Kolko, Gabriel 1932-

views updated

KOLKO, Gabriel 1932-

PERSONAL: Born August 17, 1932, in Paterson, NJ; son of Philip (a teacher) and Lillian (a teacher; maiden name, Zadikow) Kolko; married Joyce Manning (a writer), June 11, 1955. Education: Kent State University, B.A., 1954; University of Wisconsin, M.S., 1955; Harvard University, Ph.D. (history), 1962.

ADDRESSES: Home—Wittenburgergracht 53, 1018 MX, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail—kolko@ chello.nl.

CAREER: Historian and educator. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, research associate, Committee on Regional Studies, 1963-64; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, associate professor of history, 1964-68; State University of New York at Buffalo, professor of history, 1968-70; York University, Downsview, Ontario, Canada, professor of history, 1970-92, distinguished research professor, 1986-92, professor emeritus, 1992—.

AWARDS, HONORS: Transportation History Prize from Organization of American Historians, 1963; Social Sciences Research Council fellow, 1963-64; Guggenheim fellow, 1966-67; American Council of Learned Societies fellow, 1971-72; Killam fellow, 1974-75, 1982-84; Royal Society of Canada fellow.


Wealth and Power in America, Praeger (New York, NY), 1962.

The Triumph of Conservatism, Free Press of Glencoe (New York, NY), 1963.

Railroads and Regulation, 1877-1916, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1965.

The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945, Random House (New York, NY), 1969.

The Roots of American Foreign Policy: An Analysis of Power and Purpose, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1969.

(With wife, Joyce Kolko) The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945-54, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.

Main Currents in Modern American History, Harper (New York, NY), 1976.

Confronting the Third World: United States Foreign Policy, 1945-1980, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1985.

Century of War: Politics, Conflicts, and Society since 1914, New Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace, Routledge (New York, NY), 1997.

Another Century of War?, New Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to New Republic, Nation, New York Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, and numerous professional journals.

SIDELIGHTS: Historian Gabriel Kolko adopts a revisionist approach to analyzing American history. In The Triumph of Conservatism and Railroads and Regulation, 1877-1916, he disputes the widely held view that government regulates business, arguing that instead, business steers government. Kolko's later books are primarily concerned with U.S. foreign policy and its repercussions. In the New York Times Book Review, Gaddis Smith commented on The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-45. Despite inconsistencies in the book, Smith lauded it as a definitive text for devotees of World War II foreign policy. "This book is simultaneously original and dogmatic, perceptive and blind, clearly reasoned and clogged by ambiguity and awkward prose. It is also the most important and stimulating discussion of American Foreign Policy during World War II to appear in more than a decade. It cannot be ignored." Smith perceived a "false intellectual security" in Kolko's perception of American society during World War II and believes him "blind to the paramount concern of American leaders" during the same years. Still, he considered The Politics of War "an achievement of such scope and extensive—if one-sided—research that it makes previous revisionism [historical analysis based on socialism which favors evolutionary rather than revolutionary ideologies] appear flimsy indeed."

Anne Golden, in Canadian Forum, wrote that The Politics of War transcends traditional revisionist approaches to history. "It must be stressed that this book is far from another revisionist account of United States foreign policy…. Kolko's thesis goes beyond and attimes contradicts what has come to be the accepted revisionist argument." Golden praised the book as "impressive, … well written, scholarly in approach" and felt it "demonstrates a remarkable ability to marshall a vast array of information into a coherent narrative." Yet, she warned "it must be read with caution." Golden was concerned about Kolko's "oversimplified treatment of Soviet policy" and ultimately "does not believe that Kolko's view of the Cold War as a case of American imperialism will stand the test of time." She concluded, however, that the book is a "positive contribution" to research on the subject.

In a review of The Politics of War for the Nation, Ronald Radosh observed that "as the latest historian to develop a study of World War II from a revisionist standpoint," Kolko "fails to acknowledge any debt to other revisionists." Despite his initial concern, however, Radosh considered Kolko's book "undoubtedly the most searching, thorough and detailed study yet to appear of what has led to our present impasse." Radosh also admired Kolko's "immense achievement" and "clarity."

Radosh also reviewed Kolko's The Roots of American Foreign Policy: An Analysis of Power and Purpose in the Nation. He called the book a "needed corrective to the now popular Millsian view of military dominance" and observed that The Roots of American Foreign Policy and The Politics of War "are among the few truly essential works for those Americans who are seeking to lay the foundations for a humanist socialism in the United States." Richard B. Du Boff in Commonweal noted that The Roots of American Foreign Policy has a "more theoretical analysis" and "goes one step further in examining foreign policy causation" than do other texts. Du Boff maintained that Kolko is "required reading for any student of American foreign policy."

