The Cold War period started from World War –II onwards in 1945 till the end of USSR in 1989. In World War–II USA was an ally of USSR against Germany led by Hitler. In this era many alliances were formed and broken. Millions of people lost their lives. The war ended with complete destruction of Nazi Germany on one side and tragic Atomic Bomb attack on Japan by USA. The war shaped many new Nations and their boundaries. After the objectives of world war were achieved USSR and USA parted ways and pursued conflicting interests. This resulted into a conflict known as Cold War in which both sides never attacked each other directly but fought proxy wars around the world. Many smaller Nations had to take sides for their survival therefore they were exploited. During the World War USSR was far more damaged than Western counterparts, therefore she pursued a policy to maintain her existence which resulted into a Cold War era from 1945 to 1989. This era is also considered an era of conflict between Capitalism and Socialism.
The Cold War; A New History (Gaddis) is a new book written by John Lewis Gaddis in 2006. He is an American writer who has written the book with young readers as the target audience in mind. The book is focused on telling the story of Cold War to students of Yale University USA in particular. The writer thinks that present day young generation comprising of university students cannot comprehend the fear and uncertainty of those living under Cold War era of mutually assured nuclear destruction concept. The horror associated with nuclear capable Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles attacking USA and USSR gives sleepless nights to so many citizens of both the countries. The theory assures end of life on Earth even in case of a mistake. The book develops character of the Cold War from nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by USA. Even President Truman of USA who used the atomic bomb realizes the horror facing the world in decades to come. President of USSR shares the same views. To stop further use of nuclear arsenal President Truman sacks the famous General Douglas MacArthur during Korean War. However despite restraint on use of nuclear weapons the conflict between Capitalism and Communism goes on. Initially North and South Korea are made battleground for proxy war by Soviet Union and USA. Later the war in Vietnam brings both Super Powers at the verge of War. Again the Cuban missile crisis casts shadow of a nuclear war over the world. Both sides continuously endeavor to make allies around the world and strengthen the relationships. USA struggles with relationships in Vietnam, South America, Africa and Germany etc. USSR struggles in her relationships with China, Hungary and Afghanistan etc.
In order to ensure mutual co-existence, foreign ministers of USA and USSR Henry Kissinger and Brezhnev chalk out a strategy of détente. Détente means a policy of cooperation, negotiation, resolution of differences and reduction of confrontation between both the super powers. Need for Détente is felt because America wants to get out of Vietnam War, Russia wants to ease economic relations with the West and China wants to get rid of isolation caused by the concept of Cultural Revolution. The writer says that Détente is crafted by superpowers to manage the Cold War as suited to both sides. To end the Cold War first casualty has to be Détente. Those who take key steps to destroy Détente are called “The Actors” by the writer. These “actors” are President Reagan, Pop John Paul-II, USSR President Gorbachev, Prime minister of UK Margaret Thatcher and many more similar leaders. The story of end of Cold War and the USSR is written in cities where all this started like Helsinki and Poland. USSR signs the Declaration of Human Rights in Helsinki in 1975 to end isolation; however it becomes the start of decline for Soviet Union. Ultimately USSR President Gorbachev happens to be the last leader of Soviet Union.
As the USSR disintegrates into many smaller republics and Russia, the cold war comes to an end. The world has to move on in a unipolar environment where USA is the sole super power. The book is all written to re-collect events of the past and does not establish linkages with present geopolitical situation of the world. Over all the author discusses the major events during Cold War which include pacts of SALT and SEATO / CENTO, Korean and Vietnam wars, conflicts in Angola and Cuban Bay of Pigs, Chinese concept of Cultural Revolution, fall of Berlin Wall, Cuban missile crisis , war in Afghanistan, U2 Spy Plane incident and establishment of relationship between China and USA. Author uses impressive headings for all chapters in the book like ; The Return of Fear, Death Boats and Life Boats, Command Versus Spontaneity, The Emergence of Autonomy, The Recovery of Equity, Actors and The Triumph of Hope etc.
The author has written this book to re-collect events of Cold war era for reading and enlightenment of present day young generation comprising university students. He has made a good effort to narrate events of cold war with roles played by different world leaders. He has also reminded the readers regarding how close the world came, to a full scale Third World War. He has also explained different terminologies associated with cold war like détente and Glasnost etc. The author has brought about three major lessons in the book. First of all he deliberated that in the past centuries; military might was the sole element of power for a state to exist. In order to destroy a state, its military might had to be destroyed. However, in case of USSR the country was disintegrated into pieces while its military power was fully intact alongwith complete nuclear arsenal. On the contrary many countries exist on the map of the world without armies like Switzerland and Japan, mainly on economic strength.
Second lesson highlighted by the author is failure of communism despite its promise of welfare for all, specially working and labor class. The communist governments around the world banked on dictators who failed to deliver. Gradually and slowly the dictators diminished and the ideology did not spread as claimed earlier by Lenin and Stalin.
The third lesson highlighted by the author is that as compared to communism, democracy spread around many parts of the world more rapidly. Break away republics of USSR also liked and established the democratic form of government. As per the author the atrocities committed during Cold War encouraged people to choose a life based on freedom of expression and democratic way of life. Literacy and free media also played a great role in defeat of communism and end of Cold War.
The book teaches us many lessons about the period discussed in the context. We cannot forget the history and live a disconnected life, with respect to the past. At times the past shapes trends for our future. The legacy of Cold War is still present and the world is not yet free of conflicts. USSR has disintegrated but Russia and many other countries possess nuclear weapons sufficient to destroy the world. Even a localized nuclear conflict will not remain restricted to a geographical area and will have catastrophic results.USA supported leaders like Mujahedeen of Afghanistan and Saddam Husain of Iraq however she has followed and killed these old allies recently. The book deliberates upon many events of historical significance starting from differences in opening of second front amongst the allies during World War-II. It was suspected by USA and the West that USSR might negotiate separate surrender agreement with Germany. Later differences emerged regarding territorial distribution in Eastern Europe. Gaddis has mentioned the security dilemma in detail according to which security of one state threatens the security of other and a vicious cycle continues. The author has touched upon many issues like Cuban missile crisis, control of Turkish straits by USSR, differences on IMF, and Truman doctrine etc. The author has touched upon issues emerging after creation of Non Aligned Movement since many states living under influence of superpowers tried to follow a neutral course. The book did not focus much on the internal issues of USA during Cold war. The book highlights that often USA used Soviet threat to justify military might at home beyond what was required.
The book written by Gaddis gives a good insight into historical events starting from World War-II till break up of USSR. The reader notes that Gaddis is biased towards USA through out the book and denotes every US action as positive one. He promotes US and western leaders as heroes and terms Soviet Block leaders as evil ones. He always find s fault with the actions of Soviet leaders and terms USSR as Big Evil which is not a correct approach for a historian. It is clear that both USSR and USA committed mistakes during Cold war and pursued authoritarian agenda for destruction of one another. For example in Vietnam War Americans committed excesses similar to Soviet excesses in Afghanistan war. Overall the book gives good account of events after World War-II in which the West and USSR confronted each other after in proxy wars after winning a big war together. Keeping in view immense nuclear capability of both sides a full scale war was always avoided however no country wanted complete domination by the other therefore the conflicts continued. The book is recommended for reading by people in all walks of life.
Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War; A New History. London: Penguin books Ltd, 2007. Print.