Notre Dame historian Ian Ona Johnson received significant recognition this month for his influential research on military history — including an award honoring his first book and a research grant supporting work on his next book.
Johnson, the P.J. Moran Family Assistant Professor of Military History, has won the Society for Military History’s 2022 Distinguished Book Award for best first book, given to a publication from the past three years. His monograph, Faustian Bargain: Secret Soviet-German Military Cooperation in the Interwar Period (Oxford University Press, 2021), shed new light on an often forgotten period between World Wars I and II, when the Russia and Germany partnered on military development and technological innovations that paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s invasions across Europe.
For his book, Johnson uncovered records in 23 archives across Russia, Germany, Poland, England, and the U.S. that proved the alliance and how critical their clandestine cooperation was in bringing about World War II. Foreign Affairs described Faustian Bargain as “fascinating,” while the Wall Street Journal wrote that it was “consistently interesting,” and its revelations on the scope of Soviet-German cooperation were “chilling.”
“Winning the Distinguished Book Award from the Society for Military History is a tremendous honor,” Johnson said, “and I’m deeply grateful to the prize committee for their consideration.”
Johnson’s next book, tentatively titled Armies of Peace: The United Nations, NATO, and the Korean War, seeks to break ground on another overlooked area of military history — unsuccessful attempts to build an international military force between World War II and the Korean War, which eventually led to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And he’ll do so with significant support from the Truman Library Institute, which this month honored him with the 2022 Scholar’s Award.
“The Truman Library Institute’s Grants Committee was very impressed with Dr. Johnson’s project,” said Kari Frederickson, a professor of history at the University of Alabama and chair of the committee. “From a very competitive field of entries, Ian Ona Johnson stood out as a ‘leading young historian of his generation,’ and we are thrilled to support the completion of what will certainly be an essential addition to our understanding of conflict, peace and Truman-era Cold War policies.”
“No historian has really explored the military history of collective security over this period — which is a major oversight, given that this idea was all about war and peace. Understanding these failures tells us much about the past, but it also offers a powerful set of analogies to present-day policymakers as they seek to adapt the U.N., NATO, and other international institutions to a growing list of supranational challenges.”
Johnson’s research will detail how, in an effort to avert further global war, Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman both sought to achieve collective security through consolidated military power. They envisioned countries pooling resources to create an international armed forces that would be controlled by the United Nations Security Council and dispatched to quell conflicts around the world.
While that concept eventually fizzled, the United Nations did later establish a multinational military force in response to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s invasion of the Republic of Korea in 1950. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur was named U.N. commander in chief, but those forces were largely unsuccessful in their operations, U.N. decision-making was slow and rife with disagreement, and the presence of international forces ultimately complicated the negotiations to end the war.
Johnson, who is a faculty fellow of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, has already gathered more than 16,000 pages of documents for his book, and the Truman Library Institute grant will support further research in the U.S., Europe, and East Asia. The book, under contract with Oxford University Press, is expected to be released in 2024.
These repeated attempts to achieve global peace through an international military force are largely unknown, Johnson said, even though they led to a foreign policy strategy focused on regional alliances and the creation of NATO. As a result, he said, the popular understanding of America’s relationship to the rest of the 20th-century world is flawed.
“No historian has really explored the military history of collective security over this period — which is a major oversight, given that this idea was all about war and peace,” he said. “Understanding these failures tells us much about the past, but it also offers a powerful set of analogies to present-day policymakers as they seek to adapt the U.N., NATO, and other international institutions to a growing list of supranational challenges.”