Born in 1946 in South Africa, in the Eastern Cape, Steve Biko engaged in political activism at a very early age, which ultimately caused his permanent expulsion from public schooling. Fortunately, he was able to enroll in and graduate from a private school, from which he entered the University of Natal Medical School to fulfill his life’s ambition to become a doctor. But his interest in political reform always remained strong, and in 1967 he joined the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), a multiracial organization dedicated to African civil rights. Biko soon became disillusioned with the NUSAS, however, when it seemed to him that “whites did all the talking and blacks all the listening.” The next year, he founded and organized the all-black South African Students’ Organization (SASO). While leading SASO, Biko formulated and spread the philosophy of Black Consciousness. The primary goals of Black Consciousness were to forge pride and unity among all black South Africans, to foil the government’s strategy of divide and rule, and to restore confidence in the ability of Africans to throw off their oppression. As envisioned by Biko, Black Consciousness was both a mental attitude and a way of life. He argued that true freedom could only be achieved once blacks realized that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” By challenging the premises and forces that created identities of inferiority and helplessness, Biko sought to awaken blacks to the potential power within each individual.
The apartheid government first restricted Biko’s activities, then banned all speeches and texts containing any reference to his person or his ideas. For a time, Biko cleverly avoided arrest, and Black Consciousness continued to gain momentum, resulting ultimately in the 1976 “Soweto uprising,” in which student protests against inferior education served as the spark for a massive, violent confrontation between African residents of townships and government security forces. In August 1977, Biko was finally caught at a roadblock, arrested, and severely beaten and tortured in jail over a period of several days. Bloodied, naked, and unconscious, he was then tossed into the back of a truck and driven over 700 miles to Pretoria, where he was pronounced dead at the age of twenty-nine.
The following text, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity,” was written by Biko in 1973 for inclusion in a book on black theology in South Africa. In this essay, Biko discusses the origins and expressions of racism and highlights their effect on people’s attitudes and lives. He also provides a clear definition and explanation of Black Consciousness and offers it as a solution to remedy dependency on whites and passivity in blacks. In doing so, he envisions a new identity for South African blacks that will empower individuals and give them the strength and determination to take charge of their own future.
Steve Biko, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity,” in I Write What I Like: Selected Writings, ed. Aelred Stubbs. Copyright © 1979 Harper & Row.
Evidence that imperial expansion in the nineteenth century was not an exclusive European privilege is provided by this painting of the Battle of Adowa in 1896. Under the command of the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II (r. 1889-1913), an Italian invasion force was annihilated. Menelik is at the left of the painting, directing his troops who fire on the Italian forces with cannon and machine guns. Astride a white horse, St. George, the patron saint of Ethiopia, exhorts Menelik’s army to victory. The Italian commander, General Baratieri, is on the far right, ready to order a retreat. The Italians lost 6,000 men in this crushing defeat. Ethiopia would remain independent until 1936.
National Archives photo no. 28-0547M (top); http://www.library.yale.edu/div/exhibits/boxers.htm (bottom)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
While many consider the Cold War to have been a showdown between free market capitalism and state-directed economics, the truth on the ground was often more complex. Here, the American petro-giant Mobil Oil proudly proclaims its support for newly-independent Ghana’s Five-Year Plan to create a socialist “Welfare State.”
National Archives of Ghana (PRAAD)
Sayyed Ruhollah Mostafavi Mosavi Khomeini, or Ayatollah Khomeini (1902–1989), was the leader of the Iranian revolution of 1979. After the downfall of the ruling Shah (King), Khomeini, who had been living in exile in Paris, returned to Iran and became the Supreme leader, the highest political and spiritual office in the country. He held this position until his death. Under his rule, the principle of Velayet-e-faqih—a Shi’a political concept that gave religious clerics political power—was enshrined in the postrevolutionary constitution. This excerpt from his Message puts the struggles in Iran in a global context, as many nations around the world were caught up in proxy wars between the superpowers of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States. Trumpeting a new Muslim unity (tawhid), Khomeini depicts Muslim leaders who make deals with the “infidel” Americans as traitors, prefiguring the coming fundamentalist Islamic opposition to both superpowers, especially the Soviets in Afghanistan, but notably the resistance to American power in the Middle East.
From Jussi Hanhimäki and Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, pages 563–4.
Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (1900–1989) was a leader-in-exile of the revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran (1919–1980) in 1979, but his influence extended far beyond the politics of one Middle Eastern country. The Imam, as he continues to be known to his followers, was one of the century’s most important voices articulating the need for an Islamic “worldview” to counter globalizing forces of western economic structures, secular values, and popular culture.
Throughout the 1980s, a decade that included horrific war with the secular Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Khomeini continued to represent those forces of “revolutionary Islam” that argued that the societies represented by the United States and its western allies were the sources of violence, injustice, and irreligion in the world. The struggles of some followers of traditional Islam to preserve the faith as they understood it introduced the “clash of cultures” as yet another way to understand the continuing violence between human communities.
Imam Khomeini, Islam and Revolution, trans. Hamid Algar (Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press, 1981), 300–06.
