Blogs > Cliopatria > Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power by Robert Dallek

Jul 10, 2007 2:57 pm

Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power by Robert Dallek

[From a review of the book in the Chicago Tribune by Jeremi Suri.]

Power is often ugly up close. Behind the impressive imagery and eloquent rhetoric of national leadership, the keen observer finds all-too-human men and women. They are petty, selfish and judgmental -- like the rest of us. They are sensitive to criticism and insult -- even from those with far less influence. Most disconcerting, leaders frequently exhibit hatred and meanness toward others. Personal vendettas are common; magnanimity is rare.

No one understands these troubling qualities in powerful figures better than historian Robert Dallek. Over a long and distinguished career he has chronicled the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and now Richard Nixon. His books have unmasked the men in the White House, probing the personal qualities that shaped policy, especially in international affairs.

Dallek's second volume on Johnson,"Flawed Giant," captured the profound contradictions between high hopes and personal shortcomings that brought American leaders to pursue war -- with mixed results -- in Western Europe, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon and now Iraq. In each of these cases, foreign policy reflected the personality of leaders.

This is the fundamental argument of Dallek's new book,"Nixon and Kissinger." This is not a biography of Nixon nor of his national security adviser and secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, since the author focuses little more than a chapter on each figure before he enters the White House. Instead, Dallek chronicles in extraordinary depth how the personality traits of both men determined policy:"Their ambitions, hunger for power and control, suspicions, and personal rivalries both advanced and retarded their efforts to end the war in Vietnam and alter Soviet-American relations, dealings with China, conditions in the Middle East, and developments in Latin America."...

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Donald E. Staringer - 7/16/2007

Your highlighting of this book after it had been previously reviewed leaves out the main arguments made by the author supporting the bombing and asks why another book on Hiroshima?
Why another book on Hiroshima? Well, for one, the traditionalists find it unacceptable that many younger people do not accept their explanation of the events. Gallup Polls in 2005 found that the general public approved the dropping of the bombs by 57% and disapproved 38%, whereas 18 to 44 year olds approve at 48%-46%.
The reviewer of Robert James Maddox’s Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism, notes five issues that have been used by the revisionists to undermine the traditional interpretation.
1. Intercepted diplomatic messages showed the Truman administration that the Japanese were sending out peace feelers that the revisionists believed could have facilitated surrender. At Potsdam, evidently Truman and Byrnes were the only ones in the inner circle who opposed warning the Japanese that we had the bomb and or that we were willing to allow them to keep their emperor. The Potsdam Declaration demanded unconditional surrender even though some advisors felt the emperor was the only figure in Japan whose word would guarantee a complete surrender. Evidently Maddox chose not to examine these complexities.
2. Traditionalists refuse to accept arguments that Truman may have hoped to delay Soviet entry in the Pacific War. He delayed the opening of the Potsdam Conference evidently to give the bomb makers more time. He told Stalin he had economic and budget problems that were more important than the conference. At Potsdam he learned Stalin needed until August 15th to begin his Pacific War and that Trinity had been successful. With the bomb on his hip, as Stimson said, Truman gained the time to use the bomb to end the war without Soviet help. If he welcomed the Soviet entrance, as Kimball suggests, why didn’t he wait until after August 15th to see the Japanese response? The invasion date had been set for November 1st so he had plenty of time. As we learned in Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq we can wait out the enemy for a propitious time to end the conflict, protracted as it might be.
3. The argument over the number of casualties as the result of a possible invasion evidently is settled since the military had 500,000 Purple Heart medals struck???? Traditionalists rarely relate that Marshall had ordered 7 to 9 bombs to be ready for the invasion.
4. The brouhaha over the Smithsonian exhibition of the Enola Gay was an example of “unqualified in-house” staffers making a poor exhibit. This despite an Exhibition Advisory Board that included A-bomb scholars such as Barton Bernstein, Martin Sherwin, Richard Rhodes, and others. Maybe traditionalists did not want the general public to view scenes and interpretations that contradicted their view of truth.
5. Lastly, Kimball attacks the analysis of the US Strategic Bombing Survey that questioned the necessity of dropping the bomb. He believes Paul Nitze “cooked” the survey to support his views but disregards work of the Survey in analyzing the effect of bombing in Germany.

In any event, the facts surrounding Hiroshima will always be illusive and the controversies will continue but, of course, a reviewing and revision of accepted truths will always be challenged.