Eisenhower and the Cold War

Jeremy Black
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from FPRI’s The American Review of Books, Blogs, and Bull

Successful presidents do not need to come through the political process, but whatever their background, they need to be able to lead intelligently and to make sense of and mould the coalitions of interest—both domestic and international—that provide the opportunity to ensure the implementation of policy. One of the most impressive non-politician presidents was Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican president elected in 1952 and re-elected in 1956. A self-styled moderate conservative, Eisenhower provided an effective hard-edged moderation.

Eisenhower benefited from, and helped to mould, the conservative ethos of the 1950s. His re-election in 1956 with a margin of nine million votes displayed widespread satisfaction with the economic boom and social conservatism of those years. There was an upsurge in religiosity as church membership and attendance rose, and Eisenhower encouraged the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on the currency. At the same time, Eisenhower left the New Deal intact and crucially extended it to incorporate African-Americans, even using federal forces to enforce the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The Eisenhower years were to be the background to modern America. In many respects, the new social and political currents of the 1960s were a reaction to this conservatism. Yet, to an extent that exponents of the “Sixties” prefer to forget, many of the developments of the 1950s had a lasting impact, notably the growing suburbanisation and car culture, the growing significance of the South and, far more, the West, and the willingness of government to challenge institutional Southern racism. Continue reading “Eisenhower and the Cold War”

The Cold War’s World History and Imperial Histories of the US and the World

Hyde Park Protesters, October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis

John Munro
St. Mary’s University[1]

The gap between the Cold War’s history and its new historiography spanned only about a decade and a half. The Cold War concluded during the George H.W. Bush presidency, but for the field we now call “the US and the world,” the Cold War paradigm reached its terminus, if we have to be specific, in 2005. That year saw the publication of two books that together marked a milestone in how scholars would write about the Cold War. John Lewis Gaddis’ The Cold War: A New History told its story through engaging prose and a top-down approach that gave pride of place to Washington and Moscow as the centers of a bifurcated world. For its part, Odd Arne Westad’s The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times offered a triangular model in which empires of liberty and of justice interacted with Third World revolutionaries who led campaigns for decolonization that shifted into high gear after World War II. Gaddis’ survey represented a culmination of the traditional two-camps schema which tended to reflect self-understandings of the US government but which, after Westad’s concurrent synthesis, could no longer stand without qualification, without reference to the colonial dimension of the Cold War itself. In this sense, 2005 was a before-and-after historiographical event.

The classic Cold War concept, in which the governing and formal decolonization of Western Europe’s empires was one thing, and the rivalry between the superpowers something altogether else, has become diminished, but not because of one book alone. Various social movements have rejected the tenets of the Cold War at different times, and as far back as 1972, historians Joyce and Gabriel Kolko argued that “The so-called Cold War…was far less the confrontation of the United States with Russia than America’s expansion into the entire world.”[2] In 2000, Matthew Connelly called attention to the distortions accompanying attempts to have postwar history fitted to the constraints of the Cold War paradigm. The “Cold War lens,” as Connelly memorably called it, had obscured racial and religious realities. As more scholars began to push the weight of culture, decolonization, gender, public opinion, and more against the Cold War paradigm’s once stable conceptual walls, the foundations faltered. And since Westad’s 2005 landmark, a notable tendency has developed across the disciplines in which scholars – notably Mark Philip Bradley, Jodi Kim, Heonik Kwon, and the authors (including Westad) contributing to Joel Isaac and Duncan Bell’s volume on the Cold War idea – have further troubled the notion that what followed World War II is best understood by focusing on how the leaders of the US and USSR saw the world.[3]

It’s also worth noting that the recent literature’s rough division between works that sit more comfortably within the Cold War paradigm and those that prompt a rethinking of its foundations does not map neatly onto the difference between local and globally-oriented studies. Melvin Leffler’s 2008 transnational history of US-Soviet relations and Samuel Zipp’s New-York focused book on urban renewal of 2010 both fit within Cold War studies, for example, while Masuda Hajimu’s global reinterpretation of the Korean War and Yulia Komska’s cultural genealogy of the West German-Czech borderlands (both published in 2015) render suspect what we thought we knew about the Cold War.[4] All four books are excellent, and it would be unhelpful to make a “without paradigm good, within paradigm bad” argument across wide swaths of insightful scholarship. The point is, rather, to note that The Cold War: A World History arrives at what Federico Romero calls a historiographical crossroads, on a conceptual terrain conspicuously remapped since the publication of The Global Cold War. Continue reading “The Cold War’s World History and Imperial Histories of the US and the World”

Myth and Geopolitics from Below: Apartheid South Africa and America in the Angolan Civil War



Jamie Miller
University of Pittsburgh
Follow on Twitter @JamieMiller85

In 1975, the armed forces of apartheid South Africa intervened in the Angolan Civil War, carrying the flag of the anti-communist West into a burgeoning Cold War conflict. South Africa’s armed forces, confronted by Cuban troops, ended up in a military stalemate and a political disaster. Its government was pilloried internationally for interfering in a political contest in black Africa. African liberation movements across Southern Africa were emboldened. A model for achieving decolonisation through armed force, backed by Cuban and Soviet assistance, was established. And within South Africa itself, black political movements saw the regime’s aura of invincibility shattered, as did some puzzled white voters. The intervention in Angola, in other words, was an important turning point for the apartheid regime.

