Islamist by Ed Husain
reviewed by Marc Schulman
The Islamist by Ed Husain is a frightening book. Husain was born in England to parents who came from India and Pakistan. His family were observant but moderate Muslims. The book chronicles the story of his transformation from a moderate Muslim into a radical "slamist". He embraced the goals of establishing an Islamic state to replace any and all of the existing states in the world. As he became ever more radical he began to believe that those who were not Muslim were inferior, and not worthy. Husain was heavily involved in College in England in a series of ever more radical Muslim groups who garnered ever larger numbers of constituants.
Husain began to question his beliefs. His first revelation occurred when when he saw that the most radical of all Islamist killing a fellow Muslim. He wondered what the talk of a future Isalmic state was all about if Muslims could kill fellow Muslims. Husain also began to question the beliefs of his fellow radicals on the status of women. Slowly Husain rejected the most radical of his beliefs while remaining a committed Muslim.
Husain embraced a more spiritual Islam Sufism. Husain beliefs were further shaken by events of 9/11. He describes the "unpopular" positions taken by some of his teachers against the bombings. The majority of radical Muslims in England supported the attacks according to Husain. Husain went on with his wife to spend time in Syria, both studying Arabic and teaching English. There he rediscovered his English identity. He was shocked when people he met in Syria happily went off to Jihad in Iraq to defend the regime of Saddam Hussein.
One of the most frightening passages in the book takes place towards the end, when Husain and his wife spend time in Saudi Arabia. He describes at length the fundementalist approach of Wahhabisism, which thanks to the oil wealth of Saudi Arabia has been spread widely. Husain goes to lunch with a couple whom he considered modern and western. When he asks them if they thought there was a connection between what is taught in Saudi Schools and 9/11 the response he gets was “ No No because the Saudis were not behind the 9/11. The plane hijackers were not Saudis men. One thousand two hundred and forty six Jews were absent from work on that day and there is proof that they the Jews were behind the killings and not the Saudis”. Just before he is to leave to return to England a number of his English students ask how they can go to England and become suicide bombers. Husain proports that these beliefs are widespread in Saudi Arabia and reflect the views that have been spread widely throughout the world by the export of Wahhabisism.
In prescient passage at the end of the book ( you can see a large excerpt below) he warns against Wahhabis Islam being preached inside American prisons and the possibility of turning run of the mill prisoners into future terrorist. The Islamist is a book that should be read!
Afterword: And What About America? by Ed Husain, Author of The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left
The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and Respected stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges. --George Washington, 1783
If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mahometans, Jews or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists. --George Washington, in a letter to Tench Telghman, 1784
It was my first visit to the United States. I was expecting to be stopped at the airport, harassed, interrogated and perhaps detained. Since 9/11, Muslim communities across the globe are filled with horror stories of encounters at American airports. My friend from college days, Majid Nawaz, who had spent four years as a political prisoner in Egypt, was with me. Together we had attended countless anti-American rallies in Britain, and witnessed many US flag-burning rituals. Now, in our thirties, and after a decade in the wilderness, we had changed. But would America understand us? Would we understand America?
Like good Brits, we patiently stood waiting in the long queue at Washington Dulles Airport. Suddenly, Majid's name was called from the loudspeaker, telling him to go to the front of the line. Then mine. Were we in trouble? Majid had visited the US recently, appearing as an expert witness for the Congressional Homeland Security Committee chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman. Majid had been one of Hizb ut-Tahrir's most intelligent, vociferous and articulate leaders, travelling to Pakistan, Denmark and Egypt advocating the group's ideas and setting up secret cells. The Hizb, in essence, was identical to al-Qaeda, differing only in terms of the tactics it chose to achieve the desired result: political power. Majid has been banned in several countries, and is wanted by Pakistan's ISI, their intelligence agency. But he had recently rejected extremism and, after years of study and reflection in prison, become a public advocate for liberal democracy, using scriptural evidence to support peaceful Muslims -- who represent the vast majority -- in their struggle against religious extremism. His rejection of Hizb ut-Tahrir made headlines in the British press, and the British prime minister quoted Majid in parliament. But now we were in America, and during Majid's recent trip, federal escorts had accompanied him everywhere, fearful that he might violate US security regulations and not quite sure what to make of him. Would he, would we, face the same fate again?
An immigration officer at Washington Dulles Airport, accompanied by several colleagues, took us to one side, registered our passport details and asked the desk officer to clear us for entrance. Senior officials at the US Department of Homeland Security were expecting our arrival and wanted minimum kerfuffle. The polite, courteous conduct of the officers touched us both. But my mind was on the thousands of American Muslims who had been subjected to raids and arrests. Can we forget their plight?
Outside the airport, I stood with Majid and was stupefied by the number of US flags I saw everywhere. Flying at full mast at several junctures in the car park, and then above the airport, and on cars and coaches, the stars and stripes were ubiquitous. Unlike Britain, America was proudly patriotic and unreservedly expressive of national pride.
'Their flag is almost sacred to them, isn't it?' I said to Majid.
'And extremists burn it all the time. Why did we do that, Ed? Why?' he asked, trying to come to terms with how we had been sucked into extremism.
'Why didn't anybody stop us?' I asked in response. 'We watched this happen in London, not Baghdad -- what possessed us?'
Majid and I recalled how several of our fellow activists became suicide bombers, were imprisoned, or created entire organisations that linked themselves to al-Qaeda. What started off as mere talk, as rhetoric, found expression in mass murder in several European capitals, including London and Madrid. The murder we had witnessed on our college campus a decade before the attacks on London's subway on July 7, 2005 was an unspeakable testament to the power of words. The talk of jihad, hatred and anger never remains abstract, limited to 'freedom of speech.' It yields results.
More than anything else, what worried Majid and me was the lack of awareness in the wider society of the root causes of extremism, and of the lifestyle that fosters recruitment into extremist movements. Society's demonstrated failure to grasp the urgency of the situation was also troubling, because that comprehension might precipitate policies and actions that could prevent young Muslims from becoming fanatical ideologues committed to creating a world dominated by Islamism, not Islam. To help fill this void, Majid and I started the Quilliam Foundation, the world's first think-tank committed to explaining and countering Islamist thought.
We were in America to speak at Harvard and Princeton, at an array of Washington think tanks, and to meet Muslims on both the East and West coasts. We spoke with leading personnel at several government departments, US ambassadors, academic leaders and students. And everywhere we went, we were asked a similar series of critical questions. Can America create home-grown terrorists? Will American Muslims, like British Muslims, attack their own homeland in the name of a false Islam? Britain is home to over 3,000 extremists: Can America be harbouring enemies without knowing? The 9/11 hijackers hatched their plot in Europe: Are American-born Islamists capable of a similar monstrosity?
My answers to these questions, after meeting quite a few American Muslims and consulting with American experts on these issues, are both yes and no. The above is an excerpt from the book The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left by Ed Husain. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Islamist by Ed Husain. Copyright © 2009 by Penguin.
Author Bio Ed Husain, author of The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left, was an Islamist radical for five years in his late teens and early twenties. Having rejected extremism he travelled widely in the Middle East and worked for the British Council in Syria and Saudi Arabia. Husain received wide and various acclaim for The Islamist, which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for political writing and the PEN/Ackerley Prize for literary autobiography, among others. He is a co-founder of the Quillium Foundation, Britain's first Muslim counter-extremism think tank. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.
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Classic review: The Cold War – A New History
[This review from the Monitor's archives originally ran on Dec. 20, 2005]. Fourteen years ago, in December 1991, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told his country that the cold war was over. In signing the decree that dissolved the Soviet Union and ended the East-West competition, Gorbachev also announced an end to the arms race and the "insane militarization" that had "distorted" his country's thinking and "undermined" its morals. And perhaps most significantly, he claimed "the threat of a world war" had come to an end.
With the demise of the Soviet state, the world seemed ready to enter an era in which the fear of a catastrophic war would no longer stalk humanity. Many believed the perils of the cold war would give way to a more tranquil age.
But it was not to be. Yesterday's fear of intercontinental ballistic missiles raining down on New York or Washington has been supplanted by today's fear of suicide attacks and dirty bombs.
And now, when boarding a plane gives many people pause, one looks almost longingly at the postwar decades, when the United States seemed to understand its adversary and believed Russian leaders were unlikely to act irrationally. After all, the cold logic of the cold war meant a Soviet attack on the United States would lead to a swift and devastating response.
As US leaders strain to manage America's current overseas dilemmas, The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis transports us to an earlier era. In luminous detail, Gaddis, the Robert A. Lovett professor of history at Yale, traces the history of the conflict that dominated world politics from the end of World War II to the early 1990s. How long ago it all seems.
Gaddis, America's most distinguished cold war historian, has been writing about the subject for more than 30 years. (I co-edited a book on nuclear diplomacy with Gaddis and two other scholars in 1999.)
But unlike several of his previous books, which were intended for scholars, this one is aimed at a broader audience - for those who want to understand how the cold war began, how it unfolded, and why it ended when it did.
Given these objectives, Gaddis has succeeded splendidly. Indeed, in the book's narrative sweep, analytical insights, and deft incorporation of the most recent scholarship, Gaddis has written the best one-volume treatment of the East-West struggle. By examining how individual leaders, differing ideologies, domestic politics, and the nuclear threat shaped the competition, he's produced an altogether stimulating work.
Assessing the origins of the cold war, a subject that has long sparked bitter debate among historians, Gaddis fully places responsibility for the conflict on Stalin and the Soviet Union. (Some historians assign the US primary responsibility, while others contend that both Moscow and Washington were to blame.)
The key, Gaddis argues, is that the United States and the Soviet Union had fundamentally different visions for the postwar world. The Americans possessed a multilateral vision that sought to avoid war by encouraging cooperation among the great powers, fostering political self-determination and economic integration, and relying on the United Nations to enhance the security of all states.
But Stalin's postwar vision could not have been more different. The Soviet dictator sought to advance Russian interests by establishing a ring of subservient (nondemocratic) states around his country's vulnerable western flank, while awaiting the inevitable rivalries that he believed would cause fissures and perhaps even war among capitalist nations.
As Gaddis observes, Stalin was convinced that "capitalist fratricide" would eventually allow the Soviets to dominate Europe.
Beyond exploring the conflict's origins, Gaddis superbly evaluates how nuclear weapons and ideology influenced the struggle. The bomb helped keep the peace between Moscow and Washington because using it first meant a certain, cataclysmic response. Thus, it was not a legitimate option for rational policymakers.
In the ideological realm, Gaddis writes that each state's ideology was "meant to offer hope" (as do all ideologies). But while one ideology depended upon "the creation of fear" to function, the other had no "need to do so." And that, he asserts, explains the cold war's "basic ideological asymmetry."
To the surprise of even the most astute observers, the cold war came to a swift end between 1989 and 1991. While the actions of Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II each contributed to the conflict's peaceful conclusion, world leaders were not central to ending the competition. The actions of "ordinary people" were crucial, Gaddis believes, for it was citizens in Budapest, Warsaw, Leipzig, Prague, and Bucharest who boldly threw off the shackles that had bound them for so long.
To be sure, Gorbachev decided Moscow was no longer prepared to maintain the old repressive order. But the liberation of millions was catalyzed by regular men and women who had the capacity to envision a better existence and the will to achieve it.
There were few more uplifting moments in 20th-century history, and it is easy to reflect on those heroic days with a certain wistfulness.
• Jonathan Rosenberg teaches American history at Hunter College, the City University of New York.
The Cold War : A New History
The “dean of Cold War historians” (The New York Times) now presents the definitive account of the global confrontation that dominated the last half of the twentieth century. Drawing on newly opened archives and the reminiscences of the major players, John Lewis Gaddis explains not just what happened but why—from the months in 1945 when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. went from alliance to antagonism to the barely averted holocaust of the Cuban Missile Crisis to the maneuvers of Nixon and Mao, Reagan and Gorbachev. Brilliant, accessible, almost Shakespearean in its drama, The Cold War stands as a triumphant summation of the era that, more than any other, shaped our own.
Gaddis is also the author of On Grand Strategy.
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THE COLD WAR: A New History
Cold War scholar Gaddis fashions a short but comprehensive account of what JFK called our "long twilight struggle."Following the defeat of the Axis powers in WWII, the western democracies faced off . Читать весь отзыв
The Cold War : A New History
Both of these books treat the Cold War without stepping on each other's toes. Gaddis (history, Yale Univ. Surprise, Security, and the American Experience) is one of the foremost scholars on the Cold . Читать весь отзыв
The Cold War: A New History PDF Details
|Author:||John Lewis Gaddis|
|Original Title:||The Cold War: A New History|
|Number Of Pages:||352 pages|
|First Published in:||December 29th 2005|
|Latest Edition:||December 26th 2006|
|Awards:||Harry S. Truman Book Award (2006)|
|category:||history, non fiction, politics, war, north american history, american history, history, world history, cultural, russia, academic, school, history, russian history, history, european history|
|Formats:||ePUB(Android), audible mp3, audiobook and kindle.|
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The Cold War - A new History by John Lewis Gaddis - History
The Cold War has always been the subject of intense debate— was it necessary, was it just, why did it happen, and how did it end— and has been a challenging topic for teachers. Over 40 teachers from 17 states and two foreign countries met at this History Institute to hear five experts present the best and latest thinking about the Cold War and its lessons. Now is a particularly exciting time to be taking stock of this major issue of American and world history. New evidence both from the former Soviet Union and the West is overturning received opinions. We now know more than we did ten years ago, but less than we will know in the future.
