Cold War: A Military History

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Overview

Even fifteen years after the end of the Cold War, it is still hard to grasp that we no longer live under its immense specter. For nearly half a century, from the end of World War II to the early 1990s, all world events hung in the balance of a simmering dispute between two of the greatest military powers in history. Hundreds of millions of people held their collective breath as the United States and the Soviet Union, two national ideological entities, waged proxy wars to determine spheres of influence–and ...

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Cold War: A Military History

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Overview

Even fifteen years after the end of the Cold War, it is still hard to grasp that we no longer live under its immense specter. For nearly half a century, from the end of World War II to the early 1990s, all world events hung in the balance of a simmering dispute between two of the greatest military powers in history. Hundreds of millions of people held their collective breath as the United States and the Soviet Union, two national ideological entities, waged proxy wars to determine spheres of influence–and millions of others perished in places like Korea, Vietnam, and Angola, where this cold war flared hot.

Such a consideration of the Cold War–as a military event with sociopolitical and economic overtones–is the crux of this stellar collection of twenty-six essays compiled and edited by Robert Cowley, the longtime editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. Befitting such a complex and far-ranging period, the volume’s contributing writers cover myriad angles. John Prados, in “The War Scare of 1983,” shows just how close we were to escalating a war of words into a nuclear holocaust. Victor Davis Hanson offers “The Right Man,” his pungent reassessment of the bellicose air-power zealot Curtis LeMay as a man whose words were judged more critically than his actions.

The secret war also gets its due in George Feiffer’s “The Berlin Tunnel,” which details the charismatic C.I.A. operative “Big Bill” Harvey’s effort to tunnel under East Berlin and tap Soviet phone lines–and the Soviets’ equally audacious reaction to the plan; while “The Truth About Overflights,” by R. Cargill Hall, sheds light on some of the Cold War’s best-kept secrets.

The often overlooked human cost of fighting the Cold War finds a clear voice in “MIA” by Marilyn Elkins, the widow of a Navy airman, who details the struggle to learn the truth about her husband, Lt. Frank C. Elkins, whose A-4 Skyhawk disappeared over Vietnam in 1966. In addition there are profiles of the war’s “front lines”–Dien Bien Phu, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs–as well as of prominent military and civil leaders from both sides, including Harry S. Truman, Nikita Khrushchev, Dean Acheson, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Richard M. Nixon, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, and others.

Encompassing so many perspectives and events, The Cold War succeeds at an impossible task: illuminating and explaining the history of an undeclared shadow war that threatened the very existence of humankind.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The period from 1946 until the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 is usually interpreted in ideological, political and cultural contexts. But the two dozen essays included in this anthology by Cowley (the founding editor of Military History Quarterly and the editor of two previous MHQ anthologies) show that while the superpowers may never have measured strengths on a large scale, armed encounters between them occurred regularly. Even during the Cold War's alleged waning years, the U.S. and the Soviet Union came close to the edge of nuclear exchange--without U.S. policymakers really being aware of it. Cowley's contributors, including such outstanding military historians as John Guilmartin, Victor Davis Hanson and Williamson Murray, demonstrate how the Cold War's military history was directly shaped by patterns of provocation and misunderstanding. In a general context, the controlling factor was the Soviet Union's continued inability to achieve its primary strategic objective, the conquest of Western Europe, without initiating a nuclear exchange that would destroy the U.S.S.R. Soviet plans thus became self-deterring, and ultimately self-defeating. But Cowley's selections also show that this process was neither automatic nor predictable, and his anthology is a correspondingly thought-provoking read. (Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Both of these books treat the Cold War without stepping on each other's toes. Gaddis (history, Yale Univ.; Surprise, Security, and the American Experience) is one of the foremost scholars on the Cold War, having written a number of seminal treatments of the frigid conflict. In this new synthesis he brings to bear over 30 years of thinking and writing about the Cold War and presents the reader, general and specialist alike, with an outstanding and tightly written account of the titanic struggle between the two major world powers that arose after World War II. Gaddis has a sure understanding of the topic that has consumed his scholarly life and we all benefit from his learned insights, drawn not only from his own expertise, but from newly available information from Soviet, Eastern European, and Chinese archives. Cowley, founding editor of Military History Quarterly, where most of the pieces in this anthology were first published, brings together the writings of a number of prominent contemporary historians and authors, whose narratives remind us that although the "Big One" never happened, there were still many occasions when the situation became rather "hot." Dino Bugioni recounts his personal experience of being the one who first discovered the missiles in Cuba. David McCullough excerpts from his Truman biography his description of the issues surrounding Truman's decision to fire Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The Berlin Wall, Korea, and the Vietnam War get their share of consideration as sustained points of tension. Both of these books provide solid contributions to the ongoing scholarly reassessment of the 40-plus year struggle that we call the Cold War. And both are recommended for all collections.-Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812967166
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/7/2006
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 581,168
  • Product dimensions: 6.17 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Cowley is the founding editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. He has edited three other anthologies–The Great War; No End Save Victory, about World War II; and With My Face to the Enemy, about the Civil War–as well as several volumes in the popular What If? series. He lives in Connecticut.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

