A revisionist history of the Cold War era.
The traditional historical narrative of the Cold War is that it was a bipolar conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union during which proxy conflicts occasionally flared, and in which tensions were at times almost unimaginably fraught, but where the two antagonists avoided a hot war. However, as Chamberlin (History/Columbia Univ.; The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post–Cold War Order, 2012) shows in this ambitious, important book, while the two nuclear powers never engaged in a shooting war, the era from 1945 to 1990 was hardly the “Long Peace” of legend. The author explores a vast swath of geographical territory and shows how, at the time, these “bloodlands” were engulfed in myriad devastating conflicts, sometimes as Cold War proxies but often as combatants in internecine struggles tied into Cold War politics but not always bound to the major powers. The result was some 14 million deaths, the majority of which were civilians; for them, the war was anything but cold. Chamberlin, who writes gracefully and argues convincingly, sees many of these conflicts predominantly through the American geopolitical lens, but he still takes a broad view of these regional and global politics, which uncoil in phases that follow the geography from east to west. The author’s research is impressive, though due to the vast geographic parameters, much of the work is necessarily synthetic. Because of this book’s scope, size, and ambition (more than 600 pages including notes and index), it is perhaps churlish to criticize what the author does not address, but hopefully future historians will take Chamberlin’s significant arguments and extend them to Africa and Latin America, where they are equally applicable.
The international Cold War rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union did not lead to World War III, but as Chamberlin ably shows in this tour de force, that does not mean the era’s rivalries did not result in widespread carnage.