Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gaddis - We Now Know

Gaddis, John Lewis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Gaddis addresses the Cold War in the 90s, as new material flows out of the former Soviet Union. Ultimately he sticks to his guns: " long as Stalin was running the Soviet Union a cold war was unavoidable." (292) Authoritarianism in general and Stalin specifically caused the Cold War. Gaddis argues Stalin's personality led him to wage cold wars on all levels, behaving the same at international level, within alliances, within his country, within his party, within his entourage, and even within his family. This diverges from Offner's assessment of Stalin as rather pragmatic on the international stage, seeking security rather than tension.

Good v. evil, morality is key to Gaddis' conception. The U.S. empire was of a better quality than the Soviet Unions, and was thus destined to win a long cold war.

Period is Cold War to Cuban Missile Crisis

Other "new" thesis
Diversification of power did more to shape the course of the Cold War than did the balancing of power: Rather than perceive the world as a bipolar situation, Gaddis argues that both nations exerted power in a variety of ways. (This follows SO much postmodern history its ridiculous.) The Soviet Union's gradual devolution into monodimensional power is what eventually killed it.

Both nations built empires after WWII, although of different sorts

Many people saw the Cold War as a contest of good v. evil: Ex. Germany, where the Soviet Union might have wished to win over the people ideologically, their treatment of the Germans helped them lose the moral high ground to the US.

Democracy proved superior to autocracy in maintaining coalitions: NATO fared better than the Warsaw pact

In contrast to democratic realism, Marxism-Leninism fostered authoritarian romanticism: Stalin wasn't a realist whose ideology was formed based on his objectives. In fact, Stalin was ideologically driven in his behavior

Nuclear weapons exchanged destructiveness for duration: though the US had massive superiority in weapons in the 1960s (a gap which Soviets strove to cover), it nonetheless resisted confrontation because even a few nuclear hits in the US was unacceptable. Gaddis suggests the Reagan administration marked a key change in Cold War policy, a shift to question the balance (SDI), although he is unsure if it was out of ignorance or craft. Also unsure if war ended because of over-exertion or Gorbachev's reforms.

Leffler in JAH

"In contrast to revisionists, who had focused considerable attention on U.S. economic motives and
who assigned the United States a share of responsibility for the Cold War, Gaddis
stressed the importance of geopolitics and power balances. American officials, he
believed, were not seeking economic gain. Constrained by domestic politics,
hamstrung by bureaucratic imperatives, and preoccupied with correlations of power
in the international system, they sought to contain Soviet influence and Communist
power. In so doing, Gaddis acknowledged, the United States established its own
empire, but it was an empire of liberty, an empire of diversity, an empire that
allowed for the exercise of autonomy by allies who were happy to be part of it.
Overall, Gaddis spent rather little time talking about ideas or assigning blame. He
held the Soviet Union primarily responsible for the Cold War, but he did not dwell
on this matter. In Gaddis's view, however, Stalin, an authoritarian leader, had the
flexibility to act more rationally and behave more discreetly within his own sphere
of influence. U.S. officials, in contrast, could not be expected to act quite so
rationally because of the pressures emanating from democratic politics in a pluralist
system. What is so distinctive about Gaddis's new book is the extent to which he
abandons post-revisionism and returns to a more traditional interpretation of the
Cold War. In unequivocal terms, he blames the Cold War on Stalin's personality, on
authoritarian government, and on Communist ideology. As long as Stalin was
running the Soviet Union, "a cold war was unavoidable."

Critique: Gaddis still fails to consider USSR loses in WWII.

"Gaddis's We Now Know resonates with the triumphalism that runs
through our contemporary culture, and in many ways it is the scholarly diplomatic
counterpart of Francis Fukuyama's The End of History"

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