The Historian | 2019
The Foundation of the CIA: Harry Truman, the Missouri Gang, and the Origins of the Cold War. By Richard E. Schroeder. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2017. Pp. 188. $24.95.)
Western Europe caused Joseph Stalin to lash out, first by preventing the Eastern European nations from participation in the aid program and then in his ill-fated effort to blockade Berlin. In this sense, Steil accurately places the question of Germany’s future as central to European policy in both Washington and Moscow. Thus while he concedes that the Cold War was inevitable, he insists that the Marshall Plan intensified the conflict (372). Historians have long shared this view but the originality of Steil’s argument rests largely on the connection he makes between the ERP and NATO. In his view the Marshall Plan “needed a martial plan” to garner Western European approval of economic collaboration and a revitalized Germany (210). This thesis is, however, never really persuasively proven. Not only is it rather anachronistic, since NATO only became a reality long after the Marshall Plan got underway, but also because the argument rests on very limited sources and documentation, especially from the European side. From the argument about a connection between the ERP, NATO, and the outbreak of the Cold War, Steil infers parallels to Western policies towards Russia in the post-Cold War era. NATO’s creation, much like its expansion in the 1990s and beyond, Steil insists, caused a hostile response from Moscow and therefore sowed the seeds for further conflict including the present ones (385-403). Few scholars would disagree. Yet this kind of criticism of U.S. foreign policy is only fair if one assumes that Moscow itself entertained no aggressive or hegemonic objectives in Europe. Such a viewpoint seems rather starry-eyed and hardly compatible with what we now know of Stalin’s objectives or the kind of actions Vladimir Putin has displayed since his rise to power. These quibbles aside, Steil has written a first-rate book on the causes of the early Cold War. It provides much needed food for thought on the intended and unintended consequences of grand-scale diplomacy.