Enoch Powell was a member of parliament in Britain’s Conservative Party in the 1960s. He gave his “Rivers of Blood” speech in the spring of 1968 at the general meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre. The speech is so named because, although the phrase “rivers of blood” is not actually used, he refers to a line in Roman poet Virgil’s, Aeneid, which talks about the river Tiber foaming with blood. Allegedly reporting the concerns of his constituents in Wolverhampton southwest, Powell laments the influx of immigrants into Britain from her former colonies and notes the dismay of native residents of some towns and cities who find themselves in a beleaguered white minority. He suggests that integration is not on the minds of immigrants and predicts coming racial tensions. He then goes on to suggest re-emigration of large numbers of immigrants. The reaction to Powell’s speech was strong and swift; he was fired from his government position as shadow defense secretary, his speech being seen as inflammatory and damaging to race relations.
From Enoch Powell, “Rivers of Blood,” 1968.
Ho Chi Minh (Nguyen Ai Quoc)
On September 2, 1945, the day of Japan’s surrender to the United States, the leader of the communist resistance in Indochina, Ho Chi Minh, read a Vietnamese declaration of independence to half a million people in Hanoi. Newly liberated from occupation by Nazi Germany, France hoped to reassert its power in the region it had colonized in the previous century, but the communist Vietminh refused to budge from their demands for independence. The French persuaded the United States that this colonial conflict was an outgrowth of the larger Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union, and the American administrations of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower (1945–1961) provided financial and moral support to the French as they clashed with Vietnamese insurgents. The French surrendered in 1954, but Vietnam was divided. The United States continued its involvement in South Vietnam—soon to be accelerated with the dispatch of military advisors and military personnel by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy (1961–1963). Published in April 1960 in a Soviet journal entitled Problems of the East, this statement by Ho Chi Minh encapsulates his thinking on the example of Vladimir Lenin in his own struggle against Western imperialism.
Ho Chi Minh, Selected Works, vol. 4 (Hanoi: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), available online at http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/ho-chi-minh/works/1960/04/x01.htm
George F. Kennan
George Kennan (1904–2005) was one of the most distinguished American diplomats of the twentieth century, and his article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (1947) is one of the most influential documents in American diplomatic history. As chargé d’affaires in the American embassy in Moscow, he was singularly well placed to observe and assess the Soviet leadership, particularly because he had served in a variety of foreign service positions in Europe since 1927. From 1947 to 1950, he worked in the State Department in high-level planning and advisory roles. He was ambassador to Moscow briefly in 1952. It is hard to overestimate his impact on American Cold War foreign policy. Possessed of a unique combination of knowledge of Russian history, the ability to synthesize and communicate insights based on that knowledge, and the authority within the foreign policy community of the United States to ensure that his opinions would be heard and heeded, Kennan left a deep imprint on America’s view of the Soviet Union.
In “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Kennan elaborated on the ideas that he had addressed in his famous “long telegram” of February 1946. This had come just six months after the surrender of Japan had marked the effective end of World War II. The main purpose of both of Kennan’s documents was to present the essential elements of the Russo-Soviet historical experience, worldview, and political system in order that the United States could formulate effective, well-grounded policies consistent with its own traditions, experiences, and values. His conclusions provided the framework for a set of policies that have become known as “containment,” which shaped American cold war strategy for at least four decades and articulated America’s self-perception in its struggle against the forces of Communism.
X [George F. Kennan], “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs 25 (July 1947): 566–78, 580–82.
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman’s presidency coincided with the early and uncertain days of the Cold War. During his administration (1945–1952), Soviet victories in World War II had placed the Red Army in control of Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, eastern Germany, and part of Austria. In devastated Western Europe, Communist Party members were also gaining power and influence. It did not take Truman long to respond to this perceived threat. In March 1946, he traveled from Washington to Fulton, Missouri, to be present at the speech by Winston Churchill, in which the former British prime minister said that “an iron curtain has descended across Europe.” Churchill also called on the United States to assume global leadership and to constrain Soviet aggression by means of a strong defense and an active cooperation with England. Exactly one year and one week later, Truman addressed Congress in joint session in the speech in which he laid out his broad foreign policy objectives to contain the Communist menace. The Truman Doctrine provided a coherent strategy for American foreign policy in the Cold War and justified America’s intervention in the Korean War (1950–1953). In 1952, Truman declined to run for reelection and retired to his home in Missouri, where he died twenty years later at the age of 88.
Harry S. Truman, Message to Congress (March 12, 1947); Document 171; 80th Cong. 1st sess., Records of the United States House of Representatives; Record Group 233; National Archives.
United Nations General Assembly
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, was one of the most significant and lasting results of the Second World War. The League of Nations, created after the First World War, had failed to prevent the beginning of another, even more catastrophic and costly conflict. The United Nations was planned throughout the war as a substitute mechanism for global peace and security, but world leaders also believed that a document was necessary to affirm the rights of individuals throughout the entire world. A formal drafting committee, consisting of members from eight countries, was charged with the task. The committee chair was Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Roosevelt and a strong advocate for human rights in her own right. By its resolution 217 A (III), the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight nations abstained from the vote, but none dissented.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/)