Byline: by Neil Connor
I recently visited the Polish city of Gdansk for a weekend break. Chilly, concrete and endlessly sprawling, it is not a winter retreat favoured by most.
But the home of the Solidarity movement is fascinating, not only because it provided the nemesis for the Soviet grip on Eastern Europe, but it is also the site for the first battle of World War Two.
I have always considered the Cold War to have begun with the opening salvos from the German Battleship Schleswig-Holstein at 4.20am on September 1 1939, and ended with Lech Walesa's defiant speeches at the gates of Gdansk's Lenin shipyard in the late 1980s.
The sixty years between both these historical acts - which happened only a few short miles from each other saw the most barbaric war humanity has ever experienced and a stand-off between the victors which threatened to eclipse the horrific destruction that proceeded it.
John Lewis Gaddis begins his analysis of the Cold War on the banks of the Elbe in April 1945 with the meeting of Soviet and American soldiers.
He sees the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the end of Communism and the break-up of the USSR as a era when the curtain came crashing down on the worlds of Truman and Stalin, rather than Hitler and Stalin.
While historians have argued the time-scale of major ideological events of the 20th century, Gaddis's 1945-1990 chronology offers the best possible insight, without getting too bogged down with suppositions.
He concentrates on the battle of propaganda and ideologies between the USSR and the USA and his vision of the Cold War appears to be a battle played out by leaders more than people.
While he recognises that ways of life in Russia and America are massively different, Gaddis questions whether the people in either camps really were diametrically opposed to one another. …