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5 Ridiculous Cold War Myths You Learned in History Class

#2. Kennedy Was the Peaceful Cold War President

HBO

When JFK's name is dragged through the mud these days, it's usually for all the places he put his dick that weren't on his wife's body. When it comes to his on-the-job record, he's usually held up as the ideological antidote to the warlike maniacs who followed him. He defused the Cuban Missile Crisis, focused technological resources on a race to the moon instead of nuclear annihilation and created peaceful-sounding initiatives like the Peace Corps.

His followers have even suggested that, had he not been assassinated, America never would have gotten into the Vietnam War. Oliver Stone's JFK suggested that Lyndon Johnson signed the document NSAM 273 just days after Kennedy's assassination, and according to Donald Sutherland, "In that document [DRAMATIC PAUSE] lay the Vietnam War."

electricprint
Soon after this photo, Johnson jumped away from the document, which exploded.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has gone on record saying that Kennedy would not have escalated the Vietnam War the way Johnson did. Sounds like a pretty solid case that 'Nam as we know it would have never happened had Kennedy not been assassinated, right? Think about what that would mean for so many young men, and your favorite movie characters ...

Getty
Millions died to make The West Wing possible.

Why It's Bullshit:

"JFK presidential assassination conspiracy" had a whole new meaning back when he was still in office. Kennedy and his administration loved devising and launching shady plots to assassinate the presidents of other countries. The Cuban Project -- the CIA's many attempts to kill Castro in the most Wile. E. Coyote manner possible -- was launched by Kennedy. Of course, the Kennedy administration only resorted to outright murder after their secret invasion of Cuba failed miserably. So while he deserves a lot of credit for keeping Americans alive through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fact that Kennedy was openly and regularly trying to straight up murder their president probably helped cause the problem in the first place.

Wikipedia
Later, Castro shaved off his beard and changed his name to Liam Neeson.

As for Vietnam, on September 2, 1963, John F. Kennedy told Walter Cronkite:

These people who say we ought to withdraw from Vietnam are wholly wrong, because if we withdrew from Vietnam, the communists would control Vietnam, pretty soon ... all of Southeast Asia would be under control of the communists and ... then India, Burma would be the next target.

jakemabe
"It's like Risk, which is why I've diverted the entire Marine Corps to the Kamchatka peninsula."

Politicians would spend the next decade reciting that exact justification for the war. Kennedy wasn't just pro-Vietnam War -- his administration basically wrote the pro-Vietnam War playbook.

Behind the scenes, he was already using tactics in Vietnam just as shady as Nixon's most questionable supervillainy. For instance, Kennedy authorized the overthrow and eventual assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. The evil document Oliver Stone waived in our faces in JFK was the second step in that shady CIA conspiracy, and it was all masterminded by the Kennedy administration.

jfklibrary
"With all due respect, Mr. President, enough with the assassination conspiracies."

It's not that Kennedy was a villain or anything. Like any other president, he had to make some difficult decisions. But the widely held belief that he was less of a kill-happy warmonger than any of the presidents who followed him just doesn't hold up.

#1. It Was All About Communists vs. Capitalists

The Cold War is easy enough to explain: communism vs. capitalism. The USSR, China and their communist allies were united as one glorious super-pact prepared for communist war with the capitalist West. Like a U.S. election, you had the red and blue districts competing for dominance. Everything else was beside the point. This belief was so pervasive in the media that they invented the phrase "third-world country" to refer to any country that wasn't firmly in either the commie or capitalism camp.

This was the belief that underlined all U.S. foreign policy -- as demonstrated by Kennedy's domino theory. While we might not believe that theory to be true anymore, as far as our history books are concerned, this is how Soviet and American leaders viewed the world ...


Anything red was fair game.

Why It's Bullshit:

That might have been how America viewed the world. Like with the missile gap, they had to make their enemy look like a big, strong, unified force to justify all that bomb-building. From the "second world" perspective, things were far less clear-cut.

For instance, sharing a 3,000-mile border did not make the Chinese and the Soviets all that friendly with each other, especially after that whole Genghis Khan thing. Throughout nearly the entire Cold War, the Soviets and the Chinese were actually engaged in a second Cold War with each other.

Wikipedia
Wait, this is Genghis Khan? The guy who carried out the Mongol invasions looks like an overdone pastry.

While things started off pretty well between Stalin and Mao as far as odd couples go, things soured following the Sino-Soviet split of the late 1950s, which went so bad that it wasn't uncommon to see the Chinese burn Stalin in effigy. The situation eventually escalated into a seven-month-long Sino-Soviet border conflict, which doesn't get brought up in Western history books since it sort of screws with history teachers' ability to use Star Wars as a teaching tool.

mostlyrandomphotoseh
"And then the two of them found out they were brother and sister and everyone felt horribly uncomfortable."

Even more confusing to the version of history learned in Western classrooms, the decade after the Vietnam War we're all familiar with brought the Sino-Vietnamese War, which cost tens of thousands of lives on both sides over the course of just 28 days.

America never had to openly fight their capitalist allies in Europe, but the allies were mostly motivated by trying to keep the U.S. and USSR from going crazy and shooting hydrogen bombs at each other. This is part of the reason why the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament started in the U.K. and not the United States. English philosopher Bertrand Russell suggested that Europeans should all convert to communism at once if it ever looked like World War III was imminent.

nndb
That seems like a reasonable idea, badass pipe guy.

So basically, the Cold War boils down to a bunch of military and industrial people pulling off one of the most profitable cons ever, and the rest of the world being terrified of the deadly results for 40 years.

Jacopo is a history nerd who was recently interviewed by Ripley's Believe It or Not! about the great Andrew Jackson Cheese Party of 1837. He also has a new book coming out called The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy and he is on Twitter.

For more bullshit, check out 6 Bullshit Facts About Psychology That Everyone Believes and 6 Subtle Ways The News Media Disguises Bullshit As Fact.

And stop by LinkSTORM to discover why Ronald Reagan was a very, very pretty man.

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