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Book Review May 19, 2006
 
Cold Turkey (or Wrong On All Counts)
Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis Penguin 2006 By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 2
 

Gaddis's errors of judgment are perhaps more damaging than his errors of fact. Like most successful academics, he's hopelessly naive. It's an adaptive trait for advancement in that most credulous of guilds, but a huge handicap to anyone attempting to write history. He's awed by gravitas, as most Tweedsters are, so he attributes to the laconic Stalin vast wisdom while treating Khruschev as the clown Khruschev took so much trouble to seem. The result is that Gaddis's story of the 1950s US-USSR rivalry falls apart, because he wants to argue that (a) Khruschev had a much weaker hand in the nuclear double-bluff, thanks to the failure of Soviet rocket programs; and (b) Khruschev's many nuclear bluffs were no more than tantrums: "[Khruschev] was like a petulant child playing with a loaded gun."

Once again: no, just plain no. And here, it's Gaddis himself who supplies the proof that Khruschev's bluffs were actually a damned good strategy for a player stuck with a weak hand, when he lamely extends his tantrum-metaphor to concede that, "...as children sometimes do, though, [Khruschev] wound up getting some of what he wanted."

In other words: it worked.

Gaddis seems to have only the most Jurassic sense of humor, which makes it impossible for him to understand figures like Khruschev and Mao, both of whom enjoyed playing the fool for fun and predation. Gaddis simply doesn't understand what Mao said, did or meant. Sorry, but it's that simple. Part of the problem is that, like the rest of the masters of the defunct Sovietologists' Guild, Gaddis has a European fixation and can't really make himself take Asia, let alone Africa or Latin America, seriously. Thus he ends the book with a saccharine account of events in Central Europe during Reagan's term, as if the fall of those dotard regimes and the "liberation" of small nations with a negative birthrate counted for as much on the world stage as did events in Austria in 1938.

And so we say Goodbye to Mister Chips. His retirement will be a happy one. As he never tires of reminding us, his side won. And by "his side," I don't mean "the West," let alone "the Free World," still less "freedom." I mean a host of craven reactionaries, Byron's "four and twenty blackbirds"; I mean the death of Nietzsche's and Philip K. Dick's world, and the triumph of people who make Big Brother seem pretty damn cool.

There's more than one kind of Hell, and the 2006 version Gaddis & co. love so much differs from the 1984 model largely in the sheer cheesiness of our books, and the shame that their authors churned out all that stinking dairy product without coercion, in a free world, after the triumph of freedom. Yay for us, huh?

Listen to John Dolan read his poems!
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