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How We Outlived The Bomb

June 2024
1min read

The Cold War
A History

by Martin Walker, Henry Holt, 392 pages, $30.00 . CODE: HHC-2

Martin Walker, U.S. bureau chief for the British Guardian and author of a book on the Gorbachev era in Russia, The Waking Giant , has written what should become a basic text in the new field of Cold War studies. The numbing standoff that settled in after 1945 and came to bristle with nuclear menace is still difficult to think of as a single series of events like a great war. But Walker helps by stitching together the worldwide struggles of five decades into one convincing narrative. The familiar rhetoric, suspicion, armaments, and terrors all look different—are almost ennobled—taken as one story with a definite conclusion. “The Cold War was truly a global conflict,” Walker writes, “more so than either of the century’s two world wars…. [It] was also the first total war between economic and social systems,” and “the West prevailed because its economy proved able to supply guns as well as butter, aircraft-carriers and private cars, rockets as well as foreign holidays.”

Walker shows how U.S.-Soviet relations, warm toward the end of World War II, chilled over just one hundred days in 1945 and 1946. He follows the rivalry’s powerful effect on the growth of California and the Pacific Rim, the temporary stasis of détente, the crusade rejoined under Ronald Reagan, all leading up to 1989, when the Eastern bloc gently cracked apart. At the Cold War’s height, “Turks fought in Korea, Algerians fought in Vietnam, Cubans fought in Angola, and American and Russian schoolchildren, whose lessons had been interrupted by nuclear air-raid drills, grew up to die in Saigon and Kabul.” In the conclusion to this intelligent and highly readable history Walker warns that today, as in 1945, the opportunities of our hard-earned peace could be lost and Russia left once more dangerously estranged.

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