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Dismal Science
Dismal Science
by Stephen A. Marglin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 27 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Dismal Science (Paperback)
This is one of what is now a real flood of criticism of mainstream economics. Steve Keen's 'Debunking Economics' is another good critique to get hold of.

As for Marglin's book, it sketches the history of the rise of the market society and what I honestly see as one of its most deleterious effects: the virtually wholesale dismantling of community, which is surely something demanded by human nature. I can't prove it, but the fact that loneliness is such a prevalent problem in Western societies is surely a symptom of community-killing markets. Speaking only from personal experience, the thing I regret about becoming an atheist is the loss of my church community, and religious communities are really the last bastions of community here now.

Anyway, in detailing how, as they have expanded into every last crevice of our lives, market transactions - with the full support of their often uncritical cheerleaders in mainstream economics - have dissolved the richness of human relationship, our Harvard professor reviews the conversion of undiluted self-interest from vice to virtue in a century (still, to me, a really remarkable story); the way in which views on different kinds knowledge (what Marglin calls 'experiential knowledge' and 'algorithmic knowledge') have been used to justify trampling on the masses; the roots of the modern epistemology that pervades economics; and the effect of all of this on societies in the developing world. Susan Sontag was on to something when she said that it is Western civilisation "and it alone - its ideologies and inventions - which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself."

Liberals, including such leading lights as Krugman (his popular introductory text does not exactly emerge unscathed from this book) and the simply execrable Bernanke, take some well-aimed punches, and it's simply astonishing to see how overwhelmingly ideological a strain of thought in economics, one that has pretensions of being a 'hard' science, actually is. The whole thing is brilliantly explained, and there are two appendices that are most useful. Not a single maths equation anywhere in the book.

Even though the book isn't too long, only about 250 pages, the length of the bibliography offers reams of further reading. One surprising omission from Marglin's cited works, however, particularly given the book's major theme of community, is any mention of Robert Putnam's outstanding 'Bowling Alone' (2000). In terms of criticism, obviously there are book reviews available via Google, and there were a couple of good questions posed to Marglin by Will Wilkinson when they did a Blogging Heads session when the book was published, a discussion you can find via Marglin's Wikipedia page or Google.


Bare Feet and Bandoliers: Wingate, Sandford, the Patriots and the Liberation of Ethiopia
Bare Feet and Bandoliers: Wingate, Sandford, the Patriots and the Liberation of Ethiopia
by David Shirreff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Military history is good; broader context nauseating, 22 July 2013
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It's written by a former colonial officer who served in Kenya during the 1950s. Anyone who's read either David Anderson's or Carline Elkins' histories of the period will know what I'm getting at.

Speaking of the colonial-officer memoirs this book extensively draws on, the introduction by former Colonial Service administrator Anthony Kirk-Greene writes that the memoir-writers "wrote with relish and enthusiasm, with a touch of adventure and few personal regrets. There was a common feeling of a practical and useful task well done, although some thought that more could have been achieved had independence come about more slowly." This sort of nauseating, rose-tinted paens to our blood-soaked colonial history litter the book.

Read of the wonderful Daniel Sandford who patronisingly referred to Haile Selassie as "the little man", and after some delays to his operation asserts fears for the Ethiopian, since "hope does not flow eternal in the savage mind." Presumably there are better books out there which don't relegate to the margins British executions of unarmed Sudanese villagers who were sympathetic to the Italians.

The military history itself is at least competently dealt with, so the book's not all bad. I'm sure former colonial officers would love the book; I found it, in large part, to be 300-page lover letter to our empire and its enablers which regularly induced a desire to vomit.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 30, 2014 5:19 PM GMT


Century of War: Politics, Conflict and Society Since 1914
Century of War: Politics, Conflict and Society Since 1914
by Gabriel Kolko
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic achievement, 18 July 2013
One of the most influential revisionist historians does it again with this offering. Published back in 1994 - a bit of care needed with Nazi Germany, for example, since we now have that game-changing book by Adam Tooze, 'The Wages of Destruction') - but it's safe to say that the insights generally remain sound, highly original, and in many cases, I've no doubt, timeless.

I'd actually be very interested to know how many historians either pinched stuff from this book and never gave attribution - as I said, it's a highly original work, even if some of what it contains has been superseded or passed into common knowledge - or else reinvented Kolko's achivements at a much later date in sheer ignorance of his work.

Such suspicions are not without foundation: take this recent book from Princeton University Press, described thus: "Upending the conventional wisdom that Bretton Woods was the product of an amiable Anglo-American collaboration, Steil shows that it was in reality part of a much more ambitious geopolitical agenda hatched within President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury and aimed at eliminating Britain as an economic and political rival." Anyone familiar with Kolko's 'Politics of War', first published way back in 1968, will have read that description in wide-eyed wonder, because Kolko upended said conventional wisdom 45 years ago in said 'Politics of War'! Remarkable. I find it interesting that historical works that fail to portray Western leaders and Western policy in a positive light are squeezed to the margins, if not completely outside them. How many people have heard of Gabriel Kolko? And how many have heard of someone like Niall Ferguson, or even John Lewis Gaddis? I suppose the only consolation for a truth-seeking historian is the knowledge that, sooner or later, people like Ferguson and Gaddis will be deposited in the dustbin of history. I guess, in Ferguson's case, he's already there, rotting away.

If you're even looking at this book, chances are you will have, or know about, what for me are, and will ever be, his three classics: 'Politics of War', 'Limits of Power', and 'Anatomy of a War'. This is a very different sort of book from that trio, one where primary sources yield to ruminations on piles and piles of secondary ones. Of course, Kolko has decades of familiarity with the primary sources, so it's not like this book is absence their influence and guiding hand.

If you want to read the thinking of a brilliant historian on the set of the major wars of the 20th century in all their aspects - their causes, how they were fought, to what ends, their effects on societies, their changing faces, the imprints of technological advances, etc. etc. etc. - I just cannot recommend this work strongly enough. Kolko knows these wars inside out, and he gives us the benefit with this tome.

One thing I've always liked about Kolko is that he has no time for communist rubbish. Take the typical communist silliness regarding Italy: Vladimir Pechatnov in Volume I of this: "Fearing US military intervention in Italy, Moscow cautioned Italian Communists against trying to take power through armed insurrection." (That crusty old Marxist Eric Hobsbawm also plies his trade with this approach in 'Age of Extremes' (p.238): "The USA planned military intervention if they [the communists] won the 1948 elections in Italy.") One can read in the book under review, however, on p.305, 307, that "[t]he subsequent Communist rationalization that the existence of Anglo-American armies precluded their taking power merely unconvincingly obfuscates the true reasons for their failures to do so", which were the threat of "losing absolute mastery of their parties' organizations", "to prevent the enormous numbers who enrolled from acting autonomously of the Party line". It is interesting to compare this attitude of the communist leadership with the attitude of your typical liberal, and a very recent example was provided by Ross Douthat in the op-ed section of the New York Times, where he bewails the "perturbations" of the eurozone crisis that are leading to rising support of alternatives to the "liberal democratic consensus", one such alternative being - horror of horrors - the "extremist" notion of overturning the elite ideological consensus that the masses should be controlled and ruled over by a bunch of politicians. "Already, the Greek electorate has been flirting with empowering a crypto-communist 'coalition of the radical left,'" frets Douthat. Our liberal commentator expresses his desperate hope that "the liberal democratic consensus is so bred into the bone that no amount of elite misgovernment can persuade Europe's younger generation to turn against it." Liberals are just like communists: how dare the masses aim for something better than liberal so-called democracy that screws them continuously, now especially egregiously?

If you want to disabuse yourself of the rubbish espoused by the ubiquitous power-worshipping historians of whatever stripe, I heartily recommend this book.


The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy
The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy
by Adam Tooze
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.58

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply outstanding, 8 Jun. 2013
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You look on the back of the book and see a glowing report from Niall Ferguson, and you think, "Wow, this must be really rubbish." But whatever you do, don't let praise from the risible Ferguson put you off, because this really is a game-changing look at Nazi Germany and much more.

