John Lewis Gaddis

American historian of the Cold War (b.1941)

John Lewis Gaddis (born 1941) is an American historian and the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University.

U.S. President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush standing with 2005 National Humanities Medal recipient John Lewis Gaddis on November 10, 2005 in the Oval Office at the White House.


  • No one can be certain where or when the next great earthquake will occur. It is helpful to know, though, that such upheavals take place more frequently in California than in Kansas: that people who live along the San Andreas Fault should configure their houses against seismic shocks, not funnel clouds. Nobody would prudently bet, just yet, on who will play in the 2001 World Series. It seems safe enough to assume, though, that proficiency will determine which teams get there: achieving it, too, is a kind of configuring against contingencies. Not even the most capable war planner can predict where the next war will occur, or what its outcome will be. But is it equally clear that war planning should therefore cease? The point, in all of these instances, is not so much to predict the future as to prepare for it.
    • "History, Theory, and Common Ground", International Security, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Summer, 1997)
  • Learning about the past liberates the learner from oppressions earlier constructions of the past have imposed upon them.
    • The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (2002)
  • The Cold War could have produced a hot war that might have ended human life on the planet. But because the fear of such a war turned out to be greater than all of the differences that separated the United States, the Soviet Union, and their respective allies, there was now reason for hope that it would never take place.
    • The Cold War: A New History (2005)
  • Both the United States and the Soviet Union had been born in revolution. Both embraced ideologies with global aspirations: what worked at home, their leaders assumed, would also do so for the rest of the world.
    • The Cold War: A New History (2005)
  • Stalin's postwar goals were security for himself, his regime, his country, and his ideology, in precisely that order.
    • The Cold War: A New History (2005)

Quotes about Gaddis

  • To judge from what he has to say about the past, he is unlikely to lose sleep over presidential abuses of power in the present or future. Indeed, Gaddis admonishes Americans for placing restrictions on their elected rulers. Describing what he clearly sees as the regrettable overreaction to Watergate and Vietnam in the 1970s, he writes: “The United States Congress was passing laws—always blunt instruments—to constrain the use of United States military and intelligence capabilities. It was as if the nation had become its own worst enemy.” Retrospectively frustrated by such constraints, Gaddis admires the boldness and vision of President George W. Bush. A keen supporter of the recent Iraq war, Gaddis in 2004 even published a guide for the use of American policymakers, showing how preemptive and preventive war making has an honorable place in American history and is to be encouraged—where appropriate—as part of an ongoing project of benevolent interventionism. Thus, while it may seem tempting to dismiss John Lewis Gaddis’s history of the cold war as a naively self-congratulatory account that leaves out much of what makes its subject interesting and of continuing relevance, that would be a mistake. Gaddis’s version is perfectly adapted for contemporary America: an anxious country curiously detached from its own past as well as from the rest of the world and hungry for “a fireside fairytale with a happy ending.” The Cold War: A New History is likely to be widely read in the U.S.: both as history and, in the admiring words of a blurb on the dust jacket, for the “lessons” it can teach us in how to “deal with new threats.” That is a depressing thought.
    • Tony Judt, "Whose Story Is It? The Cold War in Retrospect", New York Review of Books (March 2006)
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