Kennedy and the Berlin Wall: "A Hell of a Lot Better than a War"

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Overview

Kennedy and the Berlin Wall tells the full story of the Berlin Crisis that riveted international attention and brought the world to the brink of nuclear warfare as Soviet and American tanks opposed each other on the streets of Berlin.

Drawing on the author's own experience as an American diplomat in Germany during the period, as well as on recently opened Soviet, East German, and American archives, Smyser tells the story of how the fate of a city affected national politics as well as geopolitics. This compelling mix of documentary resources and direct experience of diplomatic negotiations makes the book unique. The author has a keen sense of the critical moment and draws incisive portraits of the politicians and diplomats involved in this drama—most importantly, the two main actors, Kennedy and Khrushchev, but also DeGaulle for the French, Macmillan for the British, and Konrad Adenauer for the West Germans, as well as such critical career diplomats as Dean Rusk and Andrei Gromyko.

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Editorial Reviews

Henry A. Kissinger
The most comprehensive description of the Berlin Crisis of 1961. Well written and thoughtful, [Smyser's book] describes how Kennedy and Krushchev maneuvered at the edge of an abyss.
Daniel Schorr
Smyser illuminates the crisis over the Berlin wall and the way an untried President Kennedy maneuvered to avert an armed collision with the Soviets. I covered that crisis on the ground in Berlin in 1961. From this prodigiously researched book I now better understand the wider context of the crisis.
Garrick Utley
As a diplomat, Richard Smyser advised Gen. Lucius Clay. As a young German-speaking American he heard and faced the fears of the Berliners. Now, as a scholar, he tells the gripping story of the events that led to the Wall and the debate within the Kennedy administration over how to respond. He also describes how Kennedy found his 'voice' when he went to West Berlin and saw the Wall.
Horst Teltschik
Deeply impressive, this book recalls Kennedy's historic statement 'ich bin ein Berliner' and General Clay's cooperation with Kennedy to save Berlin. It should be read by all who want to know how Germany and Berlin are now free and united.
Egon Bahr
A friend of Berlin expertly pulls together new insights about the building of the Wall, the Checkpoint Charlie confrontation, and the tensions between Kennedy and Clay. He also shows the key Berlin connection to the Cuba crisis and describes the preparation for Kennedy's 'ich bin ein Berliner' speech.
Karl Kaiser
A superbly written study of John F. Kennedy's policies on Berlin . . . with fascinating new insights into the motives and statesmanship of [those] policies. This book provides new evidence how the survival of this enclave of the democratic world inside the Communist empire contributed to the West's victory in the Cold War.
The Washington Times
Mr. Smyser observed the Berlin crisis from his vantage point in the US Mission to Berlin 1960–64, serving under General Lucius D. Clay. And it is Gen. Clay who emerges as the hero of the standoff, persuading Mr. Kennedy not to yield to Soviet demands. . . . Mr. Smyser considered Berlin to be a valuable learning experience for the young president. This is a good read on a crisis even more dangerous than the Cuban missiles.
CHOICE
His observations, plus those of other individuals in directly involved in the events, and his extensive research in secondary and primary sources led to this major contribution to understanding Cold War history. . . . Highly recommended.
Booklist
A revealing, surprising, and riveting account of this prolonged crisis under the Kennedy administration. Smyser excels particularly in his portrayals of the key political figures. . . . An excellent addition to our understanding of a critical episode of the cold war.
Washington Times
Mr. Smyser observed the Berlin crisis from his vantage point in the US Mission to Berlin 1960–64, serving under General Lucius D. Clay. And it is Gen. Clay who emerges as the hero of the standoff, persuading Mr. Kennedy not to yield to Soviet demands. . . . Mr. Smyser considered Berlin to be a valuable learning experience for the young president. This is a good read on a crisis even more dangerous than the Cuban missiles.
The Tampa Tribune
This detail-rich account of that success in Berlin makes an important contribution to any analysis of Kennedy's short-lived presidency. History lovers will love this book.
Wisconsin Bookwatch
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the events shaping its creation have strong historical lessons to impart to posterity—making Kennedy and the Berlin Wall a worthy addition to both public and college library history shelves.
Choice
His observations, plus those of other individuals in directly involved in the events, and his extensive research in secondary and primary sources led to this major contribution to understanding Cold War history. . . . Highly recommended.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780742560901
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/16/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

W. R. Smyser served at the U.S. Mission in Berlin from 1960 to 1964 and was Assistant to General Lucius Clay during the Berlin Wall Crisis. He then served at the White House as Senior Staff and later at the United Nations as Assistant Secretary-General. He has been a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Henry Alfred Kissinger Scholar at the Library of Congress. He has written numerous books and articles on Germany and Europe.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: "Ich Bin Ein Berliner"
Chapter 2: "A Bone in My Throat"
Chapter 3: "Let the Word Go Forth"
Chapter 4: "Alas, Mr. Ambassador, We Shall Die Together"
Chapter 5: "I never Met a Man like That"
Chapter 6: "This Is the Answer!"
Chapter 7: "The East Germans Have Done Us a Favor"
Chapter 8: "I Am Not Afraid of Escalation"
Chapter 9: "The Game Continues"
Chapter 10: "We'll Talk the Problem to Death"
Chapter 11: "This May End in a Big War"
Chapter 12: "Treaties Are like Maidens and Roses"
Chapter 13: "We'll Never Have another Day like This"
Chapter 14: "Our Hope is the Ami"
Chapter 15: "We Are the People"

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