John Lewis Gaddis is Robert A. Lovett Professor of History at Yale University. His most recent book is We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford University Press, 1997).
Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. —Groucho Marx
I like this quotation from the other Marx because it suggests how limited our view of the Cold War, until quite recently, has actually been. In contrast to the way most history is written, Cold War historians through the end of the 1980s were working within rather than after the event they were trying to describe. We had no way of knowing the final outcome, and we could determine the motivations of only some— but by no means all— of the major actors. We were in something like the position of those puzzled poseurs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare’s Hamlet , wondering what in the world was going on and how it was all going to come out.
We now know, to coin a phrase. Or, at least, we know a good deal more than we once did. We will never have the full story: we don’t have that for any historical event, no matter how far back in the past. Historians can no more reconstruct what actually happened than maps can replicate what is really there. But we can represent the past, just as cartographers approximate terrain. And with the end of the Cold War and at least the partial opening of documents from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China, the fit between our representations and the reality they describe has become a lot closer than it once was.
So what does it all add up to? What is the new Cold War history— that is, histories of the Cold War written after the Cold War ended— all about?
First, it is clear now that, contrary to what historians and theorists of international relations expected when the Cold War began, democratic governments behaved more realistically throughout than did their authoritarian counterparts. By realism, I mean the ability to align one’s actions with one’s interests. The fact that the Cold War ended as it did— with the world more democratic than it has ever been— suggests strongly that authoritarianism gave rise to illusions more often than it did effective policy.
We now know what some of these illusions were. Stalin, for example, believed to his dying day that the capitalist states would never join together to contain Soviet expansionism. Why? Because Lenin had taught that capitalists were too greedy ever to cooperate with one another: this idea left the Soviet leader ill-equipped to deal such initiatives as the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the reintegration of Germany and Japan into an American-run system of alliances. Mao Zedong, also for ideological reasons, saw the Soviet Union as an ally of the newly-established People’s Republic of China that view too, in time, he had to rethink. And Nikita Khrushchev risked the fate of his country and possibly of the entire world by placing missiles in Cuba in 1962, in the absurd hope that this could somehow ensure the spread of Castro’s revolution throughout Latin America.
What these errors have in common is a romantic rather than a realist view of the world: one gets a certain idea in one’s head, rather like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and in an authoritarian system no one is in a position to tell the top leader that his conclusions make no sense. Democratic leaders were often no wiser. But democratic systems did at least provide ways to challenge illusions at the top when they arose, and ultimately to remove leaders who persisted in holding onto them. Far from being progressive states, then, the Soviet Union, its Eastern European satellites and China functioned for many years as absolute monarchies, with all the possibilities for impractical illusions that such a system entails.
Second, and as a consequence, Cold War historians are giving greater weight than they once did to the role of ideas in shaping that conflict. We traditionally had viewed the Cold War as a clash of great powers— as a continuation of rivalries that had characterized international relations during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. We had calculated power in terms of material indices, giving the greatest emphasis to the military capabilities that existed on each side. Despite the fact that both the United States and the Soviet Union were strongly ideological states, neither historians nor theorists of international relations tended to give sufficient attention to the comparative content of these ideologies, or to the extent to which they elicited support from the people who had to live with them.
What we now can see, though, is that one of the Cold War super-powers— the Soviet Union— abruptly and completely collapsed, despite the fact that its military strength remained unimpaired. That suggests strongly that we who have studied the Cold War over many years neglected the non-military components of power, and especially the role of ideas. For Marxism-Leninism was itself an idea, which in turn determined how the Soviet Union and the other socialist states organized their power, their politics, their economics, and ultimately the appeals they made to their own people as well as to those beyond their borders. And as the events of 1989-91 all too clearly show, that idea had by then lost its legitimacy.
Cold War history is, therefore, the story of how the Soviet Union and its allies managed to squander their ideological appeal over many years, while the Western democracies retained and even expanded their own. In the end, what people thought counted for much more than what states could do— and that is a big change from how we’ve previously conceived Cold War history.
The pattern, in retrospect, was clear by the early 1960s. Capitalism had revived, and the record of command economies had shown no signs of matching it. Marxism-Leninism had suffered devastating setbacks with the suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, the outbreak of the Sino-Soviet split, and the humiliation of the Cuban missile crisis. Germany and Japan had been successfully reintegrated into the Western defense bloc at the time, and the West was well ahead in nuclear weaponry. Why, then, didn’t the Cold War end at that point?
Here there’s yet a third new insight into Cold War history: it is that nuclear weapons stabilized but probably also prolonged that conflict. We’ve suspected for a long time that these weapons discouraged escalation of the kind that had caused pre-Cold War crises to lead to hot wars. The Cold War was full of crises, none of them escalated to all-out war, and in this sense nuclear weapons were beneficial.
In another sense, though, they may have extended the Cold War beyond the point at which it might otherwise have ended. Nuclear weapons were so awesome — and the world had apparently come so close to seeing them used during the Cuban missile crisis— that the tendency developed to measure world power almost entirely in terms of nuclear capabilities, and to neglect its other dimensions of power. It was as if in assessing the health of some great beast one looked only at its external armaments, paying no intention to the functioning of its brain, heart, and liver. Such an animal would remain formidable in appearance until the day it suddenly keeled over and died.
What nuclear weapons did, then, was to conceal the condition of an aging, formidably armed, but internally deteriorating state. With its sudden death, the Cold War was suddenly over.
That brings up a final, albeit controversial, point: can we really separate the Cold War from the Soviet Union itself? Could such a state have functioned in any other environment? It’s worth recalling that the Bolshevik Revolution was itself a declaration of cold war against all other states in the international system at the time. No Soviet leader until Mikhail Gorbachev disavowed the goal of ultimately overthrowing capitalism everywhere, however distant that prospect might have come to seem. The Soviet Union was, therefore, a state uniquely configured for the Cold War— and it has become a good deal more difficult, now that that conflict has ended, to see how it could have done so without the Soviet Union itself having passed from the scene.
Cold War history is becoming at last normal history, in that we can at last write it from beyond a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern point of view. We have finally managed to get outside Groucho’s dog, and it’s a lot easier now to see what’s been going on. Given our contentious character, historians are not about to agree, now or for decades to come, about the precise details and what they mean. We can at least accept the fact, though, that the view is exhilarating.
