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New Left Review 49, January-February 2008


Anders Stephanson on John Lewis Gaddis, Cold War and Surprise, Security and the American Experience. Diplomatic history as mirror for presidents, with postwar geopolitics recast as morality tale.

ANDERS STEPHANSON

SIMPLICISSIMUS

John Lewis Gaddis has been one of the most ideological figures within the subfield of us ‘diplomatic history’. All historians, of course, operate in and through ideology; Gaddis, however, has been unusual in foregrounding the ideological nature of his works. Though the message to be conveyed has not always been the same, he has been constant in his defence of us interests, and has consistently mirrored—albeit with slight lags—the prevailing attitudes of the powers that be. A realist in the 1970s and neo-Reaganite from the late 1980s onwards, Gaddis was somewhat disgruntled in the Clinton era, but has found the second Bush altogether more congenial. Gaddis’s method, too, has endured across his extensive œuvre: always disdainful of any excessive fascination with the archives, he has preferred to pick out some theme or idea and drive it through with relentless single-mindedness and clarity, subordinating every aspect of the proceedings to his ideological aim. His characterization of Ronald Reagan in his most recent book, The Cold War, applies equally to himself: ‘His strength lay in his ability to see beyond complexity to simplicity’.

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