“The Cold War: A New History” a Book by John Lewis Gaddis

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In the book The Cold War: A New History, John Lewis Gaddis proposes a unique vision of the Cold War and its impact on the world and relations between the USSR and America. The book consists of seven chapters devoted to different aspects of the Cold War and relations between the world states.

The caution of political leaders did not obviate the risk of reckless subordinates. Nevertheless, it would seem that nuclear weapons made nuclear powers tactically cautious whilst increasing the sense of strategic threat.

Thesis At no time was the Cold War regarded as the sole component of the international system: Gaddis portrays that in each state, there were leaders who favored other views, championing, amongst others things, internal reform, national renewal, imperial consolidation or intra-capitalist competition.

The typology of Cold War historiography is necessarily simplified, but it does accurately portray two features of much of this work. First, it assumes that the Cold War was merely a name for a Soviet-American conflict played out on a global scale. Second, even within this bilateral context, the emphasis is on American motivations and policy. Although these tendencies have been criticized, there are, actually, good reasons why they arose.

No-one would deny that the Soviet-American relationship was of key importance, and historians have a well-justified reluctance to concentrate on areas where there is a dearth of evidence to support their conclusions. The aim of the book is to explain why the Cold War remained central to international relations for so long. It addresses four main questions.

To interpret the Cold War as bipolar is to stress the centrality of the direct interaction between the Soviet Union and the United States and the impact they had on other states. A multipolar view, by contrast, not only suggests that other states helped shape the individual actions of the two main protagonists, but that interactions between states other than the USSR and the USA actually shaped the Cold War system itself.

There is a difference between a multipolar Cold War and a multipolar world. It has been argued, for instance, that after about 1970, the Cold War became ‘tripolar’ with the emergence of China as a political, if not an economic or military, superpower.

It has also been argued that about the same time, the world capitalist system started to become ‘tripolar’ with the emergence of roughly balanced zones of advanced industrial prosperity in North America, Western Europe, and East Asia. It is important to ask whether the Cold War not only passed through bipolar and multipolar stages but whether polarity also.

The author of the book is a professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University. He is an expert in this subject, publishing numerous articles and researches on this subject. This book is intended for a general audience and proposes readers a thrilling and excepting history of the Cold War years. Special attention is given to the problem of polarity.

The author asks questions and finds answers to them. How integrated was the Cold War? Did Cold War policy-makers see themselves dealing with an interlinked global system or a series of regional systems? John Lewis Gaddis shows to a wide target audience of readers that foreign policy could threaten the legitimacy of even a stable political system; as the conduct of the Vietnam War did in America.

Foreign policy could legitimize a regime that other factors tended to undermine — the situation in the Soviet Union for most of its history. If we identify the scope of those threatened by foreign-policy failure — the nation, the political system, the government, an organization, an individual —and the severity of the challenge which would arise from failure, fundamental, serious or minor, we can note that the wider the scope and the more severe the challenge, the more important management of the domestic political process became, except in those cases where the threat derived from crude direct intervention by a foreign power.

The Cold War: A New History is a history book based on primary documents and materials. The author applies a revisionist methodology to unveil the main events and conclusions. John Lewis Gaddis applies an interdisciplinary approach addressing the problems of social, cultural, and economic changes.

The difference between ideology is sometimes seen as the main interpretative challenge in analyzing these four aspects of decision-making. The ideological prism of leaders often determined the decisions they were able to take — states which stressed the importance of the sources of national power rather than the structure. Of the international system could be regarded as less ideological.

Yet political issues — the assumption that all states will do the utmost to increase their power whilst guaranteeing their own survival — is itself an ideology, its adherents claiming access to objective truth in much the same way as Marxist-Leninists did.

The book is based on primary and secondary research on the issue. The book is based on chronological sequences of events; thus, it tries to classify the main events and political actions by subjects. For instance, the first chapter, The Return of Fear, “describes the first years of confrontation and depicts the main causes of the Cold War. All terms and processes are clearly and sufficiently defined.

The properly documented study of Soviet policy is in its infancy when compared to that carried out in the United States over the past 40 years. The writing flow is well, so it is easy to follow events and read the book. John Lewis Gaddis addresses the question that decision-making is often a battleground between ideologues and those who see the specificity of various situations.

One would expect that in states possessing an officially promulgated state ideology, there would be more ideologues and that they would have more influence, but this should not blind one to the existence of ideologies in states without a self-proclaimed ideology.

All transitions have the theme to the next. The Prologue does not provide all themes defined and discussed in the book. Thus it helps readers to understand the main subject and issues of the research. The Epilogue sums up all events and political strategies of the Cold War and involves the unique author’s view on the problem of international relations and affairs.

In sum, the book proposes unique and interesting interpretations of the Cold War and historical events of the middle of the XX century. John Lewis Gaddis shows that the leaderships of Cold War states all had some conception about the sources of national power.

Potentially power could be drawn from the military capabilities and organization of the state, its economic, financial, and technological capabilities and its possession of allies and clients. The author answers all the new questions mentioned at the beginning of the book.

The book is deep and well-thought research made by the author during the last 30 years. This book concentrates on those states which were vital in shaping the Cold War rather than those which were most affected by it. It also concentrates on states at the points of their greatest influence. It is based on a threefold typology of states. In this typology, the superpowers are obviously central.

Bibliography

Gaddis, J. L. The Cold War: A New History. The Penguin Press, 2005.