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Look Back in Relief
IN 1991, as the Soviet Union was cracking up, one of President George H. W. Bush's senior foreign policy officials told me, "You historians are going to have a hard time explaining to the Americans of the future why we thought the cold war was so dangerous for 45 years." He was right. By 2006, Americans too young to have lived through the era of duck-and-cover drills require a scholar of extraordinary gifts to tell why nine cold-war presidents deployed our national treasure against an empire that broke apart so clumsily in the end.
John Lewis Gaddis is that scholar, and "The Cold War: A New History" is the book they should read. A professor of history at Yale, Gaddis is the author of six renowned volumes on the cold war -- especially the strategies of both sides -- that were written during or shortly after the struggle.
No one did a better job of trying to explain the conflict as it was still unfolding, which for a historian is like trying to describe an entire forest while racing through it on horseback at midnight. But with this succinct and self-
assured book, Gaddis now enjoys the luxury of hovering high above the trees in gleaming sunlight, using the once-secret information and hindsight that a scholar needs to write true history.
He does not pretend all his past judgments were correct. For example, having insisted in 1987 that the cold war had evolved into a stable "long peace" that would last indefinitely, Gaddis is now happy to concede that "visionaries" like John Paul II, Lech Walesa, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had a broader sense than he did of "historical possibility."
Gaddis's fresh takes on the era's leaders and episodes will most likely have an enormous influence. With relief he notes that the secret combat between American and Soviet planes during the Korean conflict was ultimately the only shooting war that ever developed between the sides during the entire cold war.
He is convinced that Nikita Khrushchev slipped missiles into Cuba "chiefly as an effort, improbable as this might seem, to spread revolution throughout Latin America," allowing his "ideological romanticism to overrun whatever capacity he had for strategic analysis." And with horror and admiration, he describes Dwight D. Eisenhower's subtle effort to prevent nuclear war by ensuring that no such conflict could ever be limited. At the end of his presidency, Ike's single-war plan, if it had ever been carried out, would have resulted in more than 3,000 nuclear weapons being dropped on all Communist nations. By the 1970's, Eisenhower's strategy evolved into "mutual assured destruction" and a treaty limiting both sides in defending themselves against long-range, nuclear-tipped missiles.
Knowing how the cold war ended allows re-evaluation of each act of the drama. So Gaddis is now able to lament how the Nixon-Kissinger détente bought stability at the cost of disillusioning hundreds of millions of Communist-dominated peoples who had hoped some day to be able to choose their own leaders. Yet he also provides a fresh appreciation of the 1975 Helsinki accord signed by Gerald Ford. Although Reagan and other conservatives despised Helsinki for reinforcing the division of Europe, Gaddis shows how it created a new and potent forum for dissidents and critics inside and outside the Soviet Union: "Begun by the Kremlin in an effort to legitimize Soviet control . . . the Helsinki process became instead the basis for legitimizing opposition to Soviet rule."
Then there are those Gaddis calls the "saboteurs of the status quo" -- John Paul II, Reagan, Thatcher and other leaders who believed the West had paid too high a moral and political price for its long peace with Moscow. They demanded something better. John Paul, for example, gives Gaddis the chance to recall Stalin's contemptuous question about an earlier pope: "How many divisions has he got?" John Paul, Gaddis explains, didn't need divisions. He mobilized spiritual force against Communism when he returned to Poland in 1979 and then embraced Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement.
Reagan was another saboteur. He strove to shatter the East-West stalemate "by exploiting Soviet weaknesses and asserting Western strengths." Few -- even among his supporters -- glimpsed Reagan's genuine passion to abolish nuclear arsenals, which he considered immoral. Many American academics decried Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative of 1983 as a warmongering effort to extend the cold war into the heavens. But while conceding the risks (the Soviets feared a first-strike attack), Gaddis praises Reagan's strategy of using the threat to build an antimissile shield that the Soviets could not soon match. "If the U.S.S.R. was crumbling," Gaddis asks, "what could justify . . . continuing to hold Americans hostage to the . . . odious concept of mutual assured destruction? Why not hasten the disintegration?"
Gaddis also takes the measure of Mikhail Gorbachev, comparing him unfavorably to the pope, Reagan and Thatcher. "They all had destinations in mind and maps for reaching them," he writes, whereas "Gorbachev dithered in contradictions without resolving them. . . . And so, in the end, he gave up an ideology, an empire and his own country, in preference to using force." It was a policy that "made little sense in traditional geopolitical terms," Gaddis observes. "But it did make him the most deserving recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize."
Gaddis does not make the mistake of restricting his history to the rulers. Quite the contrary. He demonstrates how it was unfamous men and women who fueled the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Soviet republics -- for instance, those Hungarians of 1989 who "declared their barbed wire obsolete" and defied the Kremlin to stop them. In the face of such unheard-of challenges, Gaddis says, the "leaders -- astonished, horrified, exhilarated, emboldened, at a loss, without a clue -- struggled to regain the initiative, but found that they could do so only by acknowledging that what once would have seemed incredible was now inevitable."
Only when an epoch passes can a historian look at the whole and decide what was distinctive about it. "For the first time in history," Gaddis says of the period, "no one could be sure of winning, or even surviving, a great war." By the end of the struggle, "military strength, a defining characteristic of 'power' itself for the past five centuries, ceased to be that."
Gaddis marvels that during the last half of the 20th century the number of democracies quintupled, hastened by the information revolution and the increasingly obvious superiority of free societies in feeding their own people. Thus "the world came closer than ever before to reaching a consensus . . . that only democracy confers legitimacy."
Still, there was nothing inevitable about the cold war's happy ending. Gaddis makes a point of reminding us how easily the conflict could have ended up incinerating much of humanity: "The binoculars of a distant future will confirm this, for had the cold war taken a different course there might have been no one left to look back through them."
We have many symbols to show that the cold war has indeed vanished. Fearsome missiles have been turned into scrap. And on movie screens, James Bond has shifted his telescopic sights from K.G.B. agents to other adversaries. In the same spirit, now that he has delivered his long-awaited retrospective verdict on the cold war, perhaps John Lewis Gaddis will turn his attention to art history.
'The Cold War: A New History,' by John Lewis Gaddis Michael Beschloss, the author, most recently, of "The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945," is writing a book about presidential decision-making through American history.
A New History of the Cold War
Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote seminal books about the Cold War, during the Cold War. In his book, The Cold War: A New History, Gaddis discusses why the West won, and how it shaped the world.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
In 1984, I spoke with British historian A.J. Pete Taylor, who had written a book called How Wars End, and I asked him how the Cold War might end. I have no idea, he told me, but I do know that when it does happen it will seem to have been obvious all along.
Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, a prominent scholar of the Cold War, has now written a new history of the long conflict, his first since the Cold War actually did end, where he reexamines the role of ideology and leadership, the strengths and weaknesses of nuclear weapons, the management of alliances, why the West won, why that's important, and how the Cold War shaped our world today.
Later in the program we'll speak with two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about this week's hearings on warrantless wiretaps, but first, the Cold War. If you have questions about what happened and why, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. The email address is [email protected]
John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett professor of history at Yale, and he joins us now from a studio on the campus in New Haven, Connecticut. And welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
Professor JOHN LEWIS GADDIS (History, Yale University): Thank you. Good to talk to you, Neal.
CONAN: And I wanted to begin by asking you that same question that I put to A.J. Pete Taylor, 20 or 25 years ago. Did you have any idea how the Cold War would end?
Professor GADDIS: No, with all due respect to Professor Taylor, it was certainly not obvious to me in 1984 how the Cold War would end.
CONAN: Well, it wasn't obvious to him either. He just said when it happened, it would be obvious to everybody. It's one of those things.
Professor GADDIS: I'm not sure that's completely true, even to this point. And that's partly why I wrote this book, is to try to step back from that experience and look at what happened from the distance of some fifteen years or so. And I think it's always the case with history, when you back off of it, when time passes, it looks different from the way it looked at the time.
CONAN: And of course, knowing the outcome, it all seems inevitable. But one of the points you make at the beginning of your book was that in 1948 and 1949 it was far from clear which side was going to win this struggle.
Professor GADDIS: I think one of the great challenges for historians is to deny inevitability, because nothing is really inevitable. Things look inevitable after they've happened, but part of our challenge in writing about the past is to show that things could have happened in a quite different way.
CONAN: And indeed, in a couple of circumstances, had things happened in a different way, this world would be dramatically different.
Professor GADDIS: This world might not even be here as we know it if things had happened in a different way in a couple of circumstances.
CONAN: And that's one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. You say that, indeed, the experience of the Cold War goes against the entire history of human nature, which has always been that if you invent a new weapon, well, glory be, let's get to using it.
Professor GADDIS: That's right. I think there are very few instances in history that I can think of in which weapons have been developed and not used. Stones, bows and arrows, slingshots, coming all the way up through bombers and battleships, weapons developed have always been used fairly quickly after their development.
And what's distinctive about the Cold War is that the most powerful of all weapons, nuclear weapons, were developed, they were used twice to end World War II, but then they were not used again. And I think this is a remarkable and astonishing development.
CONAN: Before we get lots of emails, Professor Gaddis does include a caveat for the agreement not to use poison gas during the Second World War, but.
Professor GADDIS: Which was a tacit agreement, not a formal agreement. But it was just a mutual understanding on both sides, but that's the only exception that I can think of.
CONAN: And this is something, you give credit to somebody who is not generally regarded as a great strategist of the Cold War, Dwight David Eisenhower, for coming up with a solution to this problem of nuclear weapons, which was, you say, at the same time brutal and very subtle.
Professor GADDIS: Well by this, I mean Eisenhower, in presiding over war planning in the American government, simply said that the idea that we could fight the limited nuclear war, or a partial nuclear war, was ridiculous, that the only thing to do was to prepare to fight a total, all-out nuclear war. And his gamble was that the prospect of doing that would be sufficiently horrible that nobody on our side or on the other side would ever contemplate doing such a thing. And I think he turned out to be right.
CONAN: Do you, in the end, think that deterrents, in other words, this carefully balanced power between the United States and the Soviet Union in those days, and I'll throw the British and the French in on the American side, sort of, in terms of the French, but the, this great, you know, masses of arsenals. Did deterrents work? Or was it some other mechanism that prevented from blowing each other up?
Professor GADDIS: Well deterrents worked in the sense that we didn't have a Third World War. Part of the problem in assessing this is, did anybody have a plan to start a Third World War in the first place?
I think the evidence on that is still inclusive from the Soviet side. The answer is probably not, but accidents can happen, of course. What strikes me as really significant is that whereas deterrents set out to be something that the Soviets were trying to do to the Americans and the Americans were trying to do to the Soviets, the instruments by which they were doing this, nuclear weapons, wound up deterring both of them. So there was a third party involved, which was the technology itself.
CONAN: There were, for example during the war, and you point out this, you know, mirror-like world where logic didn't seem to obtain very well, and the whole idea of mutual-assured destruction, but the Americans at various points said, we will only target military targets, and as you point out from the receivers end, it would have been hard to tell the difference.
Professor GADDIS: Absolutely. I think it was a totally false distinction, and it was back to this idea that somehow you could fight a controlled nuclear war. It's the idea that Eisenhower simply never bought.
CONAN: And, at the end of the day, you conclude that somehow, by this mutual decision not to use these most terrible of all weapons, that the nature of power was changed by this, by the Cold War.
Professor GADDIS: Well, I think that's right, because, look at the Soviet Union. It collapses with all of its military power, all of its nuclear weapons intact. And yet, it goes down the tubes. So, that kind of power obviously was not very effective. Power is supposed to sustain and support the state, and this kind of power did not.
CONAN: If you'd like to join our conversation with Professor John Lewis Gaddis, the author most recently of The Cold War: A New History, give us a phone call. Our number 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our email address is [email protected] Excuse me, I got that wrong. Our new e-mail address is [email protected] And, lets talk with Terry. Terry calling us from Mankato, Minnesota.
TERRY: I love your show. I had a question. I was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany, during the Cold War in 1979 and 1980. And we deployed, we had a deployment of the Folda Gap, where, you know, that's where the big Soviet invasion was supposed to come through the Folda Gap.
Anyway, two people in my platoon, of my company, were killed in a training accident, and just an accident in the billets, and those would be two casualties that were not brought about by any gunfire or any bombs dropping. Now I was just wondering, is there any way of knowing, you know, the total casualties that can be attributed to the Cold War? In a whole.
Professor GADDIS: No, I don't think there is, because when you're deploying military forces, as you know very well, there are all kinds of accidents that happen along the way.
Professor GADDIS: So, I don't think we have anything close to an accurate figure of the number of people who might otherwise have lived if the Cold War had not been fought. I think all we can say is that a lot more people lived for the fact that the Cold War did not somehow get into a hot war.
TERRY: Yes, indeed. I agree with that.
CONAN: And any calculation of casualties, thanks for the call Terry, any calculation of casualties would of course have to include all those killed in the wars in Korea and Vietnam as well,as well as interventions in Afghanistan, in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary.
