SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL by Kent Anderson

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The Vietnam War which ended close to forty-four years ago seems to recede further and further into our collective memory as time moves on.  Over time this movement has been slowed by the appearance of numerous novels that depict the horrors of the war and its tortuous effect on those who fought in southeast Asia, and the civilians who suffered and died.  The best of these novels, many of which were written by former soldiers include; Philip Caputo’s A RUMOR OF WAR, Stephen Wright’s MEDITATIONS IN GREEN, Tim O’Brien’s THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, and more recently, Karl Marlantes’ MATTERHORN.  All of these works depict the insanity of war and the outright lies associated with America’s experience in Vietnam.  In considering this genre, Kent Anderson’s SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL should be added to the list as it witnesses the cruelty, duplicity, and disgust that soldiers experienced when they were supposedly fighting a war in defense of American national security.

From the outset, Anderson’s novel depicts the hypocrisy of the war as American troops get ready for a surprise presidential visit.  Further, he describes how American troops cross over into Laos to conduct a bomb assessment, a euphemism for a body count  after illegal B-52 strikes in a foreign country.  Anderson tells his story through the eyes of SGT Hanson, who enlisted in the army after three years of college, volunteered for Special Forces, completed a tour of duty in Vietnam, and then reenlisted for another tour when he could not readapt to civilian life.  Hanson is a fascinating character as he becomes a hardened combat veteran he continues to carry a book of Yeats’ poetry with him as he engages the enemy.

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(173rd Airborne)

The first quarter of the book introduces Hanson and his buddies and how they viewed their experience in Vietnam.  Anderson’s characters include, Hanson, the main protagonist; Quinn his buddy on both tours, a mean and violent individual who excels at gathering souvenirs from enemy bodies; Kitteridge, a senior supply NCO who built a profitable empire reallocating equipment away from their assigned destinations; Silver, a short and wiry individual who spoke fast and walked with a slight limp; Mr. Minh, a Montagnard tribal leader who studies of katha allowed him to make predictions that usually proved to be true; Lieutenant Andre, Hanson’s first field commander who enlisted while in law school; Warrant Officer Gierson, a pompous man from Texas who loved to hear his own voice, and lastly, the crazy SGT-MAJOR, who Hanson looked up to as a father figure and taught him how to stay alive.

One of the most important aspects of the book are Anderson’s observations about the war that comes across through the dialogue between characters.  One of the most haunting is how in America one witnesses children crying all the time, while in Vietnam, children never shed tears no matter how much horror they experience.  Another is how the Vietnamese try to Americanize themselves in order to please GIs and make a profit-by altering the looks of women making them appear more westernized, the type of music they choose, and the language they expressed. When GIs returned to the United States they were spat upon, cursed, and in general treated quite poorly, particularly Hanson who could not deal with this type of reception and decided he felt more comfortable and accepted in Vietnam.  What is very unsettling is the way Americans viewed their Vietnamese counterparts.  For men like Quinn, they were lazy and to be despised.  It reached the point that Americans only relied on themselves as they did not trust their Vietnamese allies to fight.  Further, they were aware of the hatred between the Montagnard tribesmen and the Vietnamese but saw the tribesmen as individuals who could be relied upon and they became true allies that could be trusted.

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An interesting aspect is the realization by American troops, Hanson, Quinn, and Silver in particular how it soon became clear that inflicting and overcoming pain, and the possession and disbursement of power were the keys to survival.  As Hanson experienced the war the real world made less and less sense to him, and the world of combat elevated his comfort level as he developed what he saw as a skill – the ability to kill, which reflected power.

