As my entry into discussions of the Cold War, The World the Cold War Made, gave a fairly robust account of the global systems (economic, political, military) which were molded around the ideological conflict that became the Cold War. Within the introduction, James Cronin emphasizes the importance of maintaining a recognition that the Cold War was a post-war settlement, much in the same way of the ends of the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War.[1] Keeping this idea in mind while reading the rest of the text, helped for me to contextualize much of the maneuvering that was being done by the various nations and players throughout the conflict. While Cronin does seem to be working to explain the Cold War era as a whole, exploring the origins of the post-World War II settlement — its achievements, failures, and crises — and its eventual collapse in the late 1980s, his approach to the discussion seemed to center around explaining the economic choices made in, and in some cases imposed upon, the states which he discussed. Politics, both domestic and global, seemed to play second fiddle to the economic implications to global and domestic systems set up during the Cold War. Thus, it seemed that his discussion of the Cold War was focused more on the ideological differences of capitalism versus socialism, rather than communism versus democracy. This seemed to be a rather important choice on the part of the author.

One last note on the macro-level of the book’s argument, Cronin did spend much of his focus on the United States and the Soviet Union (and Eastern Bloc countries) in what seemed to be a traditional discussion of the Cold War. However, his discussion of Great Britain alongside the United States for much of the work, his discussion of China in chapter 8, and his discussion of the implications of World War II and the early Cold War in European colonies, did widen the scope of his argument, making his choice of title plausible since he included some global discussions. I will say that while Cronin says that his goal in the book is not to “assess the prospects for economic growth or political stability, but to recount and reassess the origins, development, and demise of the Cold War order” it did seem that the heart of the book was specifically to focus on those things, while not specifically coming down in judgement of the decisions which were made.[2]

Specifically, to the work which I hope to be doing in my thesis, there were moments in the text which I found to be particularly useful and interesting. The discussion in chapter 3 “American Power, American dreams” about the Fordist model of mass production in the United States fit in nicely with two pieces of fiction which I read earlier this summer, Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Player Piano is specifically focused on machinery and mass production, while Ford is almost a mythic figure in the dystopian world of Brave New World. Cronin’s discussion of how the American economy and political landscape were shaped by mass production and the “capital-labor postwar compromise” were exceedingly interesting, and useful in helping me to understand the way that mass production shaped the American dream in the 1950s.[3] The boom in manufacturing and and buying that came from the creation of medium-skill, well-paid labor jobs, also worked to create a divide in what types of jobs were offered. With more firms and industries recognizing that labor jobs came with higher pay and more benefits, they started to subcontract out their work to other firms which did not have labor jobs, and thus had less benefits and pay, and thus would save the original firms and industries money. This divide which happened in manufacturing was interesting to me, as were the other consequences which came from this Fordist model of mass production, such as the baby boom and new consumer buying patterns in the United States. While the circumstances in Player Piano are a bit different, there is a parallel in the way that mass production helped to create two classes of people based upon their work with machines: those with benefits and high pay and those without. Moreover, in Chapter 4 “Economic Miracles, East and West” Cronin works to expand the economic argument of capitalism outward towards Japan and Germany, to show the work the United States was doing to create economies similar to its own in order to push back the threat of Socialism. Though he does later caution the reader away from thinking the concepts such as capitalism and socialism could be considered either Eastern or Western, since both appear in many nations at the same time, Cronin works to create a picture of the East versus the West in his economic discussion since it is a discussion of ideological differences fueling the maintenance of differing national structures.

[1] Cronin, James E. The World the Cold War Made: Order, Chaos, and the Return of History (New York: Routledge, 1996): 2

[2] Cronin, James E. The World the Cold War Made: Order, Chaos, and the Return of History (New York: Routledge, 1996): 14

[3] Ibid., 68