Journal of Cold War Studies 6.1 (2004) 96-99
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Arnold A. Offner, Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002. 626 pp. $37.95.
Since the late 1980s, Arnold Offner has evaluated the Cold War diplomacy of President Harry S. Truman in a series of lectures and articles, and he now has extended that analysis in Another Such Victory. Offner's presidential address to the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) in January 1999, subsequently published in the SHAFR journal Diplomatic History, offered a preview of his critical assessment of Truman. In contrast to more recent laudatory biographies, Offner views Truman as an excessively parochial and nationalistic leader who "intensified Soviet- American conflict, hastened the division of Europe, and brought tragic intervention [End Page 96] in Asian civil wars" (p.129). Whereas Offner's 1999 essay, which appears in revised form as the conclusion of the book, reads too much like a shopping list of criticisms—from the use of the two nuclear bombs in 1945 to Truman's failure to negotiate a cease-fire in Korea in 1952—the book has far more room for consideration of conflicting interpretations and nuanced assessments.
Offner keeps the focus on Truman and his expressed concerns and opinions. He draws on the resources of the Harry S. Truman Library and on published Department of State records to discern Truman's interaction with leading advisers. This approach necessarily leaves little room for either the detailed exploration of internal and external pressures on Truman's policymaking or more theoretical models of interpretation. Offner does, however, provide a more thorough evaluation of Truman's reactions and decisions than one can find either in recent accounts or in standard revisionist and postrevisionist assessments. This concentration on Truman, moreover, provides evidence for perspectives different from Offner's that suggest that Truman was no more parochial and nationalistic than most twentieth-century U.S. leaders were, that his commitment to American democracy and capitalism shaped his opinions on Communist leaders and regimes, and that his reactions were shaped less by Offner's categories and more by his experiences and assessments of the 1930s. Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to avoid the mistakes of World War I and the 1930s in his diplomacy during World War II, Truman sought to avoid the mistakes of the 1938 appeasement when dealing with Josif Stalin. He became convinced that Stalin had not fulfilled the agreements made with Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference in early 1945.
Offner's relationship to the "dark and bloody ground" of Cold War historiography is somewhat elusive. His brief preface offers a critique of Truman, and his acknowledgments and concluding chapter place him in a revisionist camp filtered by the end of the Cold War. Offner, who earned his Ph.D. under Robert H. Ferrell at Indiana University, has retained a more nuanced perspective than did many of the revisionists cited in the book. Similar to Melvyn Leffler, Offner affirms the postrevisionist thesis that some degree of U.S.-Soviet conflict was inescapable after World War II. He argues that the onset of the Cold War, when Truman and his advisers came to view Stalin and the Soviet Union as the enemy rather than an estranged ally, was in the winter and spring of 1945-1946 as they grappled with Stalin on Germany, Iran, and the Chinese civil war. Offner's strongest disagreements are generally with the postrevisionist historian John Lewis Gaddis, particularly Gaddis's post-Cold War reassessment of Stalin's role in the origins of the Cold War.
Offner's critique of Truman, like so much of Cold War historiography, depends significantly on his assessment of Stalin's and Mao Zedong's objectives, their relationship, and the role of ideology in the shaping of policies on all sides of the Cold War. Although Offner is familiar with the relevant literature about these two Communist leaders and is sensitive to the conflicting assessments of them (he usually relegates these...