The First Cold War: The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson in U. S.-Soviet Relations

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In The First Cold War, Donald E. Davis and Eugene P. Trani review the Wilson administration’s attitudes toward Russia before, during, and after the Bolshevik seizure of power. They argue that before the Russian Revolution, Woodrow Wilson had little understanding of Russia and made poor appointments that cost the United States Russian goodwill. Wilson later reversed those negative impressions by being the first to recognize Russia’s Provisional Government, resulting in positive U.S.-Russian relations until Lenin gained power in 1917.

Wilson at first seemed unsure whether to recognize or repudiate Lenin and the Bolsheviks. His vacillation finally ended in a firm repudiation when he opted for a diplomatic quarantine having almost all of the ingredients of the later Cold War. Davis and Trani argue that Wilson deserves mild criticism for his early indecision and inability to form a coherent policy toward what would become the Soviet Union. But they believe Wilson rightly came to the conclusion that until the regime became more moderate, it was useless for America to engage it diplomatically.

The authors see in Wilson’s approach the foundations for the “first Cold War”—meaning not simply a refusal to recognize the Soviet Union, but a strong belief that its influence was harmful and would spread if not contained or quarantined. Wilson’s Soviet policy in essence lasted until Roosevelt extended diplomatic recognition in the 1930s. But The First Cold War suggests that Wilson’s impact extended beyond Roosevelt to Truman, showing that the policies of Wilson and Truman closely resemble each other with the exception of an arms race. Wilson’s intellectual reputation lent credibility to U.S. Cold War policy from Truman to Reagan, and the reader can draw a direct connection from Wilson to the collapse of the USSR. Wilsonians were the first Cold War warriors, and in the era of President Woodrow Wilson, the first Cold War began.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The First Cold War brings new ideas and a fresh viewpoint to one of the most significant subjects in twentieth-century international relations. . . . It persuasively advances the thesis that the policy position Wilson arrived at through trial and error, one of patient quarantine,' was the precursor and model for George Kennan's containment,' which formed the basis for America's long and ultimately successful prosecution of the Cold War. This is an important book with a fascinating, pertinent message."—John Milton Cooper, Jr.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826213884
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald E. Davis is Professor of History at Illinois State University in Normal. He is the editor of No East or West: The Memoirs of Paul B. Anderson.
Eugene P. Trani is President of Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of several books, including The Presidency of Warren G. Harding.

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Table of Contents

Foreword to the Russian Edition
Introduction: 1913: Russo-American Relations 1
1 1914-1916: Three Ambassadors for St. Petersburg 15
2 1917: The Root Mission and Stevens Railway Commission 35
3 Wilson and Lansing Face Lenin and Trotsky 58
4 December 1917: The Struggle for a Policy 74
5 January 1918: Point VI of XIV 100
6 Northern Russia and Siberia 128
7 1919: Paris in the Spring 158
8 The First Cold Warriors 175
Conclusions: 1921: The First Cold War 200
An Essay on Notes and Sources 207
Notes 233
Bibliography 291
Index 313
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2003

    The Cold War's Origins

    'Woodrow Wilson never banged his shoe on a lectern, threatening to bury anyone. He never claimed to be a Berliner, nor offered to name names. But a ... book by Donald E. Davis and Eugene P. Trani ... makes the case that Wilson was, all the same, the first cold warrior. According to [the authors] when Wilson was inaugurated in 1913, the American diplomatic corps in Russia was a shambles. Wilson entered the presidency avowedly uninterested in foreign affairs. He was quickly faced with a world war and then, in 1917, the Russian Revolution. Afraid of how the new government in Russia would affect the outcome of the war and uncertain how to talk productively to the radical Bolsheviks, Wilson embarked on a policy of diplomatic quarantine that lasted until 1933, prefiguring the Cold War.' as quoted from the Indiana Alumni Magazine

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