Summary - Book "We Now Know Rethinking Cold War History". Course: The Cold War (HIST ). Gaddis p. Summary: The Basis for Conflict between US. Mar 1, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Summary This is the pressing question that historians have argued over since the 's. John Lewis Gaddis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. New York: Oxford University Press, x + pp. $ (cloth), ISBN
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In this paradigm, the chicken represents Roosevelt and Churchill; the egg is Stalin. The actions of the chicken determined what environment the egg would develop in. Roosevelt more that Churchill believed that a post-war environment could be created where the egg could be nurtured in a manner to control the actions of this new chicken.
This did not happen. As soon as the parents were not looking, the new chick attacked in an attempt to create its own little space in its new world Unfortunately for the coop, both parents soon left the scene, one having died and the other thrown out for not having listened to the others around him. One of the foster parents was very strict, attempting to set up a perimeter around the chick to contain him while the birth parent yelled from the outside, having seen his errors in allowing the egg to have hatched.
At any point, these parents still had the ability to end the life of this chick but refused to take this albeit drastic measure. This is my problem with the Gaddis book — he refuses to lay blame upon the West for its inability to stop Stalin before it was too late.
If you accept the beginning of the story, it is easy to follow the rest of the history as it plays out. Clearly once safely in power behind his buffer states, Stalin was free to act as he wanted, for he did not have to answer to an electorate that would keep him in power. The purges behind the Iron Curtain continued and the rest is the history that Gaddis presents to us in a spectacular fashion.
Having read his previous works, I am not certain as to why Gaddis took this approach. Within a zero-sum game, there are always multiple actors; not just one person controls the game.
Choices are made by all sides. To now just affix blame on one actor simply makes little sense. Even as vile and ruthless as Hitler was, historians have little trouble placing some of the blame for World War II on German appeasement by England and France. How can Gaddis not do the same? While much of the information that Gaddis uses does show that Stalin did create many of the situation that the West had to deal with, at every step, Stalin and eventually Khrushchev would back away when faced with strong opposition from the West.
Gaddis does point to Greece and the Middle East as geopolitical examples of British and American success, but we must ask ourselves, did Stalin really want this land or was he seeing just how far he could wander outside of his safety zone?
I for one believe the latter. Overall, Gaddis does an excellent job in gathering and interpreting much of the new information that has been released from the former Soviet Union by putting it into context of American reaction and policy development.
With this, I have no problem — the amount of new information is staggering and will continue to be examined and re-examined for decades to come. While he does do a good job of this, Gaddis forgets that the Soviets were interacting with the West.
He needs to blend both perspectives together instead of just focusing on one side. It tends to take expectations and turn them upside down; it is not at all tolerant of those who would seek too self-confidently to anticipate its future course. If Gaddis is going to now argue for a multidimensional examination of the Cold War, he cannot simply lay blame on one individual, no matter how evil that man may be.
While this book is excellent as an example of post-revisionism, its use would be limited to either an upper level undergraduate history class or a graduate seminar in either history or political science. For not only did that cataclysm sweep away entire empires--the German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman, the Russian--it also discredited the old forms of diplomacy that allowed war to break out in the first place and that proved so ineffective in ending it. Neither imperial regimes nor imperial methods had many defenders left by time the Bolsheviks staged their coup d'etat late in And much as the military strength of the United States and the Soviet Union would fill the European vacuum in , so American and Russian ideologies did in These emerged, though, at least as much from individuals as from institutions and traditions.
For the first time, personalities shaped the course of Russian-American relations, in such a way as to magnify vastly the differences contrasting national experiences had already produced. The United States and the new Provisional Government in Russia fought on the same side, but only briefly. For the October Revolution soon replaced that indecisive regime with one committed, not just to a separate peace, but to nothing less than ending capitalism throughout the world.
The new Soviet government drew its legitimacy neither from God nor from free elections but from science: It was, therefore, as confident as any government has ever been about reaching its intended objective, which was in this instance--however improbable the odds--world revolution. What Lenin promised was the ultimate form of interference in other states internal affairs: He did so, though, just as a gentler revolution was transforming the foreign policy of the United States.
