Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Berlin 1961: When Kennedy Blinked

Charles McCarry, a former CIA deep cover agent and the author of The Tears of Autumn, The Better Angels, and other outstanding spy novels, wrote an interesting review of Frederick Kempe's Berlin 1961 in The Wall Street Journal.

Readers skeptical of the Camelot myth may experience twinges of schadenfreude while reading this meticulously researched, elegantly written account of John F. Kennedy's mortifying encounters with the Soviet Union's Nikita Khrushchev during the first year of his presidency. Others, on coming to the end of Frederick Kempe's molecule-by-molecule deconstruction of the Kennedy reputation for toughness, vigor, smarts and unshakable cool, are more likely to breathe a sigh of relief that civilization somehow survived the confrontation.

"Berlin 1961" revolves around the question of whether Kennedy's decision to countenance the erection of the Berlin Wall was, in Mr. Kempe's words, "a successful means of avoiding war, or . . . the unhappy result of his missing backbone." On those terms, the book is a scholarly history of the crisis that culminated on Aug. 13, 1961, when East Germany, convinced that its economic and political survival depended on stopping the hemorrhage of refugees to the West, cut the city in two with the Berlin Wall, thereby imprisoning its people for the next 26 years. Since 1945, 2.8 million, or one in every six East Germans, had fled their benighted country.

You can read the rest of Charles McCarry's review via the below link:


1 comment:

  1. Frederick Kempe tells us the story of the Berlin crisis of 1961. It's as if he was a fly on the wall that was privy to all the insiders' thoughts, fears and doubts during the most volatile time of the Cold War. East Berlin during this time still had bombed out buildings and shrapnel pocked structures. The inhabitants of East Berlin lived in the veil of the grayness of Communism.