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NAME CLASS The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis John Lewis Gaddis, currently a professor

at Yale University, is one of the worlds foremost experts on the relationship that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union during an incredibly tense period known as the Cold War. In 1978, he published The Cold War: A New History. The book was noted for the way it managed to maintain its neutrality despite being written by a person who for all obvious reasons should be preaching a Pro-American viewpoint. Today, it is still often very difficult to find an account of the Cold War which is written without bias. Depending on the authors political position, and often times simply nationality, an account of the Cold War can have a distinctly pro-American or proSoviet/Russian viewpoint. The book concentrates on the overall history and attempts to explain the decisions that brought the world to where it was at the time of the Soviet collapse in 1991. There were several interesting points that Gaddis made. First, it is certainly interesting that a war which took place for such a long time, really only had conflicts that were isolated through other countries, such as Korea. Beyond that, he also discusses his theories about how Dtente, the calmer period of the Cold War that led to a warming of relations between the two superpowers was far from positive in many different ways. The book genuinely helped me understand the conflict from the viewpoints of the leaders of both sides of the conflict. Some of his last points addressed the ways in which Ronald Reagan helped hasten the collapse of the Soviet Union while still maintaining friendly relations with the Soviet leader at the time. According to Gaddis, the United States and the Soviet Union did indeed fight several actual wars against each other, but not directly. Gaddis noted that it was all but impossible for

the two superpowers to fight a direct war against each other. Ever since both sides managed to obtain a nuclear weapon in the late 1940s, a new reality emerged. Both sides feared that if one side launched an attack, that even if they eventually won the war, it would be at the price of their own destruction. For example, if the United States would launch a nuclear missile at the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union would have enough time to notice that the launch took place and send their own missiles overseas to all of the major American cities. This new strategy became known as Mutual Assured Destruction, its acronym, with wicked appropriateness, was MAD (Gaddis 80). Basically, if anyone fired first, the potential for an end-of the-world war was very real. However, the two sides did manage to engage each other through proxy wars. According to Gaddis, the Korean War was a prime example. The United States, or, more specifically, the United Nations, was fighting against the North Koreans in their attempts to conquer South Korea. After launching a surprise attacking using Soviet equipment, the South Koreans managed to regain the initiative using American soldiers and American equipment. This would be something fairly common throughout the war. Whenever a conflict emerged that pitted one of the superpowers against an enemy, almost without exception the enemys weapons were obtained by leveraging the interests of the other superpower. In Vietnam, for example, the Vietcong were equipped with Soviet weapons. In Afghanistan, after the Soviets invaded in 1979, the Afghans received a major supply of United States weaponry. Ironically, that same weaponry is still used today to fight against American and coalition soldiers. What makes the Korean War particularly interesting is Gaddis examination of the archives of both sides. This may have been the only conflict in which American and Soviet military forces clashed directly. In the early phases of the Korean War, the battle for air supremacy was still very much in the balance. Officially, the Soviets were only advisors and teachers with regards to the Korean Air Force.

Gaddis seems to have been able to uncover evidence that American and Soviet pilots engaged directly against each other in mostly inconclusive encounters. The United States resolved to keep the Korean War limited, even if that meant an indefinite stalemate (Gaddis 50). Had the United States have known at the time that the Soviets were actively engaged against their soldiers, the war would definitely become anything but limited. The next fact I found particularly interesting was Gaddis take on Dtente. Dtente, a French word, was a period of calming relations between the sides. The period lasted, depending on the source, from approximately 1969 to 1979, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Most writers today speak about the benefits of Dtente, namely the temporary subsiding of fears that the world could end at any moment. In many respects, such as that one, they are correct. However, from the perspective of a person who lived under communist rule, Gaddis writes that they were actually very disappointed by this. While no official record exists, it is fairly clear that most people who were forced to live under Soviet rule wanted to know part of it. Some obvious examples exist, such as the frequent escape into West Germany from Soviet-occupied East Germany, or the immediate democratization of all the post-Soviet states in 1991. The reason for the disappointment, according to the author, is that the people of the Soviet territories felt that they were losing any hope of ever seeing the end of Soviet rule. If even the Americans would accept them and work towards better relations with them, then who would ever come to help them. Over the course of dtente there were several notable accomplishments, such as test ban treaties and arms limitation treaties, which helped avert a disaster. Many of agreements during this period, such as the Helsinki accords worked to legitimize Soviet rule, a very troubling development for many Soviet dominated citizens. The Helsinki accords were an agreement signed by thirty-five nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union. Basically, they

