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A review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, 13 October 1968,

of two books:


by André Fontaine. Pantheon Books, 1968

2) THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD: 1914 / Present,

by William H. McNeill. New York: William Morrow, 1967



"A Survey of the Cold War Before and After"





   By Andre Fontaine. Pantheon Books. 

   432 pages. $10. 


   By William H. McNeill. William Morrow. 

   184 pages. $5. 


   Fads in superficial matters like the length of women's hair or skirts may be disconcerting or expensive, but they are not likely to be socially or intellectually damaging. On the other hand, fads in scholarship and publishing may be very damaging to our ability to see where we are and where we are going.


   Today we are being brainwashed in a number of such fads, such as the Ardrey version of the natural proclivities of human nature and the "Iron Mountain" version of the nature of human society and the social value of war. The latest of these fads in the field of history is the "Big Lie" that the "Cold War" began In 1917, when the world was offered a choice between Wilson and Lenin, with all history since that crucial date being portrayed as a struggle between the outlooks of these two basically aberrant figures.


   Professor McNeill puts this thesis in a relatively moderate form (page 41): "The rival programs for the world, enunciated by President Woodrow Wilson of the United States and by Lenin of Russia in 1917, continued to compete for the assent of all mankind -- or at least for the politically responsive portion of mankind -- during the immediate postwar years; and, in a sense, with appropriate changes in both ideals, the same contest continues even to the present day."   A. J. P. Taylor, always a quick man with the latest fad, embraces this one in a long review in the New York Review of Books for Feb. 1, 1968, where he says, "The real cold war - and not so cold at that – started with the Bolshevik revolution in November 1917."  The clash between Lenin and Wilson as the beginning of a new era is being presented at length by Amo J. Mayer in a sequence of volumes of which the first two have already appeared ("Political Origins of the New Diplomacy, 1917-1918" and "Politics and Diplomacy of Peace. making: Containment of Counter-Revolution at Versailles, 1918-1919."  The same idea is in Desmond Donnelly's "Struggle for the World: The Cold War, 1917-1965," published in England three years ago. The best comment which can be made on this version of the past half century is that it is false and grossly injurious to our understanding of the past and the future.


   From May 1900 to May 1945 the central fact of international relations and world history was the effort by Germany to establish its hegemony in Europe and on the Eurasian land mass.  This effort began with the agreement of 1900 between East Germans and West Germans to challenge Great Britain and Russia simultaneously by the joint decision to build a high-seas navy and to exclude Russian grain from the German market by a high tariff.


William McNeill - author

William McNeill


   Without the two aggressive wars by Germany, and the German defeat of the czarist government in 1919, the Bolsheviks would never have come to power. And without the Nazi assault of 1934-1945, communism would not have come to power anywhere outside Russia. And without both of these, Lenin would never have been of any historic importance.


Consequently, the German drive to hegemony must be at the center of the stage in any narration of international history before 1945.  To write a history of the period with something else at the center, especially something which is a consequence of that drive, is to falsify history.


   And the narration is doubly falsified when the history of the world is presented as a choice between communism and Wilsonian liberal democracy.  It is not and never was.  Such a version ignores two other alternatives of much greater significance, especially today: democratic planning for a welfare state and fascist militarist aggression.


   These two are among the options facing the United States today, as they were in Germany In 1924-1934, as they were in China in recent years, and as they may be even in the Soviet Union and Latin America.  To omit these choices from the past or the future is falsification.


   One trouble with books based on fads is that they have to be rushed into print to catch the tide. As a result, errors are not caught, and statements are not checked.  On this matter McNeill, a professional historian and a good one, is a greater offender than Fontaine, who has been foreign editor of Le Monde in Paris since 1951.  McNeill says twice that German reparations sought to recover "the full costs of the war";  this was considered at Paris and rejected in favor of reparation for damages inflicted.


   Two pages later (page 44), he says, "The Dawes Plan defined the total sum of reparations Germany would have to pay," when the total sum had been set in 1921, but was reduced by the Dawes Plan to a smaller annual payment on account, leaving the total due unchanged.  The same page tells us that the Kellogg-Briand Pact to Outlaw War was accepted by "almost all the nations of the world with the conspicuous exception of Russia," when, in fact, Russia accepted the treaty at once and, when the major powers delayed ratification, Russia brought forth the Litvinov Protocol to put the Kellogg Pact into effect in eastern Europe without waiting for the rest of the signers to ratify.


   Despite these and other errors, McNeill's book is a surprisingly successful summary of a complicated period in a brief compass.  The price is too high, but it is available in paperback from Scott, Foresman, as the tenth volume of a world history. A remarkable amount of social, colonial, and cultural history has been packed Into it.


   The Fontaine volume, on the other hand, has little to recommend it.  First of two volumes to cover 1917 to the present, it is diffuse, unfocussed and misconceived.  It does not give what it promises, but instead is a history of international relations centered on the Soviet Union, but lacking in any real understanding of the issues. It Is very easy to go through history, as these faddists do, picking out evidence to show that anti-Bolshevik thoughts and actions were important, say, at the Peace Conference.  But anyone who looks at all the evidence for any period can see that statesmen usually had other issues closer to the top of their minds.  To believe otherwise, as these faddists do, is to accept the historical distortions of the Bolsheviks themselves: (imperialist capitalistic encirclement) or of the lunatic anti-Communist American Radical Right Wing (pervasive Communist conspiracy of subversion).  Neither of these could accept, as McNeill does (p. 28), that the Soviet Union, which was not a party to it, was one of the chief beneficiaries of the Washington Conference of 1922, without anyone giving it much of a thought.


   That McNeill mentions this shows that he is a real historian, although in this book a careless and hasty one. But Fontaine's errors are so all-distorting, that his wide knowledge and reading do not give his volume enough meaning to justify reading it.







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