News Archives

September, 2009

Book TV!

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Very exciting news: my talk from opening night at Politics & Prose will be broadcast on CSPAN’s Book TV this coming weekend: Saturday at 2:15pm and 11pm, and Monday at 5am. My one-year old and I will be watching the Monday segment.

Nitze on Kennan in 1989

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Here is some wonderful dialogue from an interview that Paul Nitze did with the News Hour on October 26, 1989, two weeks before the Berlin Wall came down.

MR. LEHRER: So if there was in fact a cold war, we won it, is that what you’re saying?

MR. NITZE: That’s exactly what I’m saying. And I think we won it the 15 weeks after February 1947 by the decisions that were made at that time.

MR. LEHRER: And those decisions were?

MR. NITZE: Well, first of all, inherent in the whole proposition of what we did at that time was George Kennan’s  Containment Doctrine, that if one could contain Soviet expansionism, Stalinist expansionism, for enough time, they would then begin to look inward and then they would see what was happening to their own society as a result of Stalinist expansionism. And when they looked inside, then they would begin to change their view. And the questions that George and I had at the top of our mind were two. The first one, what was necessary to contain, particularly military ventures by the Soviet side. And the second was how long would it take. On the military side, I think George and I disagreed. I thought it was going to take greater military preparation than he thought it would. And as to the length of time it would take, I think again we were somewhat different. I remember him saying 10 to 15 years and I thought it would be perhaps one or two generations. But both of us —

MR. LEHRER: Both of you were wrong.

MR. NITZE: Both of us were wrong.

MR. LEHRER: It took 40 years. Right. The Bush administration, as I’m sure you know, has been accused of being too timid in its reaction to these enormous changes that are going on in the Communist world. In fact, the President has even been accused of being nostalgic for the cold war. How do you see that?

MR. NITZE: I don’t think he is nostalgic for it. I think that’s a bad wrap that has been given the President. And I also think he’s right in being careful about what you do from here on out. I don’t think one should just dive in and just consider that Gorbachev is our hero. I really am distrustful of our choosing one person in a country and making our policy revolve entirely about that one person. I think we made a mistake in the days of Chang Kai Chek in putting all our policy on the grounds of supporting Chang Kai Chek. And I also thought we leaned far too far over toward the Shah in Iran for instance. We really put our policy in that area wholly on the Shah. And that turned very bad on us. So that I wouldn’t just say that Russia is Gorbachev. Russia is a lot of people, with a lot of cultural background and very, and a number of nationalities and that’s a great big problem that is going to be with us for a long time. It isn’t just Gorbachev.

Inside the Soviet Doomsday Machine

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

mf_deadhand_fWhile researching the book, I learned about Soviet efforts to create a Doomsday Machine in the 1980s. Wired has just published a story of mine about this: explaining what the Soviets built, why they did it, and why they didn’t tell the United States.

Fred Kaplan of Newsweek reviews the book

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

nitze.cold.war.thompsonFred Kaplan has written a lovely review in Newsweek, accompanied by a photograph of my sister, my grandfather, and me from 1980. His praise is particularly meaningful: he wrote the definitive obituary of Nitze in Slate, and he is also the author of The Wizards of Armageddon-–a terrific study of Cold War game theory that I used repeatedly in my research.

A new excerpt in Foreign Policy

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

One of my absolute favorite magazines, Foreign Policy, is running an excerpt of the book, which you can read here. It mainly covers the period in which Nitze and Kennan worked together on the Policy Planning Staff.

The Daily Beast has also just published a very nice review, including The Hawk and the Dove in this week’s “Hot Reads.”

Did Kissinger seek “an accident” for Bud Zumwalt?

Monday, September 14th, 2009

I’ve just published a short essay on the Wired Danger Room blog about the memo I found showing that Admiral Bud Zumwalt believed that he was once called by someone in Kissinger’s office who had heard the Secretary of State tell Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin that “an accident” should happen to Zumwalt.

The story, and the key document, can be viewed here. This is one of the issues discussed in the very nice New York Times story that ran about the book on Saturday.

Kennan The Conservative

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Tellingly, The American Conservative has declared that it favors Kennan more than Nitze because of the former’s “sense of the limits of power.” This is absolutely fair, and something that many people don’t understand about Kennan. Yes, he was the dove. But he was also profoundly conservative in the traditional sense of that word. As he once said, “I am a strange mixture of a reactionary and a liberal.”

First Review In

Monday, September 7th, 2009

I just received my first full-length review of the book, and it’s by someone who couldn’t be more qualified to have done it: Gregg Herken. In 1986, he wrote a piece about Nitze and Kennan in American Heritage titled “The Great Foreign Policy Fight”, which was the first magazine article to argue that one of the best ways to understand the cold war is to look at the rivalry between Nitze and Kennan. It was an article that everyone in Washington read, and one that came up frequently in my research. I laughed out loud one day in the Georgetown archives while going through the papers of Paul Warnke, a fierce rival of Nitze’s. In his collection, I found the Herken article and a note attached from Clark Clifford, another rival of Nitze’s. ““On p.65 is a fascinating piece on Kennan and Nitze. They both end up frustrated. I thought you might find it interesting.” Herken has a few critiques, which I will address in a future post. But his article is mostly full of praise—which means a lot coming from him.