The Fifty Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War

By Wilson, Andrew G. | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

The Fifty Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War


Wilson, Andrew G., Naval War College Review


Friedman, Norman. The Fifty Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2000. 597pp. $39.95

Winkler, David F. Cold War at Sea: High-Seas Confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2000. 263pp. $45

Although the Cold War ended more than a decade ago, its impact continues to haunt the international community to this day. These two excellent works from the Naval Institute Press will greatly enhance our understanding of this uncertain period.

Norman Friedman's Fifty Year War is a broad look at the conflict between East and West. Friedman contends that the Cold War actually began in Spain in 1937, "when Stalin tried to hijack the ongoing civil war." This divide between the Soviet Union and the West would not come to an end until 1991. Friedman poses several questions: "Should or did the West understand events in the Soviet Union? Did the West in fact defeat the Soviet Union, or did the Soviet Union defeat itself? Was the Cold War, then, about communism versus capitalism or was it about old-fashioned Russian imperialism, cloaked in a largely irrelevant ideology?"

Friedman contends that the Cold War was in fact a "real war" fought in slow motion. It was also a war lost by the Soviet Union for sociopolitical, economic, and ideological reasons. In the end, Friedman sees Mikhail Gorbachev as responsible for its collapse, because he "never understood that his state was built on terror, not on any kind of popular support."

While making these arguments, Friedman also includes some very scary Cold War near misses, including a 1960 mistake by the new U.S. radar at Thule that interpreted the moon as a Soviet missile attack. Also intriguing is Friedman's critical analysis of President John Kennedy's Cold War leadership.

With The Fifty Year War Friedman presents a new, provocative survey of the Cold War from a joint force perspective while keeping both sides of the Iron Curtain in mind. He again demonstrates why he is considered a leading commentator on international security issues.

Unlike Friedman in his broad landscape of Cold War history, David Winkler paints a much smaller aspect of the Cold War canvas. …

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