Griffin on Nichter, 'Richard Nixon and Europe: The Reshaping of the Postwar Atlantic World'

Luke A. Nichter
Benjamin Griffin

Luke A. Nichter. Richard Nixon and Europe: The Reshaping of the Postwar Atlantic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 258 pp. $108.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-107-09458-1.

Reviewed by Benjamin Griffin (United States Military Academy) Published on H-War (July, 2019) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version:

Most histories on Richard Nixon’s foreign policy focus on three main issues: the war in Vietnam, the establishment of relations with China, and détente with the Soviet Union. Transatlantic relations between the United States and Europe tend to receive little attention. Given the magnitude of Vietnam, China, and détente, it is understandable they receive the bulk of historians’ focus; however, this leaves a void in understanding how some of the United States’ most important diplomatic relationships evolved during the administration. Luke A. Nichter’s Richard Nixon and Europe: The Reshaping of the Postwar Atlantic World ably fills this gap in the historiography. Nichter identifies four primary objectives of Nixon in Europe: reinvigoration of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the US departure from Bretton Woods, engagement during the “Year of Europe,” and advocacy for Britain’s membership in the European Community. These four initiatives proceed in largely chronological order, and Nichter’s account proceeds linearly, using the events to trace the waxing and waning of transatlantic relations. Overall, Richard Nixon in Europe views the administration’s efforts as successful, in spite of numerous unforced errors by Nixon and his advisors.

As NATO neared its twentieth anniversary in 1969, it appeared imperiled. The 1966 decision of Charles de Gaulle to remove France from the alliance’s unified command and the expulsion of US forces from France suggested deep rifts in the alliance and an uncertain future. Nichter shows how revitalizing the alliance became an early priority of Nixon. The decision by the administration to use NATO resources to better understand how the “social problems facing advanced societies were self-inflicted” and to identify fixes helped foster cooperation (p. 17). Richard Nixon in Europe argues that initiatives like the Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society helped shift the focus of NATO from collective defense to collective security, breathing new life into the body. The book raises interesting questions about Nixon’s approach but could have done more to define “social problems” and to provide greater context to how the alliance viewed and reacted to the global societal upheavals of 1968. In particular, a deeper examination of whether Nixon explicitly viewed the unrest of 1968 as a negotiating point to advocate for greater transatlantic unity would have been useful.

Nichter’s previous books (The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 [2014] and The Nixon Tapes: 1973 [2015], both with Douglas Brinkley) provide transcriptions of Nixon’s White House recordings, and he maintains a website ( that makes transcripts of the tapes publicly available. These tapes play an essential role in Nichter’s narrative in Richard Nixon in Europe, particularly in chapters devoted to the decision to end the Bretton Woods economic order. The presentation of meetings between Nixon and his closest economic advisors are invaluable to understanding the pressures facing the administration and the acrimony between the US and European allies resulting from the closing of the gold window. Nichter praises the decision as “bold” but argues that the protectionist decisions afterward were needlessly antagonistic and counterproductive. He demonstrates that domestic concerns overrode foreign policy priorities and economic judgment as Nixon focused on his 1972 reelection campaign. As the negotiations following the exit unfolded, Nixon advisor John Connally even ominously asked in his diary if “there was anything [Nixon] would not do to further his reelection” (p. 87). The use of the tapes provides excellent insight, but they are often introduced with minimal context as to the participants involved and issues under discussion. Readers will need significant familiarity with the personalities around Nixon and the intricacies of the Bretton Woods system to get full utility from these chapters.

Chapters centered on the “Year of Europe” depict the challenges the Nixon administration faced in repairing transatlantic relations following the economic upheaval of 1971. Nichter shows how miscommunication, outside events like the Christmas bombings in Vietnam and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and domestic European changes that saw new heads of state in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany all undermined Nixon’s efforts and left transatlantic relations at a low ebb. The look at European domestic politics is valuable as it shows the complexity of balancing domestic and foreign concerns for both parties. However, Nichter could have provided greater context for how events external to the continent shaped transatlantic relations. While Nichter briefly mentions Nixon’s intent to use the “Year of Europe” as a way to reassure European governments over the détente fueled cooperation between the US and the USSR, the superpowered thaw receives only a cursory mention. A greater examination of European fears and responses to major changes in US policy toward both the USSR and China would have provided greater context for how they responded to Nixon’s overtures. While the focus and intent of the book is on US-European relations, it occasionally treats the relationship as existing in a vacuum.

