Interpreting the Origins of the Cold War: A Preponderance of Power Revisited

AHA Session 47
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom B (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Richard H. Immerman, Temple University
Deborah Welch Larson, University of California, Los Angeles
Fredrik Logevall, Harvard University
Andrew Preston, Clare College, University of Cambridge
Melvyn P. Leffler, University of Virginia

Session Abstract

Twenty five years ago, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, The Truman Administration, and the Cold War, presented a novel and vast reinterpretation of origins of the Cold War offering a sweeping historical synthesis of U.S. foreign policy in the early years of the East-West confrontation. The product of years of meticulous archival research and reflection, A Preponderance of Power was variously described as “monumental,” “path-breaking,” and “utterly comprehensive” by reviewers at the time, and was awarded the Bancroft Prize, the Robert H. Ferrell Prize, and the Herbert Hoover Book Award. In A Preponderance of Power Professor Melvyn Leffler argued that US policymakers developed a grand strategy which aimed to contain the power and ideological appeal of the Soviet Union and to create a global environment conducive to the spread of liberal capitalism. A largely American centered approach, A Preponderance of Power focused on the perceptions and attitudes of Truman administration policymakers whose primary goal was to prevent any potential combination of hostile powers from gaining control of the critical Eurasia landmass and who believed that configurations of power in the international arena had profound implication for the American way of life at home. Integrating economic, geopolitical, and ideological factors, Leffler presented a new way to think about national security. Early reviewers predicted that his interpretation would shape the historical debate for many years to come. In the past quarter-century, historical scholarship has advanced with the release of large quantities of primary source material from the Eastern Bloc, the publication of new biographies of key policymakers, and the addition of a wide-range of new international interpretations focusing on the “Third World,” on cultural aspects of diplomacy, on globalization, and on the role of non-governmental organizations. This panel of senior scholars will reexamine the salience of Professor Leffler’s seminal interpretation in light of advances in historical scholarship and offer Professor Leffler the opportunity to reflect and comment on the ongoing relevance of A Preponderance of Power.
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