So many sacred cows are slain it's hard to keep count, and the blood loss is appalling. Yet Tooze is unperturbed. I like that fact that he humbly keeps mention of findings that overturn the work of other scholars tucked away at the back of the book in the endnotes - and there are many "victims", including famous names. Where he has overturned someone on something, Tooze also uses and praises, if it is possible, other parts of the "victim"'s oeuvre. What I'm trying to say is that this is not an immature and arrogant man who is brimming with false modesty and who enjoys blowing his own horn (unlike, say, Timothy Snyder), but rather someone who enjoys finding things out and who is simply remarking in passing that what he has discovered does not accord with what has come before, and then softens the blow in the best possible way.

The most satisfying outcome of the book is that Nazi Germany - the decisions, the reasoning, the policies - finally... well, finally make sense, and in an overarching way. In achieving this, Tooze makes significant use of Hitler's second book, which was neglected compared with 'Mein Kampf' as events jumped forward. Thanks in part to the spotlighting of the second book, for all his famous incompetence, delusion, and hubris, Hitler is partially refreshed as someone who, despite it all, also had a good grasp of events. Take a standard view, like Hobsbawm's (p.41 of his 'Age of Extremes'):

"The mystery is why Hitler, already fully stretched in Russia, gratuitously declared war on the USA ... There is no adequate explanation of Hitler's folly, though we know him to have persistently, and dramatically, underestimated the capacity for action, not to mention the economic and technological potential, of the USA because he thought democracies incapable of action."

As Tooze shows conclusively, Hitler most certainly did not underestimate the economic prowess of the US. Relatedly, if one keeps in mind, as Tooze does, Nazi goals and if one puts all the moral issues of aggressive and total war to one side, Hitler's sound understanding of parts of the world scene make the Nazi invasions and their timing "sane". Evil and, as Tooze shows, doomed to failure, but explicable, at long last, in a coherent way.

He does a great job of not letting hindsight's 20-20 vision get the better of him. For example, the Anglo-French declaring war after the invasion of Poland: "Big deal," is the reflexive reaction. "We did nothing about it in terms of action, and France was a walkover within a year." BUT! Tooze reminds us that "[w]ar against Britain and France was the worst-case scenario of Germany strategy. Only hindsight leads us to underestimate this fact." The two leading European imperial powers declaring war on you is a big deal, minus hindsight. And there are other occasions he points up hindsight at work.

Tooze also actually takes the Nazi worldview seriously! And what an advantage that gives him. I guess because Nazi garbage is just such garbage, the trap is always there to not frame one's understanding of Nazi decision-making fully in Nazi terms. The trap is to imagine oneself there, making a decision on their normal, non-racist, non-conspiratorial worldview, a fact that condemns one to misunderstanding. To be concrete, take Hitler's ludicrous "prophecy": why is he up there warning the world that the Jews are going to get it if there is a reaction to his aggression? Well, because he actually does think that Jews controlled the capitalist powers and their banks, most importantly the United States. So to Hitler's mind, this "prophecy" would actually have counted for something, as an attempt to warn the Jews controlling the US from taking action. Of course, we don't share Hitler's fantasy world, so it is easy to dismiss his rubbish for the rubbish it is, but in doing so we miss out on a full understanding of it.

Finally, one of the most tremendously satisfying parts of the book is the lip-smackingly sardonic chapter devoted to "Miracle Man" Albert Speer. Tooze just takes him apart, and the empirical findings underpinning it all make the unyielding criticism mercilessly concrete. Yet it's amazing to read in some of the reviews here of people who "aren't convinced by Tooze's Speer bashing" - why aren't they? Do such people know where Tooze went wrong? His e-mail address at Yale is readily available via Google, and I'm sure the good professor would love to know where his mistakes regarding Speer lie, so he can correct his erroneous knowledge and any future editions of this book. Astonishing that Speer still has this widespread following.

Anyway, from Speer buying Sauckel and his staff tickets for a night out after they had "persuaded" their two-millionth galley slave to work for the Nazis, to the close work with the ultra-antisemitic Goebbels on the propagandistic use of production figures, to the way Speer claimed at the time (and ever after) credit for production increases that were either nothing to do with him or that were built on the foundations laid by others, to Speer as non-ideological technocrat, Tooze's quiver always has arrows available, and he relentlessly sends them down through Speer's totally undeserved reputation as something other than an ambitious Nazi. I've instinctively never liked Speer, because he was a leading Nazi. I also never liked him because he was such an insufferably arrogant individual. Well, if Speer could charm the late, great Gitta Sereny, Tooze hasn't got any time for it - and it shows.

Well, there just isn't the space to go through in detail all the breakthrough discoveries Tooze amasses, but do, do, DO get this book. If one hasn't read this book, one doesn't understand Nazi Germany and World War II. Simple as that, in the humble opinion of this member of the public.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 9, 2015 9:33 PM BST


Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991
Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991
by Eric Hobsbawm
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.49

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the other Ages, 18 May 2013
As other reviews make clear, no book is perfect, and Hobsbawm's not even attempting to hide his love for the Soviet Union during the early part of the book will likely vex the typical reader. The attendant downplaying (though never denial) of Soviet misdeeds and crimes produces a similar reaction. Still, one consults a history book for a presentation and interpretation of the facts, so it is senseless and boorish to write the book off because one does not share an author's ideological sympathies. So enough with the author and let's move to the text.

I guess I would liken it to reading John Lewis Gaddis's 2005 sweep of the Cold War: so readable that its flaws almost don't matter. Don't get me wrong: one would do far, far better to read the chapter on the Cold War in the book under review than wasting time with Gaddis's 2005 offering. For this, and other reasons, I can see why 'Extremes' has a continuing reputation as a good way into the history of the 20th century. And I like the way that Hobsbawm sprinkles interesting little facts and asides throughout his prose.

One nice thing is that he has no time for silly rubbish about Reagan's performance during the latter stages of the Cold War, which is most gratifying, since Reagan was a rather strange fellow. Strange and monstrous. Hobsbawm's analysis of the end of the Soviet Union (arms-related spending) has stood the test of time. Not bad, given 'Extremes' was written so soon after the end of the Cold War that its author partially relies on newspaper articles! Out of the US and USSR, Hobsbawm correctly calls Washington as the greater danger to the world, though in my view this is hardly surprising, given the balance of power.

Anyway, with so many other reviews here, it was really just my intention to mention a few gaps that I am aware have been filled since 'Age of Extremes' was published. The first is on p.41:

"The mystery is," Hobsbawm writes, "why Hitler, already fully stretched in Russia, gratuitously declared war on the USA ... There is no adequate explanation of Hitler's folly, though we know him to have persistently, and dramatically, underestimated the capacity for action, not to mention the economic and technological potential, of the USA because he thought democracies incapable of action. The only democracy he took seriously was the British, which he rightly regarded as not entirely democratic."

The mystery has been solved, we now have the (more than) adequate explanation of Hitler's follies, which had nothing to do with underestimating the United States. Indeed, quite the opposite. I direct you, without spoiling the story, to Adam Tooze's simply outstanding 'The Wages of Destruction' (2006).

Another thing, and again Hosbawm can't be faulted since this information came out after he wrote it, is that the book doesn't emphasise enough how unbelievably lucky humanity was to have survived the Cuban Missile Crisis. We are here today by sheer, sheer luck. "We lucked out", in McNamara's words. You can read Thomas Blanton's review of these developments in his introduction ("The Cuban Missile Crisis Isn't What It Used to Be") in CWIHP 'Bulletin', Issue 17/18, "The Global Cuban Missile Crisis at 50," pp.11-18. Just slap it into Google and download the pdf for free. You may need to be patient while it opens, but it DOES eventually open, I promise!

OK bit more: EJHobs doesn't emphasise enough the game-changing potential of what happened in the Middle East in 1958, and what it nearly led to. It was recognised fully by US officials at the time: 1958 could have been 'it' for the Western powers in the Middle East. If you have an understanding of the linchpin of postwar American power, that is really pretty serious stuff. Here's CIA Director Allen Dulles on the immediate aftermath of the coup: "If the Iraq coup succeeds it seems almost inevitable that it will set up a chain reaction which will doom the pro-West governments of Lebanon and Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and raise grave problems for Turkey and Iran." Perhaps it's just the case that a single-volume take doesn't have room, but I'll still say it deserved more attention.

