The Cold War between the United States and the Communists in France and Italy
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011
Hardcover. xii + 533 p. 17 illustrations. ISBN 978-0807834732. $55
Reviewed by Eric J. Morgan
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
While much recent scholarship on the Cold War has explored new dimensions of the global conflict, particularly concentrating on the nexus of liberation struggles and anti-communism in the developing world, Alessandro Brogi’s latest work brings our attention back to the omnipresent communist threat in Western Europe. This big, impressive book explores big ideas, offering an important contribution to the history of the Cold War that melds together political, diplomatic, and cultural history. How the United States confronted communism in Western Europe is Brogi’s major concern, particularly through modernization or “Americanization,” as he calls this process. As Brogi argues, “For the United States, this confrontation was not only about French and Italian politics. The appeal of communism in Western Europe compelled U.S. policy and opinion makers to address more general issues about the management of the Western alliance, the American image abroad, and even the value of its ‘exceptionalist’ assumptions” .
Brogi employs a broad approach in his meticulously researched study, which mines the rich resources of eighteen archives, including the records of the respective communist parties in both France and Italy. One of the greatest strengths of this impressive work is its comparative approach, which allows the reader to place the confrontation in both nations into a larger context with the story moving mostly seamlessly between Washington, France, and Italy. Following a generally chronological narrative, Brogi covers the resurgence of communism in Italy and France following the end of the Second World War, the influence and response to the Marshall Plan, the cultural confrontation through psychological warfare and propaganda, the challenges of the 1950s and 1960s, and the response of the United States in the 1970s to the transformative attempts of Eurocommunism. The chapters on psychological warfare and the cultural cold war are particularly appealing, as they illustrate the true concern of the United States government over the influence of various communist organizations. Brogi highlights the demonizing of the Marshall Plan, particularly its lack of focus on issues pertaining to social justice. Ultimately, then, the United States was not particularly fearful of communist takeovers in either state, rather the appeal of anti-American sentiment that resonated with more moderate organizations. Anti-Americanism was highly influential in challenging the United States’ supremacy and mission abroad, prophesizing an Americanization of Europe that would bring the downfall of uniquely European cultural and political institutions. These fears were heightened by the dawn of the nuclear age, Brogi notes, and were underscored during the United States’ long involvement in Vietnam, where many Vietnamese were killed in the name of modernization or Americanization.
The anti-American critiques of communists in France and Italy were at their strongest, Brogi concludes, when they rationalized the lost opportunities of the United States, from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement to various theaters of dissent in the 1970s. And the United States attempted to deal with these intellectual critiques through propaganda and cultural diplomacy, which had varying levels of success. Propaganda from Hollywood and other cultural avenues often succeeded in illustrating the prosperity and potential for mobility in the United States, but at the same time perpetuated stereotypes and underscored the “tasteless, superficial, and conformist U.S. society” . For Brogi, more successful were diplomatic maneuvers, such as the United States’ involvement in the Middle East in the 1950s, which resulted in the isolation of communists and showed the strength of a strong diplomatic presence and mission in Western Europe.
Ultimately this book is a significant contribution to the historiography of the Cold War, and illustrates the possibilities of multi-archival research for U.S. foreign relations and international history. We learn much through this study of the confrontation between communists in France and Italy and the United States, which illuminates a great deal not only about U.S. foreign policy, but also the communists’ “struggle for their own legitimacy and existence.” . As Brogi discusses in his denouement, while the communist parties in both France and Italy are today little more than fringe organizations, the legacy of both parties remains strong, with anti-Americanism alive and well in both countries. As well, Brogi concludes, American exceptionalism has not disappeared, and indeed remains a challenge for U.S. foreign policy in an increasingly dynamic and capricious world where the United States’ hegemony is far from secure or guaranteed.
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