It began in August 1914, a war in Europe that was supposed to be over by Christmas of that year. But it exploded out of control, becoming the “Great War” or “The World War” or even “The War to End All Wars.” And when it finally ended on 11/11 in 1918, something like ten million troops were dead.
We know it as World War I or the First World War because we know what came after it: yet another calamitous world war, a sequel, one that was far worse than the original. And after that war finally ended in 1945, something like 75-80 million people were dead around the world, including 25 million in the Soviet Union, six million Jews in the Holocaust, and 250,000 at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Of course, World War II also wasn’t the end of the killing. The so-called Iron Curtain descended in Europe, leading to the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that almost ended with Armageddon in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. That Cold War came to an end in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The U.S. celebrated its apparent victory, even calling briefly for “peace dividends” in the 1990s. It was not to be.
Thirty years after the (First) Cold War, we now hear of a “new Cold War.” We hear again that China and Russia are America’s enemies, a new “Axis of Evil,” notes Caitlin Johnstone. America is already engaged in a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. Now America’s leaders are posturing over Taiwan and threatening war with China if the Chinese military makes aggressive moves against that country. (Of course, the Chinese consider Taiwan to be China, a “One China” policy the U.S. used to support.)
It does seem as if “my” Cold War, when I served in the U.S. military, may be remembered to history as the First Cold War, and that America has already begun a Second Cold War. And, just as World War II was far worse than World War I in casualties and destruction, Cold War II could conceivably be a LOT worse than Cold War I if we choose to continue to wage it.
Sequels, as a general rule, are usually worse, sometimes far worse, than the originals. We had better stop this nonsense of a new Cold War before we relearn this in the hardest way possible.
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.