An impressively argued takedown of historical orthodoxy.

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RECKONING

VIETNAM AND AMERICA’S COLD WAR EXPERIENCE, 1945-1991

A revisionist history of the Cold War challenges simplistic notions of America’s heroic victory over communism. 

The now-conventional historical interpretation of the Cold War imagines a relentless half-century of bipartisan resistance against the global spread of communism inspired by American diplomat George F. Kennan’s famous theory of containment. It sees the low points of anti-communist policy as being the unhinged witch hunts of McCarthyism and the morally and strategically disastrous military campaigns in Southeast Asia. However, debut author Thompson, a practicing attorney, contends that the real story is a far messier one and that foreign policy during the Cold War years was largely shaped by domestic political squabbles, electoral opportunism, and brazen mendacity. President Harry Truman, he says, was skeptical about the strategic significance of South Korea but understood that its surrender to communistic forces would be a political catastrophe for the Democratic Party. Truman’s intervention in Korea became the paradigm for U.S. foreign policy in Asia as a whole, the author notes; neither Presidents John F. Kennedy nor Lyndon Johnson were ever truly committed to repelling communists in Vietnam, he says, but both worried that the perception of weakness in the face of communist aggrandizement would be punished at the polls. The book offers similar analyses of the distance between conviction and action for Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter. Thompson argues that U.S. foreign policy, built around the Truman Doctrine, did in fact contribute to the demise of both communism and the Soviet Union, but the implementation of that doctrine was still largely “directed from start to finish by an incompetent, dishonest, corrupt political class, with evil conduct, dumb luck, and the law of unintended consequences providing this country with its Cold War victory.” The author researched and wrote his study over a span of 16 years, and his meticulousness is evident on every page; his command of the relevant historical materials, both primary and secondary literature, is beyond reproach. His thesis is an impressively subtle one, avoiding demonization or valorization of any of the primary actors. For example, President Ronald Reagan is described as the one American president who governed in a way that was congruent with his own political philosophy, attached in word and deed to the destruction of the Soviet Union. However, the author also points out what he sees as the lawlessness of Reagan’s presidency—a continuation of the Cold War legacy in the executive branch, established by Truman. As a whole, the study largely covers familiar ground and relies heavily on the secondary literature—a fact the author acknowledges by calling it a “work of synthesis rather than original history.” Nevertheless, it’s a valuable single-volume introduction to a plausible counterhistory of the Cold War that ably calls into question, among other things, the notions that the Vietnam War was unwinnable and that McCarthyism was motivated by baseless fantasy. Also, Thompson provides some trenchant thoughts on how to rehabilitate American democracy, including recommending compulsory military service for all citizens. 

An impressively argued takedown of historical orthodoxy. 

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-615-62272-9

Page Count: 588

Publisher: Charlevoix Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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