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Arnold Offner, Cornelia F. Hugel Professor of History at Lafayette, is the author of a major new book that provides a stunning reassessment of President Harry Truman’s profound influence on U.S. foreign policy and the Cold War. Entitled Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953, the 632-page volume was published in March by Stanford University Press.

Offner contends that throughout his presidency, Truman remained a parochial nationalist who lacked the vision and leadership to move the United States away from conflict and toward détente. Instead, he promoted an ideology of Cold War confrontation that set the pattern for successive administrations. Historians praise the book as a provocative, forcefully argued, and thoroughly documented reassessment of Truman’s legacy.

“At a moment in the early 21st century when the choices in a new crisis seem simply black and white, this is precisely the kind of historical perspective we should have,” says Walter LaFeber, Marie Underhill Noll Professor of American History at Cornell University and author of America, Russia and the Cold War. “Professor Offner has reopened a long overdue debate on Harry Truman — both on the man and his role in the origins of the Cold War…. [I]t certainly demands to be read and widely discussed.”

“This major book is a critical revisionist portrait of Truman’s personal role in shaping U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China…. The importance of the scholarship, the author’s careful voice of reasonable criticism, the lucid writing style — all should give the book a popular readership that reaches beyond the university and foreign policy publics,” says J. Garry Clifford, professor and director of graduate studies in political science at the University of Connecticut.

“In this cogently argued and meticulously documented study, Arnold Offner challenges popular attitudes about Harry Truman’s leadership,” says Robert J. McMahon, professor of history at the University of Florida and author of The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia Since World War II. “Another Such Victory presents a powerful indictment of a president whose inexperience, provincialism, and uncritical acceptance of the superiority of American values and interests led to needlessly provocative policies that exacerbated international tensions at a crucial juncture in modern world history…. [O]ne of the most important books about the early Cold War to appear in the past decade.”

Another Such Victory sharply challenges the prevailing view of historians who have uncritically praised Truman for repulsing the Soviet Union. Based on exhaustive research and including many documents that have come to light since the end of the Cold War, the book demonstrates how Truman’s simplistic analogies, exaggerated beliefs in U.S. supremacy, and limited grasp of world affairs exacerbated conflicts with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.

“He narrowed the options in foreign policy, which meant taking little account of other nations’ traditions and perspectives,” says Offner, who is also author of The Origins of the Second World War: American Foreign Policy and World Politics, 1917-1941 and American Appeasement: United States Foreign Policy and Germany, 1933-1938 and coeditor of Victory in Europe, 1945: From World War to Cold War.

“He tended to draw sharp lines when the art of foreign policy is to blur lines and find détente instead of conflict,” he says.

For example, Truman’s decision at the Potsdam Conference to engage in “atomic poker” and outmaneuver the Soviets in Europe and Asia led him to brush aside all proposals to forgo the use of atomic bombs on Japan, Offner explains. In China, Truman was unable to view its civil war apart from the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, belittling critics of his support for the corrupt Guomindang government and refusing to negotiate with the emergent People’s Republic of China. His missteps in China and Korea produced terrible consequences, Offner argues.

“Although initial intervention to preserve South Korea’s independence after North Korea’s attack was justified, Truman’s decision to send troops across the 38th parallel widened the war, for which we paid a tremendous human and economic price,” he says. “The long-term result was 20 years of embittered relations with China. Many scholars also see the emergence of our involvement in Vietnam through that matrix.”

Another Such Victory illustrates how Truman’s insecurity reinforced his penchant to view conflict in black-and-white terms, to categorize all nations as either free or totalitarian, to demonize his opponents, and to ignore the complexities of historic national conflicts. Despite Truman’s claim to have “knocked the socks off the communists,” he left the White House with his presidency in tatters, military spending at a record high, McCarthyism rampant, and the United States on Cold War footing at home and abroad, notes Offner.

“The book is intended to challenge the triumphalist thinking about Truman,” he says. “It’s the duty of the historian to look behind the Fourth of July speeches and rhetoric. That doesn’t negate the constructive things that have been accomplished, but it looks at the prices paid. The question is whether there were better ways of accomplishing the same objectives that would have resulted in less cost and conflict.”

