domingo, janeiro 08, 2006

26) Uma guerra muito fria, e foi bom que foi assim... (Book review)

If You Must Have a War, Make Sure It's a Cold One
By William Grimes
The New York Times Book Review, December 28, 2005

The Cold War: A New History
By John Lewis Gaddis
Illustrated. 333 pages. Penguin Press. $27.95.

When George Orwell began writing ''1984,'' the totalitarian future he described seemed disturbingly plausible. The Soviet Union, cashing in its chips after World War II, ruled half of Europe and commanded the unswerving loyalty of millions throughout the world. By the 1950's, two superpowers, bristling with nuclear weapons, stared unblinking across an ideological divide, and the rest of the world trembled. Forty years later, the Berlin Wall came down and then, virtually overnight, the Soviet Union was no more.

The cold war was over.

What happened? How did the potent wartime alliance between the Western powers and the Soviet Union turn so quickly into implacable confrontation, and why did the standoff end so abruptly, after a generation of nuclear crises, proxy wars and a seemingly unstoppable arms race? Was the entire exercise pointless, an absurdist drama of missed opportunities and mistaken intentions played before a captive audience of billions?

John Lewis Gaddis, a leading cold war historian, has addressed such questions at length in works like ''The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947,'' ''The Long Peace: Inquiries Into the History of the Cold War'' and ''We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History.'' In ''The Cold War: A New History,'' he offers a succinct, crisply argued account of the Soviet-American conflict that draws on his previous work and synthesizes the mountain of archival material that began appearing in the 1990's. Energetically written and lucid, it makes an ideal introduction to the subject.

Mr. Gaddis starts with a surprisingly optimistic premise. ''The world, I am quite sure, is a better place for that conflict having been fought in the way that it was and won by the side that won it,'' he writes. ''We have no reason to miss it,'' he goes on to say. ''But given the alternatives, we have little reason either to regret its having occurred.''

The cold war, in other words, was much more rational than previously thought, despite its manifest absurdities, first and foremost the race to develop weapons that, almost by definition, could never be used. Both sides operated from perfectly reasonable premises, given their experiences in World War II. The Soviet Union, having sacrificed millions of its citizens, saw victory as an opportunity to secure its western borders and advance its political agenda around the world. The United States, after showing itself to be a reluctant actor on the world stage, was determined to play a more active role in securing Western Europe's future and, by bolstering democracies and free markets, to protect its own.

The bomb and radically divergent ideologies distorted what otherwise might have been a traditional balance-of-power chess match. Mr. Gaddis, putting forward the first of his cold-war heroes, argues that Dwight D. Eisenhower was much quicker to grasp the implications of a nuclear future than many of the defense-policy intellectuals who tried to square the circle and make nuclear weapons part of a coherent military strategy.

Eisenhower, ''at once the most subtle and brutal strategist of the nuclear age,'' rejected the concept of a limited nuclear war, reasoning, with a general's first-hand understanding of battle, that fear would overrule reason once nuclear weapons came into play. There would be no middle ground between no war and total war, a stark choice that Winston Churchill saw as a kind of guarantee. ''Strange as it may seem, it is to the universality of potential destruction that I think we may look with hope and even confidence,'' he told the House of Commons. War could no longer be an instrument of policy, something that the mercurial Nikita Khrushchev also grasped.

The cold war once looked like an equal battle between two military giants, with the lesser nations of the world reduced to the role of helpless bystanders. Mr. Gaddis makes it clear just how helpless American and Soviet leaders often were, their hands tied by shrewdly manipulative leaders of weaker states who knew exactly how to make the cold-war game work to their advantage.

''The international system appeared to be one of bipolarity in which, like iron filings attracted by magnets, all power gravitated to Moscow and Washington,'' Mr. Gaddis writes of the period from the late 1950's to the early 1970's. ''In fact, though, the superpowers were finding it increasingly difficult to manage the smaller powers, whether allies or neutrals in the cold war, while at the same time they were losing the authority they had once taken for granted at home.''

If events in Cuba and Indochina gave Washington fits, the Soviet leaders, in their turn, were stymied by North Korea and driven to the point of apoplexy by Mao Zedong, who would traumatize Khrushchev by casually commenting that war with the United States might be an excellent idea.

Elsewhere Mr. Gaddis has endorsed the writing of a ''new cold war history -- one in which ideas, ideologies and morality are going to be central,'' rather than nuclear strategy and military brinkmanship. From the outset, he argues, the United States and the Soviet Union saw the cold war not simply as a struggle for military superiority. The world would observe, and judge, two competing and contrasting social systems. For Mr. Gaddis, innumerable private perceptions and moral decisions did as much to dissolve the cold war consensus as international treaties or macroecomonic trends. Characteristically, he locates the beginning of the end for Soviet Communism with the dramatic moment when Pope John Paul II arrived at Warsaw airport on June 2, 1979, and kissed the ground.

In the end, the impossible became possible. In 1956 and 1968, Russian tanks had crushed uprisings in Budapest and Prague. But faced with popular unrest in Poland in 1981, the Soviet leadership blinked. Intervention, it decided, was out of the question. The onetime superpower was powerless, offering one of the key lessons of the cold war: ''military strength, a defining characteristic of 'power' itself for the past five centuries, ceased to be that.''

A decade later, the Soviet empire no longer existed, and the postwar division of the world came to an end. Just like that. ''It could easily have been otherwise,'' Mr. Gaddis writes, in a ringing conclusion: ''the world spent the last half of the 20th century having its deepest anxieties not confirmed.''

Nenhum comentário: