The Story of How America Sacrificed Black People to Fight the Cold War

By:  H.T., Website:  Rogue Black Nerd

In 1947, the Cold War began.  Former World War 2 allies, the United States and The Soviet Union, were in a secret yet publicly known conflict of ideology, politics, industry and weaponry.  During this time, one of the issues that America faced was the Red Scare:  the belief that communists were infiltrating america and trying to sabotage it.  This ultimately led to McCarthyism, where soon regular Americans were being questioned for so much as unknowingly having had contact with someone who may also not known they had contact with a known communist.  Some people were ruined to where they were blacklisted from their industry of employment.

But for as much as this was an injustice, it pales in comparison to how America treated civil rights during this same time.  America had a PR problem in relation to civil rights:  America couldn’t effectively sell the idea of america being a bastion of freedom when the Soviets could easily pull up very real, very effective footage of American citizens and even police beating down on a good portion of its citizens who simply wanted the government to stop systematic racism.  What’s more, it should be noted that part of what put people on the anti-communist radar was simply being pro-civil rights for black people.  Which raises the question:  what was stopping the government from doing something about it?  Well, go back to the last sentence; CIVIL RIGHTS were viewed as COMMUNIST aka anti-American.  Enter J. Edgar Hoover.

J. Edgar Hoover was the poster boy for right wing fear about communism and civil rights.  Hoover took over the FBI and, for better or worse, made it into what it is today.  He feared that if we gave black people civil rights, despite decades of black people’s work for and even fighting for America, could not be trusted as they still bore the animus of slavery and would only use those equal rights to start a revolution against whites.  Communism factored in that the Soviets had the means to arm anyone who’d join them, in this case black people.  To be fair, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia and Libya became Soviet allies, so there may have been truth to that.  Still, African Americans wanted basic things:  equal pay, the right to go where they wanted, the right to move where they wanted, the right to send their children to any school they wanted, and even vote.

Again, this was a PR nightmare for America fighting an enemy that had no qualms about calling out the West’s racism.  Again, to be fair, Russia isn’t perfect either as far as race relations goes.  Still, the fact was the most dogged warriors against communism also tended to be the most racist, which to America’s’ allies in the west was embarrassing.  To this day, of all the western countries that helped America in the Cold War are still viewed as the most regressive on race relations to where now private American citizens pump out propaganda that is anti-racial harmony on the grounds that such things would lead to white people being wiped out.  To put this in perspective further, keep in mind that Germany, who went from our bitter enemy to simultaneously an ally and a satellite government to another enemy of ours at the time, has federal laws against Nazism and to this day views the Nazis, the Nazi party and all their atrocities as shameful.  Us, despite priding ourselves on famously defeating the Nazis, do not.

By the 60s, Hoover’s self-fulfilling prophecy came true even though it was because of his actions.  Because Hoover had been running smear campaigns against black leaders since the days of Marcus Garvey, by the end of the 50s, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were trying to get black people in their own respective ways to fight for their right to be treated as human.  Despite the fact that Dr. King denounced communist influence on the Civil Rights movement, it didn’t help that Bayard Rustin, one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was a known Socialist.  And that was just on the more conservative side of the the Civil Rights movement.  On the other end was Malcolm X, an ex-drug dealer and addict turned Nation of Islam minister, speaking in Harlem to black people while clean, astute and commanding about seeing that they had been disenfranchised and that there was something they could do about it.  So it’s no shocker that 3 things happened by the end of the 60s:  Malcolm would be assassinated publicly by NOI members that were alleged to be in the pocket of the FBI, Martin Luther King Jr would be assassinated by James Earl Ray right before staging a peaceful protest for sanitation workers, and the Black power movement would be hemorrhaging blood as the FBI’s COINTELPRO, which ironically was started to combat the KKK, the very people that the Black Nationalist movement hated, was being wiped out with bureaucratic efficiency and extreme prejudice.  

