The Looking Glass War

Struggle For the World: The Cold War: 1917-1965

by Desmond Donnelly
St. Martin's Press, 512 pp., $7.95

Alternative to Partition

by Zbigniew Brzezinski
McGraw-Hill, 208 pp., $5.95

Whatever may be the appropriate name for them—chronologues, perhaps—Mr. Donnelly’s book is a good example of a kind of publication which remains too frequent in the field of contemporary history. As the worst kind of travelogue on movie and television screens portrays its subject in lurid colors, this account of recent world events compensates for its superficiality as history by indulging in over-blown language which strikes a false note. It is wholly in keeping that, while the preface closes with a quotation from Milton and the book itself with a quotation from Tolstoy, neither quotation is entirely apposite in the context in which the author himself has set it.

The first chapter starts with an “opening shot” of “a small man with a reddish-grey beard…in a room lined with books” who, after a page devoted to the corridors that have to be negotiated and the precautions that have to be complied with before the room can be reached, turns out to be Lenin, the man who “had just turned the world upside down.” More important, as in too many publications nowadays, we learn that “the basic framework of research was undertaken” by somebody other than the author. And more serious still, the book is obscure and ambiguous at just those joints in its argument where clarity and precision were most to be desired.

It is Mr. Donnelly’s main purpose to argue that the Cold War originated with the beginning of a Communist drive for world domination. Hence the subtitle, and the beginning of the account in 1917 instead of in 1945. But this purpose is clouded at the outset by the thesis that the Cold War “had its origins in the struggle for power in Central Asia between the rival imperialisms of Britain and Russia in the nineteenth century”—that “the struggle was there, and so was the traditional doctrine of mutual suspicion, before ever the Red Flag floated over the Winter Palace on that cataclysmic day in 1917.”

The underlying reason for the introduction of this contrary or qualifying argument is Mr. Donnelly’s wish to concede that the Cold War had its roots not only in an ideological Communist drive but also, like international struggles in earlier times, in—to use his own phrase—“geo-political conflicts.” Hence, no doubt, the description of the doctrine of mutual suspicion as “traditional,” a word whose use is otherwise difficult to understand. But the effect of this concession does not last long enough to give objectivity or historical perspective to his subsequent account of the details of the struggle, and still less to his discussion of whether or not the Cold War is a thing of the past.

The detailed account tells the story with all the passion that was indulged in the Western camp, no less than in the other, while the struggle raged. Mr. Donnelly himself describes it as a record of “the passions and struggles of life, love, liberty and death involving all of us living, and the generations to come.” On the…

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