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 "Complex Factors Produced Cold War",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, September 17, 1967,
of a book:
by Louis J. Halle.
New York: Harper & Row, 1967



"Complex Factors Produced Cold War"



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, writing style.

   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.


--Carroll Quigley


Scan of original review



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