Americans and the Cold War
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 A sophisticated interpretation of America's involvement in the cold war that appears calculated to draw fire from the left as well as right. In assessing the conflict's origins and costs, Brands (History/Texas A&M) provides a wide-ranging survey of US foreign policy from Yalta through the Berlin Wall's collapse. Following WW II, he argues, perceived political imperatives on the home front induced US leaders to take a balance-of-power approach to global security. Positions soon hardened, with the result that containment doctrine dominated American strategies in Western Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. In time, Brands recounts, the US/USSR confrontation (which proved a bonanza for the military/industrial complex) acquired a life of its own--one that conceptual simplicity made acceptable, even soul-satisfying, to the domestic electorates. While stopping short of claiming that the Kremlin posed no threat (nuclear or otherwise) to the national interest, Brands concludes that American antagonism prolonged a deadlock that, he suggests, could have been resolved as early as Stalin's death in 1953, as well as at several subsequent junctures. But as the author makes clear, the superpowers managed to avoid direct face-offs (except in Cuba) in the course of their protracted hostilities. Nor does Brands ignore the irony of reactionary Republicans like Nixon and Reagan doing more for the cause of dÇtente than such liberal Democrats as JFK and LBJ, who felt obliged to take a hard line against Communist aggression. In his mildly contrarian reckoning of the Red menace's socioeconomic and geopolitical implications, moreover, Brands displays an impressive flair for vivid phrasing: ``The arena of American political debate during the early 1950s was slick with half-truths and smaller fractions''; ``during the autumn of 1989, history hopped a fast train West....'' A provocative audit of an adversarial world order whose passing, in retrospect at least, seems to have been long overdue.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-507499-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993


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Kirkus Interview
H.W. Brands
October 11, 2016

As noted historian H.W. Brands reveals in his new book The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, at the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way. Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. “An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >


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