These two volumes shed considerable light on the fateful events of 1945-46, events determinative of much that followed in American foreign relations.  The first argues that, had Franklin Roosevelt lived, even if for only another year, postwar history would have been altogether different.  The second, by an experienced “realist” foreign-service officer, views the postwar developments in Asia as all but inevitable.  Costigliola’s book mines some unexploited sources, including the diaries and correspondence of various women, an underappreciated oral history given by Averell Harriman, and diaries maintained by Maisky, Litvinov, and Gromyko.  Davies’ autobiography contains little that will surprise readers of the Stilwell diaries and Barbara Tuchman’s book on Stilwell.

Costigliola’s ventures into amateur psychoanalysis are less than fully convincing; his book nonetheless illuminates the period and suggests some important lessons for those who would influence American foreign relations.  Davies’ book, by contrast, de-emphasizes the personal, contingent, and ephemeral aspects of international politics.

Costigliola’s central thesis, granting FDR more time in the Oval Office, suggests that Roosevelt’s vision of international relations would have prevailed.  That vision was of a world governed and regulated by four or five “policemen”: China, Britain, the United States, Russia, and possibly France.  The world would have been divided into spheres of influence, regionally defined; collisions between the powers would have been ironed out in a series of regularly conducted summit conferences, supplemented by consultations in the U.N. Security Council.  The operation of this scheme would have avoided the atomic arms race, and perhaps also the Korean and Vietnam wars.  This design fell victim, argues Costigliola, to Truman’s excessive combativeness and the malign influence of Acheson and the postwar Soviet specialists, like Harriman and Kennan.

The problem with this thesis is that Roosevelt had no very clear vision of the supposed design, and failed utterly to communicate it to his close aides like Leahy and Rosenman, let alone to a broader public.  Nor was Truman’s early behavior inconsistent with Roosevelt’s supposed purpose, as was shown by his use of Joseph Davies and Harry Hopkins to engage Stalin, and his considerable and effective exertions on behalf of the San Francisco conference and the U.N. Charter—exertions more substantial, and quite possibly more effective, than anything contemplated by the ailing Roosevelt.  Although Costigliola charges Truman with torpedoing the Acheson-Lilienthal plan for the control of atomic energy through the agency of his appointment of Bernard Baruch, it would have been extraordinarily difficult politically for any American president to share control of the bomb with the Russians even in the absence of exaggerated expectations regarding the length of time its secret could be kept.

Similarly, there were real conflicts of interest among the powers that could not have been papered over at summit conferences.  The economic state of Western Europe and Britain was such that Roosevelt could not have long persisted with the Morgenthau plan or any variant of it in the interest of equalizing the economic conditions of Germany and the Soviet Union, nor would the organization of the Soviet economy have made this possible, reparations or no reparations.  Russia’s demands for reparations could not have been met without destroying the Ruhr, which would have been the consequence of a joint rather than a zonal occupation, nor were the French sympathetic to any design for the reunification of Germany.  No Russian government, given the pre-war history, would have acquiesced in political uncertainty, let alone hostility, in Poland and Rumania.  Poland had been an invasion corridor in World War I and after it, and had wrecked the Little Entente and any prospect of collective security in 1938-39; Rumania had occupied Odessa and much of southern Ukraine for four years.  Czechoslovakia had outflanked Poland in 1939 and in Soviet eyes might do so again if aligned with the newly unified Western zones of Germany.  No one in 1945-46 had any trust in a future German polity.

It is not Truman, Churchill, Bevin, and Stalin who deserve reproach for what was almost an inevitable start of the Cold War, but their successors, preeminently John Foster Dulles, who persisted in noncommunication after the dust had settled and strengths and dangers could be more accurately assessed.  Oppenheimer and his colleagues were right in resisting development of the hydrogen bomb in the absence of the pursuit of efforts at international control.  Churchill in 1951-55, and Macmillan after him, were right to urge summit conferences on the Americans; the British were not wrong in successfully fostering the Austrian and nuclear test-ban treaties and in helping to settle the Cuban missile crisis.  What dissuaded the Americans and their Catholic German clients from negotiation, let alone agreement, was the ghost of Hitler and fear of a resurgent Germany and another Rapallo uniting it with the Soviet Union.  By the time events had mitigated that fear, nonnegotiation and noncommunication had become a habit that persists to this day in our dealings with so-called rogue states, in reality our self-manufactured hermit kingdoms: Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar, and Iran.

The vision attributed by Costigliola to Roosevelt, as well as to Churchill and Stalin, is a vision of the permanent members of the Security Council as a Holy Alliance, five policemen acting in concert.  This bears some resemblance to George H.W. Bush’s New World Order.  The vision was deranged by the second Bush administration’s plunge into Iraq, and any confidence of Russia and China in such an arrangement was again shattered by the Western powers’ exceeding the limited mandate given by the Security Council for intervention in Libya.  Costigliola’s book is of value in describing the extent to which this vision was shared by the three wartime leaders, and also in illuminating the disorganization of the Roosevelt administration that prevented its being effectively internalized by the American political class and public.  Whatever may be said of the Truman administration and its foreign policy, its implementation in 1946-49 provided a model of effective political leadership not since surpassed—leadership that, like Churchill’s leadership in the early stages of World War II, was effective in part by reason of a reliance on normal and constitutional methods of government organization.  Truman’s policy was executed by Secretaries Acheson and Marshall; Roosevelt even at his best relied on a pick-up team of White House courtiers and residents: Howe, Hopkins, Corcoran, and Missy LeHand.

John Paton Davies’ memoir comes from a political advisor who knew his function.  He accurately foresaw the impending collapse of the Chinese Nationalists and did not indulge the illusion that the United States could do anything about it.  He also predicted, even in the early stages of World War II, that efforts to restore colonialism in Southeast Asia were doomed.  America’s interest in China was an interest in bleeding the Japanese, not in restoring colonial rule or in supporting a Chinese faction.  After the war, he opposed the “don’t stand there, do something” syndrome still so influential in the formulation of what passes for U.S. foreign policy.  The policy of the China White Paper, “waiting for the dust to clear,” was his policy.  The policy of nonengagement after the dust had cleared was not his policy: It gave rise to a hermit kingdom in China, political aberrations, the deaths of tens of millions, and the involvement of the United States in wars that might have been forestalled.  Davies does not dwell on the personal misfortunes to which he was subjected by the pusillanimity of Dulles; his account of his banishment from the Foreign Service is austere and dignified.  The Afterword by Bruce Cumings, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, does Davies’ reputation no service by casting him as a latter-day advocate of a “preventive war” entirely on the strength of an unpublished letter to his wife in 1954, which is nowhere set out.  Davies made his own case, and needs no help from such friends.


[Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War, by Frank Costigliola (Princeton: Princeton University Press) 544 pp., $35.00]

[China Hand: An Autobiography, by John Paton Davies, Jr. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania) 376 pp., $34.95]