Rivalry that has dominated four decades of international history
Cold War Cold Peace, by Bernard A. Weisberger. New York: American Heritage (distributed by Houghton Mifflin Company). 341 pp. $17.95. One of the most striking features of the history of the Western world for the last six centuries is the degree to which that history has so often been seen in the form of rivalry between two nations.
From the mid-14th to the mid-15th century it was the continual (and indecisive) armed struggle between England and France known as the Hundred Years' War. Less than a century later it was the long conflict between the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and Francis I of France. This was succeeded by the bitter rivalry of two powerful seagoing nations, Protestant England and Roman Catholic Spain. Then, back again to a British-French struggle over the North American Continent.
Late in the 19th century and extending well into the 20th we witness the devastating antagonism between France and Germany, to be followed for a very brief period from the mid-'30s to the mid-'40s by the German-Russian contest. And for the past four decades who would deny that it is the American-Russian rivalry in all its aspects which has dominated international history?
If, as the French World War I leader, Georges Clemenceau, said, history is but a series of ``depressing repetitions,'' nothing illustrates this better than this 40-year-long ``cold war.'' Of all history's rivalries, none have been either more dangerous or more senseless. It is an antagonism from which neither country has won a single advantage or blessing and through which each has lost an enormous amount of wealth, international goodwill, and peace of mind. Responding to its own dreadful momentum, it has resulted in the terrifying accumulation of nuclear weapons, in the imposition of police-state control over Eastern Europe, in the American government's having embroiled itself in squalid struggles from Vietnam to Central America, and in the rest of the world's fearfully contemplating the possibility of a global destruction over which it would have no control or say.
Although ``senseless'' in the highest sense, Russo-American antagonism stems from a number of factors: the profound sociopolitical contrast between an America founded on the principles of freedom and a Soviet Union heir to a thousand years of unbroken authoritarianism; an almost pathological (and understandable) Russian fear of invasion, and a not unreasonable American conviction of the inexpungible communist determination to expand; each nation's belief in its own unchallengeable rightness of outlook; and the messianic certainty with which each regards its role in the world.
To such basic circumstances have been added scores of other, no less telling sources of friction. Thus for decades we find an American tendency to view almost every attempt by a downtrodden people to overthrow oligarchical misrule as a Marxist plot, while ever since 1945 Moscow has seemed to view the enormous economic development of the noncommunist West as almost an anti-Marxist plot.
It is the considerable merit of Professor Weisberger's book that he examines in unprejudiced detail both the origins of the past four decades of cold war and its innumerable manifestations. He traces its evolution from its birth with the Western Allies' realization that Stalin was determined to subjugate Eastern Europe by any and all means, through the crisis of the Berlin blockade (in which each side tested the other's readiness to use or not to use ultimate force), to the period of so-called ``massive retaliation,'' to the challenges of the Korean war and the Cuban missile crisis, to the periodic attempts at d'etente, to the steadily increasing accumulation of nuclear weaponry.
Alongside these international aspects of the cold war, Weisberger discusses the effect the latter has had upon the internal affairs of each nation. It is, when one considers the time and wealth that have been wasted, a sad and dreary tale, but one that needs to be told in the detail and with the evenhandedness the author displays.
If there is any criticism to be directed at this study, it is that it does not pay sufficient attention to three factors which, in the current decade, are impinging increasingly on the Russo-American rivalry. Each of these is, on balance, unfavorable to the Soviet Union. They are the failure of the Marxist system in both Russia and Eastern Europe to deliver economically according to promise; the growing restlessness and dissatisfacton within Moscow's Eastern European satellites; and the specter of a next-door China increasingly at odds with the Soviet Union's brand of Marxism. Each of these is an important factor tilting against Russia and is having a growing significance in the relative cold-war strength of that country.
Joseph G. Harrison is a former managing editor of the Monitor.