Wilson had not been content to justify American entry into the war for what it was--an effort to restore the European balance of power. Instead, he too imposed an ideological framework by proclaiming as war aims self-determination, open markets, and collective security.
His purpose was not to spread revolution, as was Lenin's; but Wilson did seek to alter world politics by removing what he thought to be the causes of injustice, and hence of war. This was, in its own way then, as ambitious an agenda as that of the Bolsheviks.
Much of the subsequent history of the twentieth century grew out of the clash between these ideologies--Wilson's versus Lenin's--both of them injected into world politics within the two and a half months that separated the Bolshevik coup of November from the President's January Fourteen Points address. Despite their apparent novelty, these ideas reflected deeply-rooted national characteristics.
Tocqueville would have found Wilson's liberal-capitalism familiar, and Lenin ran his party and his government with an authoritarianism at least as firm as that of the Russian tsars. The universalism in Wilson's and Lenin's proclamations might well have surprised Tocqueville or any other nineteenth century observer, though: They constituted, albeit in wholly different ways, fundamental challenges to the international state system itself: Nothing like this had happened since the most militant days of the French Revolution; certainly there was no precedent for such sweeping and urgent pronouncements in the prior record of either American or Russian foreign policy.
An important feature of ideological thinking is its determinism. Ideologists convince themselves, and seek to convince others, that history is on their side, that progress toward the goal they have chosen is inevitable and therefore irresistible. And yet the ideological confrontation between Wilson and Lenin arose more from coincidence than from predestination: Wilson took the United States into the war only because the Kaiser's government had unwisely resumed all-out submarine warfare and then even more foolishly proposed an alliance with Mexico--an offer the British intercepted and quickly leaked to the Americans--promising the return of "lost provinces" extending from Texas to California.
Meanwhile, and with equal imprudence, the Germans had arranged for Lenin to travel from his exile in Switzerland back to Petrograd, thus setting in motion the astonishing sequence of events that would so quickly place a tiny band of quarreling conspirators in charge of the largest nation on the face of the earth. Wilson and Lenin responded to the situations in which they found themselves with a combination of improvisation, eloquence, purposefulness, and sheer audacity that would have been striking enough in either of them but that seems remarkable for having occurred, simultaneously, in both.
We cannot know what course events would have taken had the great reformer and the great revolutionary not reached their respective preeminences--from which they proclaimed their respective messages to the world--at just the same time. History could hardly have happened as it did, though, without these two most messianic of twentieth century leaders.
The moment was one of what chaos theorists call "sensitive dependence on initial conditions: Contingency created circumstances in which Wilson and Lenin defined mutually hostile ideological visions, imposed them upon the countries they led, and then departed from their positions of leadership, leaving it to less visionary successors to determine what their legacies were to be. III The events of created a symbolic basis for conflict between communism and capitalism by setting the self-proclaimed objectives of the United States and Soviet Russia against one another in the most fundamental way.
But this clash of ideas brought few actual conflicts over the next quarter-century. International rivalries aligned themselves less than one might have anticipated along the ideological polarities Wilson and Lenin had left behind.
Instead of leading the movement to eliminate the causes of war, as Wilson had hoped, Americans relinquished the global predominance their military exertions had earned them; they thereby violated a basic premise of international relations theory, which is that great powers, having attained that status, do not willingly give it up. Instead of provoking world revolution, as Lenin had desired, his government began its transformation into a stifling and bureaucratized tyranny, thereby violating Marxist theories about the withering away of the state and the liberation of the masses who lived within it.
Europe was again left, for the most part, to its own devices, with neither Washington nor Moscow exerting influence commensurate with the globalist pretensions each had earlier advanced. Americans by no means isolated themselves from Europe after World War I. The United States participated, along with the British, the French, and the Japanese, in a half-hearted occupation of Russian territory that lasted from to ; but the motives behind that enterprise were a confused muddle, and its results were correspondingly ineffective.