First Skirmishes

The Day the Cold War Started

James Chace

On May 7, 1945, at General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters at Rheims in France, Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, formally ending almost six years of war in Europe. It took less than a year, three seasons only, for the Grand Alliance of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union to fall apart, and with it, lasting hopes of a peaceful international order. In that time the Soviets had swallowed much of Eastern Europe, and the West was beginning to accept, however reluctantly, the inevitability of a divided continent. The Soviets were also occupying northern Iran and were threatening to extend their influence, if not their outright domination, to the Persian Gulf. But as the year 1946 began, no country felt the menace of Soviet expansionist pressure more than Turkey. The Russians were asking—demanding, rather—to be allowed to establish naval and army bases in the Bosporus and Dardanelles. Would control of the eastern end of the Mediterranean be next? Soviet troops began to mass on the borders with Turkey.

As early as January 5, 1946, the new American president, Harry S. Truman, worried out loud to his secretary of state, James Byrnes, that the Soviets intended to invade Turkey. “Unless Russia is faced with an iron fist and strong language,” Truman said, “another war is in the making.” Then he added (and remember, this was a time when the American armed forces were demobilizing thousands of men each day), “Only one language do they understand—‘How many divisions have you?’” A month later, the Soviet ruler, Joseph Stalin, gave a speech announcing a new five-year plan. He went on to attack capitalism and to remark threateningly that his nation should be prepared for “all kinds of eventualities.” Back in Washington, Justice William O. Douglas remarked to the secretary of the navy, James Forrestal, that Stalin’s speech sounded like “the declaration of World War III.”

The gloves were off. The former British prime minister, Winston Churchill, spoke at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5; Truman introduced him. “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic,” Churchill said, “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent.” His words were not a call for war—not yet—but a counsel of preparedness. The time had come to check Soviet expansionism. “From what I have seen of our Russian friends and allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.” Stalin could not let the Fulton speech go without a public comment: “Mr. Churchill is now in the position of a firebrand of war.”

Truman’s January 5 outburst, Stalin’s February broadside, or Churchill’s Missouri warning: One might pick any number of symbolic days when the ideological and military struggle that was to consume the world for the next forty-five years began. James Chace, the biographer of Dean Acheson, argues that the pride of date belongs to August 19, 1946. That was the day when the Truman administration publicly rejected Stalin’s call for joint Soviet-Turkish defense of the Straits—and backed up its words by dispatching a naval task force to Istanbul. For the first time (and not for the last), the United States had proclaimed to the Soviets that, to protect its interests, it was not afraid to resort to arms.

JAMES CHACE, who died in the fall of 2004, was a distinguished historian, foreign policy analyst, editor, and teacher. He is best known for his biography, Dean Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World, as well as several books on international affairs, including Solvency, America Invulnerable (with Caleb Carr), The Consequences of the Peace, and a memoir, What We Had. His final book was 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs—the Election That Changed the Country. The former managing editor of Foreign Affairs and editor in chief of World Policy Journal, Chace was the Henry Luce Professor in Freedom of Inquiry and Expression at Bard College.

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Table of Contents

I First skirmishes
The day the Cold War started 3
Cloak-and-dagger in Salzburg 13
The great rescue 20
Incident at Lang Fang 35
The escape of the Amethyst 43
II Police action
The United States, the U.N., and Korea 63
Truman fires MacArthur 71
The man who saved Korea 104
The first jet war 120
"Murderers of Koje-do!" 138
Strategic view : the meaning of Panmunjom 152
III The deep Cold War
The truth about overflights 161
The Berlin Tunnel 189
The invasion of Cuba 209
Twilight zone in the Pentagon 230
The right man 243
IV Vietnam : the long good-bye
Calamity on the R.C. 4 265
Dien Bien Phu 286
The general at ease : an interview with William C. Westmoreland 307
The mystery of the Khe Sanh 324
The evacuation of Kham Duc 345
MIA 358
"That's ocay XX time is on our side" 376
The Christmas bombing 397
V The end
The ICBM and the Cold War : technology in the driver's seat 419
The war scare of 1983 438
There goes Brussels ... 455
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2013

    Insiders

    If your reading this you want to know some of
    the inside stuff on the cold war. This bunch
    does a good job on that.

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