I don't know at which point contending that the USSR was originally aiming for multi-party democracies in its Eastern European buffer of puppet states became untenable, but the contention in 'Extremes' that this was so is untenable. Similarly, the well-known communist myth of the communist role in the Spanish civil war is given an (admittedly equivocal) airing.

Another standard communist line that Hobsbawm pedals is on p.238, namely that "[t]he USA planned military intervention if they [the communists] won the 1948 elections in Italy." (It's mentioned more explicitly by Vladimir Pechatnov in Volume I of this: "Fearing US military intervention in Italy, Moscow cautioned Italian Communists against trying to take power through armed insurrection.") This, again, is untenable. After reviewing the effects of World War II on Italy, Gabriel Kolko points out (p.305, 307 of 'Century of War') that "[t]he subsequent Communist rationalization that the existence of of Anglo-American armies precluded their taking power merely unconvincingly obfuscates the true reasons for their failures to do so", which were the threat of "losing absolute mastery of their parties' organizations", "to prevent the enormous numbers who enrolled from acting autonomously of the Party line". As with better-known equivalents like the Spanish Civil War, the communists' tired justifications of their efforts to immobilise the genuinely democratic dynamics that WWII facilitated just don't wash.

Still, Hobsbawm is not exactly the first to fail to extricate his history-writing from personal commitments. Yes, and so the strangest thing for me in the whole book, given Hobs's freedom from nationalism and the worship of liberal democracy and its leaders, is that he doesn't seem to deploy a basic feature of US policy in his analysis of it - namely CONTROL of oil reserves, not simply securing access to oil supplies. There is a crucially important distinction between those two things, and one's grasp of the post-WWII period is hobbled without being aware of it and taking account of it. I can understand why liberal scholars aren't interested in the Anglo-American quest for control of oil, but it is weird that Hobsbawm, someone who knew so much, who rightly takes account of the economic considerations of 20th-century history more generally, wouldn't or couldn't accept this fairly straightforward and wholly undeniable feature of Western policy. Anyway, given his failure to understand or whatever on this point, the late professor is puzzled as to why the US supported the Israelis in 1973 ("The US believed - one does not quite see why - that its own vital interests were at stake", p.245). As Hobsbawm will have known full well, people like Noam Chomsky have been documenting Israel's role within the US's oil-centred Middle East strategy for many decades now. Strange.

[Talking of America and oil, might be interested in a free issue of 'Journal of American History' from last year:

http://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/projects/oil/

David Painter's article comes highly recommended!]

In Vietnam (pp.244-5): "Why the USA came to embroil itself in a doomed war, against which both its allies, neutrals, and even the USSR had warned it, is almost impossible to understand, except as part of that dense cloud of incomprehension, confusion and paranoia through which the main actors in the Cold War tapped their way." This just isn't good enough. There are solid accounts of why the Americans went into Vietnam that go beyond vague terms like "incomprehension, confusion and paranoia."

This series of unknowns and misunderstandings does not really satisfy the reader. Some of it, as I said, is because this book is almost 20 years old, and historical understanding moves on thanks to new and better analyses, and new sources becoming available. Some of it, I'm afraid, can only be put down to the fact that, for whatever reason, Hobsbawm's handle on the short 20th just wasn't as good as that on its longer predecessor.


Century of War: Politics, Conflict and Society Since 1914
Century of War: Politics, Conflict and Society Since 1914
by Gabriel Kolko
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a book, 18 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
One of the most influential revisionist historians does it again with this offering. Published back in 1994 - a bit of care needed with Nazi Germany, for example, since we now have that game-changing book by Adam Tooze, 'The Wages of Destruction') - but it's safe to say that the insights generally remain sound, highly original, and in many cases, I've no doubt, timeless.

I'd actually be very interested to know how many historians either pinched stuff from this book and never gave attribution - as I said, it's a highly original work, even if some of what it contains has been superseded or passed into common knowledge - or else reinvented Kolko's achivements at a much later date in sheer ignorance of his work.

Such suspicions are not without foundation: take this recent book from Princeton University Press, described thus: "Upending the conventional wisdom that Bretton Woods was the product of an amiable Anglo-American collaboration, Steil shows that it was in reality part of a much more ambitious geopolitical agenda hatched within President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury and aimed at eliminating Britain as an economic and political rival." Anyone familiar with Kolko's 'Politics of War', first published way back in 1968, will have read that description in wide-eyed wonder, because Kolko upended said conventional wisdom 45 years ago in said 'Politics of War'! Remarkable. I find it interesting that historical works that fail to portray Western leaders and Western policy in a positive light are squeezed to the margins, if not completely outside them. How many people does on think have heard of Gabriel Kolko? And how many does one think have heard of someone like Niall Ferguson, or even John Lewis Gaddis? I suppose the only consolation for a truth-seeking historian is the knowledge that, sooner or later, people like Ferguson and Gaddis will be deposited in the dustbin of history. I guess, in Ferguson's case, he's already there, rotting away.

If you're even looking at this book, chances are you will have, or know about, what for me are, and will ever be, his three classics: 'Politics of War', 'Limits of Power', and 'Anatomy of a War'. This is a very different sort of book from that trio, one where primary sources yield to ruminations on piles and piles of secondary ones. Of course, Kolko has decades of familiarity with the primary sources, so it's not like this book is absence their influence and guiding hand.

If you want to read the thinking of a brilliant historian on the set of the major wars of the 20th century in all their aspects - their causes, how they were fought, to what ends, their effects on societies, their changing faces, the imprints of technological advances, etc. etc. etc. - I just cannot recommend this work strongly enough. Kolko knows these wars inside out, and he gives us the benefit with this tome.

One thing I've always liked about Kolko is that he has no time for communist rubbish. Take the typical communist silliness regarding Italy: Vladimir Pechatnov in Volume I of this: "Fearing US military intervention in Italy, Moscow cautioned Italian Communists against trying to take power through armed insurrection." (That crusty old Marxist Eric Hobsbawm also plies his trade with this approach in 'Age of Extremes' (p.238): "The USA planned military intervention if they [the communists] won the 1948 elections in Italy.") One can read in the book under review, however, on p.305, 307, that "[t]he subsequent Communist rationalization that the existence of Anglo-American armies precluded their taking power merely unconvincingly obfuscates the true reasons for their failures to do so", which were the threat of "losing absolute mastery of their parties' organizations", "to prevent the enormous numbers who enrolled from acting autonomously of the Party line". It is interesting to compare this attitude of the communist leadership with the attitude of your typical liberal, and a very recent example was provided by Ross Douthat in the op-ed section of the New York Times, where he bewails the "perturbations" of the eurozone crisis that are leading to rising support of alternatives to the "liberal democratic consensus", one such alternative being - horror of horrors - the "extremist" notion of overturning the elite ideological consensus that the masses should be controlled and ruled over by a bunch of politicians. "Already, the Greek electorate has been flirting with empowering a crypto-communist 'coalition of the radical left,'" frets Douthat. Our liberal commentator expresses his desperate hope that "the liberal democratic consensus is so bred into the bone that no amount of elite misgovernment can persuade Europe's younger generation to turn against it." Liberals are just like communists: how dare the masses aim for something better than liberal so-called democracy that screws them continuously, now especially egregiously?

If you want to disabuse yourself of the rubbish espoused by the ubiquitous power-worshipping historians of whatever stripe, I heartily recommend this book.


The Cambridge History of the Cold War 3 Volume Set
The Cambridge History of the Cold War 3 Volume Set
by Melvyn P. Leffler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £64.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb introduction, 13 May 2013
I was too young to appreciate the Cold War. A vague, childhood memory of watching an evening bulletin with Mum and Dad of the Berlin Wall coming down on what I presume was BBC News, not understanding why or why it was such a big deal, and that's about it. So the Cold War was hardly a formative influence in my life. Since then, I've naturally picked up bits and pieces, had some awareness that the Cuban Missile Crisis was not so great, that the Soviet Union was not nice, and so on. But pretty much knew nothing, and so I wanted to learn more.

