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On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague

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In 1945, both the U.S. State Department and U.S. Intelligence saw Czechoslovakia as the master key to the balance of power in Europe and as a chessboard for the power-game between East and West. Washington believed that the political scene in Prague was the best available indicator of whether the United States would be able to coexist with Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union.
In this book, Igor Lukes illuminates the end of World War II and the early stages of the Cold War in Prague, showing why the United States failed to prevent Czechoslovakia from being absorbed into the Soviet bloc. He draws on documents from archives in the United States and the Czech Republic, on the testimonies of high ranking officers who served in the U.S. Embassy from 1945 to 1948, and on unpublished manuscripts, diaries, and memoirs.
Exploiting this wealth of evidence, Lukes paints a critical portrait of Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt. He shows that Steinhardt's groundless optimism caused Washington to ignore clear signs that democracy in Czechoslovakia was in trouble. Although U.S. Intelligence officials who served in Prague were committed to the mission of gathering information and protecting democracy, they were defeated by the Czech and Soviet clandestine services that proved to be more shrewd, innovative, and eager to win. Indeed, Lukes reveals that a key American officer may have been turned by the Russians. For all these reasons, when the Communists moved to impose their dictatorship, the U.S. Embassy and its CIA section were unprepared and powerless.
The fall of Czechoslovakia in 1948 helped deepen Cold War tensions for decades to come. Vividly written and filled with colorful portraits of the key participants, On the Edge of the Cold War offers an authoritative account of this key foreign policy debacle.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Vividly told." --Kieran Williams, Times Literary Supplement

"Lukes's work is more than a study of postwar events in one country in Eastern Europe caught up in the rivalry between Washington and Moscow. He makes a significant contribution to the field of cold war studies. Although the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia was unique and delayed compared to other East European countries, Lukes gives insight not just into the role of U.S. policy, but also into Moscow's reactions and its perceptions of Washington as well as what was happening in the Prague government . Will be the major account of this period in U.S.-Czechoslovak relations for many years to come."--Paul Kubricht, H-Net

"Lukes convincingly backs up his arguments with fascinating depictions of the personalities involved, which are detailed and penetrating but never unkind or unconscious of attractive traits. Highly Recommended." --CHOICE

"As Igor Lukes shows in On the Edge of the Cold War, his engrossing chronicle of the days when Czechoslovakia hung in the balance, the country's place behind the Iron Curtain was anything but invaluable account." --Wall Street Journal

"This is a surprisingly good book. It is surprising because it could have been a narrowly focused dry scholarly diplomatic history. Instead, On the Edge of the Cold War provides a brisk narrative that includes lively portraits of American diplomats and spies and raises the question of whether America could have saved Czechoslovakia from Communist takeover in 1948." --H-Diplo

"Though full of thrilling detail, this excellent history of the failure of American diplomats and spies to support Czechoslovak democracy before the communist takeover is ultimately quite sobering. Deep research in both American and Czech archives reveals some of the lessons that Americans had to learn in order to become a great power." --Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands

"Espionage and intelligence-gathering have often been described as the 'missing dimension' in the historiography of the Cold War. Igor Lukes's fascinating book fills in this dimension in great detail. By showing how U.S. intelligence agencies went astray in early postwar Czechoslovakia, Lukes's gripping narrative sheds invaluable light on the initial years of the Cold War." --Mark Kramer, Cold War Studies Program, Harvard University

"Superb and unique--I know of no account of the Cold War's beginnings as vivid and entertaining as this or as full of lessons and warnings for today. Igor Lukes presents these three postwar years as a high-stake drama, full of suspense. Had that drama ended differently--and he reminds us that it could have--it would have changed the shape of the Cold War that was to beset the world for two generations. With sinking hearts we watch Czechoslovak democracy--this pivot point, this 'master key to Europe'--being lost, step by step, by wrong-headed Western policies, naiveté, lack of will, and inept intelligence work." --Tennent H. Bagley, author of Spy Wars

"Unique among studies of the history of the Cold War, Lukes's book is a penetrating account of the human cost of U.S. diplomacy and intelligence for their practitioners as well as their unintended victims during the formative period of the global conflict. A result of prodigious multi-archival research, the absorbing narrative puts the catalytic role of Czechoslovakia into a new light." --Vojtech Mastny, author of The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity

"With inventive research and skillful storytelling, Igor Lukes reconstructs the crucial Cold War history of Czechoslovakia between the collapse of the Third Reich and the momentous February 1948 Czech coup. A striking cast of characters--adventurous spies, naive diplomats, secret police rogues, and seductive women--inhabits this intriguing, if ultimately tragic, tale of the fecklessness of the U.S. government when facing the destruction of Czechoslovak democracy." --Norman M. Naimark, Stanford University

"In his meticulously researched book "On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague," historian Igor Lukes describes how a small group of Soviet-backed communists were able to seize power in Czechoslovakia in 1948." -Washington Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195166798
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/8/2012
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 1,323,406
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Igor Lukes is University Professor of History and International Relations at Boston University. He is the author of Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Benes in the Thirties and Rudolf Slansky: His Trials and Trial.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Introduction. Postwar Czechoslovakia: The Master Key to Europe?
1. Resurrecting Czechoslovakia from its Munich Grave
2. General Eisenhower Declines to Liberate Prague
3. Spring 1945: The Americans Return to the Sch�nborn Palace
4. Ambassador Steinhardt's Delayed Arrival
5. A Chronicle of Wasted Opportunities
6. Steinhardt Encounters Reality: Nationalization, Expulsions, and U.S. Military Withdrawal
7. America's First Warning Signs: From the Stechovice Raid Toward the May 1946 Elections
8. Great Expectations and Lost Illusions: U.S. Intelligence in Postwar Prague
9. Passing the Point of No-Return: Prague Withdraws from the Marshall Plan
10. The Communists Exchange Popularity for Absolute Power
11. The Sch�nborn Palace Under Siege: Americans as "Spies and Saboteurs"
Notes Index

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