In This Review

Cold War Triumphalism: The Misuse of History After the Fall of Communism.
Cold War Triumphalism: The Misuse of History After the Fall of Communism.
Edited by Ellen Schrecker
New Press, 2004, 304 pp

This mixed but interesting volume of essays shows leftist and critical historians coming to grips with the legacy of the U.S. victory in the Cold War. Bruce Cumings contributes an important discussion of some of the leading ways in which American scholars have interpreted the end of the contest with the Soviet Union. Leo P. Ribuffo's critique of the competing but interconnected attempts of Reinhold Niebuhr, William Appleton Williams, and John Lewis Gaddis to grapple with the moral basis of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War era is a serious and substantive accomplishment. "Papers of a Dangerous Tendency," a consideration of American communism by Maurice Isserman and Ellen Schrecker, begins as a disciplined and orderly retreat under fire but ultimately degenerates into a rout. Acknowledging that the leadership of the American Communist Party was more closely involved with Soviet intelligence and that more American communists committed acts of espionage than leftist historians had claimed, they gamely seek to limit the damage. The effort mostly fails. They concede that American spies helped Stalin get the atom bomb more quickly than he otherwise would have and that early possession of the bomb encouraged him to back Kim Il Sung's attack on South Korea, sparking a war that killed a million Koreans and 37,000 Americans, further militarized the U.S. approach to containment, prepared the way for Vietnam, and contributed to McCarthyite repression in the United States. What positive accomplishments can American communism claim to offset this horror? The historical consensus on American communism-that the movement was a disaster not least from the standpoint of the ideals it professed, and that it was mostly led by knaves and staffed by fools-gets progressively harder to resist.