The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism First Edition (1st printing),
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From Publishers Weekly
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"Offers a powerful example of how prudently to derive, articulate, and persuade principled political ends. . . . We owe Spalding a debt of gratitude for shedding important new light on the Truman Administration and on the character of its central figure."―Claremont Review of Books
"This is an excellent book for those passionate about the evolution of America's national security and grand strategies pursued during the Cold War."―Great lakes Bulletin
"Spalding's new book indicates what may become a new strain in the study of American foreign policy."―Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
"An important reevaluation of Truman."―Ron Radosh, TNR blog
""This Harry Truman biography is more academic than most books about his colorful personality and presidency. Spalding's final chapter is a substantive treatment of Truman's underestimated faith, particularly in relation to his Cold War anti-Communism.""―Paul Kengor, Christianity Today
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A strong spin on still evolving respect for Truman, but one that left this writer not toally convinced.
Spalding's basic argument is that for too long Harry Truman has not been given his due because he had been eclipsed by other foreign policy luminaries of the era, notably George F. Kennan. Where Kennan's approach to foreign policy was based upon a pragmatic assessment of Soviet and American power, as well as a traditional balance of power politics, Truman was very much the ideologue who viewed the burgeoning Cold War in terms of good and evil. Truman led the way in the early Cold War initiatives largely because of this world view. And while Kennan, George Marshall, and others had a hand in crafting the Marshall Plan, the founding of NATO, the Truman Doctrine, the Berlin Airlift, and even the Korean War, it was Truman who proved the primary force behind these policies.
Truman's opposition to Communism was founded in a belief that it was a tyrannical form of government that squashed freedom. According to Spalding, Truman was moved far more by Churchill's dramatic declarations against the Soviet Union that he was by Kennan's reasoned assessments. “In the summer of 1946, he fully accepted the reality of the treat and conflict as articulated by Churchill rather than Kennan (47-48).” It was Truman and not Kennan, Spalding argues, who was the true author of Containment.
Spalding also draws important distinctions between Truman's world view and that of FDR and Wilson. Though Truman held each of his predecessors in very high regard, he differed sharply with them when it came to his vision of international liberalism. Truman did not believe that international institutions and goodwill alone would preserve the peace, as had FDR and Wilson. Rather, “The president stressed that only strength would deter future aggressors form threatening peace or liberty... (18).” For Truman, as for his predecessors, American leadership in the post-war world was essential. However, Truman understood that the triumphant Allies of World War II could not solve all of the world's problems in the way that Wilson and FDR imagined they could. Rather, strength, and a willingness to confront the Soviet Union rather than placate it was paramount to the free world's security.
Kelly Crager, writing for Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online, called the world “deftly written,” but believed the author stumbled in “often heavy-handed defense of Truman” and in Spalding's attempts to draw parallels with the George W. Bush administration.
Spalding makes a strong and convincing case for Truman's centrality in creating America's political weapons of the Cold War. She also succeeds in painting Truman as the ideological cold warrior that he was. Just as Wilson and FDR were motivated by their ideological convictions for creating institutions to preserve peace after the war, here Truman is given his due as a figure who understood the world as it is, one in which evil must be confronted rather than appeased in the hopes of positive result. Perhaps Spalding does give Truman too much credit in creating the policy of containment. Certainly Kennan is an essential figure when considering the intellectual framework of the policy. But Spalding is correct in her portrayal of Truman as the essential implementer and leader of the policy, the man who understood the evil of the Soviet Union and was willing to confront it.