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Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth (2011)

– tekijä: Frederick Kempe

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
3642655,532 (4.02)19
Based on a new documents and interviews, this work is a look at the Berlin Crisis of 1961, with powerful applications for the present. In June 1961, Nikita Khrushchev called it "the most dangerous place on earth." He knew what he was talking about. Much has been written about the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, but the Berlin Crisis of 1961 was more decisive in shaping the Cold War, and more perilous. For the first time in history, American and Soviet fighting men and tanks stood arrayed against each other, only yards apart. One mistake, one overzealous commander, and the trip wire would be sprung for a war that would go nuclear in a heartbeat. On one side was a young, untested U.S. president still reeling from the Bay of Pigs disaster. On the other, a Soviet premier hemmed in by the Chinese, the East Germans, and hard liners in his own government. Neither really understood the other, both tried cynically to manipulate events. And so, week by week, the dangers grew.… (lisätietoja)
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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 27) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
“Why would anyone write a book about an administration that has nothing to show for itself but a string of disasters?” - President John F. Kennedy, September 22, 1961.
That is how this book starts and that is how it continues from the very first page. The book is a long one (a tome actually), that covers only one year in President John F. Kennedy’s life - the year he was inaugurated-1961. A young, untried President was at the helm of the nation that was and still is the leader of the free world. He was up against a very formidable opponent. This opponent was battle-hardened, a consummate chess player and one who was the head of the Communist world - Nikita Khrushchev. The battle ground is the divided Berlin after the end of World War II. Khrushchev, fully aware of the danger and the powder keg that was Berlin, said over and over, “Berlin is the most dangerous place on earth.” Let me tell you, Kempe spares no punches as he writes in extreme detail about all the happenings in 1961, right from Kennedy’s disastrous Bay of Pigs offensive, through to the Berlin upheaval and the building of the wall and to the Cuban Missile crisis. We get an insider’s look at Kennedy’s and Khrushchev’s political maneuverings, back room dealings. Intelligence reports and an unflinching look at the world’s reaction to all the things that went on in that year. This book is very well-researched and very complex. It’s not for someone who is looking for escapist reading, but it immersed me totally right from the very beginning to the explosive ending. I am sure that I am not the only person in the world who didn’t realize how close we came to a nuclear war in this very alarming and unstable part of world history.The book is a tour-de-force in my opinion, in that it uncovers more than we have ever previously known about the young President Kennedy and his ongoing combative and unstable relationship with Mr. Nikita Khrushchev. At the very end of this book Kennedy makes a long-overdue visit to West Berlin, and on the western side of the wall he made his most memorable speech that he ever made on foreign soil. I will leave you with that.
“There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t understand, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that Communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words. — “Ich bin fin, Berliner.” - President John F. Kennedy - West Berlin - June 26, 1963. (Just 3 short months before an assassin’s bullet killed him in Dallas.) ( )
  Romonko | Feb 5, 2020 |
a good read about the Berlin 'airlift' ( )
  virg144 | Apr 1, 2017 |
As the Cold War recedes further into the past, it becomes easy to forget some its most contentious battlefields; that is where good history books like BERLIN 1961 by Frederick Kempe comes in, for they remind us how close the conflict came to turning hot. Kempe’s book gives us an invaluable timeline for one of the worst crisis’s of the early 60’s and allows for a chance to become reacquainted with some almost forgotten figures who once played a very important part on the world’s stage. We also get some interesting behind the scenes look at some of the titans of 20th history, namely John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev.

Kempe’s book does a good job recreating the very tense early days of Kennedy’s administration, a time when relations between America and the Soviet Union were at an all time low following the collapse of the Paris Summit in the wake of the U2 incident the previous year. Berlin had been a sore point for the Soviets ever since the end of World War II left it as a piece of Western territory in the middle of what became Communist East Germany. Repeated attempts to settle the issue in their favor, either by threats or by force, by the Russians, had proved futile. Making the situation worse was the free access between East and West that existed in Berlin, an open door through which thousands of German refugees fled Communist oppression, a trickle that had become a torrent by early 1961. This flow of refugees had become so severe that it threatened to cause the implosion of East Germany and possibly unravel Soviet rule over all its Eastern European satellites.

This was the crisis that the untested Kennedy had to deal with in the first year of his administration, when he was warily feeling his way and daily confronted by what he believed was an aggressive Soviet bear, personified by Khrushchev, bent upon humiliating and defeating the West, whenever and wherever possible. The President felt he could not appear weak and invite Soviet aggression, while not overplaying his hand and causing a war by mistake.

BERLIN 1961 gives us a first hand account of the deliberations in Washington and Moscow as both sides circled each other and tried to guess what was happening behind closed doors in each city. The book also takes in account the smaller players in East and West Germany who had ambitions and agendas that differed from their super power partners.

It is Kempe’s contention that the inexperienced JFK bungled an opportunity when did not force the issue when the East Germans, with Soviet backing, erected the Berlin wall in August of 1961 to staunch the flow of refugees. His contention is that Kennedy was so determined to find a way to defuse the tensions over Berlin he was willing to let the Communists build the Wall and imprison the East as long as they did not contest the presence of NATO troops in West Berlin and accept its existence inside their territory. Kempe lays out the case that Kennedy and American diplomats in the early months of the Administration quietly let it be known to the Soviets that they would accept a forcible closing of the Berlin gate if it would preserve the status quo. Kempe contends that if Kennedy had insisted from the get go that the flow of people across the border in Berlin remain open, the Communists would have taken no action and history would have been.

