Cover of Between Containment and Rollback by Christian F. Ostermann
Between Containment and Rollback
The United States and the Cold War in Germany
Christian F. Ostermann


April 2021
416 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503606784

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In the aftermath of World War II, American diplomats and policymakers turned to the task of rebuilding Europe while keeping Communism at bay, and they confronted a divided Germany. While the United States' interest lay in stabilizing and forming an alliance with West Germany, what happened in the "other Germany" was also a matter of concern. Based on recently declassified documents from American, Russian, and German archives, this book tells the story of U.S. policy toward East Germany from 1945 to 1953. As the American approach shifted between the policy of "containment" and more active "rollback" of Communist power, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations worked to undermine Soviet-backed Communist rule without compromising economic and nation-building interests in West Germany. There was a darker side to American policy in East Germany: covert operations, propaganda, and psychological warfare. This international history draws on previously untapped German and Russian sources, tracking relations between East German and Soviet Communists and providing new perspectives on the role of U.S. foreign policy as Cold War tensions coalesced.

About the author

Christian Ostermann is Director of the History and Public Policy Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, including the Cold War International History Program, the North Korea International Documentation Project, and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project.

"For a quarter century Christian Ostermann has been a leader in the effort to gain access to the archives of former communist countries. Now, employing a vast trove of East German and Russian documents, as well as those from Western governments, he offers us a vivid description and penetrating analysis of the struggle to shape the future of Germany after World War II. The book beautifully illuminates the complex interactions of military occupation officials, policymakers in Moscow, Washington, London, and Paris, and German actors in the eastern and western zones. Everyone interested in the early Cold War should read this volume."

—Mel Leffler, University of Virginia

"Between Containment and Rollback is a model of outstanding historical research and argumentation. It is that rare work of scholarship that truly captures the contingency of events and circumstances leading to the division of Germany, as well as the different perspectives and motives which animated the United States and the Soviet Union. The description of the covert psychological campaign against East Germany illuminates both the potential and the very real limits of American power, with important lessons for contemporary foreign policy. A genuine tour de force!"

—Thomas Schwartz, Vanderbilt University

"Christian Ostermann's engaging work recasts the start of the Cold War showing that the US was far more deeply engaged in East Germany than historians have understood. Ostermann provides a detailed picture of debates about policy toward East Germany within the US government and the ways in which West German influence circumscribed and ultimately softened that policy. Examining deliberations in Washington, Moscow, Berlin and Bonn, while never losing a sense of life on the ground for Eastern Germans, this book offers a compelling international history of early Cold War developments in Germany."

—Hope M. Harrison, George Washington University