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The issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is front and center in the novel.  Even before Hanson arrives in the US after his first tour there is evidence of PTSD as he hides a Russian pistol he had taken off an NVA body.  His rationalization is that for “eighteen months he never went anywhere without a weapon, he was not going to start now.”  Hanson comes to realize that he is always angry and makes one wonder if it is the war that “pisses him off” or is it something deeper.  Once Hanson’s emotional state is laid bare Anderson returns to why Hanson enlisted in the first place and what it was it like to join the military.  The author’s discussion of induction and basic training is standard US Army harassment, humiliation, and demeaning of people for fresh troops to lose their individual identity and become more of a unit. Anyone who has experienced this preparation for combat will not be surprised or possibly disturbed by what they read.  It still seems that all drill instructors must have gone to the same school of language and psychological training that still rings in my ears almost fifty years later.  The racism, hatred and lack of empathy are standard practice and drove one GI to try and commit suicide, but for Hanson it created a mindset on how he would survive.  He decided that he did not want to go to war with bullies, sadists, and cowards.  As a result, he underwent training for the Green Berets and extended his tour.

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Anderson’s novel presents a remarkable destruction of a person’s sense of self.  Hanson seemed to be a somewhat adjusted individual when he left college and joined the army.  As his military training and experiences evolved his personality began to deteriorate as he succumbs to the evil he witnessed, and his more empathetic traits receded into the background.  As Lt. Andre had stated the war held “no mistrials, no court of appeals, things are final.”  For Hanson his return to Vietnam for his second tour after his negative experience back home became his security blanket and it was reflected by his actions and comments.

The final episode Hanson experiences in Vietnam is right out of the films, Platoon and Apocalypse Now, reflecting the outright absurdity of war, and the callous way it was approached by the United States.  If that was Anderson’s message to his audience, he effectively transmits it.  The novel is a gripping look at Vietnam, its effect on those who fought it, and is a remarkable addition to those books that have come before it that have similar themes.

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A LITTLE WHITE DEATH by John Lawton

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(London, 1963…Rolling Stones)

The 1960s witnesses a social and sexual revolution throughout the western world.  England was no exception with the Profumo-Keeler Affair that eventually brought down Harold MacMillan’s Conservative Party and led to the Labour government’s rise to power in 1964.  The sexual revolution and the remnants of the Cuban Missile Crisis form the background of John Lawton’s novel A LITTLE WHITE DEATH.  The story is the third iteration of his Inspector Troy series set in New York, Moscow, but mostly London.  At the outset the reader is drawn to a Manhattan street where Clarissa, a pseudonym for Tosca, or whatever name she chose at the time, who was also the recent spouse of Inspector Frederick Troy of Scotland Yard.  Tosca meets Dr. Patrick Fitzgerald, and after a conversation about medical treatment for the American president she asks him to convey a letter to her husband who she has not seen for three years.

Inspector Troy has suffered through a rough patch in the novel.  He is exposed to sexual mores that he has never experienced before.  He must deal with his close friend and possible member of the Cambridge Five spy ring, Charles Leigh-Hunt, the suicide of his physician and the niece of his former boss and mentor, Stanley Onions, and cope with a medical leave that was caused by a bout with tuberculosis.

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(October 3, 1963, the Beatles in London)

immediately reintroduces Rod Troy, Frederick’s brother, and spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, as they continue to muse over the life of their father who had been a revolutionary in early twentieth century Russia but came to America in 1910 and left them a fortune upon his death.  They always wondered if he was a spy or a legitimate businessman.  Each would receive a telegram, Rod would be summoned to London as Hugh Gaitskell, ticketed to be the next Prime Minister is near death.  Troy receives a missive from Leigh-Hunt who he had not heard from since 1956 to meet him in Beirut.

Lawton offers a realistic portrayal of Beirut in a very pleasant manner.  He describes its history, political factions, and the tenuous nature of its government.  The author continues his habit of presenting literary references as he has in other novels with the mention of Hemingway, Graves, Greene, and especially Tolstoy who had a relationship with Troy’s grandfather and father.  Troy will meet Said Hussein in Beirut who will bring Troy up to snuff about his former “colleague” and possible spy and provide the airline tickets to travel to Moscow.  Troy would become the first member of his family to return to Moscow in 58 years.  Troy soon learns that Leigh-Hunt has been contacted by Tim Woodbridge, MP, Minister of State, and second in command at the Foreign Office informing him that after seven years the body of a Special Branch officer, Troy had killed in 1957 had turned up.  The British government wants Leigh-Hunt to return to England for the first time since the murder.  At the same time these conversations were occurring, both gentlemen were being surveilled by the KGB, even as Troy visited Tolstoy’s home.

