Book Review: Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956


by Anne Applebaum

New York: Doubleday, 2012. Pp. xxxvi, 542. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 0385515693

Using extensive material newly available since the end of the Warsaw Pact, Applebaum, who won a Pulitzer for her work on the history of Communism and Eastern Europe, presents a new model of the coming of the Cold War to Eastern Europe and the rise of the high Stalinist state.

Western histories tend to treat the Second World War as a separate entity from the Cold War.  The Allies beat Hitler.  The West falls out with Stalin.  Stalin creates what become the satellite states, in the East.  In this book Applebaum argues that from the Soviet side it was a seamless process, as the Red Army drove out the Nazis, the core elements of a slavish Stalinist Party and an extra-constitutional security police arrived in its entourage. 

Applebaum identifies the critical elements in the Stalinist machine as a party apparatus totally under Moscow’s control, a security police run by this party outside legal norms, with direct KGB control, and both party and police firmly joined to the Soviet occupation authority via cross-posting of Soviet military and police officers.  These formed a template which was applied with only minor variations due to local conditions from
country to country. 

Applebaum identifies the constitutional fan dances and elections as the smoke screen they were.  Stalin was determined to have friendly regimes.  In Stalinist logic, all those who were not creatures of the Soviet Union were objectively fascist.  Therefore Western pushes for democracy and sovereignty were simply outside the mental horizons of both the rulers in the Kremlin and their minions on the ground.  The three test cases offered are Poland, Hungary, and East Germany.  Regrettably Applebaum has considerably simplified the German situation, but the treatment remains valuable.

Recommended for those interested in the end of World War II and the first phases of a de facto World War III in Europe. . . .

Our Reviewer:  Scott Palter graduated from Dartmouth and Stanford Law.  A veteran war gamer, one of the old SPI playtesters, he is also a game developer and was founder and publisher of West End Games.  His recebt reviews for StrategyPage include Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia , Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War , Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II , and Normandy Crucible: The Decisive Battle that Shaped World War II in Europe .


Reviewer: Scott Palter   

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