The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945-54 (cowritten by Kolko's wife, Joyce) impressed many critics, including Smith, who commented on the book's merit, explaining, "none can ignore the book's depth of research, wealth of fresh evidence and original interpretations." He called it "one of the most important books on American foreign policy during the Truman presidency yet written," but felt the Kolkos "ignore" certain facts and explanations. Smith said the book is "like a chain of sausage" with each chapter "filled with excellent meat," but cautioned that "the argument connecting the links will not stand all the weight the authors intend." Other critics, such as Bernard D. Nossiter of the Washington Post, were more critical of the book's weaknesses. Nossiter referred to the book as a "barbarous text" and asserted that "the Kolkos commit economic nonsense." He further argued that "the Kolkos have done a disservice to some important questions, to scholarship and to Marx." Nossiter pinpointed inconsistencies in the book's thesis and supporting evidence and concluded that "the only remarkable thing about the Kolkos' book is the attention it has received."

Saul Landau of the Nation called Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience "illuminating" because it places the conflict "in the context of a history that began long before the United States intervened and will continue after Americans have finished refighting the war in print." He called Kolko's book the first serious historical account of Vietnam's Communist Party—its development from the 1931 peasant revolt through Japanese occupation, and their ability to "combine political and military strategy. In this way they became the 'logical unifiers' of the exploited peasantry, which had watched the French destroy its ancient landholding patterns, and of the 'semi-working class' of the plantations, mines and factories." Landau noted that Kolko's analysis is founded on "impeccable scholarship and a wealth of historical data, much of it new." Brian Holden Reid for Progressive commented that the book "remains the definitive scholarly response to the question posed the American public by Lyndon Johnson in 1965—but never satisfactorily answered by any of the war's apologists, even at this late date: 'Why Vietnam?'"

In Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace, Kolko blames Vietnam's Communist Party for turning its back on its own history and embracing "market socialism." He charts Vietnam's post-1975 society, its fall to globalization, and the accompanying destruction of a primarily egalitarian society. John Pilger of the Guardian wrote of the "imposition of the western system of economic class and of brutal divisions … the demise of a proud health system that once held off Third World diseases and kept mothers and babies alive and now ranks with Bangladesh; the privatizing of an education system that produced a literacy rate of 90 per cent and now dances to World Bank/IMF demands for a 'flexible' labour force." Kolko, according to Pilger, insists that Vietnam will be permitted to join the "international community as long as they first create a society based on divisions of wealth and poverty, and exploited labour … the kind of foreign-imposed system they sacrificed so much to get rid of."

In their review of Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace for the Journal of Contemporary Asia, Renato Constantino and Alec Gordon commented, "If any doubts were being entertained about Vietnam's total abandonment of socialism then Kolko's book in its account will utterly dispel them. So far we are in complete agreement. However, when it comes to his analysis of the reasons for that abandonment … I find deficiencies so deep and so great as to no longer permit silence." The reviewers cite specific passages in the book, reveal the faults they find in them, and conclude, "for all its excellence in the descriptive analysis of Vietnam's retreat to capitalism, the book fails to convince on the reasons for the disappearance of Vietnam's socialist path."

In Another Century of War? Kolko blames unstable world peace on the capacity and desire of the United States to "intervene virtually anywhere." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews described the book as "an intelligent, if windy and repetitive, critique of U.S. foreign policy and the pox it has brought upon the American people." "It comes down to reaping what you sow"; added the reviewer, "in this case, political hubris and folly have grown havoc." Kolko believes the world will, indeed, experience another century of war unless, as the reviewer explained, "unilateral military adventurism and skullduggery are replaced by a just, thoughtful political agenda."



American Historical Review, April 1997, review of Century of War: Politics, Conflicts, and Society since 1914, p. 430.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March, 1990, review of Confronting the Third World, p. 42.

Canadian Forum, May, 1969.

Canadian Historical Review, June, 1991, review of Confronting the Third World, p. 229.

Commonweal, February 20, 1970.

Contemporary Southeast Asia, April, 1999, Ramses Amer, review of Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace, p. 146.

Educational Studies, fall, 1995, review of Wealth and Power in America, p. 185.

Guardian (London), May 29, 1997, John Pilger, "Victims of Victory," review of Vietnam, p. 10.

Journal of Contemporary Asia, May, 1998, Renato Constantino and Alec Gordon, review of Vietnam, pp. 254, 256.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of Another Century of War?, p. 1012.

Nation, October 6, 1969; April 12, 1986, Saul Landau, review of Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience, p. 530; November 3, 1997, Nhu T. Le, review of Vietnam, p. 30.

New Republic, April 24, 1971.

New York Times Book Review, April 13, 1969; February 27, 1972.

Political Science Quarterly, winter, 1995, Charles Tilly, review of Century of War, p. 637.

Progressive, March 1989, review of Confronting the Third World, p. 45; February, 1995, Michael Uhl, review of Anatomy of a War, p. 40.

Publishers Weekly, August 5, 2002, "September 11: Recollections and Reflections (Books about World Trade Center, Pentagon attacks)," review of Another Century of War?, p. 63.

Review of Politics, winter, 1996, review of Century of War, p. 199.

Science and Society, fall, 1991, review of The Politics of War, p. 379.

Times Literary Supplement, September 11, 1969.

Washington Post, March 27, 1972.