out of 5
Review by Ilya
In November 1950 the United Nations coalition, consisting mostly of the United States Army and the South Korean army, had almost won the Korean war, occupying most of North Korea. However, since October hundreds of thousands of Chinese "volunteers" had been crossing the Yalu River, and in November they started attacking the United Nations positions and pushing the United Nations troops south. At a press conference on November 30, 1950, President Truman said that he did not rule out using the atomic bomb against Chinese troops. So on December the 2nd, five Hiroshima-sized bombs were dropped on Chinese troop formations. A United States veto prevented the United Nations Security Council from undoing the authorization of involvement in the Korean conflict. Pressured by their Chinese ally, the Soviet Union gave the United States an ultimatum: stop all military operations on the peninsula within 48 hours, or face the severest consequences. When the deadline passed, two bombers took off from Vladivostok and dropped atomic bombs on the port cities of Pusan and Inchon. On General MacArthur's orders, the next bombs fell on Vladivostok, Shenyang and Harbin; as Western European countries were withdrawing from NATO, mushroom clouds appeared over Hamburg and Frankfurt. Now, only the first half of this paragraph took place in our timeline, but the second part could very well have. During the missile era, a nuclear war could have started during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and during the Able Archer exercise of 1983, which Richard Rhodes also wrote about. So whatever harm came out of the Cold War, things could've been much, much worse.
This is an America-centric history of the Cold War that devotes several pages to Watergate, and only mentions Guatemala in passing because of the U.S. involvement in the coup that overthrew the country's leftist government in 1954, which supposedly radicalized Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Nowhere does it say that the coup was followed by a 40-year civil war where 140 thousand to 250 thousand people were killed. El Salvador is not even in the index. In the Third World, the Cold War was quite hot, and I wouldn't be surprised if more people were killed in the Cold War-related hot wars that would've been in the nuclear exchange of December 1950 - but this book doesn't even ask this question. The basic narrative is familiar to all educated adults: the wartime coalition breaking up, the coup in Czechoslovakia, the formation of NATO and so on until the age of Gorbachev, Yeltsin and George H. W. Bush - but perhaps not to the Yale undergraduates the author teaches.