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We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Council on Foreign Relations Book) 1St Edition Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0198780700
ISBN-10: 0198780702
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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."

From Booklist

"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
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Product Details

  • Series: Council on Foreign Relations Book
  • Hardcover: 425 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1St Edition edition (April 3, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198780702
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198780700
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,338,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Leonard J. Wilson on March 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
We Now Know by John Lewis Gaddis is a preliminary reevaluation of the first half of the Cold War (roughly 1945-62) based on information from the Soviet side that has become available since the demise of the Soviet Union. After presenting a wealth of material, Gaddis offers eight tentative hypotheses:

1. Diversification of power did more to shape the Cold War than did the balance of power. The Soviet Union rivaled the west in military power but lagged significantly in every other dimension, such as economic, cultural, moral, and ideological.

2. Both the US and Soviet Union built empires during the Cold War but they differed significantly. The Western European nations actively sought US support and involvement in the post-WWII years, leading to NATO and the Marshall Plan. In contrast, the Soviet Union had to put down numerous active revolts by members of the Warsaw Pact.

3. Many people did see the Cold War as a contest between good and evil, even if historians rarely did. Thousands of East Germans voted with their feet immediately after WWII, again in the 1950s (leading to the construction of the Berlin Wall), and again in 1989 (when Hungary opened its borders).

4. Democracy proved superior to autocracy in maintaining coalitions. Gaddis observes that many attributes of a nation's internal politics carry over into its foreign policy. The US was able to maintain its coalition by applying the consensus building techniques used domestically to managing its coalition. The Soviet Union's approach to coalition building, based on its approach to domestic politics, achieved unity within the Warsaw Pact only by smothering dissent.

5. Marxism-Leninism fostered authoritarian romanticism.
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Format: Paperback
In this book, John Lewis Gaddis sets out to describe the major structural features of the Cold War, identify their causes, provide a narrative overview of the Cold War from its inception to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and embed the Cold War in the larger context of 20th century history. Gaddis succeeds in accomplishing all these ends in a well written book of less than 300 hundred pages. This is a considerable achievement. A good part of this book is driven by the fact that the end of the Cold War has resulted in access to Soviet, Chinese, and Eastern European sources that provide information about key events and decision makers. Much prior work concentrated one sidely on Western policies and policy makers. The new archival information allows reconstruction of important decisions and a more complete picture of the Cold War. It is important to note that not all the new information relates to Communist sources. For example, based on the availability of new documentation, Gaddis presents an account of John Kennedy's behavior in the Cuban Missile Crisis that varies considerably from the standard accounts.
Gaddis addresses a number of key issues. Why did the Cold War begin? He sees the Cold War as a result of Stalin's insecurity and brutal Soviet conduct in Eastern Europe. Given the conduct of Soviet Armies and Stalin's aggressive foreign policy, the USA and its Western European Allies had no choice but to respond to Stalin in some form of confrontation. Was the Cold War a conflict just between the USA and the Soviet Union? Gaddis is careful to emphasize the autonomy of many decision makers during the Cold War. Some of these are surprising. An early and important event was the declaration of independence issued by Yugoslav communists in 1948.
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Format: Paperback
Author John Lewis Gaddis taught for many years at Ohio University and is now on the faculty at Yale. He is a long-time, thoughtful analyst of the great confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union which dominated world events for nearly five decades World War II. Since the end of the Cold War, Gaddis has had the opportunity to survey the English-language literature, as well as documents which, by the mid-1990s, were beginning to "trickle" out of the "other side" of the Cold War, to determine which aspects of the history of the Cold War, if any, require reassessment. Although this book primarily discusses the "high Cold War," the period from the end of World War II through the Cuban missile crisis, it is an important contribution to the literature.
Gaddis begins with Alexis de Tocqueville's intriguing observation, made in 1835, that "[t]here are now two great nations in the world...the Russians and the Anglo-Americans." Gaddis observes that there were several historical sources of "Russian-American antagonism" which predated the "power vacuum" that separated the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. More important were the attitudes of the countries in 1945: the U.S. was determined, according to Gaddis, to "seek power in the postwar world" Stalin, the "Soviet leader, too sought security," but Gaddis asserts that, to Stalin, "[n]ational security had come to mean personal security." The role of Stalin in the Cold War's origins is central to Gaddis's thesis.
According to Gaddis, "the nature of the post-World War II international system" was characteristic of empire.
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