Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War

By Dobson, Alan P. | The Historian, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War


Dobson, Alan P., The Historian


Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War. By Frank Costigliola. (Princeton, N J: Princeton University Press, 2012. Pp. 533. $35.00.)

The author of this book contends that the descent into the Cold War was largely due to "contingencies of personality, health, feelings, and cultural assumptions [which] propelled massive events with dangerous, or positive, momentum" (3, 422). Negative feelings among the Western Allies, particularly those resulting in the kind of advice offered to President Truman by Averell Harriman and George Kennan, are deemed responsible for the postwar breakdown; whereas if Franklin Roosevelt had lived, it is suggested, things might have been different.

Western diplomats are portrayed as shunned lovers. After friendly socializing with the Soviets in 1933-1934 came barbaric purges and the social isolation of all foreigners in Moscow. Over time, this caused anger and the "othering" of the Soviets into barbarians. Key diplomats and politicians became locked into emotional states that prevailed over rational choices (417). "The gendering of the Soviets as a hypermasculine foe bent on 'penetration' with force, ideology, and propaganda," Frank Costigliola asserts, "would become central to the American Cold War imaginary" (329).

Costigliola suggests that when Stalin said that ideology did not matter in foreign affairs and that the West and the Soviets could find common ground, Harriman was foolish not to take him seriously (395-396). Maybe the author is correct, but given what Harriman and others knew of the Soviets, others might judge differently. Costigliola writes,

   Harriman and others were justified in their anger and disgust at
   the isolation, at the rape and pillage of the Red Army soldiers, at
   the arrogance toward the Allies, at Stalin's shared responsibility
   for the crushing of the Warsaw uprising, at the callousness toward
   liberated POWs, at the clumsy pressure on Iran and Turkey, at the
   grabbing in Manchuria and Germany, and at the oppression of Eastern
   Europe (427). … 

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