July 22, 1963 Christine Keeler, a principal witnesses in the vice charges case against osteopath Dr. Stephen Ward.
(Christine Keeler)

The second plot centers on a “sexual procurement trial” in London involving Troy’s doctor, Patrick Fitzgerald and MP Time Wooldridge.  It seems that Fitzpatrick known as “Fitz” had a “den of iniquity” at his Uphill Manor in Sussex where woman below and above the legal age of sixteen engaged in orgies and other types of amusements with Fitz’s friends.  Even Troy visited at one time, which would come back to haunt him later on.  Lawton expounds on the wonders of the English social revolution through the dialogue between Troy and Leigh-Hunt.  It seems that they believed that World War II had bound society together with shared values, but by 1963 those values were fast changing.  The author focuses on the drugs and sex that are beginning to permeate English society as is reflected at Fitz’s Uphill Manor.  Woodbridge was not the only important figure to visit Uphill.  It seemed that Anton Tereshkov, who Troy remembered as Khrushchev’s “man” during his 1956 visit to London, was a constant visitor and with Troy’s visit to Moscow, the Scotland Yard inspector grew concerned.

Lawton introduces several interesting characters both real and fictitious.  The writer, Rebecca West appears and engages Troy in a wonderful conversation, as does Sir Harold Wilson and several historical figures.  As to the fictitious ones, Alex Troy, Frederick Troy’s nephew, a reporter for the family owned Sunday Post, the Fifitch sisters, Caro and Tara, residents of Uphill Manor, and keys to the prosecution court case; Clover Browne, a.k.a. Jackie, Stan Onions daughter; Moira Twelvetress, a prostitute who engages the prosecuting attorney at trial in a wonderful argument concerning the correct definition of prostitution, and a number of others.

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(John Profumo, Conservative politician and British War Minister)

Troy soon learns that he is being placed on medical leave by his doctor and is placed in a TB sanitorium.  Troy’s disease allows Lawton to contemplate the English health system and its relation to politics.  It would have been heresy for the brother of the number two man in the Foreign Office to be treated in a private facility, hence Troy was committed to a state institution.  Inside, Troy describes medical care and how it reflects the British social class system.

As British tabloids zone in on events at Uphill and the salacious trial of Woodbridge and Fitzgerald, Troy develops a moral conundrum as he had witnessed the mores on display at Uphill, and he wondered if he was out of place, or whether he really wanted to participate.  Lawton presents a trial transcript which is funny, demeaning, and sad all at the same time as the different characters are called to testify.  The prosecution must prove that the women at Uphill were prostitutes and paying off Fitz which leads to a fascinating array of examination and cross examination at the trial.  This along with the incompetence of Inspector Percy Flood of the Scotland Yard Vice Squad makes for an interesting investigation.  Lawton’s dialogue makes one wonder if the trial represented “the new England” putting the old on trial since it appeared a social revolution was in the making, or perhaps “old England” was putting the new on trial.

One of the women involved cannot be located and it is feared she was underage when she lived at Uphill.  As the trial ends it appears that a double suicide has taken place.  On the same day, Fitz, and the women who could not be located by the police commit what appears to be suicide.  For Troy, who convinced his life long friend and medical examiner, Dr. Ladislaw Gronkiewicz to declare him fit to return to work after four months in order for the cases be  to explored further.  Troy was not convinced that the deaths were suicides and he feared his Scotland Yard replacement would not investigate the cases, particularly when one of the victims was Stanley Onions’ granddaughter.  This launches Troy on dangerous journey to locate the killer or killers.  Where the culprits from inside Scotland Yard, MI5, or politicians who held grudges.  To learn who was responsible Troy relies on his masterful use of deductive logic and his refusal to trust those that others might think highly of.  At times difficult to follow the logic that Troy employs but by the end of the book the reader and Troy will be on the same page.

