book reviews on books I've read
This book by historian Robert Dallek captures the conflicts leading up to and including the Cold War. Dallek begins with the close of World War II and the concessions made to enlist Stalin’s support in the war against Japan. He then moves on to the Cold War, beginning with Churchill’s “iron curtain” speech and continuing until he concludes with the start of the Vietnam War. Dallek’s thesis is that the Cold War and the ensuing arms race would have been preventable, at least in part, because of the American’s fear of the spread of Communism. According to Dallek, Stalin believed capitalist countries would destroy themselves out of their fierce competition to spread their wealth. Hence, the U.S. should not have feared aligning itself with communist China after WWII, but Truman, buckling under the pressure of McCarthyism, feared that Mao was in cahoots with Stalin, even though the Chinese distrusted the Soviets. They just wanted economic aid. This same fear led to the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Dallek states that Truman ignored one key fact: the Soviets, faced with the Berlin airlift, did not pursue the West; they withdrew.They were satisfied with the buffer zone they had created.
Dallek’s thesis resonates today with what is going on in Russia and North Korea. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has called for an arms buildup for the former Soviet Union’s outdated military, while North Korea’s leader has threatened the U.S. and South Korea with nuclear war. Fortunately, the U.S. has learned to measure its response since the Cold War. President H.W. Bush stopped the Persian Gulf War without invading Iraq because he recalled the example of the Korean War, in which Truman authorized U.S. forces to move beyond the 38th parallel. Likewise, President Obama has decided just to observe Putin rather than rattle the U.S.’s saber, and he even reached an agreement with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in both countries. In the case of North Korea, Obama moved an aircraft carrier into the peninsula, but went no further. Unfortunately, however, our record is not completely without blemish–there is George W. Bush’s intervention to topple Saddam Hussein with the Iraq War. Other countries, like Iran, North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Great Britain have followed the U.S.’s example and now have nuclear weapons, largely because of the U.S.’s success in winning the Cold War. Hence, the world has become a more dangerous place.