance and stopped looking so hard.

Culture Shock After the Study Abroad Experience

I used to believe that not everyone was susceptible to culture shock. This way of thinking was definitely solidified after my return from my month-long Engaging Europe experience, in which we went to Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. I came back to Oklahoma missing the food and the decent public transportation, but there was no big “oh no” or “oh wow” moment that I was told would happen to me when I returned. At most, I gained an appreciation for the small things we have in the United States, like free public bathrooms and free water, while also appreciating the things America lacks that I saw in Europe, like decent public transportation. Overall, though, I thought myself immune to culture shock. I think you know where I’m going with this.

Nobody told me that culture shock can be bodily culture shock. As I found out the hard way, I am most definitely not immune to a bit of culture shock, as seen by the fact that I still won’t go back to Taco Bell, 6 months later, after I bit into a burrito and tasted that gross fake cheese. Fake cheese is strange. It tastes like plastic trying to imitate chese, and I hate it. But, for months in France I couldn’t wait to come home and eat a cheesy burrito from Taco Bell like I did all the time around this time last year. Also, the oil in everything here gave me severe headaches for a month. The pizza here is drenched in the stuff, and while I liked the taste of that fake cheese, the oil definitely gave me a headache that must have come from the pits of hell themselves. Also, Oklahoma water gave me diarrhea for about two weeks. I was told that might happen, but I’m still calling it a shock.

Once again, though, it was the small things that took me by surprise the most. Netflix suddenly not having a garbage selection of movies and shows, for example, floored me. I was so used to just going without them that I didn’t watch anything out of habit for another month or so. Not being able to walk everywhere was also a bit of a shock to me via my mom. We went to Penn Square mall and I suggested that we walk to Target, which was about 3 miles down the road, “to get something real quick.” She looked at me like I had grown a second head and then said, “and how would we do that? With what sidewalk? With what stamina?” I had become so used to literally everywhere being a pedestrian zone that not having one didn’t even register as a possibility for a second. It was a strange feeling.

Navigating the Future

Now that I’m knee deep in German classes, I figured I might as well make it official and get a minor while I’m at it. After this spring semester, I believe I’ll be only one class away. This naturally is making me consider what exactly I plan to do after I graduate college. I still want to work in mathematics, of course, but my increasing language competency and my study abroad experience are making me more confident in my ability to work outside the U.S. Unfortunately, I know very little about where I would work internationally and how developed my language skills need to be. If I continued to work on my German, I could work in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or perhaps in the surrounding areas. With English, I can, of course, work in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to start. I like to believe that there are places around the world where I would be able to work without being fluent in the native language, but I do not know where exactly that would be. Such considerations are hardly pressing, but certainly interesting to mull over. I know for a fact that I was not anywhere near as confident in my ability to conduct myself internationally when I started at OU three semesters ago. I find it interesting that such a short period of exposure to different people and places and languages and cultures and aspirations has so drastically affected my outlook on my future. I am still confident and excited, but my vision is different, full of possibilities that I had never considered.

The Value of Gen-Eds

For GEF, I need to know or study a modern foreign language and since I took Latin in high school, I needed to choose a new language to study at OU. To be completely honest, I spent almost my entire summer agonizing over which language to choose. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t trying to learn a language. When I read The Lord of the Rings, I went through the appendix and tried to understand how the elves discussed the weather. When I read Swallows and Amazons, my sister and I learned flag semaphore and would stand on opposite sides of the yard waving pieces of cloth at each other just to say hi. When I volunteered at a local repertory theater or attended a graduation ceremony, I would watch the sign language interpreters working on the sidelines, their swift hand movements so confident and controlled. When I found my mother’s old French textbook, I would wander around the house reciting the simple phrases from the first chapter and trying to wrap my mouth around the unnatural pronunciation. When Duolingo first came out, I started every language they had available, just to see what it was like. I was never disciplined enough to get anywhere, but my unbridled interest was always there.

I’m not quite sure how I landed in German, come to think of it, but I do know I had narrowed it down to German and French. I rejected French because I didn’t like the pronunciation rules. (Of course, now I wish I knew some French so I guess there’s never a wrong answer when it comes to learning.) I originally was just going to take my four classes and get out as quickly as possible. Latin was always the bane of my existence during high school and I didn’t want German to torture me for any longer than necessary. My advisor picked my classes for the first semester and my German teacher was fantastic. I had to attend class every day, since intro language classes are five credits, and I never dreaded doing so. It never felt hard, but when I looked back after the final, I had learned so much more than I’d expected and actually enjoyed doing it. Then the same thing happened the next semester. And during my summer class. And during this past semester. I don’t know if it’s my Latin background helping me out or the amazing German department here or just my excitement at finally taking a solid step towards becoming bilingual, but it’s amazing. It has made me value being in an environment where everyone is learning and everyone is pursuing their passions because it means that I can find out for myself whether my passions and hobbies are actually something worth my time to pursue.

Embracing Unity

As the worldwide trend toward globalization continues, new opportunities and struggles are emerging for many fields. My own time spent abroad would likely have been impossible without the ease of traveling and security that has resulted from globalization. However, interconnectivity has greatly affected the business world too, my other field of study. Although Price and other business schools have increased their education in international affairs, many business students in America still remain unaware of business culture and developments outside of the US. I believe this to be a problematic gap in their education. However, despite this trend, some faculty and students are making active efforts to educate themselves and their peers on rarely discussed topics in international business.

One of these efforts led to the creation of OU’s first annual Unity in the Global Economy conference, which took place last week at Price College of Business. Unity is an event dedicated to the celebration of cultural differences in business around the world. Various cultural organizations from the university came together to meet with American students and each give a presentation on their own small corner of the world. I had the pleasure of listening to representatives from the Chinese in Business College Association, the Angolan Student Association, the Indian Student Association, and others speak about their own countries and how business communities abroad differ from the one in the States. I learned a great deal about business in Angola, East Africa, and Turkey, areas I haven’t studied very much in the past. I also got to talk one-on-one with several of the representatives, exploring more detailed nuances of their home countries’ economies.

I am thrilled to have been involved in making the first Unity event a success, even though my role was very limited outside of attending. I hope that next year this event will be an even greater success. Learning about other countries and their peoples and cultures is an invaluable opportunity. I am fortunate to attend a university that supports its students in organizing events like this in order to foster that learning and a greater appreciation of global unity.