Intervention may even have helped the Bolsheviks by allowing them to pose as defenders of Russian nationalism. There is little reason to think that they would have been any less hostile toward the capitalist world if it had never taken place. The United States also retained the expanded economic ties with Europe that grew out of its shift, during the war, from international debtor to creditor.
American private capital, it is now clear, was almost as important to the Europeans' recovery during the s as was the much more visible Marshall Plan after World War II. But economic influence alone can neither reshape an international system nor determine everything that happens within it, and it was in the non-economic sphere that American actions fell short of Wilsonian aspirations. The most significant geopolitical development of the early postwar years was surely the fact that the United States, despite its abortive intervention in Russia and its involvement in European economic stabilization, made no significant attempts after to shape political-military developments on the Continent.
It chose this self-effacing path, historians have variously argued, because the nation's long-standing tradition of peacetime isolationism reasserted itself, or because Wilson had asked too much of the American people during the war, or because he had obtained too little of his visionary plan for peace in the Versailles Treaty. But there was a deeper reason as well: Germany had been defeated; Soviet Russia was torn by civil war and factional disputes; Great Britain and France had been "associates" during the war and could hardly, in the future, be enemies.
To the extent that there was any perceived danger in the s it came from Japan's growing navy, and inasmuch as Washington had a coherent national security policy during that decade, it focused on handling that problem. The consequences of this disengagement from Europe are bound to have been important, although scholars disagree as to what they were.
Some have maintained that the United States's failure to assume Britain's role as global economic hegemon left an absence of managerial authority that intensified and prolonged the Great Depression. Others have insisted that greater American assertiveness would have bolstered the European democracies' determination to resist Adolf Hitler, and hence might have prevented World War II.
One pattern is definite, though: Americans were reluctant to assume world responsibilities in the absence of clear and present danger. Despite the alarms suspected subversive activities set off inside the United States, most notoriously during the "Red Scare" of , the Soviet Union in the interwar years failed to meet that standard.
Indeed, the most significant Soviet American contacts during this period involved the efforts of American corporations--all of them reliable bastions of capitalism--to increase trade with and investment in the world's only communist state. Lenin was no isolationist: But these approaches undercut more than they reinforced one another.
Barely concealed attempts to overthrow capitalist governments made it difficult for Soviet diplomats to negotiate with them. Chilled relations, in turn, did little to discourage efforts to root out Comintern agents.
Nor did the Bolsheviks free their proletarian internationalism from the parochial habits of Russian radicalism, a deficiency that made their appeal to European workers less successful than it might otherwise have been. Meanwhile, as with most revolutions, the passage of time was shifting the goals of this one from the immediately attainable to the ultimately desirable.
As Lenin's successor, Josef Stalin, consolidated his power during the latter half of the s, he by no means abandoned the goal of world revolution, but he did place increasing emphasis on first building up the strength and security of the Soviet state. The USSR would probably have become a great power even if Stalin had followed his mother's advice and become a Georgian priest, but the fact that he did not--that this deceptively unimpressive figure succeeded in outmaneuvering all other aspirants to the succession as well as Lenin's own attempts to deny it to him--very much affected the way in which that happened.
It is possible to imagine a Trotsky or a Bukharin ordering the collectivization of agriculture and the large-scale industrialization this was to have made possible. It is not at all clear, though, that they or anyone else would have implemented these measures with the brutality Stalin relied upon, or that they would have followed them with massive purges against mostly imaginary enemies.
Paranoia--the tendency to "place sinister interpretations on events that may have no sinister bearing, and attribute hostile motives to acts that may have no hostile intent"--need not be incapacitating: The number of deaths resulting from Stalin's policies before World War II, it is now agreed in both Russia and the West, was between 17 and 22 million--substantially more than twice the number of Hitler's victims in the Holocaust.
The scale of this disaster makes the words that characterize it seem bleached, like the bones of the dead. But one way of putting it is that Stalin had conflated the requirements of national with personal security in a completely unprecedented way.
