Cold War – History and historiography

Image: Luiz Armando Bagolin


Commentary on the recently released book by Sidnei Munhoz

The book Cold War – History and historiography, by Sidnei Munhoz, carries out a wide balance of bibliography and primary sources on the subject. In addition to its academic merits, the work is important given the validity, in post-2016 Brazil, of anti-communist government arguments, aligned with US foreign policy in the Trump era, hostility towards the UN and anti-scientificism (against culture as a whole) worthy of a belated witch hunt. Critically reflecting on the Cold War, therefore, also contributes to rethinking contemporary directions in the world.

Munhoz prioritizes the State dimensions of the theme and discusses bibliography and other sources. The title has the advantage of immediate thematic identification and the risk of being confused with other studies on the issue published in different languages, such as the cold war, by Dea Ribeiro Fenelon, who is not quoted in its pages[I].Experienced researcher in this field, Sidnei expands his work with the inclusion of chronology, glossary and name and cross index, which facilitate reading.

The exhibition begins in the final moments of the Second World War and ends with the dissolution of the USSR and the reinsertion of Russia and the bloc of European countries that previously declared themselves socialist in capitalist frameworks, with some neo-Nazi political traits–the most glaring ones occurred in Croatia, Ukraine, Poland and Hungary. This option for Capitalism is an invitation to think about what the Socialism that was previously announced there was, the scope and effective limits of workers' power in those societies, an object for future studies.

Sidnei treats the Cold War as a new conflict, which refers to explicit confrontations (Korea, Vietnam) and other US and USSR threats to world peace. The culture of this planetary fear became more restricted, in volume, to the universe of diplomacy and other government policies, it could encompass manifestations in Arts and different sociability. Without forgetting the religious aspects of the conflict: the Catholic Church, due to its international character, was a support for anti-communism, as I experienced in my childhood, during Catechism classes in the 50s/60s of the XNUMXth century. The movies “Cupid has no flag”, by Billy Wilder, 1961, “Dr. Fantastic", by Stanley Kubrick, and “Safety Boundary”, by Sidney Lumet, from 1964, among others, are good examples of this universe. Pius XII, who remained silent in the face of Nazism when priests were exterminated in concentration camps, continued to be pope after the war and Polish cardinal Stefan Wyszynski was arrested by his country's government (1953 to 1956), in the context of disputes by Catholic powers and properties. In the dismantling of the USSR, Islamic sectors, inside and outside that community of states, were mentioned as agents.

The Cold War also unfolded in the Economy (arms industry, obviously, fuels and other strategic raw materials, markets) and even the University (debates and research, funding for studies and social actions)[ii]Multitudes of all age groups around the world were educated in that culture, suffered the fear of atomic war, and either welcomed or hostile one side in that conflict.

By registering the transformation of the USA and the USSR – anti-fascist allies of the Second World War against a common antagonist – into frontal enemies in the post-war period, the historian evokes a comment by Eric Hobsbawm, in the book age of extremes (GF, p 32, theme resumed on p 88). It would be worth remembering, from the same Hobsbawm, observations on the War Economy practiced by the USSR, since its beginning, with the incorporation of capitalist practices such as Taylorism, which became Sthakanovism before the Second World War, where that opposition evidenced more the geopolitical dispute than the predominance of political-philosophical differences claimed by both parties.[iii] Post-Soviet Russia and China, which still declares itself communist and emerges as a new US rival for global hegemony, could, in another writing, be integrated into such a discussion.

The Author summarizes some analytical traditions of the issue dealt with, such as the American orthodox (blaming the USSR and its desire for world power for the Cold War), the Soviet orthodox (a reverse of the previous one, transferring such weight to US imperialism and its allies) , the American revisionist (minimizes the ideological dimensions of the conflict, points out internal American interests, considers the great Soviet difficulties in the post-war period, with its economic and demographic deficiencies), the post-revisionist (which reactivates orthodox theses and speaks of “Imperialism by invitation” on US interventions in parts of the world) and the corporatist (emphasizes US Capitalism as formed by functional groups, hence close links between internal and external policies) (GF, pp 36/51). Munhoz approaches the revisionist versions, without ignoring aspects of those others.

