A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

The Cold War Begins

Thomas G. Paterson

The enormous, and still growing, literature on the causes and origins of the Cold War presents students with an array of conflicting interpretations. Historians disagree on whether the United States or the Soviet Union was most responsible for the conflict, on whether the Cold War could have been avoided, and on which factors were the key determinants: atomic weaponry, domestic politics, economics, geopolitics, ideology, misperception, national security, personality, or …. Diplomatic historian Thomas G. Paterson of the University of Connecticut, the author of numerous works on American foreign policy in the Cold War years, argues that President Harry S. Truman pursued unnecessarily provocative policies. A so-called revisionist, influenced by the politics of the 1960s and by the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Paterson rejects the traditional interpretation of most American historians that the Soviet Union was mostly to blame for the Cold War. Instead, in this selection from his Meeting the Communist Threat: Truman to Reagan (1988) , Paterson emphasizes Truman’s exaggerated perception of the Soviet threat, and his disproportionate response to it, as the chief initial obstacle to accommodation or compromise between the two postwar superpowers.

Presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan have exalted Truman for his decisiveness and success in launching the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO, and for staring the Soviets down in Berlin during those hair-trigger days of the blockade and airlift…. Some historians have gone so far as to claim that Truman saved humankind from World War III. On the other hand, … many historians have questioned Truman’s penchant for his quick, simple answer, blunt, careless rhetoric, and facile analogies, his moralism that obscured the complexity of causation, his militarization of American foreign

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