Monday, May 4, 2015

Michael Neiberg's "Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe"

Michael Neiberg is a professor of history and the Stimson Chair of the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College. The author of several award-winning books, Neiberg lives in Carlisle, PA.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe, and reported the following:
Page 99 of the book fortuitously gets to the heart of one of the key themes of Potsdam: how much do individuals really matter in the shaping of great events? Even though Potsdam prominently featured some of the giants of their age (most notably Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Harry Truman), contemporaries openly doubted that the “great men” of 1945 had much ability to shape the world as they wanted to. Larger geopolitical conditions and the realities shaped by history constrained the so-called Big Three and made some of their policy goals impossible to achieve. In other words, I was interested in seeing how much it really mattered that Churchill and Truman were at Potsdam rather than some other leaders.

Potsdam gives us a fascinating glimpse into this question. Truman had just replaced Franklin Roosevelt, who had died only a few months before the conference. As vice-president, Truman had been completely in the dark about American policies. He did not know what the United States had agreed to at Yalta and could not even see secret diplomatic messages. He did not meet with Roosevelt or his advisors on any serious issues. Still, most of Roosevelt’s advisors observed at Potsdam that little changed in the American position at the conference under this new and inexperienced president.

Page 99 discusses the odd British situation at Potsdam. Churchill brought with him the Labour Party leader and deputy prime minister, Clement Attlee. Britain held an election midway through the conference that shocked everyone by rejecting Churchill and placing Attlee in charge. It is hard to imagine two Englishmen less alike than Churchill and Attlee, yet the positions of the British government hardly changed. Potsdam showed that neither a surprising election nor the death of a legendary American president could change the past, the relative power of the nation-states, or the economic realities of the new global order.
Learn more about Postdam at the Basic Books website.

The Page 99 Test: Dance of the Furies.

The Page 99 Test: The Blood of Free Men.

--Marshal Zeringue