China in the 1980s can sound like a Paradise Lost—paradise crushed by tanks on Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, paradise erased by massacre and state propaganda ever since, an unmarked memory hole. Except that people remember: the freedom of Democracy Wall; longhair students steeped in Confucian classics but sampling Virginia Woolf and Nietzsche for the first time, and dancing to Bob Dylan. Cosmopolitanism was in: Mao was dead, and Time magazine made the new ginger man Deng Xiaoping its man-of-the-year. John Denver of Rocky Mountain High cheered China’s long march to modernization. Bob Hope cracked jokes and swung his golf club in an NBC special from Tiananmen Square—till, poof, everything changed.
What we know of Tiananmen Square is mostly the tanks turned against plain people 30 years ago. What’s just as compelling in restored memory is the charged air of hope and possibility in Tiananmen, and in China of the 80s, until just days before the crackdown, the end of reform. Tiananmen Square had more and bigger Speakers’ Corners than Hyde Park in London: students, workers, artists plying agendas; musicians trying tunes, rehearsing democracy, you could have supposed. It was a romantic proving ground of blooming civic virtue and community spirit, and the American audience loved it, too.
the wake of World War II, with Britain’s empire collapsing and Stalin’s on the rise, U.S. officials under new secretary of state George C. Marshall set out to reconstruct western Europe as a bulwark against communist authoritarianism. Their massive, costly, and ambitious undertaking would confront Europeans and Americans alike with a vision at odds with their history and self-conceptions. In the process, they would drive the creation of NATO, the European Union, and a Western identity that continues to shape world events.
Focusing on the critical years 1947 to 1949, Benn Steil’s thrilling account brings to life the seminal episodes marking the collapse of postwar US-Soviet relations—the Prague coup, the Berlin blockade, and the division of Germany. In each case, we see and understand like never before Stalin’s determination to crush the Marshall Plan and undermine American power in Europe.
Given current echoes of the Cold War, as Putin’s Russia rattles the world order, the tenuous balance of power and uncertain order of the late 1940s is as relevant as ever. The Marshall Planprovides critical context into understanding today’s international landscape. Bringing to bear fascinating new material from American, Russian, German, and other European archives, Steil’s account will forever change how we see the Marshall Plan and the birth of the Cold War. A polished and masterly work of historical narrative, this is an instant classic of Cold War literature.
BENN STEIL is a senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. His previous book, the prize-winning Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order, was called “a triumph of economic and diplomatic history” by the Financial Times, “a superb history” by The Wall Street Journal, and “the gold standard on its subject” by The New York Times. He lives in New York with his wife and two boys.
In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Harvard University’s Professor of International Affairs Stephen Walt, about the arch of American foreign policy and the decline of U.S. primacy.