The question in my mind as I read on was how did Leigh-Hunt’s situation, the murder/suicides, and other aspects of the plot fit together.  Rest assured that they all do in true “Lawton” style.  The book itself is advertised as a spy and murder thriller, but in this case, though true, it is also a social commentary on early 1960s England and is enlightening for those who have forgotten what that period in English history was like.  For Troy, once the murders were solved, with British politics in an uproar, he had to deal with several suppressed emotions and move on with his life, a decision whose light of day must wait as Lawton’s next book, RIPTIDE (also known as BLUFFING MR. CHURCHILL) is a prequel to the Inspector Troy series.

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 (London, circa 1963)

OLD FLAMES by John Lawton

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(Piccadilly Circus, London, 1956)

The year is 1956 and the Cold War is in full bloom when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visits England in an attempt to show the “softer” side of the Russian regime three years following Stalin’s death.  London is still recovering from the damage caused by German bombing from World War II and the Suez Crisis permeates the background of British politics.  This is the setting of John Lawton’s novel, OLD FLAMES, the second iteration of his Inspector Frederick Troy of Scotland Yard Series.  The novel opens with the escape of a female spy from Moscow, with the interesting name of “Major.”  She disappears from the story until midway through the plot when she reemerges in a very powerful manner.

Lawton’s protagonist is called to return from a three-week vacation and report to his London office.  It seems two members of the Special Branch have been killed in an automobile accident and Troy’s talents are needed to become part of the security detail for the upcoming visit of Marshal Nikolai Bulganin and Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev to London.  Troy has been chosen in part because of his Russian language skills, and his spy craft.  A number of fascinating characters appear throughout the novel.  Historical figures such as Prime Minister Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill, Gamal Abdul Nasser, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Cambridge Five, a number of other British officials, in addition to the aforementioned Russian leaders.  Lawton creates a series of fictional characters who carry the plot; Rodyon Troy, Frederick Troy’s brother who is the “shadow foreign minister” and member of the British Labour Party, Frederick’s sisters Masha and Sasha, Nikolai Troisty, Frederick’s uncle, Arnold Cockerell, furniture salesman or spy, Masha’s husband, Lawrence, the owner of the Sunday Post, Angus Pakenham, an accountant who was a RAF war hero who lost his leg trying to escape from Colditz, Inspector Norman Cobb of the Special Branch, a man most cannot tolerate,  most importantly, Larissa Dimitrovna Tosca, KGB, Fredrick’s former lover, spouse, among many identities.

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(Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev)

Lawton provides a view of recent Russian history through the perceptive eyes of Frederick Troy (Troy).  Troy reminisces about his Russian roots as he traces the rise of Khrushchev’s rise to power as rumors abound concerning a speech that may have denounced Stalin.  Lawton’s command of history is top drawer as is exemplified by his commentary concerning Eden’s rise to 10 Downing Street, a position he trained for and was heir apparent for years until Churchill finally let loose of the reins.

The author’s command of Cold War jargon ie; the bomb is accurate as his description of Khrushchev’s uncouth behavior and folksy peasant persona.  The pompousness of British officials is unmistakable as Russian leaders are ferried around London. The accuracy is on further display with the description of the Russian First Secretary’s speech at a state dinner bringing up standard complaints relating to 1919, 1930s appeasement, and facing Hitler by themselves.  The British response is fairly even handed, but it will enrage the Soviet leader who storms out of the dinner setting a remarkable interchange between Khrushchev and Troy.  After leaving the dinner Troy will comply with the First Secretary’s request with an unofficial tour of London.  They will visit the underground, a number of pubs, and many sites.  It is a fascinating display of historical dialogue that is one of the most important components of the book as Lawton applies his expertise of artistic license and counter factual history.  Lawton’s portrayal of Khrushchev is rather sympathetic in light of his previous history dealing with collectivization under Stalin in the Ukraine and other crimes.  The Russian leader will conclude that the British people are somewhat “boring.”

