Fidel Castro, the world’s longest-serving dictator, celebrated his 80th birthday today by announcing that he was improving after his surgery, but warning his people to expect bad news. For the Cubans in Florida, the news that Fidel was still around was bad enough. For many Cold Warriors, Fidel remains at the helm of an embarrassing outpost of a dead system that he took over from the playground of the jet-set during the last Long War.
If the fifties rich-and-famous folks could be said to have their own diaspora, it was when their Moses, Fulgencio Batista, was overthrown by about eleven amateur politicians and an Argentine dental student. Their leader, Fidel, transformed overnight from a charming ex-pitching prospect for the Yankess to a ruthless authoritarian. He executed generals, he closed the casinos, and he kicked out Frank Sinatra. Sure, making friends with the Russkies was bad, but after he sent the gangsters and the lawyers and the politicians packing, the damage had already been done.
As the Cold War fizzled on, you could sense the developing sense of injustice among the bald and calculating geniuses in the Pentagon as Cuba’s little bunch of hirsute guerillas persisted at their own version of Marxism-Leninism, despite the US’s best efforts at bullying, threatening and outright assassination attempts. Again and again our presidents cursed the Soviet Union, certain in their belief that when the Russian Bear fell, its little commie satellites would topple like so many shoddily-built Soviet apartment blocks.
Now all the old commies have died off – except for China of course, but hey – the cheap labor wing of the Republican party needs some love too – and yet Castro still sits there in his tropical paradise, devoid of any exports except molasses, cigars and doctors, hanging in space without comprehensible means of support, like the boy in the Indian rope trick. How the hell did we put him there? And better yet, how the hell do we get him down?
It’s possible that Castro’s grown old and ornery on the nurturing spite of the capitalist classes. If so then it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship. Old Cold Warriors like Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Ronald Reagan have also made it to ripe old ages. It’s possible that ideological struggle can increase longevity – and this could raise some disturbing questions. For instance – does this mean Dick Cheney will live forever? And another one – if certain struggles prolong the lives of the combatants, then doesn’t that extend the duration of the combat itself?
We already know that certain kinds of conflicts are more expensive than others. And when we’ve got a country that’s so good at so many things, why do some ideologues only opt for the most expensive option in special cases? Why, in a war against a notably inferior economic and political system, do we insist on using not our economic or political advantages, but our weaknesses in those areas? Had we fought the Cuban theatre of the Cold War not with blockades and threats (oh yeah – and an invasion) but with Levis and Marlboros, is there any doubt that Paris Hilton would be exposing her panties in a Havana nightclub at this very moment?
Let Pat Robertson decry moral decay all he wants, there’s one thing that our enemies in Long War I and Long War II have in common – they’re ridiculously uptight. Commies and Islamic fundamentalists, like totalitarians everywhere, enforce ignorance and prudery. And yet, when we feel that our values are threatened, do we turn to the parts of our society that make us unique? Do we call up our rock bands, our film directors, the guys who spritz water on models’ asses, our designers, our civic planners and our enterpreneurs? Actually, yes we do – but then we put them in National Guard uniforms and tell them to train Iraqi policemen.
What we should be doing is letting the American Revolution export itself. In the old Soviet Union, American goods were luxury items and primo bribes – American clothes, American whiskey, American technology and just plain American dollars are in demand everywhere in the world. If we built up our reserves of American know-how, compassion and optimism, we could conquer the whole planet – and we could do so with weapons that would be welcomed as liberators even where American soldiers and bullets aren’t.
So happy 80th birthday, Fidel, whether that bad news is that you’ve been dead for two years or that you’re going to live to be a hundred. The survival of your little sugar plantation and its rundown beaches stands as mute testament to all the wars we’ve fought with the wrong weapons and for the wrong reasons. And as we stumble blindly into the 21st century, fighting enemies we’ve already isolated economically and politically (thus removing our best weapons before the battle has even begun), we would do well to remember the longevity we’ve imparted to you and your homegrown totalitarianism. It seems ridiculous that an octagenarian in baggy fatigues could hold out for decades against the nation that gave us Miami Vice – but we chose the weapons, so we probably deserve it. A wise president could’ve airlifted some hot pants and XBoxes into Havana and had you in his back pocket decades ago – but that would’ve meant fighting dirty.