I suppose the daunting thing when one undertakes their enquiries into any topic or period in history is the sheer volume of work that exists on it, and so that applies when setting out into the Cold War. What's worse, you know that, as you begin to read, you will almost feel like giving up, because the more you read, the more you realise you don't know (and, in many cases, won't ever know). Still, one decides to bite the bullet anyway, since partial ignorance is preferable to total, and so starts to consider which introductory texts will initiate the curing of one's lack of knowledge. Well, I am so glad I found out about these books: I've never seen them in bookshops, but they came up when I was asking Google about Cold War introductions, and they were rated highly by a good number of knowledgeable people. Knowing more about who's who in Cold War Studies, I can say that the authors who feature within these three volumes are all leading names in one or another aspect of the Cold War. CUP have just pulled together expert after leading expert and weaved them together to produce this comprehensive review of the whole period, from beginning to end. I can't believe this set hasn't had a customer review yet, though I guess that's because fewer people will buy it because of the cost compared with single-volume efforts of historians like Gaddis or whoever. If you don't mind paying for a three-volume introduction instead of a single, I just cannot recommend this CUP production strongly enough.

Aside from Gaddis's tripe, a few standard communist lines also find their way into these books as well. Take Pechatnov in Volume I: "Fearing US military intervention in Italy, Moscow cautioned Italian Communists against trying to take power through armed insurrection." (That crusty old Marxist Eric Hobsbawm tries his luck with this approach in 'Age of Extremes' (p.238): "The USA planned military intervention if they [the communists] won the 1948 elections in Italy.")

This just won't do. As people like Gabriel Kolko observe ('Century of War', p.305, 307): "The subsequent Communist rationalization that the existence of of Anglo-American armies precluded their taking power merely unconvincingly obfuscates the true reasons for their failures to do so", which were (surprise, surprise) the need to confront the threat of "losing absolute mastery of their parties' organizations", "to prevent the enormous numbers who enrolled [during WWII] from acting autonomously of the Party line". Nothing new here, of course, since opposition to democratic socialism is part and parcel of communism, most notoriously with Lenin & Co. and the workers councils and with the later communist role in the Spanish Civil War.

The thing I most like is that you get multiple takes on topics, from the revisionist and so-called post-revisionist approaches. I found the revisionists far more interesting, and they are the people I've busied myself most with since finishing these three beauties. A few people I'd not even heard of before I opened these books, but whom I found very interesting, are Piero Gleijeses and David Painter. Sadly, John Lewis Gaddis just doesn't convince. As soon as you start focusing on the actions of Western politicians, rather than their empty words, his take on many things just falls apart at the seams. It's a shame really, because he is someone who could have been the very best, but he will end up consigned to the scrapheap, crippled by his infatuation with people in power. His account of Reagan, for example, in his 2005 The Cold War, is nothing short of embarrassing. Anyway, you'll find Gaddis in this Cambridge History, along with all the ammunition you need to shoot his star out of the sky. Two people I would now say that CUP missed out on were James Peck, who wrote a brilliant book on U.S. policy regarding China a few years ago now, and Gabriel Kolko, whom I know is retired, but couldn't CUP have bribed the legendary Leftist to write something for them?

I got the paperback edition, which I generally try to avoid for reasons of longevity, but the production is lovely and solid, well put together, and I can't see it presenting a problem.

--Edit--
Having read a bit more now, I'm slightly less impressed with these books. Of course, you have to allow for the synoptic nature of the material, but they are, despite initial appearances, fairly narrow in terms of the author selection, and do feature such statements as this from Jessica C. E. Gienow-Hecht's: "While Warsaw Pact propagandists hammered home a clear message all across Europe, it remains much harder to define what US propagandists were trying to do. [...] US propaganda remained primarily defensive." Why even bother with research, if all you are going to do is recycle the self-serving, delusional, "primarily defensive" line found in the speeches of American politicians of the time? If your assumption is that we are always the good guys, then I guess everything we did is self-defence by assumption, and there can have been no ulterior motives, making ascertaining "what US propagandists were trying to do" very difficult indeed. Like NSA and GCHQ spying: pure self-defence. Moving away from the self-defensive Gienow-Hecht: "The weaponization of culture starts at Yale," notes a fairly recent article on American's culture war. ("The Paris Review, the Cold War and the CIA" by Joel Whitney, salon.com, is the article, so send unto Google and read if you wish).

There's an amusing demolition - described as an "orotund critique" by one historiography of American foreign relations - of the kind of liberal-consensus view that these three volumes pretty much reflect to be found in the form of "'Revising Postrevisionism,' or, The Poverty of Theory in Diplomatic History" by Bruce Cumings (skim the first bit on Foucault and Nietszche, promise it gets going after that). The essay is reprinted in the first edition of this, which I think is a book well-worth reading. The Cumings article is not in the second edition. I've Scribed it here: scribd DOT com/doc/215788653/Bruce-Cumings-1993-Revising-Postrevisionism-or-The-Poverty-of-Theory-in-Diplomatic-History-Diplomatic-History-Vol-17-No-4-pp-539%E2%80%93570

Also, if you look at my Scribd Cold War collection, you can find more criticism of the liberals by Perry Anderson, Carl Mirra.

Well, all my opinion only, so I'll permit you to to disagree.

As for bribing Kolko to write something, I think it's rather the case they gladly left him out! His brilliant (still) book 'Politics of War' (1968) is unmentioned in this Cambridge History, as is his 'Anatomy of a War' (Vietnam). Ah, well.

On a related note, Cambridge UP got William Stueck to write the chapter on the Korean War (not Bruce Cumings!). Joyce and Gabriel Kolko gave a young William Stueck a really funny spanking after he wrote an error-laden and ridiculous review of their book 'The Limits of Power' (1972). If you please, p.565 of DOI: 10.2307/3638138 If you can't access the article, leave a comment here and I'll put it up on Scribed for you.

Never forget, William: there is nothing like knowing!


The Cold War
The Cold War
by John Lewis Gaddis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well-written introduction, but..., 20 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Cold War (Paperback)
Not really much point in repeating what the other reviews say, but I did want to agree with them that you will need to read more and from other historians.

Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis is a traditional though serious historian (certainly and infinitely more serious than the execrable Niall Ferguson) who used to make suggestions for George W. Bush's speech writers. He was also great mates with George Kennan, though Gaddis advocates the use of force even more freely than his old friend did. The fawning praise on the dust cover from people like Kissinger and Scowcroft should also set the alarm bells ringing. How can one ever trust a historian who is so close to power to tell the whole truth? Well, one can't, and Gaddis doesn't.

Talking of the unconvicted war criminal Kissinger, it's revealing he praises this book's "sweep", for that is something else it most certainly lacks. There are any number of Cold War events, some of them truly horrendous, that Gaddis opts to leave out. For example, what Gabriel Kolko called "the Final Solution in Indonesia" of 1965-66, which was "certainly one of the most barbaric acts of inhumanity in a century that has seen a great deal of it; it surely ranks as a war crime of the same type as those the Nazis perpetrated. No single American action in the period after 1945 was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre, and it did everything in its power to encourage Suharto, including equipping his killers, to see that the physical liquidation of the PKI [Communist Party of Indonesia] was carried through to its culmination. Not a single one of its officials in Washington or Djakarta questioned the policy on either ethical or political grounds; quite the contrary." 500,000+ dead, with full US and UK support. The word 'Indonesia' does not appear in the bibliography of this book.

Overall, if you're a complete newcomer to the Cold War, this book is perhaps the best gentle start, if for no other reason than its sheer readability. You'll also gain an appreciation of where the so-called post-revisionists are coming from. Yet you're simply going to need to head for the revisionists afterwards if you're interested in reality rather than obtaining a crude version of it that enables you to feel proud of 'the West' and its leaders, and you will revise, sometimes radically, virtually all of the interpretations Gaddis gives to events. This is quite apart from the need to uncover and learn about the Cold War events that Gaddis leaves out without so much as a mention - ask Google about GWU's National Security Archive, which is a fun place to start regarding the histories our Yale historian hides from his readers.