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(British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden)

Troy’s own Russian background is explored in detail particularly the role of his father, a former Menshevik, who arrived in London in 1910 and purchased the Hertfordshire mansion, and left his family a significant amount of wealth after he died in 1943.  A major question for the Troy family is what role their father played in Russia and was he loyal to his new country or did he spy against England during World War II.

Lawton conveys the plight of the British people in the post war years very accurately throughout the book.  Repeated references to the German “blitz” in 1940 and the carnage to historical sites highlight the damage that remains in the mid-1950s in addition to the lack of food staples for the general population.  The problems of English “workman” are described in detail and the political debate between Conservative and Labour Party members over their plight is an ongoing theme.  As Lawton conveys his story his repeated references to film and literature are a wonderful addition.

There are a number of plot lines that swirl throughout the book that center on the role of Nikolai Troisty, Troy’s father’s younger brother who emigrated from Russia also in 1910 but though retired, was an expert on ships, planes, bombs, and rockets.  In addition, a British frogman died while examining the Russian ship that conveyed Russian leaders to London – what was his identity, and was he a British spy?  Where was Arnold Cockerell, who was either dead or just disappeared, or did Cockerell kill his auditor George Jessup?  What role does MI6 play in the Cockerell fiasco?   How do Russian spies and their actions influence events?  Further, the appearance of Lois Teale or perhaps her name was M/SGT Larissa Tosca, or a Russian spy named Dimitrovna who knew Troy in Berlin in 1948 and how they renewed their relationship in 1956.

Lawton’s command of history is mostly accurate as he presents Khrushchev’s February 20, 1956 speech to the 20th Communist Party Congress, known as the “Destalinization” speech that denounced the former Soviet dictator.  Lawton also discusses details of the developing Suez Crisis as it comes to a head.  In general, the author has his facts straight, but his chronology of events is a bit off. President Eisenhower had suspicions about the Sevres Agreement between England, France, and Israel, but the CIA was not certain of its applicability until the Israelis invaded at the end of September.  Eisenhower’s conversation with Rodyon before the attack is not totally supported by the documentary evidence, but the gist, especially the actions of the US Treasury Department and the American manipulation of the Conservative Party that replaced Eden with Harold MacMillan in mid-December after the British and French withdraw from Suez is accurate.

Lawton has composed an intriguing novel that reflects his amazing storytelling ability.  He tells a number of stories within the larger story and in the end, they come together in a fascinating and meaningful way. Troy is a somewhat broken man at the end of the novel, but Lawton has created a vacuum that will soon be filled.  There are eight books in the Inspector Troy series with A LITTLE WHITE DEATH the next in chronological order which has now moved up on my books to read.

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(Coventry Street, London, 1956)

 

DREGS by Jorn Lier Horst

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(Larvik, Norway)

William Wisting’s career as a law enforcement professional who became a Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department of Lavrik Police mirrors that of DREGS author Jorn Lier Horst.  The author, one of Norway’s most experienced crime fighters introduces Wisting as he is immediately called to a crime scene at a tourist beach south of Oslo where he is confronted by a training shoe with a severed foot inside that has washed along the shore.  What is disconcerting is that it is the second left footed training shoe with a human foot inside that has appeared in a six day period.

Wisting is an interesting character who has been a widow for three years and has begun a relationship with a woman named Suzanne.  He is the father of twins one of which is his daughter, Line, a journalist who plays a significant role in the novel.  Wisting is well respected and the type of law enforcement individual, unlike some colleagues, who shuns publicity.  He is very workmanlike in his approach to crime and follows the mantra that there are no coincidences when investigating.  Other important characters that Lier Horst develops include; Espen Mortensen, a young crime technician, Ebbe Slettaker, an oceanologist, Nils Hammer, the leader of the Narcotics Division, Torunn Borg, a female colleague, and Audun Vetti, the Assistant Chief of Police, an arrogant careerist who has difficulty making critical decisions.