The invasion of Soviet territory by the Germans and the successful reaction of the Red Army to that gave rise, in the book, to the record of the repeated requests of Josef Stalin, Prime Minister of the USSR, to the USA and Great Britain to open another front of combat to the Nazi troops in Western Europe at least since 1941. This would only occur in 1944, intentional delay by the Americans and the British, in order to guarantee their international interests (control over North Africa, the Mediterranean, Western Europe) and a strategy to make Germany and the USSR wear out to reciprocal destruction, which would make room for a post-war period more favorable to the other already consolidated powers. There is an explicit statement by Harry Truman, when he was still a senator, in this regard: “If we see that Germany is winning, we must help Russia and if Russia is winning, we must help Germany and, in this way, then, let let the two kill each other as much as possible, however I do not want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances.” The New York Times, 24 June 1941, from Walter La Feber and Robert Donovan (GF, p 95, repeated on pp 162/163).

In this power game, there was some material support from the US and Great Britain to the USSR (lend-lease) and the political counterpart of the latter by dissolving the Third (Communist) International, an act associated with the brake on revolutionary groups from different countries. Sidnei cites Fernando Claudín's evaluation of this closure as a Holocaust and considers such a gesture a sample of Stalin's conciliatory spirit in relation to those anti-Nazi allies (GF, p 59). Germans at that juncture, an issue that is even more aggravated if one takes into account the informal Historical Culture of the Press, films and comics. Comics, animation films and posters are highlighted in the analysis of the US campaign against Japan, including comparisons of Japanese with animals – “donkeys, vultures, snakes and monkeys” -, similar to the comparisons of Jews with rats by the Nazis (GF, p 110). Mass communication is also indicated as a support for ideology in this context (GF, pp 189/190).

The volume presents the Battle of Stalingrad as a turning point in World War II, the beginning of the Nazi collapse (GF, p67). In this sense, Munhoz recalls how much Stalin's crimes are covered by Western historiography and points out an equally serious situation in the USSR – deaths, mutilations, economic collapse, hunger – resulting from the Anglo-American postponement of that Western Front (GF, p 72). Without fully assuming a counterfactual bias, the book considers the hypothesis of an abbreviated war if the Western Front had appeared at least in 1943 (GF, p 73).

The historian analyzes the roles played by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the USA, in such negotiations and the consequences of his death (1945 – Stalin's death did not deserve the same attention) in that universe, with an emphasis on his ability to circumvent disagreements and seek his opposite (GF, p 104). He cites physical limitations of the American president (paralysis, derived from polio when he was an adult), prejudiced at the time as general incapacity, contradicted by his intense political activity, but elides parallel problems of Stalin – atrophy in an arm, with impaired mobility.

And it differs from a certain psychologism in Dennis Dunn's analysis of Roosevelt's weaknesses in relations with the USSR; highlights his realistic skill in the face of Soviet military power in Europe and the (counterfactual…) risks of a longer war if agreements between the USA, Great Britain and the USSR had not taken place.

Harry Truman, Roosevelt's successor (who died in April 1945 - Stalin's death did not deserve the same attention), was more aggressive towards the USSR; he treated Russian Chancellor Vyacheslav Molotov coldly, even hostilely; and he informed Stalin, in Potsdam, about the atomic bomb, when the Soviet leader, astutely, appeared to be disinterested in the subject (GF, p 108).

The outcome of the war in the East, including the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Japan, and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, in China, was the stage for this expanded confrontation between the two major world powers that emerged from that clash. While the North Americans sought to exclude the Soviets from the new order of world power under construction and blackmailed them with the initial monopoly of atomic artifacts, Stalin declared that he prioritized ground troops as a decisive factor in wars, reaffirmed the strength that the USSR had.

Munhoz emphasizes more the opening role of the Cold War in the use of the atomic bomb than its supposed content of ending the Second War and highlights the importance of the invasion of Manchuria by the Soviets for this last outcome. He also recalls, regarding the use of nuclear artifacts, “the ethical need to differentiate the fatalities of those involved in combats from those arising from cities annihilated by a single artifact, without any possibility of defense for their inhabitants” (GF, p 123). It is a comment that places the Cold War as a scenario of terrible experiences lived in the flesh by men and women of different age groups, a matter that many strategists and politicians (as well as historians…) disregard. It is worth remembering the continuation of these pains as a memory and problem that afflict the whole world, a bias present in the film Hiroshima my love, by Alain Resnais (1959).

