Dec 2nd 2014

The Cold War in Retrospect: How Historians Still Get It Wrong

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

Are Western historians going soft on the Cold War that the Russians waged against the West for 45 years? A new look at trends in this gray area of history indicates that many writers and younger generations now contend the threat of hostilities, including nuclear exchanges, can be blamed primarily on American post-war posture, not solely on that of the Russians.

But historian Albert Weeks, a former State Department official and long-time academic, has produced a concise and polemical book to confront this “lamentable historiographic distortion.” Now 91 and retired in Florida, he seeks to set the record straight.

Myths of the Cold War: Amending Historiographic Distortions pulls you up short with its meticulous survey of how Russia spooked the West into reacting in unusually bellicose terms. The Cold War lasted from 1946 to 1991 and is often cited today for lessons it teaches us for the future — as Russia again expands its borders and cools relations with the West. Should another cold war emerge, this book will serve as a useful backgrounder.

Weeks is aghast at some Anglo-Saxon historians’ swing in favor of the Russians. “In my over 50 years of college teaching… I find the prevailing attitude toward the Cold War… might best be summed up with the opinion that it was ‘much ado about nothing, a waste of money.’” In fact, the costs to Western powers are generally estimated at $4 trillion while the Soviet Union spent another $4-6 trillion orchestrating it, mostly on armament and logistics.

The common Russian view of its Cold War strategy — that Moscow needed an “active defense” against its fear of Western aggression — “is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.” Weeks asserts. “The fallaciousness and unfairness of this historiographic mythology should be obvious.”

To bolster his argument, Weeks supplies maps and charts showing how Russia expanded since 1939. He enumerates his case in hard facts — annexation of four former neighbors, and seizure of territories in seven other countries totaling 264,000 square miles and 24,396,000 people at the time of occupation. When added to areas under varying degrees of Soviet domination, those totals jump to 1,321,200 square miles and 123,657,000 subjugated people.

“These blows of the hammer and sweeps of the sickle have given the insignia on the Soviet flag more than symbolic importance,” he writes.

In one of the more interesting passages of this book, Weeks cites some Russian writings that acknowledge Kremlin disregard for its neighbors’ sovereignty. Historian Yevgeny Anisimov, in his 2008 book History of Russia from Riurik to Putin, catalogues Stalin’s “expansionist plans” and “imperial designs” on other countries. Weeks says this kind of criticism of Stalin “is hard to find among most of the Western Cold War authors.”

A political science professor at New York University for 20 years, Weeks remains professor emeritus and a prolific scholar of the period. He tells me he has “dug deep” into writings on Stalin, the war, and the post-war years, particularly a “large body of Cold War literature,” including Russian-language writings. He lists 211 books and dozens of articles he devoured or consulted in preparing this 147-page argument.

Author of a dozen books on related Russian themes, Weeks avoids branding any Western authors as strictly anti-American, although he comes close. The Cold War, he writes, “is simply too complex for any one observer to set himself up as an all-seeing judge. I only hope to open an avenue for discussion.”

Still, he does not pull his punches. The BBC documentary “World at War” was marred by a “pacifist emphasis and a tendentious, revisionist position on Stalin and the Cold War,” he writes. Stephen Ambrose, co-author of the BBC text, is cited as leading to a revisionist trend on the subject. Other offending historians who followed, some of them “outright apologetic,” include Henry Steele Commager, Frederick Schuman, Gar Alperovitz, Gabriel Kolko, William Appleton Williams, Mary Glantz, Joseph Davies, Melvyn Leffler and Geoffrey Roberts.

Weeks professes puzzlement over the views of many American historians. “One wonders,” he says, “why this obfuscation?” He concludes that it is “simply garden-variety anti-U.S./ugly American sentiment of the type that has cropped up in recent years with the perception of an ‘imperial’ America bent upon being ‘the world’s hegemon.’”

In a nutshell, Weeks explains the Cold War as the West’s genuine reaction to Stalin’s policy of deliberate expansionism, propelled by communist ideology determined to expand Moscow’s influence.

Perhaps the most penetrating chapter, titled “The Myth of Ideological Irrelevance,” takes issue with the writings of Daniel Bell, Odd Arne Westad, Francis Fukuyama and Lewis Feuer whose works have argued that ideology does not necessarily affect countries’ real-world actions. In the Soviet case, they would assert, ideology merely assured the public of a utopian future. Weeks takes the opposite pole and goes a step further. He sees ideology imbedded so deeply in Vladimir Putin’s regime that the old Soviet doctrines seem to have “invaded the cell structure of the contemporary political order…”

As the Cold War took shape, many Americans wrestled with the idea of a Russian menace. Allies during World War II had created a desire to continue a harmonious relationship. Russian occupation of East European countries during and after the war was often excused by Americans on the grounds that those territories “belong to the Russian sphere of influence,” Weeks recalls. (Curiously, such arguments surface again today as Russia systematically invades and occupies eastern Ukraine.) But as provocations multiplied, American policy and public opinion moved into what we came to call the Cold War.