It is revealing that the historical figure he most sought to emulate was not Lenin--whose experiments with terror were bad enough--but Ivan the Terrible. Years later Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, would recall his old boss's "utter irresponsibility and complete lack of respect for anyone other than himself. This supreme act of egoism spawned innumerable tragedies: It did so, first, by undercutting potential resistance within Germany itself.
Stalin's distrust of European socialism was so great that he forbade the German Communist Party from collaborating with the Social Democrats to oppose the Nazi assumption of power in Alarmed by the results of this policy, he then allowed his foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov, to advocate collective security through the League of Nations, but just as the highly visible Moscow purge trials were getting underway.
Stalin put his own terror on public display, therefore, at a time when Hitler's, for the most part, was still hidden: Nor did they monopolize short-sightedness: Stalin himself had long hoped for some kind of cooperation with Nazi Germany, despite the ideological inconsistencies this would have involved. His decision to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler in August , just days before Germany invaded Poland and less than two years before it would attack the Soviet Union itself, was entirely in keeping with the spirit, and the characteristic competence, of Stalinist diplomacy.
Despite a contrast in forms of government that could hardly have been greater, Soviet and American leaders shared a sense of impotence as war again approached. Neither country could control what was happening, nor did there seem to be the slightest prospect that they might in the future cooperate.
An informed observer, as late as the end of , would have had every reason to regard Tocqueville's prophecy about an eventual Russian and American domination of the world as, still, a wild improbability. IV There were important parallels, but equally important differences, in the careers of Hitler and Stalin. Both had risen from being outsiders in their respective societies to positions of unchallenged authority over them; both had been underestimated by potential rivals; both were prepared to use whatever methods were available--including terror--to achieve their purposes.
Both exploited the fact that a harsh peace and the onset of a global economic crisis had stalled the advance of democracy in Europe, but not the technological means of controlling large populations; both made full use of the opportunities for propaganda, surveillance, and swift action provided by such innovations as the telephone, radio, motion pictures, automobiles, and airplanes.
Both benefited, as a consequence, from the conviction of many Europeans that authoritarianism was the wave of the future. Both merged personal with national interests; both dedicated themselves to implementing internationalist ideologies.
But where Stalin looked toward an eventual world proletarian revolution, Hitler sought immediate racial purification. Where Stalin was cautiously flexible, Hitler stuck to his perverse principles through thick and thin: Where Stalin was patient, prepared to take as long as necessary to achieve his ambitions, Hitler was frenetic, determined to meet deadlines he himself had imposed. Where Stalin sought desperately to stay out of war, Hitler set out quite deliberately to provoke it. Both authoritarians wanted to dominate Europe, a fact that placed them at odds with the traditional American interest in maintaining a balance of power there.
But only Hitler was in a position to attempt domination: It certainly did so in Washington and London. Roosevelt had long regarded Nazi Germany as the primary danger to American security and had sought, ever since extending diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union in , to leave the way open for cooperation with Moscow.
Winston Churchill loathed Marxism-Leninism at least as much as his predecessor Neville Chamberlain, but he shared Roosevelt's view that geopolitics was more important than ideology. Both leaders foresaw the fragility of the Nazi-Soviet alliance and were prepared to accept Soviet help in containing Hitler whenever that became possible. They also repeatedly warned Stalin of the impending German attack in the winter and spring of Only the Soviet dictator's misplaced faith in a fellow authoritarian--a kind of brutal romanticism, to which his own temperament and style of governing would allow no challenge--prevented the necessary defensive measures and made Hitler's invasion in June of that year such a devastating surprise.
He struck because he had always believed German racial interests required Lebensraum in the east; but he paid little attention to what Napoleon's precedent suggested about the imprudence of invading Russia while Great Britain remained undefeated. It is even more difficult to account for Hitler's declaration of war on the United States the following December, four days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Had he not acted, Roosevelt would have found himself under immense pressure to divert American resources--including the Lend Lease aid already flowing to Great Britain and even by then to the Soviet Union--to the Pacific. The best explanation of Hitler's behavior appears to be that excitement over Japan's entry into the war impaired his ability to think clearly, and in an autocratic system no mechanisms existed to repair the damage. Both Stalin and Hitler made foolish mistakes in , and for much the same reason: The effect turned out to be a fortunate one, because it eliminated any possibility of an authoritarian coalition directed against the United States and its democratic allies; instead, the democracies now aligned themselves, however uneasily, with one authoritarian state against the other.
