Paul Thomas Chamberlin has written a book about the Cold War that makes important claims about the nature and reasons for genocide in the last half of the Twentieth Century. In The Cold War's Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace (Harper, 2018), Chamberlin reminds us that the Cold War was not at all Cold for hundreds of millions of people. He argues that the Soviet Union and the US competed fiercely over the states and people living in a wide swath of land starting in Manchuria, running south into South East Asia and then turning west into South Asia and the Middle East. This zone received a huge percentage of aid and support from the superpowers. This zone saw by far the most military interventions by the superpowers. And this zone saw millions of people die in conflicts tied to the Cold War.
Chamberlin reminds us that these conflicts were not simply instigated and propelled by the superpowers. Instead, the Cold War intersected with colonial and post-colonial conflicts in complicated and nonlinear ways. Similarly, he argues that the nature of these conflicts changed dramatically over time, from Maoist people's revolutions to conflicts driven by sectarian struggles.
By making the broader contours of this period clearer, Chamberlin is able to put genocides in Indonesia, Cambodia, Bangladesh and others into a common framework. In doing so, he's written a book that is not explicitly about genocide, but says a great deal about genocidal violence in the second half of the twentieth century.
Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994.
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