"Complex Factors Produced
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star,
September 17, 1967,
of a book:
THE COLD WAR AS HISTORY,
by Louis J. Halle.
New York: Harper & Row, 1967
Factors Produced Cold War"
THE COLD WAR AS HISTORY.
By Louis J. Halle.
Harper & Row. 434 pages. $6.95.
Louis Halle is well known in Washington, where he spent 13 years at
the State Department (1941-1954), the last two on the policy planning staff
during the Korean War and the first Vietnam crisis. Earlier he spent five years
at Harvard, a brief period in a New York publishing office, and a couple of
years in two branches of the armed services. In 1954 he became research
professor of foreign affairs at the University of Virginia and, for the past 11
Years, has been professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies at
Geneva, Switzerland. To this background Halle brought outstanding personal
qualities: A fine mind, diligent research, a high sense of moral integrity, a
balanced sense of the realities of power, and an adequate, if not brilliant,
As might be expected from such a combination of talents and
opportunities, his book, “The Cold War as History,” is sound, well-informed,
balanced, and persuasive. But these are not the qualities which make it
outstanding, for, as far as its content goes, it adds no new factual
information, which is not to be found in other recent books on this subject by
Martin F. Herz, Norman A. Graebner, Stillman and Pfaff, or others. What makes
this book different is that every statement has been screened through Halle's
deep and continuing concern with the philosophic problem of the nature and
limits of human knowledge.
Three Points Emphasized
The problem of historical epistemology has been Halle's chief
interest for many years. His "Man and Nations" (published 1962) and “The Society
of Man” (1965) concentrated on the problem of the relationship between the
dynamic, existential world of matter, time, and unique events half-blinded by
imperstatic, conceptual world of man's subjective outlook. "The Cold War as
History" is not primarily a history of the cold war, although it is an adequate
one, but it is rather a case study of how men fumble through international
events half blinded by imperfect knowledge, misconceptions, and prejudices.
In this book Halle constantly emphasizes three points: (1) The gap
between what is so and what men think is so; (2) the difference between men's
plans and what actually happens; and (3) the contrast between the way
contemporaries look at events and the way later men look back on the same
events. The last two are related in the sense that any present moment is full of
accidental events to the degree that any such moment cannot properly be regarded
as the consequence of anyone's earlier purposive planning, while later peoples,
looking back on those accidents, pick out the ones which seem to be leading
toward their own situation and ignore their accidental, and even incidental,
character, and attribute the occurrence of such events to the purposive actions
of those to whom they happened.
According to Halle, the "Truman Doctrine" emerged from one
incidental sentence buried in a late paragraph of a presidential speech which
had been assembled from paragraphs submitted by a number of writers. In a
similar way, the Marshall Plan was "casually" announced by the Secretary of
State at the Harvard commencement of June 5, 1946, although Secretary Marshall,
when he accepted the invitation on May 28th, "did not have in mind any
particular subject for his remarks"; and, when it was delivered, it was eclipsed
in the news media by a rather routine Truman attack on Soviet conduct in Hungary
made on the same day. According to Halle, no one in Washington, "with the
possible exception of Acheson," attached first importance to Marshall's speech.
This method of writing about the Cold War serves the useful purpose
of putting events back into their actual context, and, if read by the present
masters of our foreign policy, might dampen down their obsessive belief that
they are doing what they think they are doing in southeast Asia.
The U.S.-Soviet Views
The Halle approach to the Cold War revolutionizes the history of it
and is in the present trend of historical scholarship toward increased emphasis
on the role of epistemological problems in historical writing. The accepted
myths which see history, and especially recent history, in TV terms as a
struggle between "good guys" and "bad guys," or, as it was called at the time,
between "peace-loving peoples" and "aggressor nations" are shown up as the fairy
tales they actually are. In Halle's view, all states are organizations of
political power, and their relationships are necessarily power relationships in
which each presses outward on all sides and inevitably pushes into areas of
lower political power or areas of "power vacuum" such as were created in central
Europe and the Far East as a consequence of World War II.
Halle regards both the United States and Russia as former frontier
zones of Europe, in which people's views of reality have been distorted by their
distinctive historical experiences. In Russia people went through long centuries
of political insecurity and were left with an outlook on the world which is
fearful, suspicious, and xenophobic. The American people, on the other hand,
had, for over a century after 1815, an unearned and unobserved security from
invasion, which permitted them to concentrate on the pursuit of affluence and
naive good fellowship. Both experiences, under contemporary conditions, left the
two super-powers with unrealistic, if not neurotic, outlooks on reality, where
power is basic, persistent, inescapable, and permanent, but is not irrational,
unpredictable, and evil, as the two super-powers now tend to see it from their
quite opposite experiences.
Halle's volume, like his earlier books, is worth reading, although
it is much more valuable as an example of a technique of historical
interpretation than for its presentation of the facts of the Cold War. In many
ways, the author is a smaller Walter Lippmann (which is not uncomplimentary, in
view of Lippmann's stature in this field of public and international affairs).
These two share many qualities. Lippmann's greatest strength, like Halle's, has
rested on his sound epistemology, his suspicion of slogans and war cries (as
shown in his "The Phantom Public" of 1925), and his ability to move easily in
the two worlds of academic scholarship and public service. Both are
European-centered in outlook, regarding other areas, even the United States,
Russia, and the Far East, as, in some degree, peripheral. Both concentrate their
attention on power and politics, with relatively little concern for economics or
ideology. Halle does not write as well as Lippmann, and, of course, he does not
have Lippmann's influence and sources of information. Both write numerous short
books on single aspects of the very complex world of their major interest, with
the result neither can be judged as a thinker or writer from a single work, but
must be judged on the corpus of his writing. The corpus of Lippmann shows him as
a very wise man; that of Halle shows him to be wiser than many, and a
commentator whose work is well worth examination.