Professor GADDIS: But you would also have to count the casualties, it seems to me, of the internal repression that came from internal repression during the Cold War, or it came from mismanagement during the Cold War. So it's not just battlefield casualties, but it's death by government, and the hugest death toll of all, which is something like 30 million, comes as a result of Mao's policies in China, the Great Leap Forward, which itself was a Cold War development.
CONAN: A Cold War development and in what sense?
Professor GADDIS:A Cold War development and in the sense that Mao is trying to overtake the Soviet Union and, ultimately, to overtake Britain and the United States. And he believed that he could crash industrialization, crash collectivization of agriculture. He believed that he could accelerate economic development, accelerate history itself, and the results were horrendous.
CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the conversation. This is Jim. Jim calling from Canton, Ohio.
JIM (Caller): Yes, I disagree with the precept that the Cold War has ended. I believe it's more of a truce. And I think the evidence of that is that when the Warsaw Pact disbanded in Europe, NATO remained, and not only remained but is expanding. We're expanding into the Baltic States, the caucuses, Central Asia. And in a global perspective, we're surrounding the Soviets, I mean, Russia. And, you know, our power has greatly increased since the so-called end to the Cold War. And further evidence would be the existence of FDI. We're going forward with that. We're going forward with MX missile. There's no nuclear disarmament and we have a militarist government.
CONAN: Is the Cold War really over, John Lewis Gaddis?
Professor GADDIS: Well, that's about five different provocations in that question, it seems to me. Let me deal with the main one, which is the question, is the Cold War over? It depends on whether you capitalize those words Cold War or not.
If you put it in lowercase and say cold war in the sense of rivalries between nations, no, the cold war is still going on. And the cold war went on long before the events of 1945 to 1991.
If you put it in capital letters and say the Cold War as the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, the confrontation between capitalism and communism, that's over. The Soviet Union no longer exists. Communism is no longer a sustainable ideology. That's history, and that was the history that I was writing about in the book.
JIM: Why is NATO still in existence? I mean, we lost the reason for that existence after the Warsaw Pact disbanded. And the fact that it's still there tells me that we are on a militaristic aggressive footing. In other words, our presence in Europe is closer to the Russian border than Hitler got at the start of the Second World War.
Professor GADDIS: Well, I think NATO is still there chiefly because the Europeans wish for it to be there. So I think that's a little bit different proposition from saying that it's purely an American aggressive initiative. NATO has come to be, not only convenient, but in many ways, a vital interest for the Europeans as a way of sustaining stability in that part of the world. So if we try to disband it, they would oppose our doing it.
CONAN: Jim, thanks very much for the call.
CONAN: And if you'd like to join our conversation, the number is 800-989-8255 or send us e-mail, [email protected] We'll be back after a short break.
I'm Neil Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, I'm Neil Conan in Washington. Historian John Lewis Gaddis is with us today from Yale University. His new book is The Cold War, a New History. You're invited to join us, of course. Give us a call. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address, [email protected]
And, Professor Gaddis, you were talking a few minutes earlier about the role of ideology. And this is something really, you trace back in terms of the ideological struggle between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Not necessarily just beginning with the Cold War, but beginning with Woodrow Wilson and the Fourteen Points.
Professor GADDIS: Well I would even trace it back earlier than that. I would trace it back to Karl Marx in the middle of the 19th century because there really was a contest over how to organize an economy and from that how to organize a civil society.
And it seems to me much of the question revolved around the issue of whether society is better organized from the top down, in a command economy method, or spontaneously from the bottom up in a way that allows a considerable amount of autonomy for politics and for economic development. And that argument goes all the way back to the middle of the 19th Century, although you're sort of right, it became dramatically intensified with Woodrow Wilson and Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution.
CONAN: And as late as Nikita Khrushchev's time, when he made his we will bury you speech. This was still, communism still represented an economic challenge to the West. Everybody remembered the failures of the Great Depression.
Professor GADDIS: Well, that's correct and that's part of my challenge in teaching this subject to my students because they can't figure out, can't understand how communism could ever have had any significant appeal. So I have to go back to the events of World War I. I have to go back to the events of the Great Depression. I have to go back to the collapse of the democracies in the 1930s that led to World War II, to show them that for anybody who came out of those experiences, both capitalism and democracy could have seemed like very flawed doctrines. And so a more authoritarian solution could have had, and did have, a considerable amount of appeal.
What's interesting about the Cold War is that trend was reversed and some how by about the time that Khrushchev made his we will bury you statement, it was clear that, in fact, that was not going to happen.
CONAN: Let's get some more listeners involved in the conversation. Again 800-989-8255 and why don't we turn to Peter. Peter's with us from Berkeley, California.
CONAN: Peter, are you there?
CONAN: Hello, Peter, can you hear us?
PETER: Yes, can you hear me okay?
CONAN: Yes, you're on the air, please go ahead.
PETER: Had a little bit of a technological glitch. You know, I just wanted to perhaps offer the opinion and it seems that, to some large degree, history depends on who won or who perceives themself to have won and who does the writing.
You know, last year when President Reagan died, there was an awful lot of press coverage to the effect of, you know, how he won the Cold War. And I don't really think that's supported by the historical record, which I think indicates much more strongly that Gorbachev initiated some reforms and he was very interested in, you know, recognized weaknesses in the Soviet system. But that you know in a large part those reforms kind of spun out of control. But, you know, the initiative goes there. Where President Reagan deserves credit, I think, is that he was able to step away from his ideological rigidity and see a bit of an opportunity there.
But now, some years later, we see the Reagan won the Cold War kind of perspective used as kind of an ideological argument for, you know, a great deal of military buildup and militarism. When it's not really, I think, what happened.
Professor GADDIS: Well, I am not going to say that Reagan won the Cold War, but I am going to say that he came close, because it seems to me he played a very important role in this in a couple of different ways. First of all, he was the first major American leader, in my opinion, to ask the question, why did we continue to need to have a Cold War in the first place? The Cold War had become conventional wisdom at the time that he came into office. And he actually looked forward to the possibility that it might end. And he was doing it long before Gorbachev came into power.
As far as military spending is concerned, you're right. He does accelerate military spending somewhat. It had already been accelerated in the Carter Administration, but many people fail to realize that Ronald Reagan was also the only nuclear abolitionist ever to be president of the United States. So he was dedicated to the idea of minimizing the danger of nuclear war. And what he saw was that a military buildup could put the Soviet system under sufficient strain that it would have to choose a leader like Gorbachev. So I do not downplay his role at all. I think it was enormously important.
PETER: Well, I think that, if I may, we were very fortunate that it ended up kind of going the Gorbachev route when it could have gone a very different route, which might have been the same outcome of that approach. But if I might make one other comment. You know, I think, call it divine intervention, you know, we really have little to credit the fact that nuclear weapons haven't been used thus far.
