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  • American Sovietology: In Service of Mars and Minerva?
  • Christopher McKnight Nichols (bio)
David C. Engerman. Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. ii + 459 pp. Illustrations, essay on sources, notes, and index. $34.95.

Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts is a work of remarkable depth and breadth. In twelve succinct chapters organized in three parts, David C. Engerman explains the formation, elaboration, and near demolition of the field of Sovietology, drawing on extensive research in archival collections, oral histories, and an extraordinary swath of scholarship.

Engerman’s study begins toward the close of WWII, when hostile suspicions were rising between Russia and the Allies. Stalin’s takeover of Eastern Europe prompted Winston Churchill in a 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri, to deploy his powerful metaphor of “the iron curtain.” The following year, financier Bernard Baruch and journalist Walter Lippmann clinched the rigidity and the feel of this metaphor in a fresh way by using the term “cold war” to characterize relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. At the time, most Americans knew little about their nation’s new enemy, their WWII ally. Worse yet, most U.S. policymakers were remarkably uninformed. In 1948, the newly organized CIA employed only thirty-eight Soviet analysts, a mere twelve of whom were Russian-speaking experts (with a lone Ph.D). Washington realized the nation suffered from an acute lack of Soviet expertise.

During WWII the U.S. government tapped available academic expertise, and, as Engerman shows, this experience shaped the postwar period’s unprecedented intellectual mobilization. Federal and nonprofit organizations quickly collaborated to fund relevant studies in universities and research centers. An interdisciplinary field of Soviet Studies, or Sovietology, was created from scratch through tightly knit groups of scholars, soldiers, spies, students, diplomats, foreign service officers, knowledgeable laymen, and philanthropists. While the U.S. military built the machinery of defenses, a new network of analysts compiled the knowledge vital to the policy of deterrence.

At the same time, diplomats puzzled over Soviet intentions. The challenge seemed urgent. American leaders demanded wide-ranging studies to understand [End Page 718] the Russian past and also how Soviets thought about their domestic and foreign political and economic objectives.1 Engerman’s first book, Modernization from the Other Shore: American Intellectuals and the Romance of Russian Development (2003), covered some of this ground. He examined the idea of modernization as an influential tool for sizing up the Soviet Union. Exploring the topic “from the other shore,” he studied the changing views of American diplomats, scholars, and journalists about Russian and Soviet political and economic development from the late nineteenth century through the early decades of the twentieth century. Know Your Enemy briefly recaps this early period, then picks up steam after WWII.

Soviet Studies soon moved from a “dispersed group of isolated scholars to a vibrant enterprise making headlines, advising presidents, and shaping foreign policy, all the while fulfilling the traditional academic roles of research and teaching” (p. 3). The field branched off into fruitful investigations of politics and culture, including literature, history, economics, and sociology. By the early 1960s, more than a dozen major Soviet/European area academic centers had been built, and over 3,000 scholars identified Soviet or Slavic Studies as their main focus. Within less than twenty years, the number of Russian language students had risen from near zero to the tens of thousands.

Engerman constructs the first full review of the birth of this interdisciplinary field—Russian/Soviet Studies—shedding new light on the role of intellectuals and institutions in the production of the knowledge that became integral to the conduct of the Cold War.2 Thus Know Your Enemy brings together institutional and intellectual history to add fresh insights to the field of Cold War Studies. Engerman’s volume emphasizes individual leaders and their power, state and nonstate actors, public and private institutions, along with the changing contours of geopolitical systems, technology, and development.

Nuanced and measured, Know Your Enemy is implicitly revisionary in the best sense of the term. “Contrary to familiar depictions of postwar America as deeply conservative...


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