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Wisting and his colleagues are at a loss after examining missing person’s files from the previous year.  They have come up with a series of names, that at the outset lead nowhere, but after pursuing further examination there appear to be some interesting coincidences.  Torkel Lauritzen, a widower who suffered from the effects of a stroke had resided at the Stavern Nursing Home.  Otto Saga, a former Air Force officer who suffered from dementia also lived at the Stavern Nursing Home.  Sverre Lund, an old school teacher went missing after leaving his home, and Hanne Richter, a nursery teacher, and a diagnosed schizoid paranoiac has disappeared.

Lier Horst twists the plot by having Wisting’s journalist daughter, Line on an assignment that brings her to interview murderers who have served their time in prison.  Her goal is to investigate the impact of punishment on homicidal killers, believing that a milder use of coercion by the state could contribute to a more humane society.  Line’s second interview subject is Ken Ronny Hague who had killed a policeman in 1991.  The victim was the same age and an acquaintance of her father which brought back memories from when Line was eight years old.  When she learned of the case her father was dealing with, her boss informed her that her newspaper was sending a team to Lavrik to cover the missing “feet” story.

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Lier Horst deftly works the poor care at the Stavern Nursing Home into the plot as patients and then a care giver from the home go missing.  Wisting grows very frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation as “everything seemed so meaningless and improbable,” particularly as two more left footed training shoes with human feet float ashore.  A major break takes place when Hannah Richter tells Wisting she believes it was her sister that is one of the missing.  For Wisting the coincidences seemed to build as the house in which Hanne Richter lived before her disappearance was owned by Christian Hague, but he died three weeks before she disappeared.  Interestingly, his heir was his grandson, Ken Ronny Hague, the convicted cop killer who was interviewed by Wisting’s daughter.  What the reader is left with is the beginning of the unraveling of the spider’s web that the author has created.

It seemed that all the presumed dead or missing people knew each other.  They may have formed their own intelligence unit that feared for a Soviet invasion of Norway in 1970.  Wisting comes across a photo of five men, but only four of which can be identified.  After showing the photo to his father, Wisting learns the identity of the fifth man, Carsten Meyer, who had worked at the Norwegian Defense Department Research Institute.  From this point on it seems that the crime investigation should come together, but it does not and Wisting becomes even more frustrated as bodies, minus their left foot are uncovered by a mini-submarine employed by the police after the calculations of Ebbe Slettaker.

Lier Horst’s conclusion is somewhat predictable, but there is an element of surprise, particularly in the role played by Line.  Wisting is a practitioner of deductive logic and in the end he will figure it out.  Despite the plethora of bodies, the author keeps the bloodshed to a minimum, unlike many other practitioners of this genre.  Lier Horst has had a number of his novels translated into English, the next being CLOSED FOR WINTER.  If you enjoyed DREGS, you should try the next in the series, for me I have yet to decide.

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(Larvik, Norway)

THE MARSHALL PLAN: DAWN OF THE COLD WAR by Benn Steil

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(President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State George C. Marshall)

At a time when the President of the United States disparages the European Union and NATO, it is important to remember the role the Atlantic Alliance has played since the end of World War II.  President Trump can tweet and criticize these institutions all he wants, but you skirt their importance particularly in light of the policies pursued by Vladimir Putin and his nationalistic “Russia first” policies.  Perhaps the most important policy of the United States in the post-war world, which formed the bedrock of its foreign policy toward Europe, was the Marshall Plan.  The plan was conceived by the State Department under then Secretary of State, George C. Marshall as a vehicle to promote European recovery from World War II and foster unity against the Soviet Union, as by 1946 the wartime alliance was severed.  To understand how the Marshall Plan came about and its impact, an important lesson for all to learn, one should consult Benn Steil’s new book, THE MARSHALL PLAN: DAWN OF THE COLD WAR.

