From world war to Cold War: Churchill, Roosevelt and the international history of the 1940s by David Reynolds
|Reviewed By:||Nicholas Bird|
|Reviewed in:||International Affairs|
|Date accepted online:||28/03/2007|
|Published in print:||Volume 83, Issue 1, Pages 187-220|
David Reynolds is Professor of International History at Cambridge and a respected specialist in Anglo-American relations, particularly of the 1940s. These essays, written over 20 years, were mostly delivered as papers to international audiences. They have that mixture of compression (an audience is getting restless for the Chardonnay after 40 minutes) and occasional ingratiating (and grating), modish words or phrases that are better spoken than written: 'FDR used his personal contacts to get a handle on Hitler.' Another irritant is the habit of asking a question before replying: 'Did Churchill accept that an invasion of France would be necessary? To that the answer is "yes".' This is a conversational trick that does not work on the page.
But in the main this is a well-edited book that is strong on footnotes. One tiresome blemish is that there is no bibliography-books are credited in the footnotes but when repeated the details are not given in full, and so the reader has to rummage back to find the first reference. Quotations are not always clearly sourced. What unimpeachable authority do we have for Churchill's comment in June 1944 that Arnold, King and Marshall were 'one of the stupidest strategic teams ever seen'? Contradicted in part by Churchill's earlier comment (again, not clearly credited) that he had 'the greatest confidence in General Marshall both as a man and as a soldier'.
Reynolds says that these essays 'hang together as a sustained argument ...that they reflect a distinct methodology'. The last at least is true-his approach has been dubbed 'functionalist' which, in respect of Anglo-American relations, means looking at the way the relationship actually functioned behind formal treaties or agreements. Reynolds has also been influenced by the realist approach to international relations, and accepts the legitimacy, and primacy, of national interest. He questions the nature of power: 'power takes many forms-tangible and intangible, hard and soft.' He points out that the 'special relationship' is 'a classic case-study in what can (and cannot) be done with soft power' i.e. the power of persuasion through mutual perceived interest, through shared cultural and political traditions and goals. Some of his ground has been well trodden, not least by himself. The essay on 'Churchill's government and the black GIs' is a précis of Reynolds's own
The other 17 essays examine,
Churchill's strengths and weaknesses as an allied leader and strategist are ably described, as is the drift towards the Cold War ('unwanted and unintended' ...'more circuitous than hindsight suggests'). In his chapter on 'Allied grand strategy in Europe' the author summarizes Churchill's strategic priorities and whims, his 'chauvinism', his desire to put Britain centre stage, concluding that the last year of the war saw the 'progressive marginalization of Churchill's grand strategy' due to US numerical dominance. This chauvinism explains Churchill's championing of the Italian campaign where British troops were in the majority, slogging their way towards the Po through terrain ideally suited for defence, something Churchill never fully appreciated. Reynolds neatly encapsulates Churchill's Russian policy-'not confrontation but negotiation from strength'. But Churchill had unwonted faith in Stalin's word.
Despite being spoken addresses, these essays read surprisingly well, the odd clumsy phrase notwithstanding. They are full of insight, robust but not perverse opinion, and wit. The author is an unrivalled historian of this most dramatic of decades-the 1940s-and this is a further valuable and enjoyable contribution to their study.