Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Corporations that Won the Cold War

The Cold War

The "Cold War" was a term first coined by George Orwell in 1945* (see earlier post Animal Farm, 8/12/12).

The Cold War lasted  from the conclusion of World War II in 1945 until 1989 and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. When the wall came down, the once fearful Soviet Union quickly imploded and the nations of the Warsaw pact became free. The "velvet revolution" would transform eastern Europe and the world.

Commander K. and Lenin, Fremont WA
Many individuals and leaders played a role in winning the cold war for the West.  Truman, Marshall, Orwell, Eisenhower, Churchill, Kennedy, Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, Gorbachev and Lech Walesa all contributed, to name but a few.

There were also brave men and women who served the cause of freedom in their nation's military in the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam and around the globe during the cold war.  I honor their service and sacrifice.  But the cold war was not a war like other wars, won or lost on the field of battle. There were costly armed conflicts, to be sure, in Korea, Vietnam, Angola etc.  The cold war, however, was primarily a struggle for "hearts and minds" that was waged around the world.

Neither the leaders nor the soldiers are my focus now.  Today I would prefer to honor the corporations that contributed to winning the cold war laying a wreath, so to speak, at the tomb of the unknown shareholder (see earlier post, The Corporations that Won WW2!

The cold war was ultimately won in the court of global public opinion with massive help from the public relations experts -- corporate America.  It should, therefore, come as no great surprise that it was the corporations of the West that prevailed in winning the cold war.  These corporations that contributed to the triumph of the West were not just defense contractors but much more far-reaching.

Thanks to all the companies around the world that helped to win the Cold War.  Thanks also to the American taxpayer for generously funding this peaceful victory.  It was not just the West that won the cold war -- it was the entire world that ultimately triumphed.

Here is my very partial top ten list of the Corporations that Won the Cold War...

Air Force One - 747
BOEING  President Truman authorized the dropping of two atomic bombs on Imperial Japan in August of 1945 that ended World War II;  these devices terrorized the globe into never resorting to these weapons again (as of now and one may hope, forever).  These bombs were delivered by Boeing's B - 29 Superfortress bombers.  In the flash of an eye, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed and the full horror of atomic warfare was demonstrated to the world.  After witnessing the first atomic weapons test, the physicist Kenneth Bainbridge remarked to Robert Oppenheimer, "Now we are all sons of bitches."

Boeing (BA on the NYSE) went on to build other aircraft such as the B - 52 Stratofortress bomber which, introduced in 1955, is, remarkably enough, still in service as of this writing.  These planes were a part of the Strategic Air Command that helped to deter Soviet aggression during the cold war.  The bomber force could assure the implementation of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) that would be satirized so effectively by in Stanley Kubrik's black comedy Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (

Military aviation, however, was only part of Boeing's contribution to the cold war. Boeing introduced the 707 -- the first commercial jet aircraft in 1958.  Advances in commercial aviation led by the Boeing company ushered in a new mobile lifestyle that made the West so much more attractive (not to mention safer) than the stasis of those living in Eastern block.  This was followed by the 737 and the 747.  The initial USAF request for proposal for an Air Force One using a 747 was made in 1985.

Boeing played a huge role in the US space program that sent astronauts to the moon and back, explored the heavens and launched the Hubble telescope.  Boeing was also part of the consortium that build the Space Shuttle that demonstrated US technical proficiency to the world.  The space race was the ultimate public relations triumph of the West.

USA feeds the World, Berlin Airlift, 1948
CATERPILLAR INC.  This company (CAT on the NYSE) has been building tractors since the company was formed via merger in 1925.  The Navy Seabees used Caterpillar tractors during World War II.  They also constructed some of the engines for the Sherman tanks built during the war.  But it is Caterpillar's contribution to agricultural efficiency that helped make it a winner in the cold war.  With Caterpillar I also imply a host of other agricultural related-companies such as Con Agra, John Deere and many others who all helped to make American farmers the most productive in the world.  During the Dutch famine of 1944, RAF planes dropped food into German occupied areas of Holland in Operation Manna.  Later it would be US shipments of surplus food under the Marshall plan that kept most of Europe from the brink of starvation in the aftermath of the Second World War.  During the Berlin airlift of 1948 planeloads of milk, flour and other food items kept the city alive.

