Three Paradigms of Cold War

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BERNATH LECTURE The New International History of the Cold War: Three (Possible) Paradigms* The Cold War is not what it once was. Not only has the conflict itself been written about in the past tense for more than a decade, but historians’ certainties about the character of the conflict have also begun to blur. The concerns brought on by trends of the past decade – such trifles as globalization, weapons proliferation, and ethnic warfare – have made even old strategy buffs question the degree to which the Cold War ought to be put at the center of the history of the late twentieth century. In this article I will try to show how some people within our field are attempting to meet such queries by reconceptualizing the Cold War as part of contemporary international history. My emphasis will be on issues connecting the Cold War – defined as a political conflict between two power blocs – and some areas of investigation that in my opinion hold much promise for reformulating our views of that conflict, blithely summed up as ideology, technology, and the Third World. I have called this lecture “Three (Possible) Paradigms” not just to avoid making too presumptuous an impression on the audience but also to indicate that my use of the term “paradigm” is slightly different from the one most people have taken over from Thomas Kuhn’s work on scientific revolutions. In the history of science, a paradigm has come to mean a comprehensive explanation, a kind of scientific “level” that sustains existing theory until overtaken by a new and different paradigm. In the history of human societies, I would venture, the term paradigm must take on a slightly different meaning, closer, in fact, to how the term was generally used before Kuhn’s work in the early s. For our purpose, I want to look at paradigms as patterns of interpretation, which may possibly exist side by side, but which each signify a particular * Stuart L. Bernath Memorial Lecture delivered at St. Louis,  April . A draft version of this lecture was presented to a faculty seminar at the London School of Economics on  March . The author wishes to thank his LSE colleagues (especially MacGregor Knox) and David Reynolds of Cambridge University for their helpful comments (while absolving them from any responsibility for the lecture’s contents). . For more on how Cold War studies is developing as a field of inquiry see Odd Arne Westad, ed., Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations, Theory (London, ). D H, Vol. , No.  (Fall ). ©  The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). Published by Blackwell Publishers,  Main Street, Malden, MA, , USA and  Cowley Road, Oxford, OX JF, UK. 

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approach – an angle of view, if I may – to the complex problems of Cold War history. This is, of course, also to indicate genuine doubt as to whether comprehensive and mutually exclusive interpretations of the Cold War as a phenomenon are possible today. It seems to me that both our general approaches to how history is studied and the emergence of massive new bodies of evidence lead in the direction of analytical diversity and away from the concentration on so-called schools of interpretation. If one looks at the way the Cold War is taught at my school, one finds a multitude of approaches: as U.S. political history, as history of the Soviet Union, as history of Third World revolutions, as history of European integration, as history of gender relations, as history of economic globalization just to mention a few. Few of our colleagues twenty-five years ago would have foreseen how the field has opened up and spread out way beyond diplomatic history. Our task now, it seems to me, is to find ways to describe, in looking at this long axis of analysis, points that seem particularly promising for further scholarly inquiry, based on a combination of work already undertaken and the...
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