Ever since, historians have broadly accepted that South Africa was acting in Angola as an agent of American interests. “The US government urged South Africa, which might otherwise have hesitated, to act,” writes Piero Gleijeses, the preeminent specialist in Cuban and American foreign relations.[1]

In South Africa, a parallel notion has proliferated. The regime is remembered as having acted on America’s behalf in Angola; failure is ascribed to the lack of US congressional support for the commitments the Ford Administration had made to the apartheid regime. Then Defence Minister and soon-to-be Prime Minister P. W. Botha told Parliament:

I know of only one occasion in recent years when we crossed a border and that was in the case of Angola when we did so with the approval and knowledge of the Americans. But they left us in the lurch… . The story must be told of how we, with their knowledge, went in there and operated in Angola with their knowledge, how they encouraged us to act and, when we had nearly reached the climax, we were ruthlessly left in the lurch.

The Director of Operations for the Army Jannie Geldenhuys echoed this line in his memoirs. “The turning point of the war … was the new law passed by the American Congress forbidding military support to any Angolan Party.” Various versions of this thesis have been repeated to me by numerous highly placed apartheid-era diplomats, generals, and politicians alike in interviews.

But new evidence and fresh conceptual approaches turn these narratives upside down. Research in a range of South African state archives—civilian and military—enables us to piece us together a much richer picture of South African geopolitics and the relationship with the United States. Meanwhile, bringing South African actors and their worldviews into the foreground provides an entirely different view on the big picture at stake here.

The Cold War did not mean one and the same thing to different actors around the world. Instead, the localised intellectual history of the Cold War should be prioritised: how different languages and idioms were appropriated and internalised by actors in the global south, reinterpreted in politically useful and self-serving ways, and then utilised within the original Cold War paradigm in ways that were quite unexpected by superpowers.

This approach clarifies much of the mythology of American betrayal in Angola, and allows us to see the Cold War in the global south in a new light. Continue reading “Myth and Geopolitics from Below: Apartheid South Africa and America in the Angolan Civil War”

Forum Interview – An African Volk: The Apartheid Regime and Its Search for Survival


Dr. Jamie Miller’s new book, An African Volk: The Apartheid Regime and Its Search for Survival (Oxford University Press, 2016), is an ambitious new international history of 1970s apartheid South Africa. In it, he makes sense of the many domestic and foreign political, economic, and ideological forces at work in South Africa at the time: decolonization and European imperialism; economic development and cultural globalization; nationalism and anti-communism; Afrikanerdom and African nationalism; white supremacy and postcolonial rights agendas; local politics and the Cold War in the global south. Based on newly declassified documents and oral histories in multiple languages on three continents, Miller gets inside the “official mind” of South Africa’s apartheid regime in Pretoria and uncovers the ways in which these myriad forces found their complements and contradictions.

Miller, having earned his doctorate from the University of Cambridge in November 2013, has been a Fox Predoctoral International Fellow at Yale University, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Quinnipiac University, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at both Cornell and Pittsburgh Universities. He has published articles in the Journal of African History, the Journal of Cold War Studies, and Cold War History. His work has also appeared in the London Review of Books and the Imperial & Global Forum, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @JamieMiller85.

Here is the Forum interview with Dr. Jamie Miller. Continue reading “Forum Interview – An African Volk: The Apartheid Regime and Its Search for Survival”

Graveyard of Empires? Writing the Global History of Development in Cold War Afghanistan

Nunan, Humanitarian Invasion (Book Cover)

Timothy Nunan
Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies
Follow on Twitter @timothynunan

How did Afghanistan in 2016 end up, yet again, as the graveyard of empires? Not only do Taliban franchises control much of the countryside outside of Kabul, but the start-up Islamic State battles them for influence. Tens of billion of dollars of aid have gone missing. Many Afghans are voting with their feet, forming one of the largest refugee diasporas in the world (a title they held until the Syrian Civil War).

Yet as my recent book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) shows, tortured attempts to develop Afghanistan have a long history. Sure, events like the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842) have left a deep imprint on how outsiders view the place. But for much of the twentieth century, neutral Afghanistan wasn’t at war with any of the superpowers. And when the Soviets went into Afghanistan, they did not annex it into some “Soviet empire.” The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was a dues-paying member of the U.N. General Assembly, and Kabul played host to international conferences touting the regime’s solidarity with the Third World. Continue reading “Graveyard of Empires? Writing the Global History of Development in Cold War Afghanistan”

Revisiting Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech 70 Years After


Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

The 5th of March marks the seventieth anniversary of Winston Churchill’s speech in Fulton, Missouri, in which he declared that an ‘iron curtain’ had descended across Europe. Delivered in the presence of US President Harry Truman, who had been instrumental in securing the former Prime Minister his invitation to speak, the address is well known as a landmark in the onset of the Cold War. Yet it is rarely considered in its full historical context. For the speech – formally entitled ‘The Sinews of Peace’ – was not merely a criticism of Russia. It was the means by which Churchill publicly enunciated his vision for a new world order. Continue reading “Revisiting Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech 70 Years After”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973. Photography by Brian Duffy.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From how the Cold War shaped David Bowie to lessons from Japanese Canadian internment, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”