How Anti-Americanism Won the Cold War

By Shattan, Joseph | The American Spectator, January 1999 | Go to article overview

How Anti-Americanism Won the Cold War


Shattan, Joseph, The American Spectator


Cold War: An Illustrated History, 1945-1991

Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing Little, Brown /438 pages / $39.95

REVIEWED BY

Joseph Shattan

Although Jimmy Carter has praised Ted Turner's "deep and longstanding commitment to easing the tension and disharmony between the two superpowers, world peace, nuclear arms control, environmental quality, and global sharing of news"-proof-positive that Turner is a horse's ass-that is not why I am certain that Cold War, Ted Turner's 24-part, $12-million CNN documentary is an awful waste of time. Rather, I arrived at this judgment after reading the companion volume to the TV series, also called Cold War. Co-authored by Jeremy Isaacs (the British executive producer of the series) and Taylor Downing (another British filmmaker), and based on the scripts for the documentary, it is one of the shoddiest, most intellectually dishonest books I have ever come across.

The book's thesis is that the Cold War was almost entirely America's fault. To make their case, Isaacs and Downing ignore a vast body of evidence, and distort the rest. Consider their account of the Cold War's origins. The authors maintain that the principal goal of Stalin's foreign policy after World War II was to establish a buffer zone along the Soviet Union's western borders, so as to ensure that his country would never be invaded from Europe again. President Roosevelt appreciated Stalin's legitimate security needs, but his successor, Harry Truman, "was largely ignorant of foreign affairs....Truman's tendency was to see things in clearly defined, black-and-white terms. He lacked the patience to weigh up subtleties of argument." Unable to recognize that the Soviet Union, having suffered horrendously in World War II, was morally entitled to a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, Truman mulishly insisted that the Russians follow through on their Yalta pledge to hold free elections in the nations they had occupied. In the face of Truman's high-handedness, "the Soviets now understood that the era of wartime collaboration was over," and that the Cold War had begun.

But if Truman, following FDR's lead, had adopted a kinder, gentler approach to Stalin, might the Cold War have been averted? In his 1997 book We Now Know, John Lewis Gaddis, widely considered the dean of American Cold War historians, argues that it would not. He cites an interview given by the former Soviet foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov, to CBS correspondent Richard C. Hottelet early in 1946, in which Litvinov attributed Soviet-American tensions to "the ideological conception prevailing here that the conflict between the Communist and capitalist worlds is inevitable." When Hottelet asked him what would happen if the West should suddenly grant all of Stalin's demands, Litvinov replied that "It would lead to the West's being faced, after a more or less short time, with the next series of demands." In other words, even if Truman had adopted a more conciliatory policy, it wouldn't have made the slightest difference, since the Cold War was Stalin's doing, not his.

Unfortunately, despite claiming to have "benefited enormously" from Professor Gaddis's advice, neither the Litvinov interview nor any of the other evidence adduced by Gaddis to demonstrate Stalin's culpability is cited by Isaacs and Downing. If they were serious historians, such omissions would be inexplicable. But Isaacs and Downing are prosecutors, not scholars, and their objective isn't to establish the truth, but to build up a case against the United States.

A particularly telling example of the authors' cavalier approach is their treatment (or rather, non-treatment) of the Baruch Plan-the Truman administration's 1946 initiative, rejected by Moscow, to bring atomic power under international control. Some scholars have praised the Baruch Plan for its unprecedented generosity; others maintain that it didn't go far enough in meeting Stalin's legitimate concerns. …

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