Did Anyone Start the Cold War?

Condemned to Freedom

by William Pfaff
Random House, 210 pp., $6.95

The Radical Left and American Foreign Policy

by Robert W. Tucker
Johns Hopkins, 136 pp., $2.75 (paper)

Promises to Keep

by Chester Bowles
Harper & Row, 672 pp., $12.95

Architects of Illusion

by Lloyd Gardner
Quadrangle, 365 pp., $8.95


by Diane Shaver Clemens
Oxford, 356 pp., $8.50

America and Russia in a Changing World

by W. Averell Harriman
Doubleday, 218 pp., $5.95

From Trust to Terror

by Herbert Feis
Norton, 428 pp., $10.00

The Yalta Myths

by Athan Theoharis
University of Missouri Press, 263 pp., $10.00


Vietnam, as we have learned from the Pentagon papers, was no aberration. It resulted logically from the decisions made and the attitudes assumed throughout the cold war. It was Harry Truman who in 1950 provided aid to the French to put down Ho Chi Minh’s independence movement. It was Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles who continued paying for France’s colonial war and who threatened to intervene with American troops and atomic weapons. After that war was lost, they installed Ngo Dinh Diem and defied the Geneva accords calling for elections to unify Vietnam. Later it was John F. Kennedy, a true believer in the domino theory, who got rid of Diem when he ceased to be malleable and who dispatched American combat troops to ensure an anti-communist South Vietnam. The expansion of the war by Lyndon Johnson and the current efforts of Richard Nixon to achieve with air power and South Vietnamese mercenaries the victory denied American troops are all outgrowths of the same decisions about communism and America’s role in the world.

To reject the war in Vietnam is to question the basic assumptions on which American foreign policy rests. It is to ask not only whether the prevalent conception of the cold war might now be wrong, but whether it was ever right. It means re-examining a set of attitudes, the decisions that flowed from them, and the perceptions on which they were based. This re-examination has been going on for some time in the work of younger historians, many of them disciples of William Appleman Williams and rediscoverers of Charles Beard. While their works are contentious and often heavily slanted toward Marxist economics, they have thrown new light on the cold war and its origins.

They differ from liberal historians in that they condemn not only American behavior, but the motives that lie behind it. For them there is no such thing as accident, inadvertence, or error. American policy is deliberate, single-minded, and determined by the larger economic forces that motivate the society. Whereas liberals and “political realists” criticize American postwar diplomacy for being too ideological or for displaying a faulty concept of the national interest, these radical revisionists see that diplomacy as the necessary instrument of the capitalist order.

Liberal critics such as Morgenthau, Lippmann, and Kennan see the nation swaying between the twin poles of isolationism and globalism, unable to balance its great power with an enlightened concept of its vital interests. They believe American statesmen are “unrealistic” in trying to impose moral judgments on the amoral behavior of nations. They believe like William Pfaff in his eloquently argued new book, Condemned to Freedom, that while Vietnam “has constituted the calamitous triumph of American hypocrisy and cant over American seriousness,” nonetheless, “the regrettable truth is that the foreign policy of the United States in the postwar period has, for the most part, been a popular policy pursued out of Wilsonian motivations and for reformist, even utopian goals.”

To be a liberal critic…

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