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Review: "Berlin on the Brink: The Blockade, the Airlift, and the Early Cold War"

Updated on August 25, 2017
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson is a graduate student who specializes in the field of Russian and Ukrainian history.

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Synopsis

In historian Daniel Harrington’s book, Berlin on the Brink: The Blockade, the Airlift, and the Early Cold War, the author provides an analysis of the “Berlin Airlift” of 1948-1949, and argues that the crisis represented a pivotal turning point in the escalating Cold War. Serving as a point of contrast to historical accounts that focus on the political resolve and determination exhibited by the United States (as they dealt with the Soviet blockade of Berlin), Harrington’s book argues instead that the airlift was initiated due to the fact that the Americans possessed no other viable option to deal with the Soviet blockade of Berlin. As such, Harrington argues that the airlift served as a political “maneuver” by the United States that aimed to avoid (and hopefully postpone) direct military and diplomatic action against the Soviets.

Main Points

According to Harrington, the political maneuvering of the United States was based primarily around the premise that the Soviets possessed a numerical advantage in troops and weaponry which, in turn, drastically reduced the number of viable options and alternatives available to the American and British forces stationed in West Germany. Even while outgunned, however, Harrington’s work demonstrates that the airlift was a great success for the West. Moreover, as Harrington demonstrates, the real heroes behind the “Berlin Airlift” were not politicians and diplomats; it was the common and ordinary citizens of Berlin and the brave pilots who risked their lives flying countless supply missions back and forth to Berlin.

Conclusion and Personal Thoughts

Harrington relies on numerous primary source materials that include: manuscripts, archival papers, classified documents, War Department records, memoirs from Berliners, oral-history interviews, as well as letters and orders from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to substantiate his claims. While Harrington’s account is well-researched and supported by evidence, a clear problem with his work arises from the lack of Soviet and East-German sources that he incorporates. Moreover, Harrington’s work lacks a straightforward thesis that does not manifest itself until later chapters of his work. Even with these small shortcomings though, this work is crucial for understanding the early dynamics of the Cold War; particularly the first set of political and diplomatic challenges faced by the United States as the Soviet Union began to exert greater authority in world affairs following World War Two.

All in all, I give this work 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in early Cold War history; particularly from a Western perspective. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity!

Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion

1.) What was Harrington's thesis? What are some of the main arguments that the author makes in this work? Is his argument persuasive? Why or why not?

2.) What type of primary source material does Harrington rely on in this book? Does this help or hinder his overall argument?

3.) Does Harrington organize his work in a logical and convincing manner? Why or why not?

4.) What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How could the author have improved the contents of this work?

5.) Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?

6.) What did you like most about this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?

7.) What sort of scholarship is the author building on (or challenging) with this work? Does this book add substantially to existing research and trends within the historical community? Why or why not?

8.) Did you learn anything after reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the author?

Was the Berlin Airlift a political and diplomatic success for the West?

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Works Cited:

Harrington, Daniel. Berlin on the Brink: The Blockade, the Airlift, and the Early Cold War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.

© 2017 Larry Slawson

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