John Lewis Gaddis has made a meal, not to say a career, of the Cold War. His several books on the subject may have culminated in this work, which has been Penguin-ized, so you can be sure it’s definitive.
Gaddis lets us know by means of a chilling scenario – a nuclear attack on China that never happened but could have – that what took place after World War II was all a matter of control, and arguably, the Americans had more of it, managing to contain not just the powerful Soviet Union but rogue states as well, keeping the world nuke-lite and primed for democracy.
The beginnings of the Cold (as opposed to “hot”, for you youngsters in the crowd)
War were lodged in the scenario set up by the Western powers after World War II. Letting Stalin play freely on the world stage was not a brilliant idea, but it was a necessary compromise. Russia had been our nominal ally against Hitler. Stalin, the Iron Man who let fall the Iron Curtain, had to get some spoils. He took and took. The subsequent uneasy separation of them and us in a north-south swath down the middle of Europe gradually spread to other parts of the world: Cuba, Nicaragua, South Africa.
Gaddis maintains his objectivity – almost – as he chronicles the events and the men (plus Maggie Thatcher) who had a role in this Big Game of scary world-building. He can’t hide his admiration for Reagan, but who can, when the subject is the Cold War and its sudden demise? After all, Reagan was the one who decided that the way to breach the Iron Curtain and cut to the chase was with a big bullying threat – Star Wars. It worked; but of course it came at the right time, when ordinary Russians were starting to demand Levi jeans and
glasnost was the buzz-word that lifted a handsome liberal with a port-wine stain on his balding head into international prominence. It was Gorbie who won the peace prize, if Reagan perhaps deserved it more.
This book will not be “new” to those who haven’t been keeping up with world events for the last 30 years, but it merits a perusal as a well-crafted, readable survey of an era when the best thing that happened on any given day was nothing – no sirens, no unearthly glow on the horizon, no fall-out, no planetary death-watch.