German statecraft had once again drawn Americans and Russians into Europe, but this time in such a way as to throw them, despite deep ideological differences, into positions of desperate dependence upon one another. For without the Soviet Union's immense expenditure of manpower against the Germans, it is difficult to see how the Americans and British could ever have launched a successful second front.
But without the United States' material assistance in the form of Lend Lease, together with its role in holding the Japanese at bay in the Pacific, the Red Army might never have repelled the Nazi invasion in the first place.
Tocqueville had long ago foreseen that the United States and Russia, if ever moved to do so, would command human and material resources on an enormous scale: What neither Tocqueville nor anyone else could have anticipated were the circumstances that might cause Americans and Russians to apply this strength, simultaneously, beyond their borders, and in a common cause.
Hitler's twin declarations of war accomplished that, giving the Soviet Union and the United States compelling reasons to re-enter the European arena with, quite literally, a shared sense of vengeance.
Through these unexpectedly unwise acts, therefore, this most improbable of historical agents at last brought Tocqueville's old prophecy within sight of fulfillment. V When a power vacuum separates great powers, as one did the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, they are unlikely to fill it without bumping up against and bruising each other's interests.
This would have happened if the two postwar hegemons had been constitutional democracies: Victory would require more difficult adjustments for Russians and Americans because so many legacies of distrust now divided them: It was too much to expect a few years of wartime cooperation to sweep all of this away.
At the same time, though, these legacies need not have produced almost half a century of Soviet-American confrontation. The leaders of great nations are never entirely bound by the past: Alliance in a common cause was as new a situation as one can imagine in the Russian-American relationship.
Much would depend, therefore, upon the extent to which Roosevelt and Stalin could--in effect--liberate their nations' futures from a difficult past. The American President and his key advisers were determined to secure the United States against whatever dangers might confront it after victory, but they lacked a clear sense of what those might be or where they might arise. Their thinking about postwar security was, as a consequence, more general than specific.
They certainly saw a vital interest in preventing any hostile power from again attempting to dominate the European continent. They were not prepared to see military capabilities reduced to anything like the inadequate levels of the interwar era, nor would they resist opportunities to reshape the international economy in ways that would benefit American capitalism. They resolved to resist any return to isolationism, and they optimistically embraced the "second chance" the war had provided to build a global security organization in which the United States would play the leading role.
But these priorities reflected no unilateral conception of vital interests. A quarter century earlier, Wilson had linked American war aims to reform of the international system as a whole; and although his ideas had not then taken hold, the coming of a second world war revived a widespread and even guilt-ridden interest in them as a means of avoiding a third such conflict.
Roosevelt persuaded a skeptical Churchill to endorse Wilson's thinking in August, , when they jointly proclaimed, in the Atlantic Charter, three postwar objectives: To put it in language Mikhail Gorbachev would employ decades later, security would have to be a condition common to all, not one granted to some and withheld from others.
Despite this public commitment to Wilsonian principles, neither Roosevelt nor Churchill ruled out more realistic practices. Had postwar planning been left to them alone, as in democracies it could not be, they might well have come up with something like what Roosevelt occasionally talked about: But even this cold-blooded approach, like the Wilsonian constraints that kept the politically sensitive Roosevelt from insisting on it, implied a sense of collective security among the four:
We Now Know
Gaddis has a knack for asking large and interesting questions, and he brings a of startling revelations from newly opened archives, what "we now know" turns. May 20, Gaddis has written a lively, deeply informed summary, the most accessible and compelling guide to the international conflicts, issues, and. In this final webinar of the "We Wrote the Book on Laser Therapy" series, learn from Ron Riegel, DVM (author and co-editor of the textbook that inspired this.