If you're looking for a more hardcore introduction, the CHCW 3-volume set cannot be beaten.


Mau Mau's Children: The Making of Kenya's Postcolonial Elite (Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture)
Mau Mau's Children: The Making of Kenya's Postcolonial Elite (Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture)
by Thomas Spear
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely loved it, 20 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Great book. The hook, as the university press concerned correctly guessed would work with some people (like me), is the "Mau Mau" in the title. With the benefit of hindsight, i.e. having read the book, I can assure you the hook is only and simply that, and for two reasons. Firstly, Mau Mau only rears its head in parts of the first chapter, and, secondly, the lives of the men the book follows comfortably stand alone without any support from a now well-known and infamous period of British colonial history. You'll zip through this volume very quickly indeed.

It's about the lives of some Kenyan guys whom the now Professor Sandgren met while they were still just teenagers at a rural school where he taught during a few gap years straight after finishing his first degree in 1963. Then he left Kenya, his Kikuyu pupils lived out most of their working lives, and thirty years later Sandgren took the opportunity to return, having had no contact with them at all during the interim, to see how life had worked out for them. Of course, this reunion, especially after such an extended period, furnishes the book with another gripping aspect.

It was gratifying, extremely gratifying, to see that Kenyans enjoy tickling the Yanks with the loud-and-brash stereotype; Sandgren relates acquiring a car (p.4),

"an old red MG sports car, which I was surprised to find in Kenya but thrilled to buy. In time, I came to understand that with its canvas top it was not a very practical car in Kenya's dust and rain. Also, it probably did not convey the image of a sensible, hardworking American that TEA liked to promote about its teachers. But I was a twenty-two-year-old American kid without such awareness yet. Three decades later, the former provincial education officer (PEO) who had welcomed me to his area could not quite recall who I was until I mentioned that I arrived at his Nyeri office in August 1963 in a red sports car. He said he could still remember thinking at that time, somewhat uncharitably, that this was exactly what an American would do!"

Uncharitably my 'ass', but the anecdote sets the tone for the book, one in which the author doesn't take his younger self too seriously, one whose prose isn't polluted with pretentious verbiage, and one whose author has such an obvious, not to mention infectious, ethusiasm for the country and its people. All of these contribute to making the book a joy to read.

If you are in your late twenties or older, i.e. of an age where you have gained your grasp of just how short a human life is, and thus how short your life will be, you will savour this look at people, still alive, who grew up in a different place (for me, also a different time), but yet with whom you can identify so straightforwardly, particularly if, like them, your formal education was into your twenties with a view to a definite career of some sort. Then to see how these lives pan out in a Kenya full of post-colonial hope and progress... well, it is fascinating read.

Now for a few superfluous observations:

In the first chapter, unfortunately, I believe Sandgren is, as was Caroline Elkins, too uncritical regarding memories of the Mau Mau period. That doesn't affect the rest of the book because, like I said, this isn't a book about Mau Mau. No mention at all in the bibliography of Bethwell Ogot or David Anderson, but again this doesn't matter and for the same reason.

As an aside, there is a interesting talk by Christopher Browning on the problems of dealing with the frailties of human memory and the stamp of subsequent events upon it. Replace, obviously, the % with a .

youtube%com/watch?v=whK8jmVgy2M&t=11m58s

Next I'll remark on a very slight, but nonetheless slightly revealing, play down of David Himbara's look at the role of Asian Kenyans in Kenya's post-independence economy ("Myths and Realities of Kenyan Capitalism," Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1, Mar. 1993). Referring to it, Sandgren writes (p.103 n.11) that "Himbara reminds us that some of Kenya's capitalists were of Asian origin"; but Himbara's position is much stronger than a simple reminder regarding the existence of Asian Kenyan capitalists, for he contends that Asian Kenyans were "largely responsible" for capitalist development in East Africa (p.95 of "Myths and Realities"). Just to be clear, given the likely audience for a book like this, and so the knowledge-base Sandgren assumes his readers will have, I'm not accusing Sandgren of misrepresenting Himbara's position, but of making a concomitant assumption that he'll be able to get away with leaving his disagreement with Himbara inexplicit.

Which brings us on to what Sandgren's position is on this, and we can stay with Himbara. At one point (p.94 of "Myths and Realities"), Himbara refers to one "Nicola Swainson, who sought to show the considerable strength and competence of those Kikuyu whose entry in sectors of the Kenyan economy, including manufacturing, had progressed to such an extent that in some instances 'foreign capital has been threatened by competition from new local enterprises', with the state invariably acting in support of the national capitalist class." (You can actually read Swainson's book in its entirety for free ('The Development of Corporate Capitalism in Kenya', 1980), since Google Books have the thing scanned and available in full).

Summing up extremely bruskly: A Caroline Elkins version of the Mau Mau Uprising and a Nicola Swainson quest to highlight the role of Black Africans in Kenya's post-independence economy is the basic framework within which Sandgren operates. As I believe I may have already said, this doesn't matter a fig, and is merely a sideshow to remark upon if, like me, you apparently have nothing better to do with your time than write crumby reviews like this on Amazon. Heaven forbid, maybe you'll even read the book after reading what I've written and decide that englishlad101 has totally misunderstood, and thus misrepresented, some of Sandgren's standpoints.

Finally, looking at the rise and then totally depressing decline of the Kenyan economy after independence, Sandgren claims (p.102) that it "reveal[s] how little we actually know about how to generate economic growth". Not being an expert on economic development, I can only say that this opinion runs completely against everything I have read by people who, I believe, know what they're talking about (Ha-Joon Chang, Erik Reinert, Atul Kohli, etc.). The basic approach to economic development (state support for infant industries, an active industrial policy, and so forth) has been clear for a long, long time now, centuries even, though it does need to be implemented, and allowed to be implemented, correctly in Southern Africa. And, frighteningly, we need to implement it here, again, too, though it looks as though Osborne is infinitely more interested in pursuing legal challenges to a Tobin tax than the recent conclusions of LSE's Growth Commission report, which called for "an ambitious long-term growth programme [that] will demand sustained direction from the centre of government."

All in all, though I detected a few things with which I could express minor disagreement, the book is such a fantastic and informative read that I've given it five stars. Bravo.


Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56
by Anne Applebaum
Edition: Hardcover

39 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK, but..., 4 Jan. 2013
Wasn't expecting too much from someone married to the Polish foreign minister, but that is simply an ad hominem. Let's get to some meat.

What I liked:

Applebaum's interviews with those who lived it are, of course, fascinating. What the Soviets did is well recounted. Some of the discontent with Soviet rule in Poland actually resonates today, what with rich and powerful individuals and businesses evading tax on a massive scale, while the lower orders endure real-terms decline in living standards. On p.256, for example, a Polish communist official records the complaints of a typical worker:

"The Łódź worker cannot accept the fact his children can only gaze at cake from afar, and he is not satisfied that one like himself who works hard earns so little, while some parasite makes big money on the free market and the state gets nothing from him."

What would I most like to read more about having finished the book? Several things, but in particular I'm fascinated by the Hungarian People's Colleges Applebaum mentions (pp.181-5).

I've uploaded some stuff on Scribd if you're interested (change the %, obviously):
scribd%com/collections/4182986/Cold-War

Here's what I didn't like:

"Time permits myth and ideology to enshroud history," wrote the Kolkos in their 'Limits of Power' (1972), "and the postwar history of Eastern Europe perhaps suffers most from the abuses that states impose on truth."

Doesn't it just! One reads in relevant bibliographical section (p.537) of the first volume of The Cambridge History of the Cold War (CHCW1) of 2010 that "we are still awaiting a comparative archive-based study of East Central Europe in the mid-1950s". Applebaum appears to have read those words and decided to take the task upon herself. Sadly, rather than saying the old "gap in the literature" has been filled with a superlative study, one is forced to simply make an amendment: "We are still awaiting a decent comparative archive-based study of East Central Europe in the mid-1905s."

It's tempting to say that Applebaum's interviews with those who lived it aren't just fascinating, but rather about the only things that imbue the book with value, as the carefully worded praise from Timothy Garton Ash betrays. She makes John Lewis Gaddis sound like a revisionist.

