Origins of the Cold War: The Communist Dimension

It is surely a suggestive irony that just at the point when younger American historians had made serious intellectual headway with their reinterpretation of the cold war, fixing historical responsibility in terms of the mistakes, delusions and imperatives of United States policy, the Soviet Union astonished friends and foes by overwhelming Czechoslovakia and turning its clock of history backwards. If the cold war has not revived, small thanks are due the Soviet leaders. Their extraordinary nervousness, their man?uvres to propitiate both the outgoing and incoming American Administrations, indicate very plainly how much they have feared political retaliation; this in itself is a comment on where responsibility for the cold war today should rest. That Prague should have been the vortex in 1968 as it was in 1948 of critical problems within communism is uncanny, but on deeper examination it may not be fortuitous.

After all, the least credible explanation of Moscow's desperate attempt to resolve the crisis within its own system of states and parties is the one which pictures Czechoslovakia as the helpless Pauline at the crossroads of Europe, about to be dishonored by West German revanchards, with agents of the CIA grinning in the background, suddenly saved by the stalwart defenders of socialist honor and morality. Today this type of argument is reserved within the communist world for its most backward members-that is, for the Soviet public and the fringes of the most insignificant and expendable communist parties. Yet arguments of this kind had wide currency a generation ago. New Left historians would have us believe that Stalin was simply reacting to external challenge. In their view, the cold war might not have set in if small-minded American politicians had not been determined to reverse bad bargains, if congenital imperialists had not been mesmerized by the monopoly of atomic weapons which statesmen and scientists knew to be temporary. Since all this is so plainly a half-truth when juxtaposed to events of today, then clearly the half-truth of yesteryear will hardly explain the whole of the cold war.

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