And, you know, I think we count our chickens before they hatch when we say, well, it's remarkable that they haven't been used, because, you know, listeners may or may not know that there's still several thousand nuclear weapons pointed at the United States with a flight time of about 20 minutes, and many of them in a launch on warning footing.
And, you know, there's been some recent articles to the effect that the nuclear situation is being destabilized by some efforts on the part of the Bush Administration to kind of capitalize on a moment of opportunity and put themselves in an even stronger first strike position. So, you know, in a lot of ways the jury's regrettably very out on the use of nuclear weapons. And I think it's more likely a probability than the other way too.
Professor GADDIS: Well, the jury is always out as far as that goes. When it comes to something like this, nuclear weapons are not going to be de-invented, regrettably. But there are two facts that are important here. There are a lot fewer nuclear weapons than there were at the height of the Cold War. There is much less of a deliberate hair trigger strategy of targeting each side, Russians against Americans.
I would agree with you that the likelihood that a nuclear weapon could be used has probably gone up since the Cold War ended. But I think that likelihood resides with the possibility of a terrorist or a rogue state getting hold of one or two nuclear weapons and using them in that way.
The likelihood of a nuclear exchange involving some six or seven thousand nuclear weapons, which is what could have happened in the Cold War, simply is not going to happen in the post-Cold War era.
CONAN: Peter, thanks very much.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an e-mail question from John Milligan(ph) in Washington D.C. He would ask Mr. Gaddis if you would elaborate on the key role of George Kennan and his brilliant containment strategy.
Professor GADDIS: Well I have to say I'm slightly biased, since I am Kennan's biographer, but I think there was one big idea that Kennan articulated. He did this as early as 1947. And it seems to me it's the idea that came closest to defining American strategy in the Cold War. And that idea was simply that we did not have to have a world war with the Soviet Union. We didn't need to fight World War III.
Professor GADDIS: We did not need to appease them either as the democracies did Hitler in the 1930s, but there was a middle way. We could simply build up Western strength, which in his mind, meant chiefly European and Japanese strength. We could build self-confident societies that could sustain themselves and, ultimately, the ambitions and the desires of the Soviet leadership to expend their influence would be frustrated.
And if they met with repeated frustration, they would eventually change their policies, they would change their system, they would change their leaders. And it seems to me this is precisely what happened in the 1980s. So Kennan looks, in retrospect, very prophetic in that regard.
CONAN: Kennan also was someone who endorsed activities by the Central Intelligence Agency. These were basically operations where, as you put it, the United States seemingly had felt it had to act as ruthlessly as its opponents. And as you quote Mr. Kennan much later admitting, It did not work out at all the way I had conceived it.
Professor GADDIS: Well, Kennan did not and would never have made the argument that the United States had to act as ruthlessly as its opponents did. What he did advocate and was the first to advocate was that the CIA should be given some covert action capability, but he favored keeping it extremely limited. He favored keeping it rarely used, and he favored keeping it under the tight control of the State Department.
What happened was that once established, the CIA took on a life of its own, covert operations, took on a momentum of their own, and they very quickly went in to realms and into procedures that horrified Kennan. So while it's accurate to say that he first originated the idea that the CIA should have a covert action capability, it's not right to say that he favored using any and all means in that capacity.
CONAN: But talk a little bit more about that fear that many had during the Cold War that by opposing them at every turn, we would in turn become them.
Professor GADDIS: Well, he said this himself, Kennan in his famous 1947 ex-article on sources of Soviet conduct published in Foreign Affairs, said that the worst fate that could befall us could be that in countering the Soviet Union, we would embrace their own tactics and we would wind up being like them, and he even said in another speech in that period that there is a little bit of a totalitarian inside all of us waiting to come out.
What I think is encouraging about the history of the Cold War is that, in fact, that never happened. The United States never came close to being like the Soviet Union and that little bit of totalitarian that is within all of us never came out on our side to the extent that Kennon(ph) worried that it might.
CONAN: Let's talk now with Frank, Frank calling us from New York City.
FRANK (Caller): Hello, I was wondering concerning the Cold War, that the Allies, perhaps they should have adopted a Japan-first strategy to allow the Nazis and Soviets to fight against each other to further weaken both sides, or perhaps should the Allies have invaded through the Balkans as Churchill had suggested. I was wondering what your opinion in that regard would be, in the sense.
Professor GADDIS: Well, my opinion, my opinion is that it might have worked, but I think it was too risky to try because, first of all, if you say the Soviets and the Germans fight each other, you have no guarantee as to who's going to win, and I think it was better that the Germans be defeated under that circumstance, they were an even more brutal regime than the Soviets were at that point. Secondly, it seems to me that the invasion of the Balkans risked bogging down in the Balkans and had that happened, it might have been possible for the Red Army to sweep unopposed all the way to the English Channel, so I'm not too unhappy with the military strategy that, in fact, was embraced in World War II.
FRANK: Because it was also a bad case where the Russians had thoroughly penetrated the U.S. government, especially through the figure of, I guess, through Alger Hess so that they, so that the Soviets had a advantage in terms of they, they knew how hard to, or they knew to take, I guess, to take up.
CONAN: They knew the negotiating positions.
Professor GADDIS: Well, I wouldn't even put it quite that far. They had thoroughly penetrated the top ranks of the British intelligence establishment and what that meant is that they knew some important secrets. I say in the book that they probably had a more accurate sense of the number of atomic weapons that the United States had in 1947 than the American Joint Chiefs of Staff did. On the other hand, they did not have detailed knowledge of American planning, they missed a lot, simply because of their ideological preconceptions.
They did not see the Marshall Plan coming and there was nothing secret about the Marshall Plan. But because of their own ideological preoccupations, their own ideological conviction that capitalists are so greedy that they can never cooperate with one another, they simply failed to foresee that the Marshall Plan could be developed or was being developed, so there were failures of intelligence definitely on both sides.
CONAN: Frank, thanks very much for the call.
CONAN: And we're talking today with John Lewis Gaddis, the author of The Cold War: A New History. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
I wanted to ask you, your book does take advantage of the archival material that's become available since the end of the Cold War, much of it from Moscow, as well. What, in retrospect, surprised you?
Professor GADDIS: Well, I would say my book takes advantage of the energies of my students who have used the archival materials that have appeared in Moscow, that's the more accurate way to put it. What has surprised me? I think what has surprised a lot of us who worked in this field is precisely what I was alluding to in the last question, which was that ideology really did matter. When the Marxist-Leninists used the jargon of Marxist-Leninism, when they talked about a proletarian society, when they talked about the internal conflicts of capitalism, they really did believe this. They talked in much the same way to themselves as they did to us in public at the time.
