Hal Brands urges us to look on the bright side of decades of destructive international rivalry:
But on balance, the Cold War was a force for equality because the reality of race relations in the US was incompatible with America’s efforts to win hearts and minds in the Third World.
It is true that there was significant progress on civil rights during the Cold War, but it is quite the illogical leap to conclude that this progress happened because of the rivalry with the Soviets. There is even less reason to think that a U.S.-Chinese rivalry would lead to something similar happening in the future. It would be much more accurate to say that the US made that progress in spite of the regimentation and militarism of that period. If we want to protect the civil rights and liberties of all Americans, we would do well to steer clear of anything resembling a new Cold War.
In just the last few months, we have seen how quickly hostility towards the Chinese government has encouraged a spike in attacks and derogatory language against Asian-Americans. It does not take clairvoyance to know that a sustained U.S.-Chinese rivalry will produce more of this ugliness, and it is likely to lead to many violations of civil liberties committed in the name of national security. We know very well from the last twenty years that the toxic mix of threat inflation and fear-mongering over terrorism have fueled anti-Muslim prejudice and led to discriminatory policies based solely on nationality and/or religion. Ginning up hostility towards another nation inevitably harms the minority and immigrant communities that have ties to that nation, and the hysterical nationalism that has accompanied our major international rivalries exposes diaspora communities to discrimination, surveillance, physical attacks, and arrest. In the most extreme case in WWII, it led to the mass internment of more than a hundred thousand American citizens because of their ethnicity.