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Disguising Imperialism: How Textbooks Get the Cold War Wrong and Dupe Students

Disguising Imperialism: How Textbooks Get the Cold War Wrong and Dupe Students

Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

Recently, with the possibility of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III subpoenaing President Trump in the headlines, I found myself discussing the Russian hacking allegations with my U.S. History class. Having just finished our Cold War unit, my students were much less concerned about Russia tampering with U.S. elections than they were about the historical amnesia regarding the past meddling of the U.S. government. Max said: “Why is the media making such a big deal about this? What the Russians are accused of is nothing compared to what the U.S.


None of this is new to students around the world - and especially those from the affected countries.


Let us not forget Haiti either and the multiple interventions in that state including the US supporting the Coup of the elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The Governmnet of Canada also helped orchestrate that coup. In Canada this was done because mining companies were concerned about Aristide’s “White Paper” . Mr Aristide issued instructions to do an inventory of all natural resources inside Haiti along with their total value. Mining compnaies in Canada were concerned he was going to Nationalize those resources and use the revenues raised to distribute to the poor peoples of Haiti.

As with any other of the fabulously wealthy, those “Captains of Industry” , these executives felt the proceeds of that wealth belonged to them and their Shareholders rather than the people of Haiti.

At the end of the day , it always about Imperialism and wealth extraction wherein the countries targeted are to be stripped of resources and all of the wealth flow out to the same old Colonizer nations that have been doing this for centuries under the guise of things like “promoting democracy and freedom” or “bringing Civilisation to the backwards peoples of the world”.

These trade deals being promoted are just another tool these people use to exert Corporate dominance. They do not want another Cuba so pass laws and legislation that ensures the santity of “capital and the investor class” so that a given State’s hands tied when they try and address the issues of Foreign firms plundering their resources.


Thank you, Ursula.

We need more teachers willing to help the young see how US citizens are waging endless war against completely innocent people around the world.

It was a shocker for me as a young surfer who pentagonians wanted to send to Vietnam. A teacher like you would have prepared me better for the real world. As it was, when this young surfer objected, americans turned on me and said I was a communist.


Wonderful article.

It might be good to recall, however, that there has yet to be a “revelation of Russian hacking” regarding the 2016 election. It’s another of those lies that has been repeated so often that one imagines it were true.

Perhaps as a follow-up, it might be useful to unpack profit-determined US foreign policy a bit:

  • It is likely impossible to fix profit-determined foreign policy when one has a profit-determined domestic policy
  • It is likely not possible to fix profit-determined domestic policy when one has profit-determined politicians
  • It is likely not possible to remove profit-determined politicians (without substituting another face for the first) when access to and use of the resources of society are determined by profit.

The Darwinian and capitalist progression involved ought to be familiar by now: he or she who sells political favors receives a profit that can be used to purchase power to have more favors to sell.

“Profit motive” as it exists today cannot continue to be the primary determining factor in personal or public policy because it is myopic: we are not actually supported by economic systems, but by ecological systems, including human systems.

One returns the surplus to the system or bleeds the system dry and starves amidst shows of wealth (surplus here does not equal profit, but includes excessive profits out of relation to need).


Thank you, Common Dreams, for this excellent article, which is one of the best I’ve read in a very long time.

Ursula Wolfe-Rocca’s students are very, very fortunate.


As is her Oregon community.


I’m a child of the Cold War, born the month the Korean War cooled. But all I really knew about any of it was anti-Communism. (I was a member of the last class of Sophomore girls at Ramsey NJ HS required to spend one marking period out of gym to take the Red Cross First Aid course for service in a fallout shelter. Yeah, we learned to deliver babies from a filmstrip, and to splash a mere glass of water on any exposed intestines before bandaging. I still have the textbook, just in case I need to review.)

When I grew up, I took Russian on a lark, though at a left-leaning experimental NJ State College (Ramapo) where I met actual US Marxists. In my 3rd year there, on another lark, I went to the USSR myself (Grandmother: “Oh, Barbara, why would you want to go there!?”). I fell in love with the Commies and learned, among other things, how direct was their experience of hot war. And I learned something of the painful relationship (back to Tsarist days) between Russia and Ukraine. When I got home, I refocused my interdisciplinary major and contemplated grad school. In my first year of a full-fellowship Ivy PhD program in Sociology, specializing in Soviet society, I picked up a small stipend from Exxon (hang my head) for a comparative-education literature review, US/USSR. One of the most shocking things I found there was that US K-12 students received almost twice the number of hours of “indoctrination” in civics as did their Soviet counterparts (Boy/Girl Scouts could probably be considered about equivalent to Komsomols). I’ve kept that in mind as I observed my own children’s education. So sad to learn that it continues into my granddaughters’ careers. I can only hope for teachers for them like Ursula Wolfe-Rocca and a sort of a stepbrother I know of in Texas.