We had always had the idea that the public language and their own private language were two different things and that they had a more realistic sense of the world. That has pretty much been knocked out of the water now by the still-limited access that we have to the Soviet and East European and some Chinese material, as well.
CONAN: One of the things that interested me of the, going back to the intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968, at the time, this was seen in the West as, well, ruthless but a great success by the Soviet Union, and thus the source of the famous Brezhnev Doctrine that socialism would not be turned back, be allowed to be turned back. Yet you say, looking at their materials, they saw it as a failure.
Professor GADDIS: This is pretty clear, they saw it as a failure in a couple of different senses. First of all, they came close to losing control of their own troops in doing this because the troops had been told they would be liberating Czechoslovakia, and the Czechs made it very clear that that was not happening. Secondly, the price they paid, the price the Russians paid in loss of influence, particularly among European intellectuals as a result of having invaded Czechoslovakia, the growth of dissidence against them was a pretty high price.
But even further, it was just at this point that Eastern Europe and ultimately the Soviet Union itself is, it's becoming clear, that these economies can no longer be self-sufficient, that they are dependent on Western investments and technology and even food shipments, and so it became absolutely clear with the Polish Riots of 1970 that the Soviets could never again use military force in Eastern Europe because the result of that would be to make impossible any kind of Western economic assistance to Eastern Europe, and that economic assistance was what was keeping the Soviet system afloat in Eastern Europe. So the whole Brezhnev Doctrine now looks to have been a gigantic Potemkin village.
Professor GADDIS: Yes, it did.
CONAN: And you go back, it's interesting, the threat to use nuclear weapons at various points, going back earlier, for example, Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev, you say, was convinced that the Suez intervention in 1956 ended because the Soviet Union threatened the use of nuclear weapons.
Professor GADDIS: Well, he was convinced of this. I think Eisenhower had a rather different view, but Eisenhower's pressure on the British, the French, and the Israelis was financial, and it was behind the scenes. Khrushchev did some public huffing and puffing, which made it look as though he had had an effect on the decision of the British and the French and the Israelis to withdraw, and I do argue in the book that he drew some lessons from this and believed that he could make these claims to have missiles, to be willing to use them, and could extract political advantages from them. Ultimately, this is probably what led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
CONAN: Another story told in The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis. John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett professor of history at Yale University and joined us today from a studio on the campus there. Professor Gaddis, thanks so much for being with us.
Professor GADDIS: Thanks to you. Enjoyed it.
CONAN: When we come back from a short break, we'll give you a chance to ask Senators Dick Durbin and Sam Brownback about what they asked during the NSA Domestic Surveillance Program earlier this week. I'm Neal Conan, it's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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The Cold War: A New History
When George Orwell began writing "1984," the totalitarian future he described seemed disturbingly plausible. The Soviet Union, cashing in its chips after World War II, ruled half of Europe and commanded the unswerving loyalty of millions. By the 1950s, two superpowers, bristling with nuclear weapons, stared unblinking across an ideological divide, and the rest of the world trembled.
Forty years later, the Berlin Wall came down and, virtually overnight, the Soviet Union was no more.
The Cold War was over. What happened? How did the potent wartime alliance between the Western powers and the Soviet Union turn so quickly into implacable confrontation, and why did the standoff end so abruptly, after a generation of nuclear crises, proxy wars and a seemingly unstoppable arms race?
John Lewis Gaddis, a leading Cold War historian, has addressed such questions at length in works like "The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947," "The Long Peace: Inquiries Into the History of the Cold War" and "We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History."
In this new book, he offers a succinct, crisply argued account of the Cold War that draws on his previous work and synthesizes the mountain of archival material that began appearing in the 1990s. Energetically written and lucid, it makes an ideal introduction to the subject.
Gaddis starts with a surprisingly optimistic premise. "The world, I am quite sure, is a better place for that conflict having been fought in the way that it was and won by the side that won it," he writes. The Cold War was much more rational than previously thought, he writes, despite its manifest absurdities, first and foremost the race to develop weapons that, almost by definition, could never be used.
Both sides operated from perfectly reasonable premises, given their experiences in World War II. The Soviet Union, having lost millions of its citizens, saw victory as an opportunity to secure its borders and advance its political agenda around the world. The United States, after showing itself to be a reluctant actor on the world stage, was determined to play a more active role in securing Western Europe's future and, by bolstering democracies and free markets, to protect its own.
The bomb and radically divergent ideologies distorted what otherwise might have been a traditional balance-of-power chess match.
Gaddis, putting forward the first of his Cold War heroes, argues that Dwight D. Eisenhower was much quicker to grasp the implications of a nuclear future than many of the defense-policy intellectuals who tried to square the circle and make nuclear weapons part of a coherent military strategy.
Eisenhower, "at once the most subtle and brutal strategist of the nuclear age," rejected the concept of a limited nuclear war, reasoning, with a general's firsthand understanding of battle, that fear would overrule reason once nuclear weapons came into play.
There would be no middle ground between no war and total war, a stark choice that Winston Churchill saw as a kind of guarantee. "Strange as it may seem, it is to the universality of potential destruction that I think we may look with hope and even confidence," he told the House of Commons. War could no longer be an instrument of policy, something the mercurial Nikita Khrushchev also grasped.
The Cold War once looked like an equal battle between two military giants, with lesser nations of the world reduced to the role of helpless bystanders. Gaddis makes it clear just how helpless U.S. and Soviet leaders often were, their hands tied by manipulative leaders of weaker states who knew exactly how to make the game work to their advantage.
If events in Cuba and Indochina gave Washington fits, Soviet leaders were stymied by North Korea and driven to the point of apoplexy by Mao, who would traumatize Khrushchev by casually commenting that war with the United States might be an excellent idea.
In the end, the impossible became possible. In 1956 and 1968, Russian tanks crushed uprisings in Budapest and Prague. But faced with unrest in Poland in 1981, the Soviets blinked. Intervention, they decided, was out of the question. The superpower was powerless.
A decade later, the Soviet empire no longer existed, and the postwar division of the world came to an end. Just like that. "It could easily have been otherwise," Gaddis writes, in a ringing conclusion, "the world spent the last half of the 20th century having its deepest anxieties not confirmed."
How Did Fidel Castro Downfall
The failed Bay of Pigs Invasion backed by the US government allowed Castro himself to become a dictator and turn his country fully Communistic. In February 1962, the United states enacted a full economic embargo on Cuba that is still in effect to this day. This in turn led to Castro allowing the Soviet Union to install missiles on the island that were well in range of Cuba, starting the Cuban Missile Crisis. This nearly escalated into what would have been World War 3 but thankfully the situation deescalated and the missiles were removed after talks between the United States and the Soviet&hellip