Tracing Russia’s aggression toward its neighbors back to Tsarist times and accelerated under the Soviet communists, Weeks worries that old attitudes are coming back. “The specter of Russian history,” he writes, “rampant with autocracy and expansionism, seems to be abroad in the land.”

Even without Weeks’ warnings, new cold war rumblings are unmistakable. The website EuropeanLeadershipNetwork.org recently published data showing Russians deliberately provoked the West through airspace violations, near-miss midair collisions, close encounters at sea and simulated bombing runs along the Atlantic rim down to Portugal. About 40 such incidents this year are identified on the site’s interactive map.

Additionally, the New York Times on October 31 cited cyber attacks that have tested American defenses, forcing the temporary shutdown of some White House computer networks. Along with the airspace and seaborne violations, “they represent the old and updated techniques of Cold War signal-sending,” the Times wrote.

Contemporary parallels in Russian foreign policy with the Cold War years are evident, as Weeks convincingly shows. The anti-Western ideology in Moscow remains in place. Yet Weeks argues that a repeat of the Cold War on such a scale “should not be interpreted as a historical necessity.”

I liked his conclusion that a “cool peace” might take the place of an outright cold war this time around.




First posted on the American Spectator, posted here with the kind permission of the author.



 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Dec 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "One of the great paradoxes of human endeavour is why so much time and effort is spent on creating things and indulging in behaviour with no obvious survival value – behaviour otherwise known as art. Attempting to shed light on this issue is problematic because first we must define precisely what art is. We can start by looking at how art, or the arts, were practised by early humans during the Upper Palaeolithic period, 40,000 to 12,000 years ago, and immediately thereafter."
Dec 3rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "As a portrait artist, I am an amateur at this compared to the technology gurus and psychologists who study facial recognition seriously. Their aplications range from law enforcement to immigration control to ethnic groupings to the search through a crowd to find someone we know. ---- In my amateur artistic way, I prefer to count on intuition to find facial clues to a subject’s personality before sitting down at the drawing board. I never use the latest software to grapple with this dizzying variety.
Dec 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "In the exhibition catalog Lisane Basquiat writes: 'What is important for everyone to understand… is that he was a son, and a brother, and a grandson, and a nephew, and a cousin, and a friend. He was all of that in addition to being a groundbreaking artist.' "
Nov 24th 2022
"The art of kintsugi is inextricably linked to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi: a worldview centred on the acceptance of transience, imperfection and the beauty found in simplicity.....nothing stays the same forever." --- "The philosophy of kintsugi, as an approach to life, can help encourage us when we face failure. We can try to pick up the pieces, and if we manage to do that we can put them back together. The result might not seem beautiful straight away but as wabi-sabi teaches, as time passes, we may be able to appreciate the beauty of those imperfections."
Oct 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, was quick to congratulate Sunak, referring to him as “the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians”. In the difficult waters of British and indeed international politics, all eyes will be watching to see how well the bridge stands."
Oct 5th 2022
EXTRACTS: "In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw eulogized Jean-Luc Godard as 'a genius who tore up the rule book without troubling to read it.' This is a fundamental misunderstanding." ----- " As had been true for Picasso - and Eliot, Joyce, Dylan, and Lennon - it was Godard's mastery of the rules of his discipline that made his violation of those rules so exciting to young artists, and his work so influential.  But perhaps these innovators' mastery of the rules can only be seen by those who themselves understand the rules."
Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For many of us, some personality traits stay the same throughout our lives while others change only gradually. However, evidence shows that significant events in our personal lives which induce severe stress or trauma can be associated with more rapid changes in our personalities." ----- "Over time, our personalities usually change in a way that helps us adapt to ageing and cope more effectively with life events." ----- " ....participants in this study recorded changes in the opposite direction to the usual trajectory of personality change." --- "....you might like to take the time to reflect on your experiences over the past few years, and how these personality changes may have affected you."
Sep 21st 2022
EXTRACTS: "It might seem like an obscure footnote among the history-making events of 2022, but the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s death coincides with the 300th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth." ----- "As a committed Stoic, Smith had little patience for greed. The whole point of Roman Stoic philosophy was to use personal moral discipline to support the rule of law and constitutions, and to make society a better place." ----- "When we read Smith, we are better served to think of the example of Elizabeth II than of those driven by personal greed. It might sound archaic, but, as Britons’ response to her death suggests, these values still appeal to a great many people today."
Sep 14th 2022