The book itself does more than present the ideological give and take within the American foreign policy establishment faced with the destruction in Europe after the war as it details negotiations with European counterparts, and presents Soviet opposition to the Marshall Plan in general, especially for Eastern European countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia.  Steil’s account is the most detailed and lengthy to date as it dives deep into the postwar “German problem,” Soviet actions in Eastern Europe, and finally the Berlin Blockade, culminating with the creation of NATO.  Steil presents the benefits of “soft power” as a foreign policy tool, something the current occupant of the White House should consider.

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(Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Head of State Department Policy Planning Staff, George F. Kennan)

As Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency a new dynamic was at work in American foreign policy.  Franklin Roosevelt mostly acted as his own Secretary of State, but Truman’s approach would be different as the State Department regained influence with the presence of George C. Marshall, George F. Kennan, Dean Acheson, William Clayton, and others.  As the war came to a close Stalin had tremendous expectations for the Soviet Union.  He witnessed a United Kingdom in decline as it would stop providing aid to Greece and Turkey by 1947.  It would also see its position erode within the Commonwealth especially in India and Palestine.  As the US quickly demobilized and Germany defeated, Stalin felt there would be little opposition in spreading the “Soviet blanket” over Eastern Europe and create the “buffer zone” he had spoken about so often during the war.

By 1946 it became clear that the wartime alliance was over with disagreements at the Council of Foreign Ministers meetings in dealing with Germany, reparations and other issues.  This produced George Kennan’s famous “Long Telegram,” which stressed Russia’s expansionist nature, and within a few weeks Winston Churchill made his famous “Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri.  Steil stresses that Stalin was bent on pushing the United States to see how much he could get away with.  The Soviets would push and prod over issues and territories whereby US policymakers came to see western unity and recovery as the only viable alternative to a major military commitment in Europe.

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(Secretary of State Dean Acheson)

Steil offers a dramatic description of Europe’s plight in the winter of 1947.  The destruction of homes and infrastructure, compounded by freezing temperatures led to starvation, frostbite, and death.  This situation provided the major impetus for American aid to Europe as communist parties in Italy and France seemed to be a threat, in addition to the civil war in Greece and troubles in Turkey.  Exacerbating the situation was the massive movement of ethnic minorities across borders, particularly as it related to Germany and Poland.  What became clear by 1947 that some sort of economic stabilization of Europe was the key to peace.

Steil correctly points to the evolution of Dean Acheson’s thinking toward Russia as a key to developing the Marshall Plan as his wartime sympathy toward Moscow changed when confronted by Soviet demands in the Mediterranean.  Acheson would become Marshall’s Chief of Staff and an Undersecretary of State, and along with George Kennan would outline his “containment” policy in his famous “X Article” in Foreign Affairs, and the announcement of the Truman Doctrine and aid to Greece and Turkey – the American approach to Soviet machinations had changed.

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(Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov)

The key for European recovery was that the German economy had to be strong.  The old concept of “Mitteleuropa” remained a reality and US policymakers did their best to keep reparations manageable and allow German industry to rebuild, much to Stalin’s chagrin.  Steil zeroes in on the Moscow Conference of 1946 as the beginning of the Cold War as Marshall left the meetings believing that Stalin’s goal was to leave Europe in shambles, allowing him to pick up the pieces.  Marshall would later say that the impetus for the European Recovery Program, a.k.a. Marshall Plan was a direct result of Stalin’s attitude.

Steil’s analysis mirrors some of the arguments put forth by Michael Hogan in his book, THE MARSHALL PLAN in that the recovery program was not totally one of American largess and altruism, with no agenda of its own.  If Europe did not recover, then it could not buy American products leading to a downturn in the US economy.  Further, the resulting political, social, and economic dislocation would foster a piecemeal US aid approach which would drain US resources.  Hogan, more so than Steil concluded the US would allow France to recover some of its empire i.e., Southeast Asia as a means of gaining support for the Marshall Plan as well the integration of all three German zones.  European colonies were important to their recovery so the US receded from its anti-imperialist tone fostered by Roosevelt during the war.