Hi Ursula. I stopped using the revisionist/pap history books put out by Pearson etc., instead working with Zinn and the UCLA materials that can be found at http://worldhistoryforusall.ss.ucla.edu/


Your comment got me to remembering what happened in my High School, Highline, in Burien, WA. When WW-II started in 1941, any classes dealing with Germany were banned or discontinued. Language, history, social study, etc.
*In 1950, you still couldn’t take German. I got fascinated with Russia, reading what little I could find of Russian history and customs. I asked the Principal, whom I knew, if we couldn’t perhaps have a Russian language course and a course on its history and customs. I was told that couldn’t be done because Russia was an evil communist dictatorship, and we couldn’t have anything to do with it.
*As a naive young student, I suggested that, if Russia was our enemy, and likely to be at war with us, wouldn’t it make sense if we could speak their language and learn their history, and how their government worked, etc. That would make us much more effective in a war situation. The answer I got to that was quite long-winded, but could be boiled down to one word, “No!”
*The message I got was that we must never know our enemy. That knowledge might make him less of an enemy than we were told. Maybe even friends. What a dangerous concept!
*I’m 80, now, and still try to learn as much as I can about my fellow humans, their customs, their history, their languages. Almost always, I find that they are not wicked or cruel, or anything like our ministry of propaganda tells us.
*Hate is a terrible virus that destroys much of what it comes in contact with.
Love, empathy, compassion and help are very good anti-viruses. We should spread them around.


A display of historical artifice

What is?

I read a very enlightening book several years ago – ‘Lies my teacher told me’ – and now I can’t find it . . .   :frowning:


To go a little off topic (though following on your observation), I got to return to the USSR once again, with a “pilgrimage” by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the National Council of Churches, but for only 2 weeks, in observance of the millennium of the Russian Orthodox Church in August 1988. My own congregation had undertaken a project that spring to fold a thousand paper cranes for each of the nuclear-armed nations, and figure out later how to deliver them. Well, of course my trip presented an opportunity.

Among the visits on our agenda was a meeting at the Moscow Peace Committee, and our group thought that would be the place for me to deliver the cranes. I spent the entire “city tour” with which arrival always began, Intourist or Sputnik, frantically paging through my dictionary, trying to resurrect enough of my Russian to tell the story of Sadako, but when we walked into the building, I saw an “eternal light” with strings of cranes around it and heaved a sigh of relief. But I did keep on working on a speech during the “discussion” part of the meeting, until I was so afraid I put the book away. Just then a member of our group asked, “What can we as citizens do to promote peace with your country?” The young Russian woman sitting next to me — a university Economics major who had done her whole education in English, by choice — grabbed the microphone on the table between the two of us and demanded “Learn our language, because once you speak another people’s language you can never think of them as enemies.”

A different kind of sigh. And the dictionary came back out. When I went to the head of the table to make the presentation, the only word I forgot was the one for “nuclear,” but the Soviets around the table happily supplied it. And then our group got to reciprocate when the chairman forgot the same word in his English acceptance speech. Btw, he said they had a closet full of strings of cranes, from all over the world. But this was the first set they’d received from the US, and it would be particularly treasured.


Care to hazard a guess?

Some important arguments - how conventional periodization obscures continuities of U.S. imperialism, and how conventional U.S. histories overlook the national profit motive of foreign policy - so obvious a motive in accounts of 16th-18th c. European nations battling to seize the Americas.

Perhaps unavoidably, by focusing on imperialism, Wolfe-Rocca’s account does not consider how national enemies can function not only to clear the way for profit-making abroad, but to crush domestic radicalism and, thus, increase domestic right wing political power and profit, at home. That is, after WWII, the Cold War strengthened domestic anti-communism - extirpating radicals from U.S. unions and progressives from government, shifting U.S. labor and welfare state law right, imposing sundry cultural conformities.

In a nutshell, I would argue the anti-Communist culture of the Cold War functioned not just to clear the path for international profit, but to gain right wing domestic control.


спасибо, мой друг. A beautiful reminiscence.
*If only Homo Sapiens would learn and apply…

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Tom, what naïveté? I thought she nailed it almost perfectly, especially for such a short article. And she IS getting the kids to research and discuss both their findings and the propaganda that the textbooks push.

I was going to ask her if she can’t go give this presentation to congressmen, especially in the House. I’d bet anything that at least 90% of them don’t know any of this.

What else does need to be addressed, and maybe she can do this later, is the connection between what textbook publishers publish and the demands of elected, and usually benighted, school board members. THAT is scary and disgusting…and there is the largest contributor to the dumbing down of America and the evaporating away of what was left of our democracy. And then, just for good measure, throw in the canonization of standardized tests.

For all of the above paragraph’s phenomena, as always, follow the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$.



“[I]n my High School, Highline, in Burien, WA. When WW-II started in 1941, any classes dealing with Germany were banned or discontinued. Language, history, social study, etc.”

Go back to a quarter century to WWI in the US, and you’d have witnessed German “Sheet music, along with books by German authors…burned in public spectacles.”

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