In contrast to The World the Cold War Made by Cronin from last week, The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis was much more comprehensive in its discussion of the Cold War as both a series of events and a geopolitical and economic climate. While The World the Cold War Made focused heavily on the economics of the cold war, comparing and contrasting the differing ideological systems of capitalism and socialism, The Cold War very much focused on both economic and political differences between the West (mainly the United States) and the Soviet Union, along with a much more specific description of specific events, speeches, and acts done by the United States and the Soviet union, rather than a seemingly general overview of economic and political trends through the conflict. Also in the way of differences between the two texts is the scope of the countries which were focused upon. The World the Cold War Made really was rather global in scope, specifically discussion at length not just the Soviet Union and the United States, but also China, the ends of colonization and other Western nations. On the other hand, The Cold War really heavily focuses on the United States, the Soviet Union, and to some extent, China, with the majority of the focus being on the Soviet Union and their responses to the West. I found that to be an interesting lens through which to discuss the Cold War, and was very helpful in understanding the conflict from the side of the other major player.

Probably the most interesting discussion in relation to my particular areas of interest was the discussion in Chapter Two “Deathboats and Lifeboats” about both the nuclear bomb and the Korean War, particularly the discussions of the use of the atomic bomb. From other readings which I have done, it would seem as though immediately after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, public opinion about the use of these bombs was divided, but understandably there was a lot of fear. The same seemed to be true for scientists, and even military men. It has also been my understanding, from my limited experience and knowledge of the postwar period, that the only atomic weapons used in combat were to two that were dropped on the civilian populations in Japan. However, as Gaddis points out on page 48, under the authority of President Truman, General MacArthur drops five atomic weapons on Chinese troops, an event which I was previously unaware of. Gaddis explains later on in the chapter that it was after this, not the bombings in Japan five year earlier, that caused both sides to realize that the use of nuclear weapons in combat would result in the total annihilation of both sides because of the complex politics of allies, and the positions of military forces for the United States and Soviet Union.[1] I find this to be interesting because it suggests that the deaths of civilian populations five years earlier from these weapons was not enough of a sign of the potential danger of their use, but the complicated web of alliances, and locations of those allies, that ultimately caused both the United States and Soviet Union to realize that they could only use these weapons as a very last resort, to end the conflict.

The fact that four years earlier, in 1946, Truman had intended for the Soviet Union to realize the destructive capabilities of the United States by showing Stalin both postwar tests of atomic weapons as well as allowing them to tour the ruins of Hiroshima, but it wasn’t until complicated alliances came into play that the fear of the atomic bomb really resonated with both sides seems to be significant.  From that point onward, once the Soviet Union provided proof that they had weapons of their own by using them, both sides agreed that thermonuclear weapons were psychologically important, rather than militarily important. Gaddis seems to suggest that that fact is partially why Truman was so insistent on nuclear weapons being monitored by a civilian agency, rather than a military agency, because it would be only for the very end of times that the use of these weapons would become necessary.

Finally, and briefly, the ideological discussion of communism in this book was incredibly useful to me, as was the discussion of the legacy of Wilson and Lenin as the Cold War came to an end. I was very unfamiliar with the specifics of what Lenin and Stalin both individually believed ideologically (with Stalin very much putting his own interests before any sort of ideology) and how both men fit into a Marx-Engels model of communism. That, along with the discussion of the legacy which President Wilson left upon the world, because his Fourteen Points speech was thoroughly a speech of an American ideology, clarified a lot of the overarching ideological differences which Cronin did not quite cover last week.

[1] John Lewis Gaddis. The Cold War: A New History. (New York: Penguin Books, 2005)