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Leffler and Gaddis on the Cold War

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Ashley Williams September 6, 2006 HIST 295 - Schwartz Assignment 1 Leffler and Gaddis on the Cold War John Lewis Gaddis' The Cold War and Melvyn Leffler's The Specter of Communism share a topic, but offer two very dissimilar approaches to the study of the Cold War. In The Cold War Gaddis presents a detailed illustration of the ways in which the United States and Soviet Union, through an inevitable clash of ideologies, came to blows throughout the last half of the twentieth century. Gaddis takes a decisive stance on the events that transpired, pitting the wholesomeness of American values against the near-apocalyptic threat that the expansion of Soviet influence posed. Ultimately, Gaddis paints a picture of how the shortsightedness of Marxist ideology and the shortcomings of Soviet leaders set the stage for the West to triumph over communism. Leffler's book chronicles the ways in which Cold War politics shaped not only the United States' relationship with its communist neighbors, but also the way in which it has influenced American domestic politics. Central to Leffler's argument is the notion that the United States responded so ardently to the threat of communism because, for a number of reasons, the nation simply could not ...read more.


In light of the atrocities that Stalin had exacted in the course of his rampage to collectivization, many Americans became unable to dissociate Stalin's terror from the political framework of communist ideology. As communism came to be seen as a force of evil, many Americans began to fear that it was as pertinent a threat to their way of life as that of Nazi totalitarianism.3 Politicians seized upon their constituents' passionate anti-communist attitudes and quickly began to manipulate these anxieties to their advantage. Anti-communist rhetoric became an element essential to almost all political dialogues and seriously streamlined the sport of mud slinging, for nothing could more significantly discredit an opponent than an accusation of involvement with the Communist party. Leffler points out that the Truman administration, as well, took note of the value of the public's polar vision of ideological good and evil. Communism, not unlike the threat of fascism in World War II, became the adversarial force against which Americans found themselves able to reconcile and define their own disparate systems of values. With this menace the horizon, things that could be characterized as clearly "American," "free," or "good" became much more obvious and simple to identify. ...read more.


2 Gaddis credits Kennan with having been the architect of Cold War strategy (29). 3 Leffler, 69. "In the minds of Americans, Soviet communism was no different than Nazi totalitarianism." Leffler uses this statement to suggest that for Harry Truman, the Cold War and the Soviet Union would be fill the role that World War II and the Third Reich had for Roosevelt. 4 Leffler, 58. "This transfer of Western Europe, the second greatest industrial area in the world, and of the essential regions which must inevitably follow such a lead, that a weakened United Kingdom could not resist so powerful a current, the shift would be cataclysmic." 5 In his assessment of the Marshall Plan, Gaddis makes note of the challenge inherent in trying to support a system of free trade while waging a campaign to limit the spread of ideology. "The Cold War experience showed, though, that it is not always easy to keep markets open and ideas constrained at the same time" (265). 6 Leffler, 129. Leffler presents a cynical view of American motives in noting that the American goal during the Cold War was more to protect its own interests than to ensure the freedom of its neighbors abroad. ?? ?? ?? ?? 2 ...read more.

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