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By William Howell (sometimes spelled Howel)

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Most Western experts at the time did not think he would even get to the point of giving up any country in Eastern Europe, and were quite literally flabbergasted when it began to dawn upon them (probably at some point during the summer of 1989) that that was precisely what he was thinking of doing. Finally, as Fred Halliday has wisely reminded us all, what often makes most great events truly ‘great’ is their often quite unexpected character—and historians, he argues, should not be criticized for having failed to do the impossible, which is to predict them.

Thus a few employ it to suggest an almost century-long period of suspicion between the United States and Russia, stretching right back to the late nineteenth century. Others take it to mean the years between 1917 and 1991, the full lifespan of the Soviet Union as an integrated communist system. One or two see the ‘war’ as stretching from 1941 to 1991. Many more assume the term applies only to the years of Europe and Germany’s division between 1947 and 1989. Some identify it with the maximum period of bipolarity lasting between 1945 and 1991.

The last decade of the cold war 16 This in turn raises a second issue concerning the various ways in which most Western experts tended to think about Soviet foreign policy and Soviet relations with Eastern Europe. One should not simplify: the picture is by no means a uniform one. However, there was a powerful strain of intellectual opinion in the West that considered the USSR to be always primed for expansion but not—it seems—for retreat. The reasons for thinking in this way were neither silly nor dishonest.

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An Institution of General History (1685) William Howell - Volume Three by William Howell (sometimes spelled Howel)


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