were a document that worked to improve the relations between both sides through mutual respect. Equally important was the fact that it included a very large clause regarding human rights, including freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The Soviet Union was in no position to preach that it was an honest member of world society, but the document served to legitimize them, especially when it was signed by the United States as well. By placing the Soviet Union on an equal footing, Gaddis argues that this was one mistake of the American leadership. Ultimately, the Helsinki accords may have simply been a piece of Soviet propaganda. Behind the Berlin Wall (a public humiliation of Marxism-Leninism according to Gaddis), it was impossible to tell what the Soviet Union was doing to its citizens in violation of the document it had just signed. Dtente would soon pass and a new period of tension would emerge. By the mid 1980s, it was becoming more and more evident that the Soviet Union was unable to keep up with the United States in terms of overall economic and military production. The Soviet Union was forced to divert more and more money away from its domestic spending on consumer goods and funnel it into military. While discussing this particular historical event, Gaddis really delves into the decision making process behind both leaders actions Ronald Reagan would go so far as the call the Soviet Union an evil empire (Gaddis 243). President Reagan took on a policy of actively increasing American arms expenditures in order to try to convince the Soviet Union that there was no way they could keep up with the American economy in that respect. Gaddis called Ronald Reagan a saboteur of the status quo for his efforts to undermine the Soviet Union in a way that no other United States president had tried before (Gaddis 212). The American economy, despite all its cycles, was able to keep a domestic economy fully supplied while increasing the amount of weapons spending. The Soviet Union on the other hand, was forced to stop making a

consumer good for every new piece of equipment it planned on putting out. One of the most important events of the entire cold war actually happened in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. At the Reagan-Gorbachev (Soviet leader) summit, held in October in Reykjavik, Iceland, showed how far the rethinking had gone (Gaddis 247). During the summit meeting, Reagan proposed something almost entirely unthinkable to Gorbachev, the abolishment of all but a mere handful of nuclear missiles. Had this proposal been accepted by both sides, who knows where we could have ended up today? The Soviet Union would have, at this point, significantly benefited from a reduction in their nuclear arsenal so they could devote resources back to the civilian industries. The United States, on the other hand, would have certainly from a calmer worldwide environment. However, the sides ended up stalling their negotiations over something known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI. The SDI was designed partially as a long-term project aimed at completely eliminating the Soviet nuclear threat by destroying them while they were in flight, from space. The project was highly ambitious. Gaddis points out that is definitely possible that SDI was mainly used as a fictitious way to gain an upper hand in negotiations over the Soviet Union. As evidence for this, he points back to the Reykjavik Summit. The Soviet Union was willing to agree to elimination of all but a handful of its nuclear weapons, in return the United States doing the same as well as sharing the technology for SDI with the Soviet Union. If Reagan truly wanted peace, which it appeared he did, why wouldnt he want to reduce the number of worldwide nuclear missiles? If there was no technology to be shared, on the other hand, the United States would be placed in an awkward diplomatic position. The Soviet leader, Gorbachev, for the moment remained unmoved. The United States would have to give up the right to deploy SDI (Gaddis 248). As a result of neither side willing to budge on this issue, the Reykjavik Summit of 1986 remains, to this day, the closest the world came to eliminating

nuclear missiles since they were originally created. Eventually, this overwhelming spending by the United States did indeed overwhelm the Soviet economy. By 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Overall, Gaddis does a great job of informing readers about the different situations that occurred over the Cold War. The events I picked were simply illustrations of the wide range of issues that the United States and the Soviet Union had to deal with over the course of the Cold War. In reality, there were a multitude of intricacies that may never be known to us. The development of the Cold War is interesting in its own right. There were rotating periods of mutual cooperation, such as during dtente and World War 2, to outright hostility like during periods like the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Furthermore, Gaddis is able to show us the impact that individuals, such as the leaders of the two nations, would have on steering the events of the world. Both sides, at various times, enjoyed the benefits of strong, capable leaders, while at other times falling behind their counterpart during periods of terrible leadership. Interestingly enough, all of this happened with the threat of the end of the humanity looming over the heads of the entire world.

Works Cited
Gaddis, John L. The Cold War: A New History. Penguin, 2006.

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