In the book’s preface Offner credits former students Graham Byers and Daniel Arnold for their “great help in searching out and assessing materials and serving as highly interactive sounding boards for my ideas.” They worked with Offner through Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students collaborate closely with faculty on research projects while earning a stipend.

“Lafayette’s EXCEL program is terrific,” says Offner, a great believer in the value of research experiences for undergraduates. “I love it. I’m amazed at how much you can learn from undergraduate students and how much they can contribute.”

Byers and Arnold graduated summa cum laude, Byers in 1998 with a history major and Arnold in 2001 with a double major in history and International Affairs. Both were elected to Phi Beta Kappa. For Offner’s book they read journal articles and scholarly materials, writing summaries and highlighting important texts.

“It’s a hard job to think about what an author is really saying and determine its significance,” says Offner. “Both students did extremely well with that. Then I’d give them a draft chapter of my book that pertained to what they had read and asked them to evaluate how it fit in with the material or contradicted it. They wrote some crackling critiques in both directions. They were very honest and open with me; they fully understood that I wanted their opinions. You can’t ask for anything more.”

Offner is also engaging students in the research for his next book, which will be entitled Hubert H. Humphrey and the Tragedy of American Liberalism. This summer, Marquis Scholar Daniel Rubin researched the American liberal tradition through a biographical study of Humphrey, the 38th vice president of the United States and long-time Senate leader, in an EXCEL research project. Rubin is a senior history major from Canoga Park, Calif.

“Professor Offner assigned me various biographies of Humphrey, and I went through them and took notes,” Rubin says. “I also found newspaper and magazine articles tracing Humphrey’s career, specifically the period from 1964 to 1968. After reading through the articles or books and typing up the notes, I presented them to Professor Offner so he could review them and offer his feedback.”

Offner says Rubin’s ambitious project went well. “Dan is a very bright and resourceful student. He went through reams and reams of documents, taking notes and doing a wonderful job. In fact, a lot of the research he did has a direct bearing on his senior honors thesis.” Rubin’s thesis topic is the roots of the Korean War.

“The project represented a wonderful stepping stone towards my career plans. It gave me experience in the exact occupation that I want to pursue,” Rubin adds. “Lafayette’s character made it possible for me to undertake a research project like this. I have been able to create close relationships with professors and take advantage of opportunities that are only available to graduate students at larger universities.”

Research for his books has factored heavily in his courses, says Offner, who strongly believes in the close relationship between academic research and teaching.

“My research has an enormous impact in the classroom,” he says. “I am unequivocal in my belief that a good research program feeds dramatically into teaching. They’re not conflicting, but complementary, interactive, and rewarding in both directions. My students are not just using books and articles I’ve written, but they’re getting material from archives I’ve researched that they would not have access to under any other circumstances. In my lecture classes on World War II, for example, I’ll give illustrations from what I’ve found in the Library of Congress, the Roosevelt Library, and the Truman Library.”

A member of the Lafayette faculty since 1991, Offner holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University. In 1999 he was the recipient of Lafayette’s Marquis Distinguished Teaching Award for distinctive and extraordinary teaching. He has won the Phi Alpha Theta National Book Award and the Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching. He is past president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

Other accolades for Another Such Victory:

“Offner has written a provocative, critical analysis of Harry S Truman, now the most acclaimed president of the Cold War era. Everyone who has read McCullough on Truman will want to read Offner and reexamine previous conclusions. If you are interested in executive decision-making in times of international crisis, this is a book worth reading and pondering.” — Melvyn Leffler, University of Virginia and fellow, The Woodrow Wilson Center

“This important contribution to Truman biography and Cold War history runs against the grain of much recent scholarship. It is certain to generate controversy and open up debate.” — David J. Reynolds, Christ’s College, University of Cambridge.


Kim Posocco ’03 researched the counter-culture movement and the political career of Hubert H. Humphrey in separate projects under the direction of Arnold Offner, Hugel Professor of History.

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