"The Berlin blockade was saved from catastrophe by the airlift.  Standing in the street in Berlin, Bohlen** recalled his amazement at the sight of C-54s swooping into Berlin (see photo above) one after another, landing at Tempelhof Airport every four or five minutes.  The airlift just kept growing.  Keeping Berlin alive required 4,000 tons a day, or a C-54 every three minutes and forty-three seconds.  In June and July, the airlift averaged 1,147 tons; but by autumn, it had reached the 4,000 ton minimum.  The planes were even able to transport coal.  To accommodate more transports, another airfield was built by twenty thousand Berliners with their bare hands.  Stalin had blundered.  The Soviets began to look like barbarians, bent on starvation, while the Americans seemed like saviors."  Source: The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, Walter Isaacson & Evan Thomas, 1986,

America's bountiful harvest, made possible by companies such at Caterpillar, would go on to help alleviate famine throughout the third world throughout the cold war.  
Ronald Reagan GE Spokesman
GENERAL ELECTRIC  GE hired actor Ronald Reagan as a spokesman in the 1950's.  Reagan toured GE plants around the country honing his speaking and political skills.  As President, Reagan would question to continuation of the orthodox strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) hoping for a more satisfactory result.  GE (GE on the NYSE) also built the kinds of appliances that helped Nixon to show up Khrushchev in the famous "Kitchen" debate which took place in Moscow in 1959  The American housewife had a better deal than her Soviet counterpart partly because GE "brought good things to life".  GE also owned NBC which, in turn, hired American patriots such as Bob Hope who inspired the troops in many wars with his USO tours.

James Bond 007, Cold Warrior
MGM/UNITED ARTISTS  Ian Fleming wrote the novels, but it was MGM/UA with the EON production team, led initially by "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, that made the James Bond films -- the longest running and most successful movie franchise in film history.  The 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall with Daniel Craig, is due out in November 2012.  James Bond (see earlier post, Commander Bond's London, signaled the emergence of Britain and the West from the dour austerity of wartime rationing.  Bond was part of the jet set.  Bond ate well and enjoyed life.  Moreover, Commander Bond kicked ass and made the Russians look silly and inept -- unless, of course, they happened to be beautiful female Russian agents!  When I cite MGM/UA and the Bond films I also tip my hat to the real life intelligence operatives (Ian Fleming was one during World War II.) Britain's MI-6, Felix Lighter's CIA, spy planes like the SR-71 Blackbird and, later, earth-orbiting satellites; the West had strategic advantages in intelligence gathering services that had evolved from our triumphs during World War II with  the code breakers at Bletchley House (see earlier post Bletchley Park and the Judgement of History, in the UK and the Magic program in the USA.  Bond is also a direct descendant of the Special Operations Executive  (SOE) that had been tasked with "setting Nazi-occupied Europe ablaze " (see earlier post, Violette Szabo,

McDonnell Douglas F - 4, Phantom, Museum of Flight, Seattle, Wa
MCDONELL DOUGLAS  This company manufactured the F-4 Phantom Fighter bomber which was a workhorse aircraft for the West during the cold war.  They also contributed to commercial aviation with aircraft such as the D-10 and also assisted with the US space program.

The Soviets bought it!
20th CENTURY FOX  George Lucas created the megahit film Star Wars for 20th Century Fox which was released in 1977.  While Lucas may be an economic simpleton (see earlier post, Red Tails versus Obama, 6/20/12), he has been a movie making genius whose work had reverberations that extended beyond his wildest imaginings.   President Reagan, in an effort to move beyond Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), came up with the Strategic Defense Initiative ( This program was mocked and derided by the mainstream media who labelled it a "Star Wars Defense" program.  The technical merits of SDI may be long debated, but the public relations victory of Star Wars weapons is unquestionable.  These laser guided ICBM melting weapons may not have actually worked, but the Soviets, because of the film Star Wars believed that those darned Americans would figure out a way to make them blast the motherland's missiles out of the sky like Han Solo firing on Imperial Star fighters.  The Soviet Union could not afford to keep spending vast resources on defense to keep up with those crazy Americans with their space lasers.  The Hollywood entertainment industry, in spite of its frequent criticism of western capitalism, provides many great American exports (film and television) that helped our balance of trade and insinuated the superiority of the West throughout the world during the cold war.

The Orginal

Mao Jacket

Joni Mitchell in denim
Reagan in denim
LEVI STRAUSS & CO.  Levi Strauss is a private company that was founded in 1853 and is based in San Francisco, CA.  They benefited enormously from the "jeans craze"of the 1960's and 1970's.  When I cite this company, I imply far more than just the most famous jeans brand in the world.  I also suggest the self-evident superiority of all Western fashion (Italian, French, American, etc.) over anything created behind the iron curtain -- Dior versus the Mao jacket -- no contest!  Levi's jeans also suggest the unmistakable appeal of the old West that one could find in cowboy movies (e.g. Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns), TV series such as Gunsmoke and Bonanza and country and western music.  The cowboys were the "good guys," they were rugged individualists and they wore Levi's jeans.  Levi's jeans were the perfect synthesis of democratic egalitarian principles and the libertarian aspirations of the old west, expressed in denim and brass.  They were worn with pride by Joni Mitchell and Ronald Reagan.  A generation of American youth rebelled against parental authority and stifling all wearing the exact same jeans!

