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John Lewis Gaddis

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Om forfatteren

John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University

Værker af John Lewis Gaddis

Associated Works

The Best American Political Writing 2005 (2005) — Bidragyder — 37 eksemplarer
The Cold War in Europe: Era of a Divided Continent (1991) — Bidragyder — 12 eksemplarer

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History is written by the winners. This book is no way an exception to this adage. True, I was born in the vanquished state, yet I was in a tender age, when the collapse occurred hence unlike adults I lost little in the process. Or I was lucky enough to have parents and family to shield me from the embittering and devastating effects of the chaos that ensued. Anyway I approached the book with as open mind as possible, given the situation.

Previously I was smitten with revelations of how the Cold War unfolded in Europe, following my reading of the wonderful Tony Judt’s “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945”. There the whole misery of European countries beyond the Iron Curtain dawned on me (not that it was only hopeless drudgery instead of life over there. There were bright spots for sure). We are not that much educated upon what was happening in USSR-influenced territories. Prevailing opinion here is that they just sucked of vital resources, which were more than necessary home, since people in USSR we constantly confronted with shortages of this and that. And when those countries eagerly rushed into embraces of the archenemy – well, they were branded ungrateful renegades, who defected even when we afforded them better living conditions than we had ourselves.

Now the book. I did count on objective narrative of this most cynical standoff that dominated world politics for nearly 50 years. And it appears that the author did try to make a book precisely like that. But to me it appears that it just proved the rule, quoted in the beginning. Time and again I tried to check my frustrations saying “it’s just because you’re from the USSR and it’s your natural defensiveness”. Thus maybe you should also doubt my impressions, but I tried to be unbiased.

First of all I believe such histories should be written by the least biased nationals as possible, either by neutrals or…Swedes :) Because time and again I felt that Communist block’s actions were thoroughly thrashed and vilified while similar misgivings and CRIMES by the US were giving a superficial disapproval, without exposing their full horrible consequences.

True, the author perfunctory coverage of the Vietnam War is compensated with equally tangential description of Afghan War (where no US participation is acknowledged, no matter how direct). Yet while the USSR is being lambasted for its role in suppression of Hungarian and Czech uprisings, American actions in other countries are presented in far less dramatic cadences.

What actually pricked my ears first early in the book was author’s statement that since the Americans preferred a state of aloofness they didn’t pestered foreign nations. He does acknowledge that the US had procured a colony for itself in Philippines. Not so fast, I read S. Kinzer’s wonderful book “Overthrow: America’s century of regime change from Hawaii to Iraq”. You don’t fool me. USA finished independent kingdom of Hawaii on a whim, USA invaded Cuba on a trumped up pretext, and there were several other blatant cases beyond the acknowledged interventions in Guatemala, Iran, Vietnam and Chile. Should I be surprised that the US invaded Grenada as late as mid 80-es to forestall recently elected leftist government there (just in case – it’s our underbelly after all) and the author prefers not to mention it, overawed by the unfolding disintegration of corrupted Eastern Bloc in Europe?

Yet by and large all these my pickings are just historical footnotes and may as well be subjective. What counts is now. And looking at the winner and the world it created I cannot say that the best scenario had won the global dominance. US (with defeated Russia not far away) is world’s leader for prison inmates. Itself and its citizens are carrying the largest debt, and has the military strength mightier than several followers combined with bases and secret prisons everywhere. It has a huge number of homeless people and there’s no safety net, enjoyed by the oppressed citizens of the Eastern block. If now all those unlucky millions who eat dust in the wake of the rat race towards the American dream are asked “How would you look at guaranteed lifetime employment with salary and generous paid vacations, decent free medicine and free college education (and higher) and a pension enough not only to survive, but to still have a human dignity (things all people in Soviet block had), but have little say in matters of politics, don’t have a tremendous choice of goods, and opportunities to travel beyond a dozen of states, but where country leaders are not fat cats, and where you can let your 7-year old child travel the public transport to go to the free Olympic swimming pool for practice half a city size of Moscow away (myself) without any threat of him being molested, kidnapped or shot”? I am not sure everyone would have chosen an abstract ‘freedom’, being sold now.

Be sure I’m not an apologist of the USSR, but as I said above, if it was Sweden or any other Nordic European country that had won the Cold War and established its system’s supremacy and model all over the world, I would have had no qualms. But here in this book I encounter a narrative that offers no explanation for the imploration of the Eastern block beyond the statement that ‘times they a’ changing’ and new leaders of the West had hugely benefited from their stints as actors to cut new figures on the political scene (Reagan and John Paul II). Yet all the way being very pleased that the ‘bad guys’ lost.

My Goodreads friend Caroline has recently reviewed a book on the apparent shortcomings of ‘free capitalism’ - "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism". It appears that taken at face value and with blind faith the ‘free market’ system as viable and human being friendly as theoretical communism. Quite the opposite that is.