The two chapters concerning the membership of the United Kingdom in the European Community have significant contemporary relevance. Though published before the Brexit referendum of 2016, Richard Nixon in Europe’s focus on the 1970s campaigns over the continued participation of the United Kingdom in the European Community bears a strong resemblance to the current debate. Nichter shows that the question of “who governs Britain?” was central to the campaign and led to the significant turmoil within both the Labor and Conservative parties (p. 167). The echoes between the debates in the early 1970s and the present-day make for interesting reading.

Nichter’s research is extensive. In addition to the Nixon tapes, he draws on numerous foreign archives and personal accounts. The book is also extensively footnoted, making it an exceptional tool for future researchers to expand on his conclusions. While the relatively narrow focus will limit its readership, Richard Nixon in Europe is an excellent reference for historians of transatlantic relations, the European Community, and macroeconomics in the twentieth century. It also adds greater nuance to the understanding of Nixon, showing both the boldness of his foreign policy and the deep insecurity of his character. The unique geographic focus of the book makes it a good read for those wanting to further investigate Nixon and his administration.

Citation: Benjamin Griffin. Review of Nichter, Luke A., Richard Nixon and Europe: The Reshaping of the Postwar Atlantic World. H-War, H-Net Reviews. July, 2019. URL:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

A Review from H-CivWar. crossposted here re: the importance of economic consideration not only in the history of warfare but having shaped the history of Americans. This particular volume focuses upon how economic opportunity from the Civil War affected Union efforts and were known to fall more heavily upon disadvantaged members of American society at that mid 19th Century period than those who knew better circumstances. This pattern certainly highlights

not only more recent 20th Century history but relates to those decisions which this Nixon focus upon Europe post-Vietnam, presented
both challenges and concerns.
Zibro on Marvel, 'Lincoln's Mercenaries: Economic Motivation among Union Soldiers during the Civil War'
William Marvel
Jim Zibro
William Marvel. Lincoln's Mercenaries: Economic Motivation among Union Soldiers during the Civil War. Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War Series. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2018. 352 pp. $48.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-6952-0.
Reviewed by Jim Zibro (The Catholic University of America) Published on H-CivWar (May, 2019) Commissioned by Madeleine Forrest (Randolph-Macon College)
Printable Version:
“A rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” was a common refrain during the Civil War. An often quoted and indeed clichéd statement, it was used throughout the sectional conflict, especially following the Conscription Act. A recent generation of historians have dismissed it as inaccurate, claiming that Union soldiers were highly ideological and that the poor did not bear the greater military burden. William Marvel disagrees. In Lincoln’s Mercenaries: Economic Motivation among Union Soldiers during the Civil War, Marvel challenges the scholarly consensus and convincingly argues that the majority of men who voluntarily donned blue and fought for Abraham Lincoln did so not out of ideological commitment but out of economic necessity. Using statistical data, Marvel constructs an economic study of Civil War soldiers and asserts that for most volunteers, economic condition was a, if not the, determining factor in enlistment motivation. Marvel’s study is insightful and sophisticated, and it makes an important contribution to the study of Civil War soldiers.
Scholarship on Civil War soldiers has flourished during the past thirty years. The most notable works attribute enlistment motivation to ideology, namely, duty, honor, and patriotism. Most historians only treat economics as a motivating factor when addressing enlistment in the post-1862 years, when large bounties make such incentives hard for scholars to ignore. Marvel has always been skeptical of these conclusions. Many of the studies on Civil War soldiers rely heavily on qualitative sources and note that few soldiers mention finances as a reason for enlistment in their correspondence. Marvel contends this should not be surprising. To do so would have violated Victorian mores and “evoked a decidedly unflattering image” or made soldiers “an object of contempt” (p. 134). Marvel claims this has resulted in an inadequate treatment of the economic status of Union volunteers. According to Marvel, “economic incentive is the most conspicuously overlooked major factor in the search for enlistment motive among Union soldiers” (p. 11).
Marvel constructed his study using mostly statistical evidence. He gathered income data from the 1860 Census—now available on the University of Minnesota’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS)—and established median wealth for every Northern state. Using median wealth separates the poorer half of the population from the wealthier half and, thus, is more statistically significant than relying on average wealth or subjective wealth thresholds. Marvel then randomly selected ninety-four company rosters from the Northern states, traced every soldier through the census, and was able to “link” 69 percent of subjects, yielding a sample size of 5,881 from which he was able to approximate wealth. Though admittedly flawed, this methodology to date, Marvel contends, is the “best ... measure of the relative economic status of Civil War soldiers” (p. 6). To augment the statistics, he uses correspondence, dairies, and newspaper editorials, which add texture and substance. He organizes the data chronologically, by enlistment term and year, using the seven major Union recruitment and conscription drives. While Marvel’s sample is not large, given that nearly 2.7 million men served in the Union army, it is nevertheless enough to be suggestive—and his findings are quite telling.
The Union army’s “fighting regiments were filled primarily from the ranks of the poor,” Marvel asserts (p. 10). Indeed, over the course of the war, 64 percent of all volunteers fell below the median wealth in their state, serving in a disproportionately higher number than their wealthier countrymen. This trend is present in each of the Union’s recruiting periods and higher in most cases, with the poor comprising 67 percent of the three-year 1862 volunteers, 70 percent or above of the three-month 1861, three-year 1861, and three-year 1863-64 enlistees (p. 25). Only among the one-hundred-day 1864 volunteers did the poor not constitute a majority—ironic since these soldiers are often categorized by scholars as unpatriotic mercenaries. Yet Marvel states this is indicative of a larger trend: “Almost invariably, when men from the upper economic strata composed the majority of any regiment, it was one recruited for a short term” (p. 230). According to Marvel, the wealthy intentionally avoided the arduous, deadly service of three-year enlistments. Therefore, it was not the elite, literate, white-collar volunteers who performed the fighting but the destitute, the unemployed, the downtrodden.
Perhaps the most important part of Marvel’s research is his data on the 1861 enlistees. The “patriots” of 1861, those supposedly driven by duty and honor, were as poor if not poorer than any other soldiers who fought for the Union. Not surprisingly, Marvel attributes the outpouring of enlistees during the first year of the war to the poor condition of the Northern economy. The North faced a severe economic downturn in 1857 and, according to Marvel, had not fully recovered by 1861. Secession compounded ongoing unemployment and commercial stagnation by ushering in consumer boycotts, currency disruption, and a cotton embargo, and Northern workers suffered. A soldier’s wage was said to be steady and included supplemental income from state and local governments. “Even at the seemingly paltry pay of eleven dollars a month,” states Marvel, “military service might have appealed to young men who were barely eating that much anyway” (p. 25). Economic condition was a principal factor for enlistment from the outset.
Marvel’s analysis is thorough but not without flaws. As noted above, Marvel’s sample could have been larger. And although Marvel does mention that soldiers might have possessed multiple reasons for enlisting and that patriotism and mercenary service were not incompatible, he often reduces enlistment motivation solely to economics. As a result, Marvel at times ignores or dismisses ideological rhetoric by stating that such soldiers had “hidden motives” or that the “doctrine of liberty and Union betrayed a more pragmatic attention to their own interests” (p. 149). Criticisms aside, Lincoln’s Mercenaries is a very important book. It fills a gaping void in the literature and challenges previously held assumptions about Civil War soldiers. “The war did, indeed, begin as a poor man’s fight,” states Marvel, and “it would remain one to the bitter end” (p. 44).
Citation: Jim Zibro. Review of Marvel, William, Lincoln's Mercenaries: Economic Motivation among Union Soldiers during the Civil War. H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews. May, 2019. URL:

