COMRADES AT ODDS: The United States and India, 1947-1964

COMRADES AT ODDS: The United States and India, 1947-1964

Robert M. Hathaway

By Andrew J. Rotter. Cornell Univ. Press. 33 7 pp. $55 hardcover, $19.95 paper

Read Time:
2m 3sec

COMRADES AT ODDS: The United States and India, 1947–1964. By Andrew J. Rotter. Cornell Univ. Press. 337 pp. $55 hardcover, $19.95 paper

Since India gained independence in 1947, its relations with the United States have been stormy. The years 1947 to 1964, during which Jawaharlal Nehru led India, were particularly contentious. The strains stemmed from the wars in Korea and Vietnam, U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons, decolonization, rising nationalism (often with anti-American overtones) in Asia and Africa, and New Delhi’s refusal to accept the American view of the Cold War as a Manichaean struggle against evil incarnate. Washington also stirred feelings of anger and betrayal by embracing Pakistan as a Cold War ally and by supplying it with military arms—weapons that New Delhi rightly understood were likely to be used against India, not the Soviet Union. Little wonder that historians addressing Indian-American relations have chosen such titles as Estranged Democracies, The Cold Peace, and now Comrades at Odds.

Rotter, a historian at Colgate University, places these mostly familiar events in a fresh light by concentrating on their cultural contexts. In his thematic approach, each chapter uses case studies to illustrate the differences growing out of a specific cultural construct. Race, religion, gender, class (or caste), and "governance" take their places alongside the more traditional categories of strategy and economics.

For Rotter and other practitioners of the "new" international history, culturally induced perceptions take precedence over political and security issues. Stereotypes, images, and clichés replace power and economics as tools of analysis. Missionaries stand alongside presidents, authors wield more influence than industrialists, travelers rate more attention than generals. In Rotter’s treatment, for example, Katherine Mayo, author of the travelogue Mother India (1927), earns more index citations than U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

Comrades at Odds illustrates both the virtues and the shortcomings of the new history. Rotter offers a subtle reading of heretoforeneglected source materials, and he adds to our understanding of the cultural side of this difficult relationship. But he sometimes must stretch to argue for the importance of cultural factors. One need not understand the differing roles of family in India and the United States, for instance, to fathom why conservative members of the U.S. Congress abhorred Indian socialism. Comrades at Odds provides valuable insights, but it will not supplant the work of more traditional scholars such as Robert McMahon, Dennis Merrill, Dennis Kux, and H. W. Brands.

—Robert M. Hathaway


More From This Issue