A well-reasoned examination of the poor decisions made by post–World War II world leaders.
American historian Dallek (Harry S. Truman, 2008, etc.) frames the narrative around the fatal premise, shared by the best minds of the day, that war was justified in order to create a lasting peace. He considers the decisive, ultimately illusory military decisions of the mid ’40s to early ’50s, including the fraught meetings of war leaders Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill at Tehran and Yalta, which essentially created Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe; Truman’s go-ahead to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, which only threatened the paranoid Soviet leader and diverted precious resources needed in rebuilding his country into matching America’s atomic power; and the subsequent tit-for-tat played out between the two superpowers in the Persian Gulf, Eastern Europe, Iran, Korea and China. Despite the initial exhaustion instilled by total world war and the sense of “hope for a reformed world” engendered by the establishment of the United Nations and the prospects of the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, the United States grew wary of Communist aggression, both Soviet and Chinese, and fearful of the prospect of nuclear attack. Dallek characterizes the prevailing mood through the late ’40s as a “triumph of fear.” Grandiose speeches by both Stalin and Churchill, each seizing on the epic confrontation between Marxism and capitalism, only fueled the fire. Nixon and Kennedy rode early congressional success on anti-communist platforms, and Truman was reelected largely on his firm stance in containing communism. The Soviet crackdown on Czechoslovakia and Berlin blockade, espionage rings and McCarthyism, the Korean War, French rule in Indochina and Ho Chi Minh’s victory in Vietnam—all prompted “wretched acts of leadership.” Dallek briefly touches on them and many others, providing a cautionary lesson in the mistakes of the past and an attempt to extract a “model of rational behavior” for the future.
A sage scholarly study.