Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
  • 26
  • 27
  • 28
  • 29
  • 30
  • 31

Book Reviews

Book Reviews



Losing Our Souls: The American Experience in the Cold War. By Edward Pessen.

(Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993. 255p.; notes, index. $24.95.)


Assigning responsibility for the Cold War has long been one of the indoor

sports of American scholars. Led by those favorably inclined toward American

motives in general and those of the Truman administration in particular, the ma-

jority of historians, one can safely say, have placed major blame on the Soviet

Union and Joe Stalin. Fueled by its World War II triumphs and acquisitions, as

well as its devotion to the scientific imperatives of Marxism-Leninism, an insa-

tiably expansionist postwar Soviet Union looked for new worlds to conquer, in

the bargain threatening freedom, democracy, capitalism, and everything else the

United States held dear.

Other historians and political commentators, less numerous but equally erudite,

such as Walter Lippmann, Hans Morgenthau, and, eventually, George F. Kennan,

took a more dispassionate view. They felt, with some variation, that what we de-

picted as a Moscow-directed effort to gobble up territory and spread Communism

was actually a foreign policy as much Russian as Communist; that Stalin, however

repulsive and devoted to Communism, had limited foreign policy goals; and that

the United States, by overreacting to what it saw as primarily a military threat,

simply made matters worse by assuring that there would be no diplomatic solution

to what was essentially a political problem.

Finally, and somewhat later, there emerged in reaction to the first two groups a

coterie of scholars sometimes labeled "revisionists," at other times the "New

Left." These historians, while admitting that Stalin and the Soviet Union were

flawed, placed the onus for the Cold War on the United States and capitalism. Led

by William Appleman Williams, scholars such as Gar Alperovitz, David Horowitz,

Gabriel Kolko, and Lloyd Gardner maintained that, to some degree or the other,

American foreign policy ostensibly aimed at countering a sinister Soviet threat to

freedom was actually designed to serve American capitalist interests intent on

penetrating into and controlling European markets. In short, the Cold War was

but another chapter of American economic imperialism. It is with this group that

Edward Pessen sides, in spades.

Bound to provoke both liberals and conservatives, Losing Our Souls has, as the

saying goes, its bad and good points. First of all, the bad. In his efforts to be fair

to Joe Stalin, Pessen paints a man probably not recognizable to most

Sovietologists, a despot who, although he ruled with an iron hand, was certainly

no threat to American interests and international peace. Pessen goes to great

pains in comparing Stalin to Hitler, as well as Communism to Nazism, in one case

coming up with a real wowser: "Stalin's brutal suppression of political dissenters,

for all its repulsiveness, fell a good deal short of Nazi extermination of entire eth-

nic and religious groups, not for what they had allegedly done but for what Nazi

theorists called their biological or innate inferiority" (p. 78). To ask the obvious,

when did Stalin ever exhibit the slightest compunction about killing off entire

groups-ethnic, religious, or otherwise (ten thousand or so Polish officers in the

Katyn Forest was not a bad day's work)? Moreover, were not his brutal suppres-

sions inclined to be terminal? Pessen's Stalin is not the one we encounter in the

works of such observers of the Soviet scene as George F. Kennan, Adam Ulam,