Sidnei characterizes the possibility of an aggression by the USSR against Western Europe as a myth, unfolded in the Operation Unthinkable (a project commissioned by Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, to attack Soviet troops), under the allegation of “restoring freedom in Poland”, including even distributing weapons to collaborating German troops (GF, pp129/131) .The Soviets demonstrated that they knew about the plan and Churchill was defeated in the following elections, which frustrated that attempt.

The book devotes ample space to George Frost Kennan, diplomat and Professor at Princeton, who wrote extensively on the Cold War. The attention is justified by his role as ambassador to the USSR, a senior official in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations (he moved away from the latter in his second term), proponent of the “Doctrine of Containment” (he recognized irreconcilable conflicts between the powers, recommended containing the USSR without confrontation direct), coordinator of the elaboration of the Marshall Plan, memoirist and author of many works on the Cold War. He recognized the seductive power of communist arguments and advocated support for better material conditions for different peoples, which would make “Soviet communism increasingly sterile and quixotic” (GF, p 155) – there seems to be a very limited understanding, by Kennan , by Don Quixote, whose deliriums unveil the faces of reality, always in contrast to the prudence of Sancho Panza[iv].

It would be worthwhile to further clarify these singularities of Kennan, ideologue and scholar, theorist and political actor, an ambiguous presence in Historical Culture and in historiographical discussion.

It is in this context that the dispute, by the USA and the USSR, of the former European colonial empires in Asia and Africa arises, remembering that the peoples of these continents were very present voices, in several directions, in that debate[v].The book comments on the formation of blocks around each of those powers, nuanced the bipolar view of the problem by remembering tensions in each of these groups. In 1949, the USSR announced the domain of atomic technology for war purposes and the People's Republic of China emerged; the following year, the Korean War began, which ended in 1953. And Great Britain exploded its nuclear device in 1952.

In this scenario of an accelerated Cold War, the equation between Nazism and Communism was strengthened (GF, p 180), with a long survival, including academic[vi]. Criticism of Stalinism tends to embody this approach. It is worth questioning whether all Communism has to be Stalinist and state. That leveling can be useful for ideological purposes of the Cold War (Capitalism as the legitimate reverse of Nazism and Communism), the critical academic debate deserves greater argumentative zeal.

Many of these critical voices were silenced in the Cold War world and this work highlights actions against university and cinema. In addition to well-known persecutions against actors, directors and technicians, cinema was the stage for arguments against trade unionists, equated with bandits, as can be seen in the award-winning thieves syndicate, by Elia Kazan, 1954, which received Oscars for best film, best actor and best director.

Munhoz indicates the construction of concentration camps in the USA for communists, which were not used, and anti-Semitic marks in that universe, including in the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, accused of passing on nuclear secrets to the USSR and sentenced to death (1953) .

The last part of the book, under the general title “The twilight of the Cold War”, devotes more space to the USSR in decline and dissolution, including its economic problems in the fields of low productivity and outdated technology, more difficulties in achieving goals. Criticisms arise of Soviet statistics and ineffective planning. The demand for improvement in living conditions is restricted to consumption perspectives, with the risk of reducing arguments for democracy to this bias.

Munhoz argues that the Cold War was a single event, endowed with its own historicity. There is clarity in the identification of the USA with Capitalism, but the USSR is less discussed as a socialist universe (even if frustrated), leaving the memory of Stalinism, with the risk of reducing the historical process to that leader and resistance to Nazism. Perestroika(Restructuring) and Glasnost (Transparency) appear more as projects of Soviet elites (Mikhail Gorbachev and his opponents), without debates about popular dispower in that historical experience.

After the USSR and the Cold War, other conflicts continue, whether wars or not.

Cold War – History and historiography It is a book worthy of attention and respect, endowed with rich information, well-founded definition of options and intelligence in the analyses. He does not address Brazilian sources of the time, nor governmental sources (usually aligned with US foreign policy, but some military personnel were opposed to participating in the Korean War), nor union sources (strikes, agreements, etc.), nor cultural ones – in names expressive figures such as Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade, Jorge Amado and Cândido Portinari[vii] – nor in the daily press, briefly mentioned in relation to the Rosenberg case (GF, p 186).

