The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War Mind

Pegasus. Jul. 2022. 592p. ISBN 9781639361816. $35. HIST
Sixsmith (Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East) delivers a gripping interpretation of Cold War diplomacy, culture, and politics through the lens of psychology. Drawing on scholarly sources, recently declassified documents, and his experiences as a BBC foreign correspondent in Moscow in the 1980s, Sixsmith shows how the Cold War both reflected and accentuated the mental processes and national psyches of hundreds of millions of people on both sides of the Soviet and Anglo American confrontation. Like countless analysts before him, he contrasts Russia’s centuries of collectivism with American individualism and explores the Soviet Union’s inferiority complex relative to Western prosperity and progress. More insightful is his depiction of the U.S. and USSR as doppelgangers, with both nations devolving into Cold War “paroxysm[s] of paranoia and conspiratorial thinking.” Each was convinced that their archrival was pursuing world domination, each projecting its own fears and suspicions onto the other, and each waging worldwide psychological warfare to win hearts and minds, while sowing doubts and discord among its rival’s supporters. This vicious cycle faltered with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, only to resurge under authoritarian Russian president Vladimir Putin.
VERDICT A shrewd and remarkably timely examination of Cold War mentalities.
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