books: History Lesson 

Eugene Trani's latest book explores a new slant on U.S.-Soviet relations.

Trani's latest work, "The First Cold War: The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson in U.S.-Soviet Relations," co-authored with Donald Davis, focuses on one of Trani's favorite topics in American history: U.S.-Soviet relations. In the book, Trani develops the innovative theory that the Cold War with Russia didn't begin with Roosevelt in the '40s as is commonly believed. Instead, the same ideology that guided U.S. policy through the Cuban Missile Crisis in the '60s was originally devised and carried out by Wilson in the '20s. And that, according to Trani, is when the Cold War really began.

Style had a chance to sit down with Trani to discuss his book as well as his interests in history.

Style: Writing a history-based book must take a lot of time for research. How did you find time to do this?

Trani: Well, a lot of the research had been done before I went into administration. I spent two full years on sabbatical leaves in the early '70s. I was a research fellow at the Papers of Woodrow Wilson at Princeton University, and then I was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in the Smithsonian. And that's when a lot of the archival research was done. So I had been all over the United States and the U.K. and got very interested in the subject.

When did you bring in the co-author to collaborate on the book?

I had co-written two articles with Donald Davis, and so I knew him and respected him. He had studied Russian history at Indiana University as I was studying American diplomacy. We were walking on Red Square in Moscow one day in 1993, and I asked him if he wanted to become involved in this project. He did, and what Davis did was take on the project of going into the recently opened Russian archives, so that was the last major piece of archival work. And he took a shot at first drafts, and we were back and forth over a five-year period of time, and the collaboration was so successful from my mind and his and the University of Missouri's mind that we've signed a contract to do the next book.

What is that going to be on?

It's the natural extension of this book. It's why for the whole of the 20th century the U.S. has loved China and hated Russia, and what have been the implications of that. And there are literature implications of this and movie implications … I mean from Pearl S. Buck to Greta Garbo to Tom Clancy. There are literary aspects to this as well as major foreign policy aspects to this, and it all hinges around how we look at Russia and how we look at China. I think we look at Russia from Western eyes and China from Chinese eyes, and so we're much more forgiving of the Chinese and much more unforgiving of the Russians.

What is it about history in general that you find so fascinating?

I believe history, not always, but certainly can be a key to understanding where you are today and what you ought to be doing tomorrow. Being a historian and trying to analyze large masses of data and the give and take of people is probably pretty good preparation to being a university president. S


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