Apple "1984" Ad

APPLE COMPUTER.  Steve Jobs introduced the Apple Macintosh in 1984 with the most famous Superbowl commercial of all time.  The dystopic vision of Orwell's 1984 did not come to pass due largely to the liberating effect of technology which put information and unprecedented computing power in the hands of individuals.  I cite Apple (AAPL on the NASDAQ) but I also imply the work of many other technology leader such as Microsoft, Intel, IBM, HP and many more.  The current iPad or iPhone has more computing power than all of NASA's computers had in 1969. In 1969, NASA, aided by Boeing and many other companies, launched men to the moon.  This rapid increase in terms of computing power drained power from the state and put it squarely into the hands of individuals pursuing their own dreams.  The Soviet Union copied and frequently stole American high technology to meet their own ends, but they could not match the potential for technological innovation inherent in Western capitalism.

Irrepressible Rock

ROLLING STONES RECORDS  I cite this label as being representative of rock 'n' roll and the entire music industry in the West.  I could also include Decca, EMI, Apple, Virgin, Motown and many more.  The rebellious spirit of rock 'n' roll exercised and still has enormous appeal for the baby boom generation and their descendants.  Rock 'n' roll was the music of freedom and liberation from tyrannical authority.  It spread throughout the world like an unstoppable virus.  Young people would listen to Western music in secret.  Yes, there were messages of sex, drugs and rebellion, but there was another message too -- the West was much cooler and hipper than the communist world.

Russell Baker wrote in his preface to Animal Farm, "The Soviet Union could surround itself with walls but could not block out revolutionary radio and electronic waves, which stirred up the supposedly whipped human herd with an irresistible appetite for rock 'n' roll, blue jeans, and other such subverters of totalitarian rule."  Preface to Animal Farm, Russell Baker 1996, Signet Classics.

When the Chernobyl nuclear disaster struck in 1986 the Soviet Union, instead of disclosing the truth of the matter played several minutes of sombre classical music. "During that time, all radio broadcasts run by the state were replaced with classical music, which was a common method of preparing the public for an announcement of a tragedy that had taken place," according to Wikipedia.

By contrast, during operation Just Cause the US Army blasted rock 'n roll to drive dictator Manuel Noriega out of  the Vatican Embassy in Panama City in 1989.  The LA Times wrote, "For the first time, it appears that the U.S. government recognizes rock music as a front-line weapon in the fight for truth, justice and the American Way."

Shortly after the Berlin wall fell, the Rolling Stones did a concert tour of Prague that blew the doors down.  Beer sales reached an all time high.  Vaclav Havel himself was a big Stones fan (see video below).  From Havel's obituary we read, "Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones arrived just as the Soviet army was leaving. Posters in Prague proclaimed: 'The tanks are rolling out — the Stones are rolling in.'"  Source:

It is with sadness that I note that the free expression of ideas in song is under attack today in Russia where the group Pussy Riot was recently sentenced in Moscow to do hard time for the crime of having mocked Putin in a song.


Back on the home front during the cold war there were "hawks" who favored military responses and "doves" who opposed them.  There is always a dynamic tension between the impulses of left and right.

From the perspective of 2012, those on the left must acknowledge that the cold war required military preparedness.  George Marshall summed this up eloquently, "We have tried since the birth of our nation to promote our love of peace by a display of weakness.  This course has failed us utterly."  (Source: Patton: A Genius for War, Carlo D'Este, 1995,  Corporations such as those above and many more allowed us to maintain the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) that was critical to winning the cold war.

Those on the left must also acknowledge the vital importance of aggressive principled moral leadership by the United States of America.  In 1961 at his inaugural JFK said, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."  President Carter would respond to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics (see earlier post, Defending...Jimmy Carter,  Later Reagan would denounce the "evil Empire" that imprisoned political prisoners in its gulag.  Reagan would visit Berlin and speak these immortal words, "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!'

Those on the right must, however, acknowledge that those who exercised their right of dissent and protested the Vietnam war, for example, ironically helped to achieve ultimate victory for the West insofar as their voices represented the superiority of a free pluralistic society over authoritarianism.  Partisans of the right must also acknowledge that the cold war was not won by means of military strength alone and that the leadership skills of patience, compassion and forbearance exemplified by Eisenhower and others (see earlier post Eisenhower in London, were invaluable.

* "We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity.  James Burnham"s theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications--that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a State which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of 'cold war' with its neighbors."   You and the Atom Bomb, George Orwell, October 19, 1945.

** "Chip" Bohlen was an adviser to Harry Truman.

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