Cover image for The fifty-year wound : the true price of America's Cold War victory
The fifty-year wound : the true price of America's Cold War victory
Leebaert, Derek.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Little, Brown, [2002]

Physical Description:
xviii, 750 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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E744 .L426 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E744 .L426 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E744 .L426 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Drawing upon literature, strategy, biography, and economics--plus an inside perspective of the Cold War from the intelligence community--Leebaert explores what Americans sacrificed at the same time that they achieved the longest great-power peace since Rome fell. of photos.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

We now know that Soviet aggressiveness underlay the cold war; there's no historical doubt that Stalin initiated the Korean War, for example. Resisting the Stalinists was right, but we also need to know what America paid for its resistance. Both of these viewpoints are evident in Leebaert's remarkably objective work. He argues, for example, that there was justification for opposing the Communists in the Vietnam War, but American leaders walked the country into the worst possible result. American intervention in that country's war activated much of the activity that Leebaert criticizes throughout the book: the McNamaran managerial mentality more suited to inventory control than to combat; indecisiveness; and, above all, the fixation on «crises.» Mastering «emergencies» was the hallmark of Kennedy, «a frightening risk taker,» in Leebaert's phrase. The whole high-strung apocalyptic atmosphere of the early 1960s accelerated tendencies Leebaert deplores: unprioritized military spending, an expensive and ineffective CIA, and the diversion of intellectual talent into military research, not to mention the loss of American soldiers' lives. The strategic arms negotiators of the 1970s were a little more sensible, and a good deal more naive, about the Soviets than the crisis managers. Thus does Leebaert arrive at Reagan and a final round of crises. A comprehensive, spirited work that will both reinforce and challenge every reader's preconceptions about the cold war. Gilbert Taylor.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Leebaert, a founding editor of the journal International Security and lecturer in government at Georgetown, recalls how Paul Nitze, a long-time Cold Warrior, said at the turn of the 21st century that "we did a goddamn good job" with the Cold War. Leebaert answers that assessment in his sure-to-be-controversial and riveting book, in which heretofore unpublished documents and new analyses combine to create a lucid, balanced and in-depth study of the issue. "Well," Leebaert writes, "yes and no: yes if the overriding emphasis is that civilization survived more or less intact, that the Soviet Union collapsed peacefully, and that most of the world was liberalized along the way; no if we dwell on the indirection, inexcusable ignorance, political intrusions, personal opportunism, and crimes underlying this ultimate victory." What, in other words, did we lose in order to win? After relatively few pages outlining the postwar crises and confrontations up to 1950 and the Korean War, Leebaert begins what becomes a brilliant and highly quotable examination of what went right and what went wrong mostly wrong, he argues as the U.S. went from containment of a virulent and ominous U.S.S.R. to abetting its collapse. According to Leebaert, the often astonishing history of our recent past has numerous villains the CIA, the Pentagon, "systems analysis" technicians, a greedy "scientific and technological elite" and what Eisenhower called the "military-industrial-congressional complex." But Ike himself is one of Leebaert's heroes, as are Truman, Marshall and Reagan (he credits the latter with accelerating the end of the Cold War). Others, such as Kennedy and Nixon, get rough treatment (for them, the presidency was "a means for displaying planetary ambitions"), as do political gurus such as Kennan and Kissinger. America had to face down the Soviets almost alone, hindered, Leebaert asserts, by the rapaciousness of the OPEC nations and the self-interest of not only the rebuilding Japan, but of France and Britain as well. He considers the Korean War to have been "the detonator that blew U.S. power around the world" and that ended any chance of post-WWII American isolationism; the Chernobyl disaster,he contends, symbolized the Soviet empire's long slide into ineptitude and paralysis. His claim, however, that the greatest Cold War nuclear crisis came not from missiles in Cuba during the Kennedy years, but from the paranoid and disintegrating Andropov in 1983, will raise some eyebrows. Much happened in the 50 years that was "harmful to American life," Leebaert writes, and many of those costs emerge as frighteningly high in this analysis. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW. (On sale Mar. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

We won the Cold War, but at what cost? Going beyond the traditional diplomatic history of scholars like John Lewis Gaddis (We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, Oxford Univ., 1998. rev. ed.) and recalling H.W. Brands's The Devil We Knew: Americans and the Cold War (Oxford Univ., 1994. reprint), Leebaert, who teaches government at Georgetown University and has written previously on Soviet military strategy, has used both primary and secondary sources to craft a new synthesis of America's 50-year dance with the Soviet Union. He shows how after World War II American leadership became fixated on maintaining a strong military capacity while struggling to create sustained growth at home. He considers what America would have been like if those trillions of dollars spent on the Cold War as well as the attention of the best minds of two generations had been directed toward improving the social and cultural condition of the American people. In the most important work on the Cold War to come out in years, Leebaert makes us contemplate what we lost while winning the Cold War. Highly recommended for all collections. Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Leebaert (government, Georgetown Univ.; board member, Army Historical Foundation) has written an ambitious history of US-Soviet relations during the Cold War era that reveals the "true price of America's Cold War victory." Essentially derivative, his monograph offers no new insights or information about the origins and nature of the resultant US-Soviet international conflict and its consequences for US politics, priorities, and society. The strength of this book is its comprehensive coverage, as Leebaert surveys the major international and domestic developments from the onset of WW II in 1939 through the collapse of communist governments in Eastern Europe in 1989. Leebaert's commentary is invariably judgmental and opinionated. So too is his concurrent assessment of "what was lost, what was gained, and how each outcome weighs on us today." Here Leebaert assesses both the positive (promotion of racial equality, economic and technological advances, international connectedness) and negative (waste of time, talent, and resources; excessive secrecy; growth of statism and acceptance of "bigness") consequences of the Cold War at home. Despite his often judgmental and opinionated commentary, this is a useful addition to the burgeoning literature on the Cold War. All levels and collections. A. Theoharis Marquette University

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
1. 1945: At the Top of the Wavep. 3
Part I
2. Back to the Future (1946-1950)p. 21
3. Getting the Habit (1950-1953)p. 84
4. Nothing So Simple (1953-1956)p. 140
5. Settling In for the Long Haul (1956-1961)p. 195
Part II
6. The Burden and the Glory (1961-1963)p. 255
7. The Burden Felt (1964-1969)p. 319
8. Blight on the Battlefield (1969-1975)p. 377
9. In the Hollow of the Wave (1975-1981)p. 444
Part III
10. Hard Pounding (1981-1985)p. 491
11. Shaking Loose (1985-1989)p. 538
12. Unintended Consequences (1989- )p. 590
Conclusionp. 637
Acknowledgmentsp. 647
Notesp. 649
Bibliographyp. 707
Indexp. 725