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Posted on May 31st, 2012, by

Review of The Devil We Knew: Americans and the Cold War by H.W. Brands

The main idea of the book The Devil We Knew: Americans and the Cold War by H. W. Brands is to cover a particular period in the history of the USA, which is known as the Cold War. The author describes the development of the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union and draws the readers’ attention to different events that had both positive and negative influence on the American reputation in the world. Being obsessed with the coming of communist regime, American government did everything possible to nip communism in the bud. Moreover, taking refuge in its struggle against communism, America participated in the political life of other countries such as Iran and countries in Latin America. Thus, Brands states that America was interested in the development of the Cold War and besides favored its prolongation. Brands describes the course of the Cold War and draws our attention to particular actions of different presidents, such as Nixon, Carter, Kennedy etc.

The Cold War consisted in military buildup and political rivalry for the supremacy in the world. Though there was no military engagement between two world powers, the struggle was tense and exhausting. The main purpose of both countries was to consolidate their armies. America depicted the situation as if the Soviet Union lost the war due to the inconsistence of communism. The author does not support or justify the communist regime, as it had many drawbacks. The expansion of communist system after World War II in many countries of the Eastern Europe helped the Soviet Union to have a great influence in the world and increase the strength of the economy. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union had the largest armed forces in the world; the size of military-industrial base was great, so the Soviet Union spent more than twenty-five percent of its gross national product at the military. Thus, the social sector suffered. People lacked consumer goods; the standard of living was low. The arms race, which lasted for half a century, gradually undermined the economy of the country. The one-sided policy of the government resulted in the crisis in the country. The economic growth rate was about zero percent, there was a fall in hard currency, and the state budget was poor. At that time, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and had to choose between strong army and the existence of the empire itself. Due to his peaceful but radical policy, the Soviet Union reordered its priorities and managed to exist several years more.

However, American policy also was not irreproachable. It changed depending on the president in power. As an example Brands adduces two speeches of John F. Kennedy, the one that supported nationalism in Vietnam and in several years, the other that ordered bringing troops into Saigon. Moreover, cruel and devastating Vietnam War was also founded on the struggle with the communism and was doomed to failure, as American leaders admitted later, they did not know the might of their enemies and could not correctly assess it, they did not know the potential of the country and of the people.

Thus, we can say that the main purpose of the book is to draw people’s attention to the period of the Cold War in the American history and, to show all the advantages and disadvantages of the policy of American government. Brands aimed to get a new angle on the war and perhaps somehow to change the social opinion. In the book, the author characterizes the period and then gives his own opinion and evaluation of American policy in that time.

Brands managed to describe the historical events with characteristic humor and irony, which makes the book fascinating and interesting for a variety of people. He expresses his opinion; still he does not force his personality upon the reader. Vivid and colorful narration induces the reader to write the book up to the end and to ponder upon that period in American history and the lessons that should be learnt from that experience.

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