Review of Arne Westad’s “The Cold War: A World History”


In The New Republic, I have a review of Odd Arne Westad’s “The Cold War: A World History.” (Wonderful illustration by Guy Billout.) This is an important book, and it’s a fairly long review. The review begins:

“Considering how likely we all are to be blown to pieces by it within the next five years,” George Orwell wrote in late 1945, “the atomic bomb has not roused so much discussion as might have been expected.” Orwell was grappling with the political implications of the new weapon, about two months after the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed more than 100,000 people. If atomic bombs were cheap to build, he thought, they might level differences in power between nations. But since the costs of production were so high, he anticipated instead the creation of only a few atomic superstates. In fact, Orwell reasoned, the atomic bomb might actually serve to intensify political inequality,

“by robbing the exploited classes and peoples of all power to revolt, and at the same time putting the possessors of the bomb on a basis of military equality. Unable to conquer one another, they are likely to continue ruling the world between them, and it is difficult to see how the balance can be upset except by slow and unpredictable demographic changes.

It was a situation of “cold war,” he wrote, in one of the first uses of the phrase. And, he concluded, “it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a ‘peace that is no peace.’ ”

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