As far as the Cold War went, things were business as usual by the end of the 60s.  The countries that hadn’t picked a side, including Japan that by then had gotten back on its feet as was kicking ass economically, were resisting joining either side.  France thought the UK and the US were calling all the shots in NATO and thus quit.  The Prague Spring happened, and not even the assassination of the President by a self-proclaimed communist slowed down America and we staged our own revolutions in Brazil, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, and Chile to name a few.  All of this can be contributed to one man:  Henry Kissinger.  To a generation of black veterans, the name brings up many emotions, especially when you consider that it was because of him that the Vietnam Conflict both happened in the first place and lasted as long as it did.  To a black person living in America, you had to wonder:  by this point at least 5 different African Countries had ties to the USSR and in one way or another and were improving.  What did they see in them?  Hell, even that charismatic preacher Jim Jones called himself a socialist and black people loved him.  Sure, Jones would go on to lead a mass suicide in communist Guyana by the end of the 70s which shockingly wasn’t used more as an example against socialism, but no one is psychic.  

The 80s were the final years of the war and the time when the government truly gave no fucks.  By the end of the 70s, Afghanistan was the hotbed of a very real and very armed conflict involving actual Russian troops and US backed insurgents that we would later regret in helping as they were led by Osama Bin Laden, a man who today is known as one of the most infamous enemies America has ever faced as it’s estimated that we spent more money in trying to kill him than we did helping him.  Reagan was elected and in many parallels, the election of Margaret Thatcher signaled a very scary time for the west as far as the Cold War went.  For black people on both sides of the pond, it meant that once again, they would suffer in the name of fighting communists.  Black people in the UK that were born in previous territories were stripped of citizenship, this including black British veterans of the Falkland War, and soon England became a police state and some would call it fascist in ways.  For African Americans, we had no idea what was coming to us.

The Iran-Contra Scandal, in a nutshell, was a sin of apathy.  To fund a clandestine proxy war in Nicaragua, the CIA and ultimately the Reagan Administration, transported and sold both weapons to Iran and cocaine on behalf of the contras to fund their war and allegedly the Cali Cartel in Columbia as despite the fact that Pablo Escobar was a notorious drug dealer, he was also very much anti-communist as many were his greatest threats government wise.  In the end, the ludicrous influx of cocaine lead to the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80s which crippled black America and still has effects to this day.  By the end of the 80s, the CIA had done their job, the Berlin Wall was gone, Romania had violently executed its communist leaders, and there was even a failed coup in the Soviet Union.

December 26, 1991.  I had been alive only 3 months by then and had just celebrated my first Christmas with my family.  My mother feeds me a bottle and turns on the TV.  Then, she sees it.  She takes the remote, and turns up the TV.  They say it in many words, but the news is simple:  the USSR, the people America believed would wipe us off the face of the world, was gone.  For my family on the whole, this was a particularly proud moment for a select few.  Among them are my great uncles, James Mccoy and George Jackson.  Uncle James is a veteran of the United States Army and served in Korea while Uncle George is a proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps and fought in Vietnam.  These are men that can honestly say they were on the frontlines in the war against communism.  Still, these are also men that when they came back still were not respected by the country they nearly died and took lives for.  This could be said of many black vets, but when you consider how hard America stressed the importance of fighting communists while turning a blind eye to the suffering of more than a third of its citizens, this news was sober.  With no big bad on the other end of the world to scare white america, some hoped we could get along, that things would be better for black people.  Rodney King, the L.A. riots and two years later the fallout of the OJ Simpson trial would give us our answer.

I write all of this for one simple reason:  America cannot pretend it is unable to enact change for its citizens when many of us were alive to witness america spend trillions in a conflict with both an ideology and a superpower that many black and brown people were welcomed to with open arms while the west had no qualms about turning on people who looked just like the people in Soviet allied nations.  Again, keep in mind that the GDP on several of our allies combined if you factor in inflation was spent to beat the Soviets in putting a man on the moon.  Today, NASA’s shuttle program doesn’t even exist.  Today, we fight the war on terror and it’s been proven that many of the leaders of ISIS and other terror groups either were formerly held by America or had gotten aid from us.  So it stands to wonder:  is America creating a new boogeyman off the back of the deeds of a former Cold War allies’ betrayal?

I don’t know.  I’m just a black man who reads.             

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