Students in field

History Professor William Knoblauch releases first book

May 23, 2017

Nuclear Freeze in a Cold War touches on topics relevant in 2017

Finlandia University Assistant Professor of History Dr. William Knoblauch has released his first book, Nuclear Freeze in a Cold War: The Reagan Administration, Cultural Activism, and the End of the Arms Race.

Nuclear Freeze in a Cold War“Academics publish books all the time, and we don’t always see them gain traction publicly,” Dr. Knoblauch said. “This book has so far been different. People are already starting to talk about it, which is rare for historians.”

The book has struck a nerve for many as it compares politics of the 1980s to today’s political climate. Dr. John Carl Baker, a political engagement strategist for the antinuclear group Ploughshares Fund, cited Dr. Knoblauch’s book in an article titled Arms control in the age of Trump: Lessons from the nuclear freeze movement. This summer Dr. Knoblauch is using the book in his class, and he said several other professors across the United States are adopting it as well.

“One of the benefits of having a book that’s only 130 pages is that undergrads can easily read and digest this in the midst of a semester,” he said. The book is also meant for those outside of the world of academia. “People who are just casual readers of history will enjoy this book. They will see a lot of parallels to today, which will help inform their outlook on politics and foreign policy.”

Nuclear Freeze in a Cold War

The publisher, University of Massachusetts Press, provides the following description of the book.

The early 1980s were a tense time. The nuclear arms race was escalating, Reagan administration officials bragged about winning a nuclear war, and superpower diplomatic relations were at a new low. Nuclear war was a real possibility and antinuclear activism surged. By 1982 the Nuclear Freeze campaign had become the largest peace movement in American history. In support, celebrities, authors, publishers, and filmmakers saturated popular culture with critiques of Reagan’s arms buildup, which threatened to turn public opinion against the president.

Alarmed, the Reagan administration worked to co-opt the rhetoric of the nuclear freeze and contain antinuclear activism. Recently declassified White House memoranda reveal a concerted campaign to defeat activists’ efforts. In this book, William M. Knoblauch examines these new sources, as well as the influence of notable personalities like Carl Sagan and popular culture such as the film The Day After, to demonstrate how cultural activism ultimately influenced the administration’s shift in rhetoric and, in time, its stance on the arms race.

William Knoblauch

Dr. William Knoblauch

The book has been met with some positive peer reviews thus far. “The Cold War’s fast pivot from escalation to resolution in the 1980s remains one of its mysteries. In an original analysis, William Knoblauch shows how antinuclear activists pushed the Reagan administration to adopt deescalatory rhetoric and policies, with transformative consequences. Smart and compelling, this book offers novel insight into the battle of ideas that unmade the Cold War order in the 1980s,” said Dr. Daniel J. Sargent, Assistant Professor of History at the University of California Berkeley.

History as a Force for Positive Change

Dr. Knoblauch has been a professor at Finlandia University since graduating with his Ph.D. from Ohio University in 2012. This book is the first of two he is releasing in 2017, with the other being an edited collection entitled Routledge History of World Peace since 1750 along with co-editors Dr. Christian Peterson and Dr. Michael Loadenthal.

“This is a great reminder for people of the primary purpose of historians,” he said. “We create and share information and knowledge. I hear a lot of rhetoric questioning why we’re spending money on history when we know the basic results of history. That’s a near-sided view. History is a process. We’re creating new ideas all the time, and this book is adding to a debate and discussion that is going on. I’m happy to enter that conversation and provide historical context to it.”

Nuclear Freeze in a Cold War can be picked up at North Wind Books in Hancock, purchased online through North Wind Books at bookstore.finlandia.edu, purchased through the book’s publisher, University of Massachusetts Press and will be available at Maki Library beginning June 9.

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