In the conclusion of his chapter in CHCW1, Norman Naimark writes, "From the perspective of more than a half-century later, the Sovietization of Eastern Europe can easily seem to have been designed from the very beginning of the Soviet occupation and even earlier. Appearances can be deceptive, especially when scholarly hindsight is at work". Applebaum, apparently, sees no need for caution.

In his chapter in Vol. I, Svetozar Rajak writes that the "five-year confrontation [during the late 1940s and early 1950s] between Yugoslavia and the USSR and its allies created a schism that destroyed forever any view of the Communist movement as a monolith." Applebaum seems to forget this at times. You'll notice, for example, the continual playing down of any commie thinking that deviated from the Soviet-boot-licking variety. Chapter 11 ("European Communism and the Political Consequences of World War Two") of Kolko's Century of War provides a nuanced discussion of European communism.

In the preface to the first volume of his trilogy on the Third Reich, Richard J. Evans observes: "Recounting the experience of individuals brings home, as nothing else can, the sheer complexity of the choices they had to make, and the difficult and often opaque nature of the situations they confronted. ... [For this and other] reasons, it seems to me inappropriate that a work of history to indulge in the luxury of moral judgment. ... The purpose of this book is to understand; it is up to the reader to judge." Indeed, and so Applebaum, having set out to write a book emphasising the human aspect of the Sovietisation of Eastern Europe, deserves only ridicule for writing this on p.418 (in her chapter called "Reluctant Collaborators"): Every printer who did not take a publish-and-be-damned approach to their work "somehow contributed to the creation of totalitarianism. So did everyone who endured a university course in Marxism-Leninism in order to become a doctor or an engineer; everyone who joined an artists' union in order to become a painter; everyone who put a portrait of Bierut in his office, in order to keep his job; and, of course, everyone who joined the crowd in singing 'the party, the party, the party is always right'." Yes: this from someone who's just researched a whole book about the "sheer complexity of the choices" and the "often opaque nature of the situations" Soviet Bloc citizens confronted.

A cynic would say that she wisely maintained laser-like focus on her three countries: Poland, East Germany, Hungary. What if she hadn't? Looking even just a bit wider, we have to confront Rajak's words again: "There is no evidence suggesting that Iosif Stalin possessed a blueprint for the establishment of a Soviet sphere of influence in the Balkans." How about Italy? "After World War II Italy was included in the Western 'sphere of influence.' There is no evidence that the Soviet Union tried to forestall this outcome" (quote from Pons (2001), see below).

Here is a nice crisp summary (pinched from p.65 of the March 2005 issue of the 'OAH Magazine of History', see my Scribd link) of the state of play after WWII from Melvyn Leffler: "Most scholars looking at Soviet documents now agree that Stalin had no master plan to spread revolution or conquer the world. He was determined to establish a sphere of influence in eastern Europe where his communist minions would rule. But at the same time, Stalin wanted to get along with his wartime allies in order to control the rebirth of German and Japanese power, which he assumed was inevitable. Consequently, he frequently cautioned communist followers in France, Italy, Greece, and elsewhere to avoid provocative actions that might frighten or antagonize his wartime allies. Within his own country and his own sphere, he was cruel, evil, almost genocidal, just as Gaddis and other traditional scholars suggest. Yet U.S. and British officials were initially eager to work with him. They rarely dwelled upon his domestic barbarism. Typically, President Harry S. Truman wrote his wife, Bess, after his first meeting with Stalin: 'I like Stalin. ... He is straightforward. Knows what he wants and will compromise when he can't get it.' [One is reminded of Stalin as a young man (p.57 of Robert Service's biography): "Dzhughashvili was a fellow who would fight battles only when there was a decent chance of winning them. Ideological rectitude was all very well. But practical results were also important, and unnecessary squabbles should be avoided."] Typically, W. Averell Harriman, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, remonstrated that 'If it were possible to see him [Stalin] more frequently, many of our difficulties would be overcome'."

Applebaum's sardonic tone quickly becomes tedious, and is completely unnecessary. Would any (sane) person not know that, when it comes to allocating resources, markets do a rather better job than central planning? or that the Soviet Union was a ghastly place and made every country it touched ghastly too? Indeed, Applebaum is so over the top that one can read, separated by one sentence, that Bierut was "deeply paranoid" but that "Bierut's paranoia was in a certain sense justified"! This is a historian in control of neither herself nor her material.

If I'm honest, the book seems, in part, like a suck up to Timothy Snyder after his 2010 'Bloodlands': her introduction, Snyder loves Hannah Arendt, her chapter titles...

No meaningful background is provided to give insight into Soviet policy. All the Soviet horrors take place within a praise-be-to-America vacuum. There're plenty of Soviet "provocations" and "aggression", though apparently Western politicians were never guilty of such things. The word 'paranoia' appears over and over again, but sadly Applebaum could find no space to mention McCarthyism, let alone make an interesting comparison of it with Soviet actions. Likewise, she condemns the 1948 'coup' in Czechoslovakia and the Secret Police the Soviets used, but how about the "full-scale covert" CIA interference in Italy's 1948 elections? And what about Iran in August 1953, and where did Iran's SAVAK then come from? (What was life like after August 1953? Do watch this: youtube.com/watch?v=pSfNydwo33E&t=26m11s ) There's nothing wrong with not mentioning Iran in a book on Eastern Europe, but she's the one who wants to play the comparison game (see p.8 for details, and, for a laugh, keep in mind the words of Christopher Browning (p.160 of 'Ordinary Men') pertaining to John Dower's 'War without Mercy': "Dower's account of entire American units in the Pacific openly boasting of a take no prisoners' policy and routinely collecting body parts of Japanese soldiers as battlefield souvenirs is chilling reading for anyone who smugly assumes that war atrocities were a monopoly of the Nazi regime." Someone tell the smug Ms Applebaum about Dower's study, she really needs to read less selectively...), and at least spare me the nauseating characterisation of Western politicians as noble, rational Cold Warriors, fighting the good fight against Communism. And, of course, GIs only committed an estimated 17,800 rapes, crimes that Applebaum gently characterises as "misbehaviour and abuse" (p.8).

All you're left with is the kind of analysis you'd expect out of the US National Security Council, and their academic and journalistic enablers, at the height of the Cold War: big red monster wants to conquer the world; we are the good guys, even though sometimes we make mistakes, have to dirty our hands for the greater good, and cry crocodile tears. Already mentioned, the relevant Cambridge History will furnish you with the introductory understanding required to marvel at her black-and-white viewpoint. She half-heartedly throws in occasional mention of some similar naughtiness committed by the US-UK (their blithe attitude regarding ethnic cleansing, for example), but others she either overlooks or "overlooks" (I don't know Applebaum; perhaps it's all tendentious omission, perhaps some of it's genuine ignorance).

For example, she decries (p.70, but also p.22) the Soviets' unilateral use of 'its' Hungarian Allied Control Commission (ACC), "a body which technically included British and American representatives" but whose commander, Kliment Voroshilov, "regularly failed to consult the other Allies about anything." What Applebaum leaves out, unlike Gabriel Kolko in his 'Politics of War' (published a mere 45 years ago now), is the reply the Americans received when they complained about Voroshilov's failure to consult: the Soviets simply fired back the "situation in Italy where on no occasions have the Allied representatives ... informed the Soviet representative of important measures undertaken". Yes: it was the US-UK who set the precedent for use of Allied Control Commissions. Hardly much of a surprise when Stalin then opted to deploy 'his' ones in the same manner. This has all been known for decades. [The precedent of the ACC for Italy is mentioned also by Silvio Pons (2001) "Stalin, Togliatti, and the Origins of the Cold War in Europe", Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol.3, No.2, pp.3-27 (the following quote is from the first page of it): "Italy was the first European country to be reoccupied by the Allied armies, and it was therefore seen as an initial test of peacemaking and cooperation among the Allies. ... At the Moscow Conference of October 1943, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union agreed on a political and military framework for an armistice regime in Italy. The Soviet Union was not given a role in the main administrative bodies in Italy, and the British and Americans maintained tight control of the country. This arrangement displeased Soviet leaders, who decided to counter what they saw as one-sided actions on the part of the Western governments."] Does one accuse Applebaum of trying to distort the historical record on this point, or put it down to sheer ignorance?

