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Stalin may have been given to the President’s charms, and he certainly appreciated the respect, confidentiality and apparent even-handedness of FDR’s approach (so different, in Stalin’s eyes, from the narrow-minded and sometimes slighting approach of Winston Churchill). Even so, as Costigliola admits, the Soviet leader was a prisoner of his own thinking and his own ideological background. Trust was not easy to build with a man who had murdered millions of his own countrymen simply on suspicions of disloyalty. And some of Stalin’s postwar actions – the behaviour in Eastern Europe and occupied Germany and the demands on China, Iran and Turkey, for instance – undermined trust among the allies as much as any action taken by Washington or London.
The issue of whether a Cold War that was to last forty-five years could have been avoided in 1945–6 is therefore much more complex than just the question of FDR’s (or Harry Truman’s) own policies. Costigliola is right in criticising those who have ruled that the Cold War was unavoidable. The global situation as the Second World War came to an end was fluid and changeable, with a number of very diverse issues on the table, not all of which pointed towards a Soviet–US confrontation. The Soviet Union needed not only peace, but a stable international environment in which to rebuild from the devastations of war. Furthermore, Soviet sources show clearly that Stalin did not intend to launch a Cold War; he remained hopeful that some form of Soviet–American cooperation could be rebuilt well into 1947.
But Stalin knew even less about building trust than Harry Truman knew about the intricacies of international affairs. Soviet behaviour towards its neighbours as the war ended set off alarm bells among leading groups in all countries from France to the far coasts of Asia. Few of them had forgotten Stalin’s interwar purges, his pact with Hitler or, in the case of socialists, his many attempts at breaking the non-Communist Left. The origins of the Cold War can be traced as much to these countries opting for an alliance with the United States in order to stave off potential Soviet aggression as they can to the changing perceptions in the United States itself – even though the two, of course, are linked.
The other reason why even FDR’s continued presidency would have been an uncertain measure against the Cold War is the approach to international affairs that the United States had developed since the late nineteenth century. Americans, as Robert Kagan puts it (approvingly!), saw themselves as a ‘dangerous nation’; US foreign policy elites believed in values that were incompatible with how the world had functioned before. Sovereignty or national pride meant little if they stood in the way of market access. A belief that countries could get along even if they subscribed to different social systems was very far from the regular US approach. FDR had managed to develop an alliance with the Soviet Union because of the extraordinary trauma of Pearl Harbor. Come peace, most Americans were likely to return to their general universalist predilections.
In spite of this, Costigliola is probably right that there was a chance, however limited, in 1945–6 that the Cold War could have been avoided or at least postponed. What would a non-Cold War late 1940s have looked like? The United States would almost certainly have withdrawn its forces from Europe, leaving the Soviet Union the predominant military power there. The nuclear arms race could have been avoided through multilateral agreements. Parts of Eastern Europe could have avoided full Sovietisation. Communist parties in Italy and France could have come to power through free elections. It would have been a very different world, though not necessarily a more peaceful one.
Christmas Reading from
Bodleian Library Publishing
Dole Queues and Demons British Election Posters from the Conservative Party Archive Foreword by Maurice Saatchi Stuart Ball
Lavishly illustrated with over 190 images, this book gives an excellent insight into the key issues and evolving strategies of the Conservative Party throughout the twentieth century and beyond. Paperback £19.99
A Pocket Guide to Vietnam, 1962 Foreword by Bruns Grayson, Vietnam Veteran, US Army Written to educate American soldiers on Vietnam’s history, culture, politics, infrastructure, geography, and people, this is an eloquent and compelling document of a seminal decade. Hardback £5.99
Travel: A Literary History Peter Whitfield The first general survey of the entire history of travel literature highlighting over a hundred texts spanning more than 3,000 years from the ancient world to the present day.
A wide-ranging and insightful addition to the literature of travel – Colin Thubron Hardback £19.99
Superstitions Omens, Charms, Cures 1787 Introduction by John Simpson Reproducing one of the earliest collections of superstitions, this is a delightfully quirky guide to traditional sayings and beliefs, some archaic and surprising, some still in use and recognizable today. Hardback £4.99
Frank Costigliola is absolutely right in focusing on the decisions of individual policymakers in explaining historical outcomes. His preoccupation with gender theory and emotional belief systems does not get in the way of his writing (though it is there in the notes for anyone who wishes to consult them). The lessons of postwar personal politics, as presented in this excellent book, are instructive for all students of international affairs, especially those looking at the early twenty-first century, a time when emotion often seems to overwhelm all other aspects of policymaking. To order this book at £19.96, see the Literary Review Bookshop on page 57 www.bodleianbookshop.co.uk
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