I saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy* the other night, nicely setting the mood for readings and discussion of the Cold War. One particular bit (Smiley’s assertion of Karla’s fanaticism and the weakness it implies) dovetails nicely with a point Westad† highlights in his introduction: “while imperialism got its social consciousness almost as an afterthought, in the Cold War it was inherent from the very beginning.” Preston, explicitly focusing on religion in his forthcoming Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith, also makes an argument about the importance of squishy sentiment in motivating people.
This contrasts nicely with interpretations that cast impersonal forces (usually, but not exclusively, economic) as historical actors, allowing for the messy unpredictability of human behavior. It’s also a good reminder about the paving of the road to hell, particularly during a time when enemy fanaticism is decried by differently fanatical opponents. This critique of motivation and outcomes rings true to me, as someone who’s a bit skeptical the world could’ve outlasted Gully Foyle’s last stunt‡ by more than about five minutes.
* Thumbs up. I saw the mini-series a number of years ago; I remembered a couple important details, but not any minutiae. I haven’t read the book; spy novels rarely rise to the top of my TBR pile. So while I can’t make comparisons, I enjoyed the knotty plotting (especially for an American movie, sigh) and the spectacle of a restrained Gary Oldman.
† On a mostly-side note, I find it sort of interesting that the subtitle (Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times) doesn’t appear on the cover of the edition on the shelves at Swat. Simply identifying the book as The Global Cold War hints at Westad’s focus, but doesn’t exactly put it front and center.
‡ There are, after all, more than three tigers in the world; oppression does not equate to goodness or wisdom; and (to be a bit more optimistic) completely effective thought policing (whatever the motivation) strikes me as somewhat unlikely.