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(Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov and Joseph Stalin)

Steil explores two other key figures in depth without which the Marshall Plan may not have been developed and passed by Congress.  First, the work of Will Clayton who had run the Reconstruction Finance Corporation under the New Deal, and Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg.  Clayton was responsible for conveying the sense of urgency that the American public needed to hear and worked to foster a US plan to restore an equilibrium to the continent.  His greatest contribution was convincing people that the problems that existed in European countries were interrelated, and could only be solved through cooperation and a certain amount of integration.  Clayton was able to work through European and British opposition to American plans and in the end, along with his colleagues was successful.  Vandenberg stands out as the Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who evolved from an isolationist to a grudging internationalist as he was greatly affected by wartime events and the condition of Europe after 1945.  He was able to gain passage of the European Recovery Act in his committee, bringing along fellow Republicans and gaining overall Senate approval.

Perhaps one of Steil’s best chapters analyzes the Soviet approach to Marshall’s Harvard Speech where he announced the recovery plan and their strategy to confront American aid.  Steil presents Stalin’s and Molotov’s thinking regarding whether to oppose Marshall’s offer, particularly as it related to Eastern European “satellites.”  Soviet ideology is at the forefront of the author’s approach and he provides a bird’s eye view into Kremlin thought processes.  In the end by refusing American aid, Stalin did the United States a favor because there was no way Congress would approve aid to the Soviet Union, and Communist demands would have been such that the US could not have afforded it.

Some have argued that when Molotov rejected American aid and cabled Eastern European allies not to discuss aid with the west on July 7, 1947 it marked the onset of the Cold War.  Further, by December, 1947 Soviet disinformation over Berlin and the collapse of the London Council of Foreign Ministers meeting, the CIA warned of the possibility that the Soviet Union might try to forcibly remove American troops from Berlin.  With the Russian clamp down on Czechoslovakia in early February, 1948 and the questionable death of its Foreign Minister Thomas Masaryk, Stalin had now seized a country that was not agreed to by the “Big Three” during the war.  Lastly, on March 5, 1948 England, France and the United States merged the three allied zones to create West Germany – the Cold War was on, making the success of the Marshall Plan an urgent necessity.

The major strength of Steil’s monograph is his ability to explain the bureaucracy that the Marshall Plan produced as it dispersed more than $13 billion in aid from 1948 to 1952.  He writes in an easily understandable style that allows the economics “layperson” the ability to understand complex mechanisms that were used to fuel the recovery of Western Europe.  Steil provides an in depth analysis as to whether the Marshall Plan actually was successful or not, and integrates the role the creation NATO had on this argument.  Though a military component was not in early American planning, the NATO alliance was finally seen as a security imperative and went hand in glove with the economic recovery of Europe.

Steil goes on to discuss the role of NATO today in light of its expansion eastward after 1991.  The Russians were under the assumption that the alliance would not encroach on its western borders.  As the alliance accepted former Soviet satellites into membership Russian leadership grew increasingly agitated exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s actions in Georgia, Crimea, and the Ukraine.  Many like to compare the current situation to the post World War II world, but there is a major difference; during the Truman administration there seemed to be a coherent strategy based on realism, accepting the Soviet sphere of influence.  Today, it appears there is no coherent strategy and a total lack of statesmanship – perhaps we need to relearn the lessons of the early Cold War period.

In summary, Steil has done a remarkable service for historians and those who want to understand Europe’s recovery following World War II.  Though at times, the author can become bogged down in statistics, his overall command of history, primary and secondary sources, and his ability to synthesize the ideas of the main individuals and economic theory lend itself to an important contribution to Cold War literature.

Image result for photo of George C Marshall and Harry Truman

(President Truman and SOS Marshall)