Like I said, Kolko's book was published in 1968, so not perfect, but it makes mention of US-UK policy and planning that, even to this day, do not find their way into traditional histories like Applebaum's. For example, this recent book, from Princeton University Press, is described thus: "Upending the conventional wisdom that Bretton Woods was the product of an amiable Anglo-American collaboration, Steil shows that it was in reality part of a much more ambitious geopolitical agenda hatched within President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury and aimed at eliminating Britain as an economic and political rival." Kolko et al. upended it decades ago! That the US desire to all but sink us in WWII isn't conventional wisdom is a story in itself.

Back with Applebaum (p.233): "By the autumn of 1947," she wails, "Stalin had also stopped pretending to the outside world that he would adhere to the language of the Yalta treaty. During the war, he had shut down the Comintern, the Communist International, as a gesture of goodwill to the Western Allies. Now he created a new organization ... [Cominform] - in part as a gesture of aggression towards those same Allies."

"By the late 1960s," wrote Bruce Cumings back in 1993 (his "Revising Postrevisionism", available via Google), "'Communist aggression' had become, at least for a younger generation, a signifier for Dean Rusk lying about Vietnam. And by 1983, a fortiori, no ambitious historian-of-the-field seeking consensus would be caught dead saying something quite so revealing." Roll on Anne Applebaum in 2012, who says it with pride! Extraordinary. She either is totally ignorant of all this, or must be desperately hoping her readers are.

So "aggression"? No, "reaction", as even she is forced to partly concede (pp.233-4), and keep in mind the opinion of Roosevelt himself: "as fears of Germany subsided, the Russians would moderate the severity of the measures needed to maintain their position" in Eastern Europe ('Strategies of Containment', p.12).

"By the autumn of 1947", she wails, but what about the preceding Marshall Plan of summer 1947? She mentions it, but neglects to inform the reader what the consensus view of it is - she equivocates (p.233) with "depending on your point of view" it was enacted to "either help fend off the threat of communist revolution or help entrench Western capitalism." If that isn't a false dilemma, there's no question it was entrenchment! William Hitchcock mentions the scholarly consensus on the Marshall Plan in his chapter in CHCW1: "the role of the Marshall Plan in exacerbating, perhaps precipitating the division of Europe is now recognized, despite Marshall's initial claim that his offer was not directed against any country or doctrine. ... [The Plan was] a sharp break with what had come before; the policy of Potsdam and the slow, heavily constrained German economic recovery it implied were now discarded." Keeping in mind, at this point, Leffler's words that, because of what it suffered in the war, the USSR wanted to "control" - not stop - "the rebirth of German ... power".

And the Marshall Plan was only one such "sharp break": "By the end of the London meetings in June 1948, the United States had brought Britain, France, and the nascent German leadership toward a consensus on creating a West German state, partially sovereign, and linked to the West by economic integration ... demonstrat[ing] that the Americans had made a clear choice to favor a strong German recovery as the engine of a West European recovery favorable to US interests. The Soviets, meanwhile, saw ... [it] as part of an American bid for economic and strategic hegemony that required a swift reaction. ... They [the Soviets] denounced the London accord of June 1948 as a breach with wartime and postwar accords, which of course it was."

More on Marshall (all CHCW1):

Svetozar Rajak: "Many historians have pointed out that the Marshall Plan changed Stalin's strategies, moving him towards 'confrontational unilateral action to secure Soviet interests'."

Norman Naimark: "If the Cold War was born in the tensions surrounding the development of the Marshall Plan, its angry rejection by the Soviets, and the establishment of the Cominform, it was accelerated by the February 1948 coup in Czechoslovakia, ... the Berlin blockade, and the eruption of the Soviet-Yugoslav split in the summer of 1948 ... The conflict with the Yugoslavs also intensified Stalin's determination to maximize Soviet control over the other East European countries."

More interesting facts about the Marshall Plan that Applebaum leaves out (Kai Bird, 'Color of Truth', p.106): "[M]eetings were considered so sensitive that the usual off-the-record transcript was not distributed to council members. There was good reason for the secrecy ... [namely] the highly classified fact that there was a covert side to the Marshall Plan. Specifically, the CIA was tapping into the $200 million a year in local currency counterparty funds contributed by the recipients of the Marshall Plan aid ... to finance anti-communist electoral activities in France and Italy and to support sympathetic journalists, labor union leaders and politicians."

Could E. Europe have been at least slightly better off if the West had been less hostile, more accommodating? Well, I said keep in mind Roosevelt's opinion, but who can possibly say? The world's far too complicated for counterfactuals.

One mourns another effect of the Marshall Plan, mentioned by Hitchcock ("Europe and the United States, so different from one another before 1939, began to merge"), that provides a curious counterpoint to the Sovietisation of EE - namely the Americanisation of Europe. (Also p.89 of this: "As had been the case since the inception of the Marshall Plan, the goal was to refashion Western Europe in the image of the United States.") Interesting to see what our working class used to do in their spare time before the Americanisation of Europe infected them, so I heartily recommend Jonathan Rose's 'The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes', "a mammoth survey of the autodidact, self-improving culture that emerged in Britain in the late 18th century and flourished for nearly 200 years through religious tract societies, mechanics institutes, trade union libraries and the Workers' Educational Association, until the end of the Second World War."

On to p.235: "The Cominform's creation is sometimes described as an ambush, a surprise assertion of Soviet power which sealed the fate of all present." Who describes it so we are not told (she cites not a single source), which leads me to proffer a suggestion: Applebaum's constructing a straw man! Indeed, I can't believe anyone would describe it as surprising, seeing as the reaction was entirely predictable and predicted (Leffler, CHCW1): "US officials were not surprised when Stalin forbade the participation of Czechoslovakia and Poland in the ERP [European Recovery Plan, aka Marshall Plan], formed the Cominform, tightened the Soviet grip on Eastern Europe, and orchestrated a campaign of riots and demonstrations against the Marshall Plan throughout Western Europe. These were logical developments, Kennan explained. 'Subject to a squeeze play,' the Communists were making a final effort to thwart the ERP before it became a reality."

Or again: "Washington was also able to portray the Soviet Union as the nation responsible for division of Europe, Germany, and Berlin, even though in key respects all three situations were the result of American actions." (Craig,Logevall(2010) 'America's Cold War' p.100)

Next sentence after this putative straw man features slippery language: "Others have called it a turning point, the moment when the Soviet Union dropped its tolerance of Eastern Bloc pluralism." The MARSHALL PLAN was the turning point, not Cominform.

These two artifices are there for one reason: to cast doubt on the position mentioned in her next sentence, which is no straw man, but which, exasperatingly, she can't refute: "In the revisionist interpretation of Cold War history, the Szklarska Poreba meeting is also sometimes portrayed as a panicked reaction to the aggression of the West, and in particular to the naked imperialism of the Marshall Plan." That is exactly what Cominform was, that is exactly what the Marshall Plan was, and there's not a syllable in this book that contradicts either of those facts.

Furthermore, she's so OTT that she can't help but contradict herself (p.235): "[A] close reading of the reports [given at the Cominform inauguration] ... provides a different picture [to the nuanced picture provided by revisionists]. By their own account, almost every one of the communist parties at the meeting ALREADY had a stranglehold on power." Yet you turn the page: "the Cominform's creation did mark the end of an era." How can there have been a change in eras if the level of Soviet domination had been to the nth degree from the beginning? What she is trying to occlude is the distinction between being in a position to dominate totally if you want to, and actually playing that card.

She complains Comecon "distorted" trade within Eastern Europe (p.236), but merely alludes in one sentence to the 1940s, before the war was over, when the US was busy planning a reconstructed global capitalist system centred exclusively on itself and for its own benefit - trade distortion on a global scale? Such US planning has been known about for decades, so no excuse for it being reduced to an equivocal, one-sentence aside.

