Cold War Liberalism

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OPEN UNIVERSITY APRIL 9, 2007

Cold War Liberalism

by Ron RadoshTwo years ago, TNR's Peter Beinart argued in his book The Good Fight, that a vibrant
liberal tradition advocating a tough but realistic foreign policy was the heart of a
mainstream liberal foreign policy. As reviewer James A. Lindsay explained in The
Washington Post Book World, "In the years following World War II, it was
Democrat Harry S. Truman who developed a coherent and compelling vision of
national greatness in the dangerous world. The Cold War liberalism--a term Beinart
takes as a compliment, not a slur--of Truman's Democratic Party unified the nation
and provided a blueprint for promoting U.S. security and prosperity that lasted nearly
half a century."

Now, a series of important documents and two new books provide more proof
for Beinart's assertion. Alan Johnson, editor of an online magazine,
Democraitya, has published recently
released British Cabinet memos written by Labor's foreign minister, Ernest Bevin, in
1948. Bevin called for Europeans to take the lead in creating an anti-communist
foreign policy that he argued had to be both progressive and reformist. As Johnson
writes in his introduction to the documents, it was an attempt by Labor "to insert a
social democratic component into the emerging cold war structures," which Johnson calls a "Third Force" path between
totalitarianism and laissez-faire capitalism."

The Bevin memos make
fascinating reading in today's world, as we face a new totalitarian threat. Bevin
understood, as did Truman, that world communism threatened "the whole fabric of
Western civilization," and had to be opposed by support to democratic elements the
world over. In conjunction with the United States, Benin argued, the policy could
eventually lead, as it did, to victory.

In the realm of Truman scholarship, a major book of historical analysis has
been published by Cambridge University Press. Written by Wilson D. Miscamble,
C.S.C. of Notre Dame University, From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima,
and the Cold War
, the author shows how the Truman administration
slowly but
firmly
moved away from the policies espoused by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had hoped
that cooperation with the Soviets could continue in the postwar world. Miscamble,
basing his argument on extensive and impressive research in scores of archives,
shows how Harry S. Truman, the accidental president, developed a new conceptual
role of America's international role. The new policy was based, as he writes, "on a
desire to preserve the security of the noncommunist world from Soviet
expansionism." In the process, Miscamble skewers and effectively demolishes the old
arguments of the so-called "Cold War revisionists," who argued that the cold war was
caused by American militarism and imperialism, and could have been avoided had the
United State pursed an accomodationist foreign policy.

Miscamble's book should be read in conjunction with an important reevaluation
of Truman, Elizabeth Edwards Spalding's The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman,
Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism
(The
University Press of Kentucky). Spalding's contribution is to show how it was Truman
himself who made
the decisions and formulated the policy that led to containment. It was Truman, she
reveals, who formulated the policy of developing a "strategic military component" as
part of the Kennan containment policy, thereby broadening and moving away from
George F. Kennan's own conception of how containment should be implemented. It
was "freedom, justice, and order," Spalding argues, espoused by Truman, that
became the basis upon which a durable peace could be attained. Like Bevin, Truman
saw the conflict with the Soviets as a fight between liberal democracy and
totalitarianism. Both books complement each other, and both authors show how we
in today's world live in the shadow of the policies created and implemented by
Harry S. Truman.

For those who live in the Washington, D.C. area, both authors will appear, along
with other scholars to discuss the new Truman scholarship at a forum on April 24,
sponsored by the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson
Center for Scholars. Those who want to attend should r.s.v.p. to the address here.

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