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

AuthorLukasik, Sebastian H.
PositionBook review

Berlin on the Brink: The Blockade, the Airlift, and the Early Cold War. By Daniel F. Harrington. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2012. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 414. $40.00. ISBN: 978-0-8131-3613-4

As an iconic event that signaled the final disintegration of the Grand Alliance of the Second World War and the beginning of the decades-long Cold War between the Soviet bloc and the capitalist West, the Berlin Airlift has been the subject of numerous studies, commentaries, and analyses. Virtually all of its key Western participants--from U.S. President Harry Truman, to U.S. Army Gen. Lucius Clay, to USAF Maj. Gen. William Tunner--wrote memoirs that sought to portray their actions and decisions in the best possible light. Historians and political scientists have scrutinized the airlift in detail, emphasizing its stature as the product of calm, rational, dispassionate strategic calculation that allowed Western statesmen and military leaders to harness the inherent flexibility of non-kinetic airpower to the requirements of national policy. Finally, in the popular historical consciousness, the airlift remains an inspirational tale of democratic defiance in the face of authoritarian aggression and belligerence.

With so many interpretations of the airlift already in existence, why another book on the subject? Daniel F. Harrington, deputy historian at United States Strategic Command, makes clear that the established "master narrative" of the Berlin crisis of 1948-1949 rests on a set of problematic foundations. First, he argues, previous accounts have tended to view the airlift in isolation from its broader context: namely, the escalating confrontation between former allies of the Second World War. Second, scholars have been much too enthusiastic in depicting the airlift as the product of deliberate strategic choices. Third, earlier analyses of the crisis provide a highly compartmentalized view of this key historical event, treating high-level diplomatic and policy deliberations in isolation from the operations of the airlift itself and from the realities of daily life in Berlin.

Harrington broadens the analytical aperture through which the events have been traditionally viewed. By tracing the origins of the blockade and the airlift to 1943--when the Allies first began to think seriously about how they would carve up Germany and its capital into zones of occupation and control, and how they would negotiate access...

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