This book is a provocative, forcefully argued, and thoroughly documented reassessment of President Truman’s profound influence on U.S. foreign policy and the Cold War. The author contends that throughout his presidency, Truman remained a parochialMoreThis book is a provocative, forcefully argued, and thoroughly documented reassessment of President Truman’s profound influence on U.S.
foreign policy and the Cold War. The author contends that throughout his presidency, Truman remained a parochial nationalist who lacked the vision and leadership to move the United States away from conflict and toward détente.
Instead, he promoted an ideology and politics of Cold War confrontation that set the pattern for successor administrations.This study sharply challenges the prevailing view of historians who have uncritically praised Truman for repulsing the Soviet Union. Based on exhaustive research and including many documents that have come to light since the end of the Cold War, the book demonstrates how Truman’s simplistic analogies, exaggerated beliefs in U.S.
supremacy, and limited grasp of world affairs exacerbated conflicts with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. For example, Truman’s decision at the Potsdam Conference to engage in “atomic poker” and outmaneuver the Soviets in Europe and Asia led him to brush aside all proposals to forgo the use of atomic bombs on Japan.Truman’s insecurity also reinforced his penchant to view conflict in black-and-white terms, to categorize all nations as either free or totalitarian, to demonize his opponents, and to ignore the complexities of historic national conflicts.
Truman was unable to view China’s civil war apart from the U.S.-Soviet Cold War. Belittling critics of his support for the corrupt Guomindang government, he refused to negotiate with the emergent PRC. Though he did preserve South Korea’s independence after North Korea’s attack, he blamed the conflict solely on Soviet-inspired aggression, instead of a bitter dispute between two rival regimes. Truman’s decision to send troops across the 38th parallel to destroy the North Korean regime, combined with his disdain for PRC security concerns, brought about a tragic wider war.In sum, despite Truman’s claim to have “knocked the socks off the communists,” he left the White House with his presidency in tatters, military spending at a record high, McCarthyism rampant, and the United States on Cold War footing at home and abroad.