30 years ago, the Angolan government and its Cuban allies agreed on a ceasefire with South Africa after 13 years of fighting in Angola. The warring sides had been supported by the two superpowers USSR and USA with funds and weapons. “Ah, I see”, you nod, “a proxy war in the Cold War. Poor puppets of the superpowers!” Not so fast, my young friend. Let me tell you another story from that war. Before that ceasefire, it was a regular occurrence that Cuban soldiers armed with Soviet weapons protected the drilling sites of American oil companies. They protected them from a US-funded guerilla movement (many of which had been trained by Chinese Communist military advisors). Does it still sound like a textbook proxy war to you? – I’d thought not. Come along on this wild ride through decolonization in the Cold War. Our first stop will be Angola as a Portuguese colony. Then we will move on to the violent decolonization of Angola before we look at the Civil War proper. Your conceptions of superpowers in charge of a bipolar world will be shaken. To make up for that (and because I know that you like shiny pieces of cardboard), board games will feature on the way.
It often seems as if history is far away and its study nothing but a curious, but impractical pastime. However, the past has shaped our present. Conversely, the way we look at the past also influences what we make of our times. Therefore, I find it deeply troubling what White House chief of staff John Kelly has recently said about the cause of the American Civil War – that it was the lack of an ability to compromise that led to it. While that is not wrong, it leaves out the important part and sends an unspoken, but no less problematic message. Continue reading