Many would point out the faults in this reasoning. Khrushchev was no Gorbachev, he was a veteran of World War II and had seen the horrors of Hitler’s invasion up close, and like all Soviet leaders of the time, he was not about to undo Stalin’s legacy, a legacy that insured that if there was another great war in Europe in the 20th Century, it would begin hundreds and hundreds of miles further west than it began in 1941. Nor was the hard line Stalinist government in East Berlin about to just throw in the towel and reunite with West Germany, a prospect that was anathema to Moscow. What was possible in 1989 was not possible in 1961 and JFK’s decision to decrease nuclear tensions at the expense of East Germans, whose freedom he had no legal or treaty obligation to defend, made a lot sense at the time.

It’s a point reasonable people can argue over and history is full of interesting possibilities. It is true Kennedy made many mistakes in his first year; chief among them was holding a summit with Khrushchev in Vienna not six weeks after the debacle at the Bay of Pigs. The new American President’s poor performance there gave his Soviet counterpart the impression he could pursue a much tougher course in dealing with the United States, a course that led to the Berlin Wall, and ultimately, putting missiles in Cuba. To his credit, Kennedy knew he had screwed up, later referring to his first year in office as a “disaster.” It says something about the man that nobody can imagine many of successors being that honest and self-critical.

BERLIN 1961 brings back into the historical spotlight a number of characters who have faded into the mists of history, starting with Walter Ulbricht, the hard line Stalinist German Communist, a man determined to make his rump state of East Germany a success no matter what it takes, even if it means turning the whole country into a prison camp. There is Konrad Adenauer, the very elderly Chancellor of West Germany, his country’s first democratically elected leader; a man who has never given up on reuniting his divided nation. A man who finds himself uncomfortably estranged from the young American President whose support is vital for West Germany’s survival. We get portraits of Dean Acheson and General Lucius Clay, old hands from the Truman years, recruited by Kennedy to assist in this new crisis, only to discover that the new President is no Truman. British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan constantly urges negotiation over confrontation; Vice President Lyndon Johnson has a raucous and potentially embarrassing trip to West Berlin at the height of the crisis. Attorney General Robert Kennedy attempts to open a back channel to the Soviet leadership, something the President and his brother loved to do, all to the consternation of the professional diplomats. Most of all, there is the long-suffering citizens of Berlin, both East and West, who really just wanted to be left alone to chart their own destiny, a fate denied them by history and geography.

BERLIN 1961 is a must read for history buffs, especially those interested in the Cold War. The writing is crisp and to the point, putting the reader right on the front lines when American units and the tanks of the Red Army come face to face at Checkpoint Charlie. A good history book must read with the ease of great novel; in this, Frederick Kempe’s BERLIN 1961 is a complete success. ( )
  wb4ever1 | Feb 9, 2016 |
Reading this book has made me rethink my thinking on President Kennedy and lower him on my list of President's.Everyone should read this book especially anyone who grew up in the sixties. The present administration is showing the same level of weakness and misunderstanding of the Russian mind. Mr. Kempe has written a very good book and the only thing I disagreed with was his feelings about Chuck Hagel's abilities. You will not be disappointed when you read Berlin 1961. ( )
  Philip100 | Apr 14, 2014 |
Wow. A fantastic telling of an event that has been all but forgotten and yet changed the course of history. One of the things I most appreciated about this telling was how the author focuses on the rough start the Kennedy Administration had viz foreign policy. After the Bay of Pigs, this President struggled with how to meet the aggressive challenges of Kruschev in many different places but especially Berlin. The difficulty of calibrating a military response in the nuclear age is something that any history buff should know more about. Is the ability to destroy the world a deterrent? Well, certainly to massive military action. But as for salami tactics - where the foe challenges policy little by little, slice by slice, that deterrent complicated things as much as it preserved the peace. Even if you aren't a regular reader of History, get this book. The storytelling is fantastic and the drama so rich. ( )
  Oreillynsf | Mar 15, 2014 |
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He [Adenauer] considered Germany, like ancient Gaul, to be a country of three parts defined by its chosen alcoholic beverage. He called Prussia the Germany of schnapps drinkers, Bavaria the land of beer drinkers, and his Rhineland a place of wine drinkers. [106]
Years later, amateur linguists would argue that Kennedy had misspoken and by using the article ein in front of Berliner, which was the name of a German pastry, he had actually told the crowd, "I am a jelly doughnut". Yet the president had debated just that point with his two tutors, who had rightly concluded that by leaving out the article he would be suggesting he was born in Berlin and perhaps confuse the crowd, and thus lose the emphasis of his symbolic point. In any case, no one in the delirious crowd had any doubt about Kennedy's meaning. [500]
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Based on a new documents and interviews, this work is a look at the Berlin Crisis of 1961, with powerful applications for the present. In June 1961, Nikita Khrushchev called it "the most dangerous place on earth." He knew what he was talking about. Much has been written about the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, but the Berlin Crisis of 1961 was more decisive in shaping the Cold War, and more perilous. For the first time in history, American and Soviet fighting men and tanks stood arrayed against each other, only yards apart. One mistake, one overzealous commander, and the trip wire would be sprung for a war that would go nuclear in a heartbeat. On one side was a young, untested U.S. president still reeling from the Bay of Pigs disaster. On the other, a Soviet premier hemmed in by the Chinese, the East Germans, and hard liners in his own government. Neither really understood the other, both tried cynically to manipulate events. And so, week by week, the dangers grew.

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