America’s Cold War

Campbell Craig and Frederik Logevall. America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2009)

America’s Cold War is well-written, well-structured, well-argued, and likely to prove a useful addition to the library of the layman and expert alike.

The book focuses predominantly on the domestic origins of the United States’ foreign policy during the Cold War, touching on politics, economics, culture, and history in the process.

But this is not a parochial take on the subject, nor is it indifferent to the intentions and calculations of the Soviet Union and other remaining Great Powers, as some commentators have suggested. If anything, it provides a welcome corrective to the ‘Evil Empire’ caricature peddled by certain orthodox historians and Russophobic politicians.

More than that, it reminds us that resentment and conflict often arise from wilfully cultivated ignorance and egotism, which serve only to direct our attention outwards, away from our own foibles and frustrations.

George F. Kennan spent the best part of a century making this point, first as a diplomat, and later as an academic-cum-soothsayer, so it is no wonder that he features heavily in Craig and Logevall’s intellectual hinterland. Indeed, he appears in the first and last paragraphs, not as the father of containment and the author of ‘The Sources of Soviet Conduct’, as most are inclined to remember him, but as a sober chronicler and critic of Pax Americana.

“It could in fact be said,” Kennan once observed, “that the first thing we Americans need to learn to contain is, in some ways, ourselves.”

This is the central premise on which America’s Cold War rests. It should thus be viewed as an important addition to the revisionist tradition in American historiography pioneered by figures as diverse as Charles Beard, William Appleman Williams, Kennan himself, and more recently, Andrew J. Bacevich.

Although Craig and Logevall are perhaps slightly more cautious than their predecessors and peers when it comes to drawing grand conclusions, there is little doubt that their intention is to challenge conventional wisdom about the past, and in doing so, offer an alternative for the present and the future. In the end, this is no bad thing.

Image by Sam Howzit


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James A. Chisem is a freelance writer based in the UK. He writes about history, foreign policy, and football (or soccer, to some). His work has been published by International Policy Digest, e-International Relations, and Atlantic Bulletin. ...more →

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One thought on “America’s Cold War

  1. Thank you for bringing that book to my attention. It’s very good, but I think the author’s conclusion that we didn’t need to do as much as we did to outlast the Soviet Union overlooks that some of those interventions were worthy in their own right. Having all of Korea ruled by the Kim’s, for example, wouldn’t have been a good outcome for South Koreans.

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