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Rodney Kelley
Let History Be The Judge
Let History Be The Judge examines leadership styles during the Asia Cold Wars (1945-1975), focusing on the combatant countries of China, Korea (North and South), Vietnam (North and South), the Soviet Union, France, and the United States. These leaders significantly influenced the course of conflicts, frequently making costly mistakes due to their autocratic leadership style, which stifled alternative viewpoints and hampered comprehensive policy evaluation. These mistakes included failing to understand the complexities of conflicts, ignoring diplomacy, and dismissing opposing views. From a historical perspective, this manuscript contends that alternative strategies such as diplomatic negotiations, peaceful coexistence, or regional cooperation could have avoided protracted conflicts and preserved national interests. The analysis also emphasizes the negative consequences of suppressing dissenting voices within government ranks. Open dialogue and respect for different viewpoints would have allowed for a more thorough examination of policy proposals, resulting in more informed decisions. Leaders' decisions during this period significantly impacted their nations and personal legacies. Aggressive leaders faced public criticism and left legacies marred by war's human and financial costs. On the other hand, leaders who sought peaceful solutions left more laudable and lasting legacies. The book concludes that encouraging open dialogue, listening to dissenting voices, and considering alternative strategies can help leaders make better decisions, resolve conflicts, and leave positive, lasting legacies. This understanding is encapsulated in the 1954 dismissed United States State Department Foreign Service Officer John Paton Davies' adage, Let History Be The Judge, when asked about the value of his dissent, which contradicted official U.S. policies on China with proven facts. The maxim suggests that only time can genuinely appraise past decisions.
Kelley (author of America’s National Treasures) tells the stories of the leaders who shaped the history of Asia in the 20th century. He focuses on dissidents in China (both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China, or Taiwan), the USSR, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as examining the actions and leadership of France and the United States, specifically their involvements in Asian wars. He explores the biographies of these bureaucrats, politicians, and generals and how they impacted millions of lives. Each section begins with a brief description of the context in which these leaders lived—the history and culture which they led—before turning to the official leaders of the country and then examining the role of dissidents within their regime. Kelley covers a vast scope, all with an eye to how dissidents are treated and a crucial what-if: how the world would have shifted if their words had been heeded.

Highlighting the “long term perspective that history affords” is an admirable goal that Kelley attacks with verve, clear and inviting language, and an eye for the telling detail, especially when following the ripple effects that led to political transformations. By focusing so intently on biographies of particular people, Kelley can tell a complex story about international history, with surprising correspondences between different countries and situations, while also emphasizing his subjects’ individual choices and humanity—and a strong sense of the tensions of how power was wielded.

The broad scope of the project, though, and the many countries he covers means that this reads as a sweeping survey rather than the definitive account of any single subject. Photos in the chapter headings of the person being profiled also humanize his subjects, though the nature of many of his sources (Wikipedia, Quizlet) will limit the book’s utility beyond an introduction for interested lay readers. Nevertheless, readers of Asian and 20th century eager to learn more about dissenters and the differences they could have made will feast on this.

Takeaway: Sweeping survey of dissidents in Asian Cold War history.

Comparable Titles: Jian Chen’s Mao's China & the Cold War, Charles R. Kim’sYouth for Nation

Production grades
Cover: C
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-