Goes on like this the whole way through, and let me mention the sheer mean-spiritedness. You turn to the index, look up the Soviet Union: "Soviet Union > and the 'liberation' of Eastern Europe". So pathetically immature, she puts the word 'liberation' in quote marks. I also find it fascinating that Applebaum, who is Jewish, when whining (p.9) that "[t]he Red Army focused on its drive to Berlin with something approaching obsession ... charging directly towards the German capital, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake", fails to keep in mind the straightforward observation of people like Israeli historian Tom Segev (p.461 of this): "Most of the Jews who survived in Europe were in fact saved thanks to the defeat of Nazi Germany." Would Applebaum claim that it wasn't the Soviets who defeated Nazi Germany? that it was the US, and so the US who saved the Jews? Josiah DuBois? As horrendous as Stalin's dictatorship was, who wasn't cheering as that Soviet machine began its annihilation of the Wehrmacht after December 1941?

As for the determined drive to Berlin, there was actually war to win, one that ended when Berlin fell! Why would the Soviets want to dawdle to the German capital?! Perhaps she would have preferred the Soviets to have hung around and wait for her Yankees to deliver the killer blow. But wait! According to her (p.9 still), "Eisenhower, knowing full well that the Germans would fight to the death in Berlin wanted to save American lives and decided to let Stalin take the city. ... [T]he American general's caution won out, and the Americans and British advanced slowly to the east." So apparently the Soviets shouldn't have gone for Berlin so keenly because we were happy to let them do so. Who knows what was going on in Applebaum's head when she was writing this stuff? One can certainly say it wasn't concern and respect for the several tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers who gave their lives taking Berlin (not to mention the getting on for 300,000 other casualties, many of whom will have spent the rest of their lives paralysed or minus limbs, eyesight, and so on).

And it's not just puerile dismissal of Soviet losses in Berlin, for here's another interesting fact: on pp.9-10, she lists the details of the civilian casualties of Britain, France, Germany, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, ... and that's it! So while Nazi Germany rightly has its civilians remembered, the country that lost more civilians than any other, the Soviet Union, does not merit a single word.

Were Soviet policies influenced, even simply in extent, by the West's anti-Soviet animus? Was the USSR's relationship with local communists the same in each European country? (No, the Soviet Union was actually a conservative, moderating force in places.) What accounts for the differences? Do see Kolko's chapter 11 above, because you'll be none the wiser by the time you reach the end of this book.

The USSR had been brought to its knees, barely avoided defeat, lost one in eight (if memory serves) of its citizens, while the West was happy to let it bleed virtually to death, failing repeatedly to honour pledges to open a second front, just so long as Hitler wasn't ultimately victorious (recalling, of course, Truman's famous "let them kill as many as possible" remark - 'Strategies of Containment', p.4). To quote Pechatnov in CHCW1: "No wonder security concerns remained paramount in the Kremlin's thinking about the postwar world." And postwar Western policy did nothing to assuage Soviet fears.

Soviet fears? Look at the French, who suffered far less (next few quotes from Melvyn Leffler's chapter in CHCW1). The French were "scared of revived German power", "the protracted specter of German aggression", thus they "desperately wanted guarantees of their own security" and "demanded more extensive controls over the Ruhr and more constraints on German trade". If the French were "desperate" for guarantees about Germany's future direction, why on EARTH wouldn't the Soviets be? Gaddis notes that as late as April 1945, Stalin was warning subordinates about the possibility of the Anglo-Americans joining with the Germans to attack - the same month saw the Soviets building DEFENSIVE (Gaddis's emphasis) installations in Central Europe in anticipation of such an attack! ('Strategies of Containment', p.12).

Were understandable Soviet concerns catered for the way French ones were? No. Leffler writes that the US insisted as follows regarding postwar West Germany: "Its potential power had to be coopted and integrated into a Western alliance system; that goal was now more important than reaching agreement with the Kremlin."

None of this justifies the Sovietisation of EE, but it does mean one is able to explain aspects of it without recourse to facile, infantile notions of single-minded communist psychopathology, and it does mean one avoids spinning American policy as some benign attempt at helping poor little Western Europeans (give me a break).

The Soviet threat? 15 December 1947 and we're with George Kennan: "I was conscious of the weakness of the Russian position, of the slenderness of the means with which they operated, of the ease with which they could be held and pushed back." US analysts concluded that the Soviet "transport system was in disarray and their petroleum industry was underdeveloped. Their economy was still in shambles and their people demoralized. Their satellites in Eastern Europe were unreliable. They had no real navy, no strategic air power, and no atomic bomb."

Contrast with a postwar USA: "GNP increased by 60% during the war, total earnings by 50% ... Americans had more discretionary income than ever ... the greatest war machine in human history. By the end of 1942 ... producing more arms than all the Axis states combined ... in 1943, it made almost three times more armaments than did the Soviet Union ... 1945, the US had two-thirds of the world's gold reserves, three-quarters of its invested capital, half of its shipping vessels, and half of its manufacturing capacity ... GNP was three times that of the Soviet Union and more than five times that of Britain ... nearing completion of the atomic bomb, a technological and production feat of huge costs and proportions."

Most seriously, on p.449, Applebaum gathers another head of steam, declaring "the distinct absence of a communist sense of humour." That is the most unfair thing of the lot. Here's a Polish newspaper, quoted by Applebaum (p.443), on American popular culture: "a cult of fame and luxury, the acceptance and glorification of the most primitive desires, the filling of a hunger for sensation." Or how about an East German musicologist, at a conference in 1951 (p.445): "the degenerate ideology of American monopoly capital with its lack of culture ... its empty sensationalism and above all its fury for war and destruction". No communist humour? I had a good laugh reading all that! Amusingly, Applebaum goes on to write: "In the wake of this conference, the East German state took active measures to fight against this new scourge [of American pop culture]." I say 'amusingly' because who can blame them? If you had the powers of Stalin, imagine the self-discipline it would take not to ban Justin Bieber. As for films, don't the French even today have limits to prevent Hollywood pap from monopolising their cinemas? Who can blame?)

Encountering this kind of stuff clearly wounded Applebaum, for she has a lovely sing-song about her country's vacuous consumer culture in chapter 17. Trouble for our American crusader is, her East German musicologist sounds just like the German émigrés holed up in the US after fleeing Hitler:

"Brecht and Eisler kept turning up at institute evenings. Perhaps it was better to argue in German than to socialize with ignorant Americans."

"[Americans] are so unequipped. I've never had one student from whom I learned a thing."

"Movie music is kid stuff, characterized by melody and euphony: 'easy intelligibility is guaranteed, tunefulness is assured by the preponderance of small diatonic intervals.' Such stupid, undemanding music ... constitutes 'the sort of melodrama for which the German language has no specification but which the English word "tune" expresses quite accurately.'"

"There's the old story about the rich society hostess at Ira Gershwin's one evening who 'tried to rope Schoenberg into the after-dinner entertainment with "Give us a tune, Arnold!"'"

GIVE US A TOON, AAARNOLD.

Finally, how about a word from one of the truly scintillating intellects of the 20th century, our very own John Maynard Keynes: "I always regard a visit [to the States] as in the nature of a serious illness to be followed by convalescence."

I guess Anne just doesn't appreciate jokes that are at the expense of her precious Land of the Free.

Out of space now, but there's much more to criticise.

A brief notice in Foreign Affairs observes that "Applebaum pays relatively little attention to the factors explaining why this all happened, instead focusing on what happened"; an article in the New York Review of Books notes (with understatement) that she "allows for American exaggerations of Stalin's aggressive intentions"; while a review in the Financial Times suggested that "Applebaum's fact-checkers should also have paid more attention: Stalin did not, as is suggested, attend the 1949 Cominform meeting in Czechoslovakia. The paranoid Soviet dictator left the Soviet Union only twice, for the Tehran and Potsdam summits. The defenestration of Jan Masaryk, the Czech foreign minister, took place not in Prague Castle but in his ministry."

A likely objection is that the book is about the Sovietisation of EE, not Western policy, but that assumes you can understand the one without the other.

The USSR was a totalitarian dungeon run by one of history's worst monsters, but a bit of context would have gone a long way to improving this book.
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