Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy

By John Lewis Gaddis | Go to book overview

Preface

Historians, it has been suggested, can be divided into two groups: "lumpers" and "splitters." 1 "Lumpers" seek to impose order on the past: they deliver themselves of sweeping generalizations that attempt to make sense out of whole epochs; they seek to systematize complexity, to reduce the chaos, disorder, and sheer untidiness of history to neat patterns that fit precisely within the symmetrical confines of chapters of books, usually designed to be inflicted upon unsuspecting undergraduates. "Splitters," on the other hand, write mostly for each other—and their defenseless graduate students. They like to point out exceptions, qualifications, incongruities, paradoxes; in short, they elevate quibbling to a high historio‐ graphical art. Both approaches are necessary, even indispensable, to the writing of history, but they do not always occur in the same proportion at the same time with reference to the same topic. Establishing a balance between "lumpers" and "splitters" is no easy thing.

This has been especially true of a field some people are not yet prepared to regard as history—the record of United States involvement in the Cold War. Initial accounts, written during the 1950's and early 1960's, tended toward the particular—lengthy but not very analytical narratives of what happened, based usually on memoir material and published sources, sometimes also on inside information. One dipped into them at first fascinated but then quickly surfeited by the detail: the question "what does it all mean?" remained unanswered. An answer of sorts came in the late 1960's and early 1970's with that outbreak of "lumping" known as revisionism: it was general, analytical, breathtaking at times in its find

-vii-

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