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1946: The Making of the Modern World Hardcover
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Sebestyen attempts to provide a fully global view. The book derives some strength from this in that it thereby offers a degree of coherence that separate studies of what was going on at the time in Eastern and Western Europe, the USA, Palestine, India, China and Japan never could, but it also means that much of the time we are quickly skipping over huge territories, pausing from time to time to look in a little more depth at points of particular interest - George F Kennan's 5500 word 'Long Telegram' from the United States' Moscow Embassy to Secretary of State James Byrnes in Washington DC, for instance, or General Douglas MacArthur's imposition on Japan of pacifism and democracy.
On both of those (the former being a part of the process whereby wartime alliance between the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union rapidly transformed into Cold War), Sebestyen is good. Other highlights include his description of conditions in immediate post-war Germany and of the bombing of Jerusalem's King David Hotel by 'terrorists' including the later Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Less good, I felt, was Sebestyen's account of all that was going on in India at the time; similarly with China.
Leaping around the world from one chapter to the next is at times disorienting, and doesn't in the end add much to our overall view. A three-page chapter on Austria would have been better omitted; and the book would certainly be no worse without an account of a Paris café-crawl undertaken by Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Arthur Koestler and Koestler's 'stunningly beautiful partner and soon to be wife', Mamaine Paget.
Some statistics Sebestyen provides on the industry that US censorship in Japan was for a time are mind-boggling; and the story that the Soviet spy Donald Maclean, a British diplomat based in Washington DC, actually averted physical conflict by passing information on President Truman's intended response to Moscow was also new to me, although I guess both were already in circulation. With respect to Stalin's consequent climb-down (over Turkish territory), Sebestyen asserts that Stalin acted according to Lenin's dictum, 'You probe with bayonets. When you feel soft flesh, push further. If you meet resistance, feel steel, you withdraw and think again.'
As good a part of the book as any is the thoughtful Epilogue, in which Sebestyen reflects on the post-war run-down of the European Empires, the Vietnam War and the partition of formerly British India into India and Pakistan. He raises some interesting 'What ifs?' How different things might have been, for instance, if the (in principle, anti-imperialist) United States had perceived the Communists resisting France's post-war attempt to re-secure its imperial possessions in Vietnam and Cambodia as legitimate nationalists.
After the liberation of the concentration camps, it would have been expected that anti-Semitism would have diminished in Europe? Sadly this was far from the case as is illustrated by the Kielce Pogrom, which left up to 42 people dead. This was an outbreak of violence against the Jewish community in the city of Kielce, Poland on July 4, 1946, instigated by Polish Communist armed forces and continued by a mob of local townsfolk. Such was the trauma from the event that shocked Jews in Poland and many Poles. It has been thought to be the main instigator for the flight of most residual Polish Jews who endured the Holocaust to emigrate away from Poland. This is an extraordinarily, encompassing and perturbing book to read. The author delivers powerful and engaging narrative; he does this through short chapters and they are full of sharp critique. The narrative is `peppered' with pertinent and poignant quotes. The reader is not spared, the at times, cringingly distasteful detail, but the facts are facts. This is a book of import that is layperson friendly and equally enjoyable to those who like to read history - highly recommended.