EXTRACT: "On the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the former Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Charles III. Although it’s been known for decades that Charles would succeed his mother, there were rumours that he might, once king, choose the name George due to the contentious legacies of Kings Charles I and Charles II."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "An over-emphasis on looking for the chemical equation of depression may have distracted us from its social causes and solutions. We suggest that looking for depression in the brain may be similar to opening up the back of our computer when a piece of software crashes: we are making a category error and mistaking problems of the mind for problems in the brain. It would be wise to observe caution with drugs whose effectiveness is not certain, whose mode of action is unknown, and which have many side-effects, especially for use in the long term."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "China uses incarcerated prisoners of conscience as an organ donor pool to provide compatible transplants for patients. These prisoners or “donors” are executed and their organs harvested against their will, and used in a prolific and profitable transplant industry."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "In the first episode of season three of The Kominsky Method (2021), there is a funeral service for Michael Douglas’ character’s lifelong friend Norman Newlander (played by Alan Arkin). By far the most inconsolable mourner to give a eulogy is Newlander’s personal assistant of 22 years who, amid a hyperbolical outpouring of grief, literally cannot bring herself to let go of the casket. It is a humorous scene, to be sure, but there is something else going on here that is characteristic of employer-employee relations in this era of neoliberal capitalism. “Making him happy made me happy,” she exclaims, “his welfare was my first thought in the morning, and my last thought before I went to sleep.” That isn’t sweet – it is pathological. ----- Employee happiness is becoming increasingly conditional on, or even equated with, the boss’ happiness. As Frédéric Lordon observes in his book, Willing Slaves of Capital (2014), “employees used to surrender to the master desire with a heavy heart…they had other things on their minds…ideally the present-day enterprise wants subjects who strive of their own accord according to its norms.” In a word, the employee is increasingly expected to internalize and identify with the desire of the master."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "For three decades, people have been deluged with information suggesting that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain – namely an imbalance of a brain chemical called serotonin. However, our latest research review shows that the evidence does not support it."
Jul 13th 2022
"But is he “deluded”? " ---- "....we sometimes end up with deluded leaders because we ourselves can be somewhat delusional when we vote." ---- "David Collinson, a professor of leadership and organization at Lancaster University, associates this predicament with excessive positive thinking, or what he calls “Prozac leadership,” in reference to the famous antidepressant that promises to cheer people up without actually fixing what is wrong in their lives. “ ---- "In politics, Prozac leaders come to power by selling the electorate on wildly overoptimistic views of the future. When the public buys into a Prozac leader’s narrative, it is they who are already verging on the delusional." ----- "Another potential example is Vladimir Putin, who has conjured a kind of nostalgic dream world for his followers and the wider Russian public."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Many veterans, refugees and other people who have experienced trauma and have mental health issues spend little time thinking about the future. Instead, they are narrowly focused on the negative past. However, people who have experienced trauma and developed a healthy future perspective report being better at coping with life, having fewer negative thoughts about the past, and getting better sleep compared with those who have a negative future perspective. So, instead of dwelling on the past, people who have suffered trauma should be encouraged to think about the future and set goals that help them develop hope for a good life."
Jun 8th 2022
EXTRACT: " The devastation of war is a recurring theme in Turner’s work, and unlike his contemporaries Turner is willing to forego the occasion to bolster national pride or the patriotism of its fallen heroes. In “The Field of Waterloo” (1818), Turner’s great tragic vision of war, “The…  dead of both sides lay intertwined, nearly indistinguishable surrounded by the gloom of night.” Near the bottom center there are three women. The one farthest from us is bearing a child and in her right hand a torch which illumines the sea of mangled bodies. Beside her is another woman struggling to keep a third (also with child) from collapsing outright. Turner reflects not only on the dead and dying, but on the widows and orphans that war produces."
May 19th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Thus experimental creativity could be witnessed, but not verbalized.  When five leading Abstract Expressionist painters founded an art school in New York in the late 1940s, they offered no formal courses, because, as Robert Motherwell explained, "in a basic sense art cannot be taught." ------ "Conceptual artists are ...... more inclined to use written texts to accompany their works in other genres.  In 1883, Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother, "One of these days I will write you a letter;  I shall write it carefully and try to make it short, but say everything I think necessary."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unfortunately, it’s common for dark triad personalities to become leaders. ..... their ruthlessness and ability to manipulate means they attain positions of power quite easily. When a “dark” leader attains power, conscientious, moral people rapidly fall away. A government operating under these conditions soon becomes what the Polish psychologist Andrzej Lobaczewski called a “pathocracy” – an administration made up of ruthless individuals devoid of integrity and morality. This happened with Donald Trump’s presidency, as the “adults in the room” gradually headed for the exit, leaving no one but staffers defined by their personal allegiance to Trump. A similar decay in standards has occurred in the UK."
May 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "The proportion of US electricity deriving from wind and solar in the month of April climbed to 20%. Thus, the renewables total was 26.5 if we add in hydro. This statistic is unprecedented."
Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Every year, around 12,000 men in the UK die from prostate cancer, but many more die with prostate cancer than from it. So knowing whether the disease is going to advance rapidly or not is important for knowing who to treat." ...... "For some years, we have known that pathogens (bacteria and viruses) can cause cancer. We know, for example, that Helicobacter pylori is associated with stomach cancer and that the human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer." ....... "....we have identified five types (genera) of bacteria linked to aggressive prostate cancer." ...... "We examined prostate tissue and urine samples from over 600 men with and without prostate cancer," ..... "....men who had one or more of the bacteria were nearly three times more likely to see their early stage cancer progress to advanced disease, compared with men who had none of the bacteria in their urine or prostate."