A review by Carroll
Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, 13 October 1968,
of two books:
OF THE COLD WAR FROM THE OCTOBER REVOLUTION TO THE KOREAN WAR, 1917-1950,
by André Fontaine.
Pantheon Books, 1968
CONTEMPORARY WORLD: 1914 / Present,
by William H.
New York: William Morrow, 1967
"A Survey of the Cold War Before and After"
HISTORY OF THE COLD WAR
FROM THE OCTOBER REVOLUTION TO THE
KOREAN WAR, 1917-1950.
By Andre Fontaine. Pantheon Books.
432 pages. $10.
THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD: 1914 / Present.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.