Review: "The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War"
Throughout Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko’s book, The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War, the authors explore the origins of the Cold War through an analysis of diplomatic relations between both the United States and Soviet Union during the final years of World War Two. In doing so, both Craig and Radchenko argue that American and Soviet relations declined significantly following the use (and detonation) of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki; thus, bringing an end to the years of wartime cooperation and support as tension quickly gave way to an era of competition between the two powers.
Craig and Radchenko's Main Points
In their attempt to establish a sense of political and military hegemony in the postwar era, Craig and Radchenko argue that American leaders mistakenly believed that the atomic bombs could be used as a diplomatic weapon against the Soviets; a weapon that would not only strengthen American influence and power over the world, but also weaken and discourage the prospect of Soviet expansion. As the authors demonstrate, however, this gamble on behalf of the Americans proved false as the bombs only increased tension with the Soviets and led to a dramatic period of espionage (and technological theft) as the Soviet Union attempted to gain parity through the procurement of nuclear secrets from the United States. Had the United States avoided the use of atomic bombs against Japan and agreed to share its nuclear secrets with Stalin, the authors conclude that the Cold War could have potentially been avoided altogether; thus, allowing for a sense of mutual cooperation to extend itself into the postwar years. Instead, the authors argue that political provocations by the United States (through the bombing of Japan) led only to fierce competition and conflict with the Soviets, and forever altered global politics in the decades that followed.
Craig and Radchenko rely on a large array of primary source materials that include: top secret (formerly) Russian and American government records, diplomatic reports, letters, memoirs, diaries, and correspondence records between Soviet and American officials. In conjunction with the wide array of secondary sources that the authors incorporate, Craig and Radchenko’s account is both well-researched and supported by the evidence they present. While this account offers a stunning and unique perspective on the origins of the Cold War, one clear weakness of this work lies in the fact that it systematically ignores other factors (such as the brewing conflict over the division of Germany and Berlin, as well as the political machinations of Stalin) as causal agents of the Cold War. Consequently, Craig and Radchenko’s analysis of the early Cold War often feels as though it is following a narrow construction of historical events. Nevertheless, this work is important to consider as it provides an illustration of the early forms of conflict that emerged between the Soviets and Americans, and provides a compelling sense of causation behind why the Cold War began.
Overall, I give this book 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a diplomatic history of the early Cold War. Both Craig and Radchenko’s work offers a unique perspective of the early conflict between the United States and Soviet Union that is well-written, easy-to-read, and compelling with its research. Definitely check it out if you get a chance!
Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion
1.) What was Craig and Radchenko's thesis? What are some of the main arguments that the authors make in this work? Is their argument persuasive? Why or why not?
2.) What type of primary source material does Craig and Radchenko rely on in this book? Does this help or hinder their overall argument?
3.) Does Craig and Radchenko organize their work in a logical and convincing manner?
4.) What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How could the authors improve the contents of this work?
5.) Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?
6.) What did you like most about this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?
7.) What sort of scholarship are the authors building on (or challenging) with this work?
8.) Did you learn anything after reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the authors?
Do you believe that the atomic bombs represented the first stage of the Cold War?
Craig, Campbell and Sergey Radchenko. The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.