Terrorism has replaced Communism as the arch enemy of the United States, except it’s not red. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, we have no more “Red Threat,” as President Kennedy called it during the Cuban missile crisis. In the geo-political world
of board games, the Soviets played Risk while the United States played Monopoly. In the end, the commies ran out of money just about the time that President Reagan famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” At least the Communists had faces, terrorists not so much.
We had become used to arch enemies during WWII, especially the Nazis. At the conclusion of the war, we were left with the face of Josef Stalin, Russian dictator of the Soviet Union and of Communism, for the enemy’s name. His face was known because of newsreel and newspaper coverage at Yalta where he was featured with the benign despots Churchill and Roosevelt. But soon, two other events changed the face of Communism: the Cold War and television.
President Harry S. Truman set up a loyalty program for federal employees and expected all federal workers to demonstrate “complete and unswerving loyalty” to the United States. Anything less, he declared, “constitutes a threat to our democratic processes.” Truman also asked the Justice Department to compile an official list of 78 subversive organizations. That set both Senator Joseph McCarthy’s star and cast communism as our arch enemy and national threat.
Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) coined the term of an era in a speech he gave in Wheeling, West Virginia, February 9, 1950. He said, “…for this is not a period of peace. This is a time of ‘the cold war.’” Later, Senator McCarthy became the face of anti-communism gone overboard when Edward R. Murrow went after him on CBS television. Television began to feature Communists as villains until the Berlin Wall began to fall and the era of Communist villainy fell with it.
Here are some of the great, former arch enemies of the United States.
“Politicians are the same all over,” said Nikita Khrushchev, “They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers.” Khrushchev fit the bill as the Cold War face of Communism, famously banging his shoe on a lectern at the United Nations and declaring that the Communists would bury us. He looked like a farm worker in a suit which made Vice President Richard M. Nixon and President John F. Kennedy look great on television by contrast. Khrushchev also provoked the US with a ballistic missile system close to home, in Cuba.
Fidel Castro came down from the hills to the Hilton in Havana to take over the island nation and television made him a star. Before becoming an arch enemy, Castro debuted on television in 1959 with Ed Sullivan, something that ticked off both Murrow and CBS. Castro is the last surviving communist dictator from Latin America, where dictators dominated governments that armies overthrew on a seemingly regular basis. Still vilified today in South Florida, where one spits over one’s shoulder when his name is said, Fidel [ptew] is also one of the most televised.
Television followed President Nixon to China and to its Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, our arch-enemy in the East. “Politics is war without bloodshed,” Mao is quoted, “while war is politics with bloodshed.” The Chinese carried little red books and
pictures of Chairman Mao, as John Lennon sings, “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow,” in Revolution. Mao was the face of Chinese Communism that westerners recognized.
We also recognized the face of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, who said, “I’ve never heard of any president being so close to his people.” Born Nguyen Sinh Cung, Ho Chi Minh was a Marxist Communist post-WWII leader who formed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He also led the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Ho died in September 2, 1969 but the war continued until 1975, when Saigon fell to the Communists, who renamed it Ho Chi Minh City.
Arch enemydom began to change at the end of the 70s, in the Carter administration, with the appearance of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini who said, “America is the great Satan, the wounded snake.” With a line like that and a menacing look like his, the Ayatollah became the face to hate. A cleric, not a Communist, the seizing of Americans as hostages ushered in the Reagan administration, ABC’s Nightline and the end of Communism as an enemy, but not the end of arch enemies.
You say Muammar al-Qadhafi [Al-Jazeera], we say Moammar Gadhafi [Fox, CNN, and AP]. Whichever, the well-heeled little Libyan dictator has the face but fails to rise to arch enemy status. That brings us to Osama bin Laden, who said, “We did not find it difficult to deal with Bush and his administration, because it is similar to regimes in our countries – both types include many who are full of arrogance and greed.” President Clinton signed a directive authorizing the CIA to use deadly force with bin Laden and we did.
Unless you look, do you know who Public Enemy Number Three is? In this country we know who is number one and probably number two in anything: sports, beers, cars, colleges, movies. Arch enemydom seems to have an opening for the moment. Who will be ranked Number One and have their face put on a target next?