Journals Higher Education

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20 October 1994

256 Pages

5-5/16 x 8 inches

ISBN: 9780195093773


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The Devil We Knew

Americans and the Cold War

H. W. Brands

In the late 1950s, Washington was driven by its fear of communist subversion: it saw the hand of the Kremlin behind developments at home and across the globe. The FBI was obsessed with the threat posed by American communist party--yet party membership had sunk so low, writes H.W. Brands, that it could have fit "inside a high-school gymnasium," and it was so heavily infiltrated that J. Edgar Hoover actually contemplated using his informers as a voting bloc to take over the party. Abroad, the preoccupation with communism drove the White House to help overthrow democratically elected governments in Guatemala and Iran, and replace them with dictatorships. But by then the Cold War had long since blinded Americans to the ironies of their battle against communism.
In The Devil We Knew, Brands provides a witty, perceptive history of the American experience of the Cold War, from Truman's creation of the CIA to Reagan's creation of SDI, and on to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He turns a critical eye to the strategic conceptions (and misconceptions) that led a once-isolationist nation to pursue the war against communism to the most remote places on Earth--backing autocrats in countries from Latin America to the Middle East and Southeast Asia--while engaging in covert operations the world over. Brands offers no apologies for communist behavior, but he deftly illustrates the strained thinking that led Washington to commit enormous resources (including tens of thousands of lives in Korea and Vietnam) to often questionable causes.
In the end, Americans claimed victory in the Cold War, but Brands gives us reason to tone down the celebration. This far-reaching history makes clear that the Cold War was simultaneously far more, and far less, than we ever imagined at the time.

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