Monday, September 28, 2009

Interview: Nicholas Thompson on Cold War History

Jumping in Pools is proud to present our twenty-first interview in our series. Nicholas Thompson is a senior editor at Wired Magazine and the author of “The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War.” He is a fellow at the New America Foundation and an official panelist on CNN International’s “Connect the World” with Becky Anderson. His book is featured at, Barnes & Noble, Borders, IndieBound and MacMillan.

1. President Truman's decision to drop atomic warheads on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 remains a controversial point today. Do you believe that his decision was based more on ending the war or sending a message to the USSR?

I think it was based more on his desire to end the war quickly. To me, the most fascinating question surrounding this issue is why Paul Nitze wrote, as he did in his Strategic Bombing Survey, that the atomic bomb played close to no role in ending the war---even though he had interviewed numerous Japanese officials who said the opposite.

2. Popular history gives Ronald Reagan the credit for causing the USSR's final collapse in 1991. Do you believe that he gets too much or too little credit?

He definitely deserves some credit. But Gorbachev deserves a lot more.

3. Which US President do you believe best wielded the policy of containment?

Truman. Not only did this country have success under him, it came when the USSR was run by Stalin.

4. Do you foresee Vladimir Putin continuing to rule Russia, in and out of the spotlight?

For a while, yes. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of momentum running against him right now.

5. Does Russia desire to bring its former USSR republics back into a firm sphere of influence and how could the US/NATO stop this?

Of course they have some interest in doing that. The US/NATO could stop the trend in all sorts of ways, from providing arms to making threatening gestures. But almost all would backfire.

6. What is an interesting piece of Cold War history that barely anyone knows?

I love the detail I learned about while researching my book that Nitze was presented with a paper, early in the Korean War, explaining that US pilots were directly engaging with Soviet pilots dressed as North Koreans. And Nitze’s decision was to burn the report.

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