We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History

In This Review

We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History

By John Lewis Gaddis
Oxford University Press, 1997
425 pp. $30.00
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This brilliant study -- Gaddis' fifth book on the Cold War -- provides an exhaustive and ever-quizzical approach to the early years of the superpower conflict. Gaddis has a knack for asking large and interesting questions, and he brings a lively style to his answers. Despite the promise of startling revelations from newly opened archives, what "we now know" turns out to bear an uncanny resemblance to what we thought then; never has "post-revisionism" seemed so indistinguishable from the original orthodoxy. Much of that orthodoxy, as Gaddis insists, saw the issues at stake in Europe more clearly than the revisionists, appalled by Vietnam, later would. It was the tragedy of the postwar epoch, as the author would perhaps acknowledge, that the moral and strategic certainties persuasively reared in the pivot of the Soviet-American confrontation in Europe got pilloried and sundered in Southeast Asia. Gaddis discounts Kennan's warning: "The greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping." That danger, Gaddis insists, "never materialized." With this and other judgments one wishes to quarrel, even as one admires the author's ability to bring fresh curiosity and invigorating judgments to this tired old subject.