Kevin Y. Kim — The Journal of American History

The Republic of China’s founding father Sun Yat-sen once lamented that the ordinary peo.ple of his country were “just a heap of loose sand.” Masuda Hajimu argues in this fine study that innumerable political elites and historians have also unfairly dismissed the role of ordinary people in the Cold War, the monumental global event of our time. Cold War Crucible spans post.World War II soci.eties in the United States, Britain, and East Asia, and historical actors across the social spectrum—from students, housewives, and workers to soldiers, businessmen, and politi.cians. The book foregrounds ordinary men and women’s myriad local struggles, not as the “end result” but as the very “engine” of post.war social changes across the globe, giving the Cold War its real meaning (p. 279).

Cold War Crucible’s ambition is to proffer a “social history of the global postwar world” (p. 8). Its actual achievements are more limited but still broadly important. Focusing on the Cold War’s formative years from World War II to the Korean War, and several strongly affect.ed societies in the Western and postcolonial worlds—particularly the United States,, and Japan—Masuda sheds light on how the Cold War was “a gigantic social construc.tion” created by “ordinary people in their own domestic ‘wars’ fought for the sake of order in each society” (ibid.). In three parts Cold War Crucible delineates how the Cold War devel.oped: first, as a contentious political discourse amid postwar tensions in the United States and other societies; second, as a hardening so.ciopolitical reality in the shocking Korean War that precipitated the Cold War’s worldwide militarization; third, as a global wave of lo.cally unique, but strikingly similar, campaigns of political repression driven not by Cold War “consensus,” Masuda suggests, but by the need for domestic harmony after many years of so.cial upheaval in World War II and the Cold War.

U.S. historians have long studied the Cold War’s constructed nature as a cynical specter affecting elite and ordinary citizens. How.ever, exploring McCarthyism alongside simi.lar political and social movements (including the Korean War.sparked British Conserva.tive party’s 1951 revival and the Philippines’ Special Committee on Un-Filipino Activi.ties), Cold War Crucible stirs readers to recon.sider the surprisingly interconnected nature of the United States and other nations’ postwar struggles. Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s presi.dential ambitions while head of occupied Ja.pan and Chinese premier Zhou Enlai’s pub.lic skewering of Collier’s political cartoons, American fears of World War III and Chinese “whispers” (p. 174) of renewed civil war, Com.munist and noncommunist citizens’ seesawing Cold War passions, skepticisms, and utter apa.thy—these should be seen, Cold War Crucible demonstrates, not merely as outgrowths of su.perpower politics, but of a shared social fabric resembling today’s globalized world far more than the existing scholarship has imagined.

Understandably, such an approach by Ma.suda results in less compelling, surface-level renderings of some national developments, particularly in the United States. But, for the most part, Cold War Crucible is a tour de force of transnational research and analysis that manages to restore, in all its difficult complex.ity, the significance of ordinary human agency in some of the United States’ and the world’s grimmest and most politically punishing his.torical events.

—The Journal of American History, 102 (4), March 2016
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jav714