Sunday, July 30, 2006

Context 3: World War III ... or IV?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently penned an article titled A Third World War. He writes that we are in "a war that pits civilization and the rule of law against the dictatorships of Iran and Syria and the terrorist groups of Hezbollah and Hamas that they support. It is also a war that pits civilized nations against Islamic terrorist groups around the world, including, most significantly (but not exclusively), the al Qaeda network." Gingrich posits that we have entered World War III.

But some say that we are actually in World War IV. World War III, they claim, was the Cold War, our struggle with the Soviet Union and their satellite nations. Like those who make this claim, I too think we are actually in World War IV.

The Cold War can best be defined as the 45-year struggle between capitalism and communism which occurred in the latter half of the 20th century. Focusing primarily upon ideological, geopolitical, and economic issues, the Cold War emerged shortly after World War II and involved the global superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States. Each nation also had their military alliance partners. Direct hostilities between the two nations never actually occured, thus the term, Cold War. Both sides in this war developed a policy of deterrence by building arsenals of nuclear weapons.

If the Cold War can be considered WWIII, then the Korean and Vietnam conflicts were not really separate wars, but smaller wars within the larger one. It could be said that WWIII (the Cold War) both began and ended in Berlin. In 1948, after the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, the allies began a massive airlift to supply the residents of West Berlin with food and other supplies. In 1989, after the East Germans eased up their entry and exit restrictions at the Berlin Wall, Berliners began chipping away chunks of the wall, and before long, the wall came down entirely.

The Berlin Wall was symbolic of the divide between the East and the West, between the free world and the communist world. When the wall came down, it symbolized the beginning of the end for the dominance of communism in the world. Two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Soviet's satellite nations within the Warsaw Pact once again became free and independent countries.

Like WWII, WWIII also spanned the globe, with conflicts in the far east, Europe, and even in the Caribbean. In 1961, shortly after John F. Kennedy became president, Cuban exiles planned an invasion of Cuba and the overthrow of communist dictator, Fidel Castro. Kennedy promised to back them. But he pulled out at the last minute and the coup failed. A year later, Kennedy faced down the Soviets who were attempting to bring missiles in to Cuba. After a ten day standoff in 1962, the Soviets backed down and the crisis ended.

When pondering our current struggle (WWIII as Gingrich calls it, I call it WWIV), it is good to step back and remember the history that has gone before. Wars are not won overnight. The Cold War lasted for forty-five years.


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