Total Cold War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad by Kenneth Osgood

As the author points out, Ike was remembered primarily for the first off-set strategy, where he attempted to achieve nuclear weapon dominance over the USSR as a cost effective means of deterring Soviet military aggression. This interpretation of history misses the fact that Ike saw the great power competition with the USSR as primarily ideological in character. He didn't think the U.S. and USSR would ever engage in a direct military conflict.

His New Look strategy was based on his views that the Cold War would be an enduring competition, that the U.S. must remain strong economically and militarily, and the brunt of the effort should be focused on beating the Soviets in the political and psychological domains. He saw that the USSR was employing psychological, political, and economic measures designed to weaken and divide Free World opinion to a point that effective opposition to the USSR would no longer be obtainable. Counter intuitively he was the post Stalin era as more threatening, because it was easy to paint Stalin as a villain. Khrushchev's softer rhetoric put the U.S. on the defensive, it would prove more challenging to keep Free Nation alliance united against the persistent threat of Soviet infiltration and subversion that would ultimately posed an existential threat to democracy and freedom. Developing propaganda themes to sustain unity while avoiding over stepping and pushing partners who away who did not want to be manipulated by the U.S. This required the U.S. to conceal its propaganda through various means. It should be noted that the term propaganda in Ike's time just meant information, it did not always have a derogative meanng like it does today.

Ike viewed the Cold War as total war that was waged by all means. In response the entire country must be mobilized to counter it. In his farewell address he urged the American people to prepare for a protracted Cold War. "We face a hostile ideology--global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. It called for us to wage it steadily without complaint, not the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis.

The book went into considerable detail on the various propaganda campaigns (Ike believed everything we did had a propaganda effect, it was propaganda by deed as much as by word) to include the Atoms for Peace, Every American an Ambassador, Facts about the U.S. (to dispel USSR lies); books, leveraging foreign media, covert operations, etc.

The three biggest challenges the U.S. had to contend with during this competition was Sputnik (a huge propaganda victory by the USSR internationally, domestically, and within the U.S.); the Little Rock incident that exposed America's racism; and the nuclear testing debate which undermined the Atoms for Peace narrative. How the U.S. government responded to each of these challenges is interesting to say the least.

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P. W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking

An outstanding overview of how humans and their bots use social media to wage what I call culture wars. My only criticism of the book is that it focused almost extensively on how the alt right and Russia leverages SM to pursue their ends. One of the authors challenged my criticism in another forum arguing that the alt right is the primary player by far in using SM to shape perceptions using inaccurate information. I know they're not the only actors manipulating the truth, but based on some cursory research after that comment, I had to agree that they are clearly the dominate and perhaps the most dangerous actors in this culture war. Regardless of where one stands politically, the authors do an excellent job in describing how social media is weaponized in layman's terms. A must read for any small wars practitioner. This is perhaps on the greatest threats to our nation, and only recently has it been recognized as a threat (divided we fall). The last chapter provides a number of recommendations for mitigating the threat, but in my opinion these recommendations fall short based on the scale of the problem.

Silk Roads, by Peter Frankopan

Parts of this book were very insightful, especially Western (USSR, UK, U.S.) competition for influence in Iran. The ancient history was insightful, but Peter's brief overview of current events in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. fell way short. In sum, he attempts a revisionist review of history by arguing the East was more influential in shaping human history than the West. His case would be compelling if you never studied the history of the West, since he pretty much ignore is and only focuses on the (the Middle East and Central Asia primarily, with a little on China). However, still a good review of history in that part of the world.