Haunted History: Exorcising the Cold War

Kenneth Paul Tan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The historic Cold War may have formally ended in the early 1990s, but its influence continues to weigh heavily on much of our imagination today. In one sense, the Cold War has been a highly generative source of creativity, invention, and optimism in the human ability to surpass our natural limitations. But in quite another sense, the Cold War continues to constrain our thinking and behaviour, locking us into what seems like an eternally repetitive cycle of division, binarism, polarization, competition, othering, fear, conflict, violence, and trauma. Cold War ideological struggles have not abated, continuing to filter down into—and be modulated by—the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people. While high-level events and the Cold War strategies and narratives that continue to frame and control their significance are certainly important for critical analysis, we should also descend from the lofty considerations of geopolitics, foreign policy, and international relations to focus, at the level of lived experience, on how people and their communities, especially the marginalized, have been affected by Cold War legacies, including its modes and styles of reasoning and feeling. The Cold War has been a major source of trauma affecting so many people around the world. They lived under brutal regimes and witnessed—or were even forced into committing indescribable atrocities. They lost their homes or were forcefully dislocated from their homelands, living as refugees or in exile, forgotten by their families and communities. They moved in search of opportunities and settled in places where they faced discrimination, exploitation, and marginalization. And as China rises and challenges the global pre-eminence of the United States, the international system has come under more strain, raising the likelihood of war. And so, the cycle of violence and trauma continues. The Cold War legacy—its modes and styles of reasoning and feeling—will continue to stand in the way of progress in the name of social justice, democracy, and peace around the world.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAsia in the Old and New Cold Wars
Subtitle of host publicationIdeologies, Narratives, and Lived Experiences
EditorsKenneth Paul Tan
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9789811976810
ISBN (Print)9789811976803, 9789811976834
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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