THE images that stick in our minds reveal a lot about how we think. Surely the memory most of us retain from the end of the Cold War is that of the Berlin Wall coming down, on November 9, 1989: the toppling of that concrete-block obscenity, to the cheers of ecstatic topplers, seemed to signal a new and more enlighted age. Almost ten years into it, though, enlightenment is hard to find, and other, more disturbing images crowd our minds.
Since the Cold War ended, we have seen victims of genocide being disinterred in Central Europe; African rivers choked with mutilated bodies; armed teenagers ruling Third World cities from the backs of pickup trucks; defeated dictators refusing to accept their own defeat; women forced back into isolation in the name of religion; emigrants clamoring to abandon old cultures for new ones they know only from television; terrorism striking with deadly efficiency where one might least expect it -- in the American heartland. It is enough to evoke a certain nostalgia for the old world order. The new one, as the French author Philippe Delmas points out, contains far too many people who are prepared "to turn around and disembowel one another over an acre of land, a hamlet, or some ancient totem."
What happened? How did patterns of behavior that most of us had thought buried in the past suddenly become our future? It might help, in explaining these unpleasant surprises, to retrieve a different image from the year 1989. The date was October 17, the time 5:04 P.M. Pacific Daylight, the place San Francisco's Candlestick Park. The Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants were about to begin the third game of the World Series when a distant rumbling suddenly became an uncomfortable shaking, and the great Loma Prieta earthquake proceeded to pre-empt everything planned for that afternoon and for some time to come. Television cameras, before they were knocked off the air, caught the astonishment on the faces of players, fans, and anchorpersons alike as they abruptly acquired a Shakespearean insight: that there were more things in heaven and earth than had been dreamt of -- or at least adequately taken into account -- in their philosophy.
GAMES and the settings in which games are played are very different things. The Cold War once seemed a matter of life and death; but as the years rolled by and the Apocalypse did not arrive, it took on the character of a latter-day "great game," reminiscent of the long nineteenth-century conflict between the British and the Russians in Asia, which never quite produced a great war. Even the language of the Cold War became that of games: policymakers warned gravely of falling dominoes; theorists built billiard-ball models of world politics; critics of détente complained that the Soviet Union was playing chess while the most the Americans were managing was checkers. And in the end -- whatever Washington's ineptitude at chess -- the West somehow "won."