This is the only reason I didn’t like the book, which instills a thought that the best ever option won, and currently as it controls the world, we are living in the best reality possible. When in fact it’s not. It does sound self-congratulatory indeed.

For a great objective review of a conflict, we all think we know everything about, try “Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization “. Here the author tries to see real Carthage under the layers of interpretations and clichés heaped upon it by centuries of Roman commentators and the later admirers. The picture appearing does not flatter the Romans…
… (mere)
Den85 | 33 andre anmeldelser | Jan 3, 2024 |
Caveat- listened to this book via Audible. As an audiobook, it does not work great. You must have an immaculate attention span and never break focus for so much as a moment, otherwise you'll be saying to yourself, "Wait, Breshnev again? I thought we'd moved on to Gorby. Damn it."
IsraOverZero | 33 andre anmeldelser | Sep 23, 2023 |
Summary: The authorized biography of this diplomat and strategic thinker who articulated the Western strategy of “containment” that curbed and ultimately resulted in the end of the former Soviet Union.

He grew up in modest surroundings in a quiet Milwaukee neighborhood, bereft of his mother, who died in early childhood. After a college career at Princeton, he entered the foreign service and became one of the first Russian specialists when the Soviet Union was closed to the United States. He was one of the first Russia experts to go to Russia when the U.S. opened an embassy in 1933. As the Nazi threat rose, he took assignments in Prague, and then Berlin, leading to his internment during the first months of the war. Later, he returned to Moscow under Ambassador Harriman.

It was while Harriman was away that a request came in 1946 to Kennan as deputy to explain certain aspects of Soviet behavior. Kennan long had bemoaned the lack of “grand strategy” on the part of the U.S., particularly in the post-war situation where the once-ally was now an ideological adversary once more. He sent an 8,000 word telegram, known as the “Long Telegram” that articulated both Kennan’s assessment of the Soviet outlook, and what he thought the appropriate American response, one of containment, checking Soviet threats while projecting a peaceful intent and strengthening western Europe until the Soviets could no longer control their satellites. Kennan perceived the unsustainability of the Soviet state.

Later, this was expanded into a Foreign Affairs article by “X.” What he had done was nothing less than articulate the strategy the United States would follow, with variations, for the next forty-five years. He soon was called upon to help establish the War College, as deputy director, an advanced training school for rising officers in the services. He also was called on to form the Policy Planning Staff, which over the next years, during the Truman administration, published policy papers for nearly every part of th world, including one on Yugoslavia, recognizing that communism often was a nationalist movement not necessarily aligned with Moscow.

Over his life, Kennan went on to a post at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, where he wrote Russia Leaves the War, winning multiple awards including the Pulitzer Prize in History and a second Pulitzer years later for the first volume of his memoirs. He was an early opponent of the nuclear arms race, an early advocate for the environment, he proposed the reunification of Germany, he opposed the Vietnam war, testifying in 1966 to its folly before Congress.

Yet Kennan never held positions any higher than an ambassadorship in Moscow that last merely five months before undiplomatic remarks led to him being declared persona non grata. Under Kennedy, he served as ambassador in Yugoslavia for two years. A recurring complaint was that no one was listening, and in a profession where diplomacy was the name of the game, he could be quite undiplomatic. Acheson as Secretary of State was an admirer and friend but thought him utterly impractical.

He was a person of incredible rectitude, always elegantly dressed, articulate and well-spoken, and elegant in writing. He lived under the shadow of another George Kennan, also an ambassador to Russia, his grandfather’s cousin, with whom he shared a birthday. Recognition was important to this man who grew up without a mother and a distant father. When things became stressful, he suffered from a variety of illnesses including ulcers. He was married to Annelise until his death at 101, yet also had several affairs, and then suffered under a Calvinist-formed conscience.

In sum, he was a complicated individual–understanding the Soviet Union better than almost anyone, yet despairing for the character of his own country, particularly the “counter-culture” of which he spoke critically. He was prescient, and at times incisive, and at others, a bit of a wool-gatherer and one to whom others turned a deaf ear. John Lewis Gaddis, selected by Kennan to write his authorized biography, explores not only the extraordinary career of Kennan but the complexities of his character. This biography is a model of erudition, one that captures as fully as any biography I’ve read, the character as well as the accomplishments of its subject. Closing the circle, Gaddis followed his subject in winning the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the National Book Critics Circle award for this work. This is a profound work not only in understanding Kennan, but also American foreign policy since World War II.
… (mere)
BobonBooks | 10 andre anmeldelser | Sep 18, 2023 |
Oorspronkelijke titel: The Cold War
HenkJantenZijthoff | 33 andre anmeldelser | May 23, 2023 |



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