Four phrases associated with the Cold War

By Joan Hennessy
Four phrases associated with the Cold War

       During a press conference April 7, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said that if one country became communist, others could follow. He described this as the falling domino principle.

       Over time, this view became known as the domino theory. Six decades later, with Ukraine in the balance and the Russian flag flying over Crimea, some Americans fear they are reliving history.
       In a recent Gallup survey, 50 percent of respondents said the U.S. and Russia are headed toward another Cold War. Gallup asked the same question in 1991 (as the Cold War was winding down), and 64 percent of respondents did not think old tensions would return.       
      But the context of Eisenhower's remarks differed significantly. Here, in brief, is the story behind four terms that entered into the American vernacular during the Cold War.

      The "Domino" principle

      On March 1, 1954, a full month before Eisenhower's famous press conference, the United States conducted  "its largest ever nuclear weapons test," Operation Castle, recounts the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization. Radioactive fallout from the blast at the Bikini Atoll on the Marshall Islands drifted more than 6,835 square miles and affected inhabited atolls, according the organization's site. Additionally, 23 fishermen aboard a Japanese vessel suffered radiation poisoning. One died.
      On April 1, 1954, The New York Times ran a story with the headline: "VAST POWER BARED; March 1 Explosion Was Equivalent to Millions of Tons of TNT."
      So it is no surprise that Eisenhower's April 7 press conference began with a question about whether the U.S. would build "bigger and bigger" H-bombs, according to a transcript published by The American Presidency Project.
      Later, Eisenhower took this question from Robert Richards of Copley Press:
      "Mr. President, would you mind commenting on the strategic importance of Indochina to the free world? I think there has been, across the country, some lack of understanding on just what it means to us."     
      Eisenhower responded: "You have, of course, both the specific and the general when you talk about such things. First of all, you have the specific value of a locality in its production of materials that the world needs.
      "Then you have the possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world. Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the 'falling domino' principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.
     "Now, with respect to the first one, two of the items from this particular area that the world uses are tin and tungsten. They are very important. There are others, of course, the rubber plantations and so on.
     "Then with respect to more people passing under this domination, Asia, after all, has already lost some 450 million of its peoples to the communist dictatorship, and we simply can't afford greater losses.
     "But when we come to the possible sequence of events, the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following, now you begin to talk about areas that not only multiply the disadvantages that you would suffer through loss of materials, sources of materials, but now you are talking really about millions and millions and millions of people.
     "Finally, the geographical position achieved thereby does many things. It turns the so-called island defensive chain of Japan, Formosa, of the Philippines and to the southward; it moves in to threaten Australia and New Zealand.
     "It takes away, in its economic aspects, that region that Japan must have as a trading area or Japan, in turn, will have only one place in the world to go--that is, toward the communist areas in order to live.
     "So, the possible consequences of the loss are just incalculable to the free world."

      The Cold War

      Other terms also trickled into the American vocabulary during the post World War II period. One of them, “cold war,” is specifically defined in The American Heritage Dictionary as “a state of political tension and military rivalry between nations that stops short of full scale war, especially that which existed between the United States and Soviet Union following World War II.”
      The late Bernard Baruch, a presidential adviser, is credited as originator of the term during a speech April 16, 1947. Addressing the South Carolina Legislature during the unveiling of his portrait, Baruch said, "Let us not be deceived -- we are today in the midst of a cold war."
      He knew too. The year before, he had given a speech at a United Nations meeting in New York, during which he presented the U.S. plan for control of atomic energy. The Soviet Union vetoed the plan.
      "The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations" (Oxford University Press, 1980) notes Baruch acknowledged that the phrase "cold war" was suggested by H.B. Swope, former editor of the New York World. In the book, “Lend Me Your Ears, Great Speeches in History” (W.W. Norton & Co., 1992), William Safire also wrote that Baruch had credited Swope, three-time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and editor, with coining the phrase.
      In "Safire's Political Dictionary" (Oxford University Press, 2008) the author pointed out that Swope once wrote that he “may have been subconsciously affected by the term cold pogrom, which was used to describe the attitude of the Nazis toward the Jews in the middle ‘30s.”
      The term Cold War immediately caught fire and was used in newspapers and magazines to describe U.S.-Soviet relations.

 The Iron Curtain

      The Iron Curtain referred to a military and ideological barrier that separated the Soviet bloc and Western Europe from 1945 through 1990. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill used the term during a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., on March 5, 1946.
      "I have a strong admiration and regard for the valiant Russian people and for my wartime comrade, Marshal Stalin," Churchill said. "There is deep sympathy and goodwill in Britain -- and I doubt not here also -- toward the peoples of all the Russias and a resolve to persevere through many differences and rebuffs in establishing lasting friendships.
      "It is my duty, however, to place before you certain facts about the present position in Europe. From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow. The safety of the world, ladies and gentlemen, requires a unity in Europe, from which no nation should be permanently outcast."


     When George F. Kennan died at 101 years old in 2005, The New York Times wrote that he did “more than any other envoy of his generation to shape United States policy during the cold war.”
     The concept of containment -- confronting communism with diplomacy, politics and covert action, everything short of war, in other words -- is traced to a telegram written by Kennan, an American diplomat.
     "Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigorous application of counterforce," he wrote, adding, “It must be borne in mind that there was a time when the Communist Party represented far more of a minority in the sphere of Russian national life than Soviet power today represents in the world community.”
      His memo compared the Soviet Union to a star that appears bright, but has already burned out.
      “To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation,” Kennan wrote.


    Read a longer excerpt of Churchill's speech on Fordham University's website.

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