Why did Cold War leaders view the Communist bloc as monolithic?

Didn’t want to. Bluffing. He folded. Cool.

You do realize that this is the same as coming right out and saying “I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about”, right?

Moderator’s Note: All right, the little flare-up of personal sniping is over now, yes? Thank you.

Apologies. Should have taken that to the Pit or nowhere at all.

(deleted in deference to Mod rebuke…)

Why do we assume this is true? I suspect you may have oversimplified what “American historians seem to constantly” do. It certainly is obvious that Nixon, a Cold War leader par excellence, didn’t hold that view. Who are these “Western Cold War leaders” and which historians are you talking about. Some reference might help get to the core of this matter.

Removed redundant post.

Initially it’s true that the Sino-Soviet split didn’t really help us much, inasmuch as the Chinese, while breaking with the Soviets, were at that time far more xenophobic and anti-Western than the USSR was at that period. Later, of course, U.S.-Chinese rapprochement (“Nixon going to China” and all that) became a fairly important part of our foreign policy–the PRC wasn’t exactly our ally, but we definitely tried to play the Communist powers off of each other in order to put more pressure on the Soviets, and the U.S. and China cooperated when it suited their interests to do so.

I do remember being suprised (back in the '80’s? the 90’s even?) to find some book in a used book store arguing that the Sino-Soviet split was just a big ploy and part of the Monolithic Communist Master Plan for World Domination (it may even have been by Golitsyn). Of course, there were people who not only argued that Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika were ploys, but went right on arguing that the total collapse of Soviet communism and the USSR itself were ploys. There may still be someone out there arguing that right now.

As far as the foreign policy establishment goes, even among fairly hawkish anti-communists (like Nixon), they did seek to take advantage of the break up of World Communism’s monolith. The big mistakes weren’t in viewing the USSR plus full-on satellite states (Eastern Europe) as a monolith, which was a pretty good approximation of the truth; or in denying the obvious splits (Tito; the Sino-Soviet split), which were widely discussed in the West and eventually taken advantage of. The big mistakes, if mistakes they were, was arguably in viewing Ho Chi Minh and probably Castro through the “Soviet Empire” lens when maybe we could have, if not gotten them on our side, at least made them neutral (a la Tito). It’s also possible we couldn’t have done any such thing, and at any rate, if those were mistakes, however tragic and consequential they may have been, they weren’t completely insane mistakes to make, in light of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the genuinely imperial nature of the USSR, Eastern Europe, and Mongolia.

Romania was a weird case; after the '60’s it definitely distanced itself from Soviet leadership, but was if anything even more repressive internally than the rest of the Soviet Bloc, and never made a complete break the way Yugoslavia or Albania did. I also recall debates in the American press about the extent to which we were cozying up to the “maverick” (but also loathesome) Ceausescu regime, so again, we didn’t always just blindly assume “Eastern Europe = monolith”–but NOT assuming “Eastern Europe = monolith” raised moral issues of its own.

Thanks for additional info, MEBuckner. I know a good deal about it all, but I remember the beakup of the Berlin Wall when I was in the single-digits, so the Cold War era is really before my time, so many things are bit esoteric for my memory.

So in short, we took advantage where we could but there wasn’t much opportunity? Maybe a few dictators could have been turned? In terms of Ho Chi Minh, we would have had to start way back in the 30’s and messed with France, too, right?

I may very well have oversimplified; indeed, the story as I’ve heard it sound oversimplified, but it’s the story I always hear! :smiley:

Anyway, setting aside my diplomatic history professors, here are examples on the Web of the story as I’ve traditionally heard it.

An interview with Gen. Andrew Goodpaster (I’ve cleaned up some of his stammers).

This quote from thehistoryplace.com specifically attributes the “monolith” language to Truman:

The fullest example I found, though, was in *MIlitary History * magazine from Col. Harry Summers:

[quote]
As President Harry S. Truman’s June 27, 1950, war message makes evident, the U.S. assumption was that monolithic world communism, directed by Moscow, was behind the North Korean invasion. . . . That belief, later revealed as false, had enormous and far-reaching consequences. Believing that Korea was a diversion and that the main attack would come in Europe, the United States began a major expansion of its NATO forces. . . . As in Korea, the notion that monolithic world communism was behind the struggle [in Vietnam] persisted until almost the very end. The fact that such an assumption was belied by 2,000 years of Sino-Vietnamese hostility was ignored, and it was not until Richard Nixon’s diplomatic initiatives in 1970 that the United States became aware of, and began to exploit, the fissures in that so-called Communist monolith.]/quote]

Interestingly, though, the first quote I found from John Foster Dulles , Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, dealing with “monolithic Communism” discusses it specifically in the context of cracking it.

In sum, I suspect you’re right. The description I gave above, and which I’ve heard repeated so many times, probably is oversimplified.

Well, I would say it helped us at least in the sense that it required the Soviets to post several armored divisions on the Amur River against the Chinese instead of facing us and our NATO allies on the West German border!

I recall one wall-banger bit in Heinlein’s Expanded Universe where he comments on how very fortunate it was the the Soviets and the ChiComs had a falling out. This struck me as akin to commenting on how very fortunate it is that the sun keeps rising every morning.

To be blunt, historians tend to think in pretty abstract terms which inevitably tend to favor their own personal glory. More than a few are rather self-centered and if they can present themselves as seeing obvious options which the “lesser” mortals of the day did not, they will.

Here, of course, there are some who seem to think we had some miraculous power to affect the Sovs simply because they had some internal conflicts. But as any fool could tell you, just a conflict doesn’t matter. It only helps if you can exploit it. And we imply could not exploit this one. The SovUnion was not some banana republic with a couple thousand half-arsed militiamen. But history and poly sci professors tend to be armchair quarterbacks par excellance when it comes to sagaciously talking about the weaknesses of past generations.

My understanding is that the Sino-Soviet split actually was the result of a pretty petty personal dispute. Stalin was generally recognized as the leader of the Communist world during his lifetime. But when he died in 1953, Mao figured he should now be the unofficial leader of world communsim - he’d been in power for several years, he’d been the head of the Chinese Communist Party for decades, and he ruled the most populous Communist country on Earth. He didn’t see any reason why he should have to defer to some newcomer like Khrushchev, who needed committee approval to run his own country. Khrushchev and the Soviets, on the other hand, had the view that whoever ran the Soviet Union was also automatically in charge of international communism.