For the next one, “a subject for another book” (GF, p278).

* Mark Silva He is a professor at the Department of History at FFLCH/USP.


Sydney Munhoz. Cold War: History and Historiography. Curitiba, Appris, 2020.


[I]FENELON, Dea Ribeiro. the cold war. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1983 (Everything is History). Dea addresses, among other topics, sources, documents, interpretations, block policy and the topic's contemporaneity.

Andrey Vavilov, Guiherme Monteiro, John Lewis Gaddis, Norman Friedman, Odd ArneWestad, Robert McMahon, Stanislas Jeannesson, Walter Lippmann and others have written books with the same general title.

[ii] On links between US universities and the war industry and finance, in the period 1960/2010:

MESQUITA, André Luiz. Dissident Maps: Against cartography, power and resistance. São Paulo: FAPESP/Humanitas, 2019.

[iii]HOBSBAWM, Eric. Age of Extremes – The Short Twentieth Century. Translated by Marcos Santarrita. Sao Paulo: Cia. of Letters, 1995.

IDEM. How to change the world – Marx and Marxism. Translation by Donaldson Garchshagen. Sao Paulo: Cia. of Letters, 2011.

[iv]CERVANTES SAAVEDRA, Miguel de. Don Quixote of La Mancha. Translation by Viscounts of Castilho e Azevedo. São Paulo: Nova Cultural, 2002.

[v]NKRUMAH, Kwame. Neocolonialism – Last stage of Imperialism. Translation by Maurício C. Pedreira. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1967.

PANNIKAR, KM Western domination of Asia from the XNUMXth century to the present day. Translation by Nemésio Salles. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1977.

SANTIAGO, Theo (Org.). Decolonization. Translation by Theo Santiago et al. Rio de Janeiro: Francisco Alves, 1977.

SENGHOR, Leopold. Lusitanity and blackness. Translated by Luiz Forjaz Trigueiros. Rio de Janeiro: New Frontier, 1975.

[vi] The argument is adopted in a well-known book, which Munhoz does not cite: ARENDT, Hannah. Origins of totalitarianism – Antisemitism, imperialism, totalitarianism. Translation by Roberto Raposo. Sao Paulo: Cia. of Letters, 2013.

[vii]AMADO, George. The world of peace – Soviet Union and people's democracies. Rio de Janeiro: Vitória, 1951.

Amado prevented the re-edition of this book after 1956 (denunciations by Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary of the CPURSS, against Stalin), which makes its critical analysis by historians even more necessary.

SILVA, Mark. “A journey to the left – Jorge Amado without (the world of) peace". History Project. São Paulo: PUC/SP, 58: 240/269, Jan/Apr 2017.

Portinari produced, for the UN headquarters, the panels "War" e "Peace", between l952 and 1956. “Struggle for peace” was a Soviet motto, on an international scale, from the 40s to the 50s.

“Panels War e Peace return to the UN”. Youtube UNO Brazil. Consulted on 6 Jan 2021.

ANDRADE, Oswald de. Poetry gathered. Sao Paulo: Cia. of Letters, 2017 (1st edition:1945).

DRUMMOND DE ANDRADE, Carlos. José. Sao Paulo: Cia. of Letters, 2012 (1st edition: 1942).

IDEM. The People's Rose. Sao Paulo: Cia. of Letters, 2012 (1st edition:1945).

IDEM. feeling of the world. Sao Paulo: Cia. of Letters, 2012 (1st edition:1940).


See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones
  • Why are we on strike?statue 50g 20/06/2024 By SERGIO STOCO: We have reached a situation of shortage of federal educational institutions
  • The melancholic end of Estadãoabandoned cars 17/06/2024 By JULIAN RODRIGUES: Bad news: the almost sesquicentennial daily newspaper in São Paulo (and the best Brazilian newspaper) is rapidly declining
  • Return to the path of hopelate afternoon 21/06/2024 By JUAREZ GUIMARÃES & MARILANE TEIXEIRA: Five initiatives that can allow the Brazilian left and center-left to resume dialogue with the majority hope of Brazilians