In This Review

Undermining the Kremlin: America's Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1956
Undermining the Kremlin: America's Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1956
By Gregory Mitrovich
Cornell University Press, 2000, 235 pp
Operation Rollback: America's Secret War Behind the Iron Curtain
Operation Rollback: America's Secret War Behind the Iron Curtain
By Peter Grose
Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 243 pp

Along come two books that expose the political war against the Soviet Union in the early years of the Cold War. Truman's version of containment, it turns out, was not nearly so reactive or high-minded as conventional wisdom had it. Nor was George Kennan, its author, nearly so placid as his critics assumed. Pushed by Kennan, the Truman administration launched in 1947 an aggressive campaign intended not simply to contain but to undo Soviet power in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union itself. The effort ranged from psychological warfare waged by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and a variety of cultural and intellectual front organizations to subversion by agents parachuted behind enemy lines. Of the two books, Mitrovich's is the more ambitious. Through massive research in the archives of the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council, he not only pieces together the story of this broad-gauged offensive but adds considerably to the larger picture of the calculations and arguments inside the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. One does not have to buy his overdrawn characterization that "rollback" was the be-all of U.S. policy to appreciate the contribution he has made.

Grose carves out a narrower but livelier account. He deals only with the Truman years and largely confines himself to the clandestine activity itself, including the bold but hopelessly misconceived campaign to drop small numbers of anticommunist nationals into Albania, Ukraine, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and the Baltic states with the hope of rallying the locals to insurrection. As Grose reports, Kennan would come to see the "political warfare initiative" as "the greatest mistake I ever made."