The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953

In This Review

The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953
By Robert Dallek
Harper, 2010
432 pp. $28.99
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The years spanning the end of World War II and the early Cold War are an almost irresistible period of history for students of diplomacy and leadership. Dallek, who has written authoritative studies of the foreign policies of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon, offers here profiles of Allied and Axis leaders -- Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Truman, as well as fellow-traveling generals and diplomats -- as they made fateful decisions about war and peace. As Allied cooperation yielded to Cold War hostilities, grand hopes for world peace produced by the unprecedented violence of world war were largely unrealized. Dallek’s aim is to revisit the “misjudgments and unwise actions that caused so much strife and suffering” and suggest alternatives that might have led to greater “international harmony.” The result is a collection of colorful and insightful portraits of the era’s leading figures and their decisions. Dallek follows the statesmen to Casablanca, Tehran, Yalta, San Francisco, Potsdam, and into the Cold War. Interestingly, the book does not find many moments when history might have unfolded differently. Hitler made a general war in Europe inevitable, and Stalin made conflict with the West unavoidable. Roosevelt was not naive about Soviet ambitions and skillfully turned the United States into a global leader -- yet it is not clear if he would have managed clashing postwar interests and ideologies better than Truman. Dallek does speculate that if Truman and Churchill had been more open about the atomic bomb and offered a commitment to Germany’s permanent demilitarization in exchange for Soviet promises on self-determination in Eastern Europe, the world after 1945 might have been very different. Dallek tells a compelling story, stopping at places to point out the exaggerated fears, rhetorical bombast, and ideological blindness that turned great-power differences into an era when humanity itself was on the brink.