Was the Cold War inevitable? Was there an international communist conspiracy? Did Castro and Khrushchev beat Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis? After combing through a mass of declassified and previously unavailable documentation to reconsider the collision of the American and Soviet empires, Yale professor Gaddis replies in the affirmative. Given Josef Stalin's convictions, the Cold War was inescapable: it is the choices that each side made that prove fruitful for historical research, and not the mere fact of the war, as Gaddis neatly demonstrates. The American empire--Gaddis's term--prevailed because, he says, "democracy proved superior to autocracy in maintaining coalitions," and not necessarily because of any technological or economic advantage. Gaddis dispels several misconceptions and urges that students of Cold War history should foremost "retain the capacity to be surprised."
"We" refers to "historians" of the cold war, and Gaddis has been one of the most notable. In this work, he synthesizes the recent scholarship growing out of the partial opening of Soviet archives relating to the cold war, up through the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Gaddis' nuanced summary clarifies the hitherto knottiest problems of interpretation: divining Stalin's motives in communizing Eastern Europe; his role in starting the Korean War; and Khrushchev's bombastic gyrations of policy. To explain the origin of it all, Gaddis resurrects two indispensable factors: Stalin's suspicious, tyrannical personality and the Leninist ideology. Whatever the Americans did to make the cold war happen, Gaddis argues that the Soviet dictator's aims (and mistakes in pursuing them) virtually guaranteed a face-off. Nuclear weapons just ensured that the rigidity would endure until the fundamental of Stalinist rule, coercion, was repudiated. A magisterial overview that clarifies all issues of the cold war's origins. Gilbert Taylor