July 6, 2006


Yay, Yay for USA!: a review of John Lewis Gaddis' "The Cold War: A New History" (John Dolan, July 5, 2006, The eXile)

Ok, let's get realistic and lower our expectations here. As in: it would be foolish to expect anything other than smug gloating in an account of the Cold War by an aged American insider like Yale Professor John Lewis Gaddis, who has spent a lifetime battening on the uniformly wrong predictions of the Sovietologists' Guild. So suppress your gag reflex and any vestigial intellectual rigor, and you can enjoy this book. After all, Gaddis' thesis is simple and sensible: "For all its dangers, atrocities, costs, distractions, and moral compromises, the Cold War-like the American Civil War-was a necessary contest that settled fundamental issues once and for all. We have no reason to miss it. But given the alternatives, we have little reason either to regret its having occurred."

Fair enough, though you have to wonder why Gaddis needs 200 pages to point out that not having a nuclear exchange which wipes out the human race was, in retrospect, better than having one. It's kind of like the old joke about old age being preferable to the alternative -- comes under the "Duh!" category, more suited to the punchline format than a book-length treatise.

Which means this book must have some purpose other than its ostensible one. And it's not hard to discern this purpose: yup, good ol' gloating. Of course, Gaddis' book, like the two million other gloat-histories Western cheerleaders wrote after 1989, isn't so much a history as a long Monday-morning sports page, another chance for Reaganites to relive their Superbowl victory over the Moscow Medvedy.

The good professor is wrong, of course, it would have been much better to avoid the long Cold War by fighting a short Hot War. But what's interesting is that, not only was he not a Reaganaut, he was, at the time, in favor of fighting an even longer war and not forcing the final confrontation with the USSR. He's not a Reagan apologist, but a man big enough to apologize to Reagan.

We included his excellent essay on the Bush Doctrine in our book

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 6, 2006 10:43 AM

I missed the gloatfest this guy describes. I remember everyone telling us "This is not the time to gloat." And I never got an email when it was time.

Of course, I live in Massachusetts.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at July 6, 2006 12:24 PM

So the same folks who told us that the Soviet Union was a working society, and even a model for the rest of the world, now tell us to stop gloating after we ran the Commies outta town?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 6, 2006 2:22 PM

Matt: Same old stuff. Recall how all the Democrats who are now planning on campaigning purely on cut and run from Iraq were crying about those mean old Republicans "politicizing the war" a couple years ago?

Posted by: b at July 6, 2006 2:41 PM

I was pretty happy about it at the time--way beyond gloating. Beyond Te Deum Laudamus happy, almost to Nunc Dimmitis happy.

It was an occasion to be happy for all humanity, including the poor Russians.

If I really had an inquisition to run I should search the record for reactions to the going under of the whole rotten thing. The apologies for and vain wishes for resusitation of that monstrosity would tell me who was to dealt with.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 6, 2006 5:10 PM

It was such an occasion. Walking around under the Brandenburg Gate, seeing the Wall being carried away ziploc bag by ziploc bag, watching the former East Germans sell off their gear. Not gloating, just very glad and grateful.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 6, 2006 8:19 PM

joe shropshire:

You make it sound as if you saw it in person. Did you?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 7, 2006 6:05 PM

Matt: we went the following spring (in November '89 you still needed flag orders to travel to the Soviet sector even though the Wall was coming down. That ended in March or April 1990 IIRC.) The area around the Brandenburg Gate was basically a big flea market by then, you could buy pretty much any uniform piece you wanted. We loaded up on Russian bunny hats, the felt ones, and bought a couple of the wool overcoats, and the obligatory ziploc bags with Wall Chips. Pretty normal tourist stuff, which felt strange for a little while and then just felt great.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 7, 2006 11:02 PM