The Devil We Knew: Americans and the Cold War [NOOK Book]

Overview

In the late 1950s, Washington was driven by its fear of communist subversion: it saw the hand of Kremlin behind developments at home and across the globe. The FBI was obsessed with the threat posed by American communist party--yet party membership had sunk so low, writes H.W. Brands, that it could have fit "inside a high-school gymnasium," and it was so heavily infiltrated that J. Edgar Hoover actually contemplated using his informers as a voting bloc to take over the party. Abroad, the preoccupation with ...
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The Devil We Knew: Americans and the Cold War

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Overview

In the late 1950s, Washington was driven by its fear of communist subversion: it saw the hand of Kremlin behind developments at home and across the globe. The FBI was obsessed with the threat posed by American communist party--yet party membership had sunk so low, writes H.W. Brands, that it could have fit "inside a high-school gymnasium," and it was so heavily infiltrated that J. Edgar Hoover actually contemplated using his informers as a voting bloc to take over the party. Abroad, the preoccupation with communism drove the White House to help overthrow democratically elected governments in Guatemala and Iran, and replace them with dictatorships. But by then the Cold War had long since blinded Americans to the ironies of their battle against communism. In The Devil We Knew, Brands provides a witty, perceptive history of the American experience of the Cold War, from Truman's creation of the CIA to Ronald Reagan's creation of SDI. Brands has written a number of highly regarded works on America in the twentieth century; here he puts his experience to work in a volume of impeccable scholarship and exceptional verve. He turns a critical eye to the strategic conceptions (and misconceptions) that led a once-isolationist nation to pursue the war against communism to the most remote places on Earth. By the time Eisenhower left office, the United States was fighting communism by backing dictators from Iran to South Vietnam, from Latin America to the Middle East--while engaging in covert operations the world over. Brands offers no apologies for communist behavior, but he deftly illustrates the strained thinking that led Washington to commit gravely disproportionate resources (including tens of thousands of lives in Korea and Vietnam) to questionable causes. He keenly analyzes the changing policies of each administration, from Nixon's juggling (SALT talks with Moscow, new relations with Ccmmunist China, and bombing North Vietnam) to Carter's confusion to Reagan's laserrattling. Equally important is his incisive, often amusing look at how the anti-Soviet struggle was exploited by politicians, industrialists, and government agencies. He weaves in deft sketches of figures like Barry Goldwater and Henry Jackson (who won a Senate seat with the promise, "Many plants will be converting from peace time to all-out defense production"). We see John F. Kennedy deliver an eloquent speech in 1957 defending the rising forces of nationalism in Algeria and Vietnam; we also see him in the White House a few years later, ordering a massive increase in America's troop commitment to Saigon. The book ranges through the economics and psychology of the Cold War, demonstrating how the confrontation created its own constituencies in private industry and public life. In the end, Americans claimed victory in the Cold War, but Brands's account gives us reason to tone down the celebrations. "Most perversely," he writes, "the call to arms against communism caused American leaders to subvert the principles that constituted their country's best argument against communism." This far-reaching history makes clear that the Cold War was simultaneously far more, and far less, than we ever imagined at the time.

In a witty, perceptive history, Brands provides an engaging account of American anticommunist policies and politics at home and abroad, and shows how the Cold War was exploited by politicians, bureaucrats, and industrialists. Brand's previous books include Bound to Empire and Inside the Cold War.

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Editorial Reviews

Mary Carroll
The Cold War, Texas A&M history professor Brands argues, "was no war at all, but simply the management of national interests in a world of competing powers . . . the sort of thing great powers had done as long as there had been great powers." The Cold War "metaphor", however, "once established and institutionalized . . . developed a life of its own." Both internally and externally, the bipolar worldview's "conceptual simplicity" satisfied a shifting mix of U.S. needs and objectives, while obscuring the real threats and weaknesses of what President Reagan used to call "the Evil Empire." Brands' study deftly probes the interplay of psychological, strategic, economic, and political factors in forming--and then freezing--U.S. policy from the Marshall Plan to "Star Wars," from loyalty oaths to the Gulf War. Having lost the oversimplification that defined the last half-century, all the usual suspects now call for new paradigms: "The Devil We Knew" convincingly demonstrates the cost--to the U.S. and other nations, in lives and dollars, human rights and moral principle--of an unchallenged and unchallengeable paradigm that is "better as a literary device than as a description of international reality."
Booknews
A critical history of the American experience of the Cold War, from Truman's creation of the CIA to Reagan's creation of SDI, and on to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In the end, the US claimed victory, but, according to Brands "The call to arms against communism caused American leaders to subvert the principles that constituted their country's best argument against communism." Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A sophisticated interpretation of America's involvement in the cold war that appears calculated to draw fire from the left as well as right. In assessing the conflict's origins and costs, Brands (History/Texas A&M) provides a wide-ranging survey of US foreign policy from Yalta through the Berlin Wall's collapse. Following WW II, he argues, perceived political imperatives on the home front induced US leaders to take a balance-of-power approach to global security. Positions soon hardened, with the result that containment doctrine dominated American strategies in Western Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. In time, Brands recounts, the US/USSR confrontation (which proved a bonanza for the military/industrial complex) acquired a life of its own—one that conceptual simplicity made acceptable, even soul-satisfying, to the domestic electorates. While stopping short of claiming that the Kremlin posed no threat (nuclear or otherwise) to the national interest, Brands concludes that American antagonism prolonged a deadlock that, he suggests, could have been resolved as early as Stalin's death in 1953, as well as at several subsequent junctures. But as the author makes clear, the superpowers managed to avoid direct face-offs (except in Cuba) in the course of their protracted hostilities. Nor does Brands ignore the irony of reactionary Republicans like Nixon and Reagan doing more for the cause of d‚tente than such liberal Democrats as JFK and LBJ, who felt obliged to take a hard line against Communist aggression. In his mildly contrarian reckoning of the Red menace's socioeconomic and geopolitical implications, moreover, Brands displays an impressive flair for vividphrasing: "The arena of American political debate during the early 1950s was slick with half-truths and smaller fractions"; "during the autumn of 1989, history hopped a fast train West...." A provocative audit of an adversarial world order whose passing, in retrospect at least, seems to have been long overdue.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199879960
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/30/1993
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 529,883
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

About the Author:
H.W. Brands is Professor of History at Texas A&M University. His books include Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines, and Inside the Cold War: Loy Henderson and the Rise of the American Empire.

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Table of Contents

1 The Last Days of American Internationalism: 1945-1950 3
2 The National Insecurity State: 1950-1955 31
3 The Immoral Equivalent of War: 1955-1962 59
4 The Wages of Hubris: 1962-1968 86
5 What Did We Know and When Did We Know It?: 1969-1977 118
6 Old Verities Die Hardest: 1977-1984 148
7 Who Won the Cold War?: 1984-1991 187
Notes 229
Index 237
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