One of the most significant decisions and meaningful histories came directly from the Nixon decision to remove the US from the gold standard and free up the American economy for its then future growth and success which has even today remade economics in American history.

By his focus upon Britain and its then debates over Europe, Nixon demonstrated both the importance of Britain as an European power and nation and the foreign relation of the US and Europe as meaningful to success globally and against a determined Communist enemy, Soviet Russia during this period.

Thanks for the cross-posted review, Wyatt. The economic motivation of some Northern troops recalled for me stories I was told by my late father. As a very young boy in the early 1920s he spent summers on farms owned by members of his extended family, to include several elderly men (a long-lived bunch they were!) who had fought in the Civil War. Their favorite song from long ago was "The Union forever, hurrah boys, hurrah!" These young men serving in the Illinois regiments cared not a whit for ending slavery, but they were farmers and really needed the Mississippi River open to get their crops to market. They enlisted to fight for preservation of the Union, the only thing that made economic sense.

Wyatt is surely correct about this crucial economic decision on the part of Richard Nixon. I reviewed this book for the Journal of Military History not long ago, and reading it I was struck by Nixon's tactical approach to implementing the (unfortunately-titled) "New Economic Policy" -- abandonment of the Bretton Woods Framework -- in the face of European opposition. While neither the President nor his "eminence grise," Henry Kissinger, had much understanding of global economics, what Nixon did understand was politics, and his use of the Fed Chairman, Arthur Burns, and Treasury Secretary John Connolly as "good cop, bad cop" to get the Europeans on board was masterful.