The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis
The conflict known since 1945 as the “cold war” was one of those titanic struggles between two great powers striving for hegemony that date back to the Greek-Persian confrontation in the 5th century b.c.e. and that recurred periodically thereafter. Notable instances included the Peloponnesian war, Rome’s struggles with Carthage three centuries later, the clashes of Christian Europe with Islam, the Hundred-Years war between England and France, and so on until modern times. Invariably, these conflicts took the form of armed clashes that, thanks to advances in weapons technology, claimed ever more victims.
The invention of nuclear weapons in the mid-20th century threatened to escalate the number of such victims exponentially and possibly extinguish all life on earth. Paradoxically, however, it had the opposite effect, eliminating armed conflict as a way of resolving global conflicts. For this, the only such occurrence in human history, a great deal of credit must go to the leadership of the United States, which for a long time enjoyed an actual or virtual monopoly on these weapons but refrained from using them. (In 1959, on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet Union had only six operational strategic missiles in its arsenal.)
About the Author
Richard Pipes is professor of history emeritus at Harvard and the author most recently of Russian Conservatism and Its Critics (Yale).