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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 question whether the struggle is over, he repeats the parrotcry: “at the end there must be co-existence or no existence; peace and fulfillment or nuclear war.” All the evidence of history suggests, however, that neither the perfectionist outcome nor the cataclysmic one will ensue; while common or garden rivalry will be deferred until we have ceased to share Mr. Donnelly’s final sentiments. These are that “the story is not yet concluded and in certain instances it is only just beginning”; that “as the fires of revolution have begun to burn lower in Russia, the flames are rising yet higher in China”; and that we should have no patience with those “who, in future, seek to evade or to avoid” this challenge because—to return to that quotation from Milton—“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue…that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race where the immortal garland is to be run for….”

To turn from Mr. Donnelly’s book to Professor Brzezinski’s is to turn from a historical account which is conspicuously lacking in power of analysis to a work of analysis which is somewhat deficient in historical understanding. There is nothing to quarrel with in Professor Brzezinski’s conclusions about the recent past. The Cold War in Europe has lost its meaning, as he says. He is right in claiming that there are two reasons for this: first that, while there was a vitality and a passion to it so long as each side believed that it could prevail and so long as each believed itself to be genuinely threatened by the other, these conditions have ceased to exist; and secondly that neither side could hope to suppress forever the nationalist or polycentric tendencies of its allies which are now driving the two blocs asunder. It is difficult to find fault with his analysis of the significance of these recent developments for the present situation. Nobody will disagree that the trends call for a re-appraisal of the policy of the United States, as of Russia, towards the problems and the future of Europe: the United States Administration has been wrestling with this need for some years already. It is now plain to most people that there is no future for either of the new departures which the United States Administration has so far attempted—the attempt on the one hand, to tie Western Europe closer to America in order to defend it from Russia; and the reliance on new security schemes such as the MLF on the other. Neither will meet the problem because the problem is no longer primarily one of security against Russia and because such schemes only incite greater European suspicion of American hegemony. But when the author turns away from recent developments and the present situation, and offers his own suggestions for the future policy of the United States, analysis ceases to be enough and the author’s want of historical perspective becomes apparent.

His proposals are based on two assumptions. The first is that the continent of Europe is suffering from a recent and an unstable partition. The second is that the Europeans find this partition intolerable and that “their growing preoccupation with their destiny” prompts them to wish to end it. Thus “the division of Europe on the Elbe is unnatural, unhistoric and contrary to the present trends favoring not only European economic and political unification but, most important of all, the rapidly spreading sense of European unity.” Thus, again, the problem is “how to achieve the restoration of Europe,” how to reach “the goal of returning East Europe and Russia to the European civilization.” According to Brzezinski, the opportunity for the United States lies in the fact that neither Western Europe nor Eastern Europe can make progress with it without American understanding and help.

But the truth is that Europe is no more artificially divided now than at any time in its past; that the present status quo in Germany in particular is no more artificial than any of the previous political solutions that have been adopted for it since at least 1871; that East Europe and Russia have never ceased to be part of Europe’s civilization; that the trend towards economic integration has no implications of either the practicability of or the wish for political unification. In particular, the important European states prefer the present German status quo to any alternative that might conceivably be put in its place. And then there is another point on which Brzezinski’s emphasis seems a little misplaced.

He does not make the mistake of thinking that the European international system is any longer a self-contained system, insulated from developments in the rest of the world. But since he retains the view that the main international problems are to be found in Europe, whereas the probability is that this is no longer the case, he does not allow sufficient weight to the part played by extra-European developments in bringing the Cold War to an end, or sufficiently recognize the altered relationship between European and extra-European problems. The multilateral and shifting alignments between the states of Europe—the restoration of which is sure to come—will possess a different and a smaller significance, as compared with that which it possessed in the past, because the European system of states has been replaced by a frame-work of international relations which embraces the whole world.

What the United States has got to adjust to is the probability that, within this wider world framework, international relations, within Europe as elsewhere, will now rapidly return to the laissez-faire system of the nineteenth century. It will be a system in which the Powers, though larger in number than they were then, will once again indulge in a complex pattern of rivalries and collaborations. If only for that reason, they will once again be only fitfully divided into ideological groups. What has to be hoped is that the people of the United States will not permit their disillusionment on this score to drive them back into isolationism. What has to be noted—and to this extent Professor Brzezinski is to be applauded for recommending policies more flexible than those which have as yet been adopted in Washington—is that Russia and France have been much quicker than the United States to realize that all the leading Powers in this system will have to learn to live with insoluble contradictions. And the only way to learn how to do that is by acquiring the ability to distinguish between the insoluble contradiction on the one hand and the intolerable and dangerous problem on the other.

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