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  • The Politics of Peace: A Global Cold War History by Petra Goedde
  • Martijn Lak
The Politics of Peace: A Global Cold War History. By petra goedde. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. 307 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-537083-6. $35.00 (hardcover and ebook).

The historiography of the Cold War has predominantly focused on war, or the lack thereof between the two superpowers. One of the main points of focus is the in all ways absurd nuclear arms race, which resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union (SU) combined having tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. For decades, people lived in the shadow of "the bomb," fearing that even a small mistake or the action of some lunatic general might result in nuclear Armageddon, so vividly portrayed in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.

However, the Cold War was also very much about preserving peace, perhaps especially in the realization that an all-out war between the United States and Soviet Union would mean the destruction of civilization. It is precisely the emerging politics of peace that is central to Petra Goedde's thought-provoking The Politics of Peace. A Global Cold War History. As stated by the author: "The history of the Cold War cannot be written without an understanding of the competing definitions of peace that existed on both sides of the Iron Curtain […] The Cold War was both more ubiquitous and less territorial than previously assumed" (p. 4).

Using an impressive and very broad range of primary sources, Goedde does an excellent job in showing how the politics of peace were used by the various actors in the Cold War. At first, the United States rejected peace as a public strategy, in contrast to the SU. For Moscow, the promotion of peace was an integral part of its propaganda campaign. Washington and its European allies, on the other hand, "regularly accused activists of being communist agents or naïve idealists who had become tools of an international conspiracy […] By associating peace with communism, the Western world was left aligning its own liberal democratic capitalist system with war" (p. 13).

This would only change at the beginning of the 1950s, as the Americans began to understand that dismissing peace advocacy damaged the United States' international reputation. This was articulated, for example, by W. Averell Harriman, special assistant to President Truman and former ambassador in Moscow, who stated that "it is essential for this government to recapture the peace mantle from the Russians." In the words of Goedde: "Over the course of the 1950s, Harriman's advice became US policy" (p. 23). [End Page 828]

Writing in an accessible style, Goedde presents a plethora of organizations and people, both East and West, that advocated peace. She also makes very clear that "the left," traditionally associated more with peace than "the right," by no means presented a united front. There was a strong division between what Goedde refers to as the "Old Left" and the "New Left." The latter, "disillusioned with the empty rhetoric and internal contradictions of Soviet-dominated communism […] developed an alternative political agenda that championed peace, freedom from oppression, nonviolence, and participatory democracy" (p. 39). A united left proved largely illusory.

Goedde also shows that there was considerable difference in the women's movement. Traditionally, war and national security were associated with masculinity and strength. Peace was seen as weak and feminine. However, "it did not follow logically that men advocated for the former while women sought the latter" (p. 131). Goedde also makes convincingly clear that women had considerable influence on the course of the Cold War, at least on lowering tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. This became clear, for example, in the Détente of the 1960s and 1970s, although it is a fact that the thaw in international relations had a number of causes: "Détente should be understood as a gradual process that unfolded over the course of the 1960s, emanating from multiple sources and shaped by a diverse set of actors" (p. 189).

Chief among them were, Goedde points out convincingly, the growing peace and anti-war movements, above all in the United States...


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