from The Water's Edge

The History of the Cold War in 40 Quotes

Churchill and Truman

November 7, 2014

Churchill and Truman
Blog Post
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On Monday, I posted my nominees for ten Cold War histories worth reading. But many people don’t have the time or patience to plow through comprehensive histories. So for TWE readers looking to save time, here is a short course on the history of the Cold War using forty of the most memorable quotations from that era.

  • “I can deal with Stalin. He is honest, but smart as hell.”—President Harry Truman, diary entry, July 17, 1945.
  • In summary, we have here [in the Soviet Union] a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with US there can be no permanent modus vivendi that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure. This political force has complete power of disposition over energies of one of world’s greatest peoples and resources of world’s richest national territory, and is borne along by deep and powerful currents of Russian nationalism.”—George Kennan, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Moscow in an official cable to the U.S. State Department (“The Long Telegram”), February 22, 1946.
  • “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”—Winston Churchill, address at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946.
  • “I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way. I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes. ”—President Harry Truman, speech to a joint session of Congress, announcing what becomes known as the Truman Doctrine, March 12, 1947.
  • “The United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.” —Secretary of State George C. Marshall, commencement address at Harvard University that unveils the Marshall Plan, June 5, 1947.
  • “The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.”—“X” (George Kennan), Foreign Affairs, July 1, 1947.
  • “The defensive perimeter [of the United States in East Asia] runs along the Aleutians to Japan and then goes to the Ryukyus.”—Dean Acheson, speech to the National Press Club that leaves South Korea outside the U.S. defense perimeter, January 12, 1950.
  • "While I cannot take the time to name all the men in the State Department who have been named as members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205."—Sen. Joseph McCarthy, speech at the Women’s Republican Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, February 9, 1950.
  • “The whole success of the proposed program hangs ultimately on recognition by this Government, the American people, and all free peoples, that the cold war is in fact a real war in which the survival of the free world is at stake.”—NSC-68, April 7 (or 14), 1950.
  • "If we let Korea down, the Soviet[s] will keep right on going and swallow up one [place] after another.”— President Harry Truman, remarks at his first meeting with his advisors after learning that North Korea had invaded South Korea, June 25, 1950.
  • “Mr. Stevenson has a degree alright–a PhD from the Acheson College of Cowardly Communist Containment.”—Vice President Richard Nixon, attacking the Democratic presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson, during the 1952 election.
  • “It will begin with its President taking a simple, firm resolution. The resolution will be: To forego the diversions of politics and to concentrate on the job of ending the Korean war–until that job is honorably done. That job requires a personal trip to Korea. I shall make that trip. Only in that way could I learn how best to serve the American people in the cause of peace. I shall go to Korea.”—Republican presidential nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower laying out his plan for ending the Korean War, October 25, 1952.
  • “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness….Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?"—Lawyer Joseph Welch defending one of his colleagues against an attack from Sen. Joseph McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings, June 9, 1954.
  • “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.”—President Dwight D. Eisenhower, press conference, April 7, 1954.
  • “If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations and don’t invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.”—Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, November 18, 1956.
  • "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."—President Dwight D. Eisenhower, farewell address, January 17, 1961.
  • “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”—President John F. Kennedy, inaugural address, January 20, 1961.
  • “Nobody intends to put up a wall!”—East German Premier Walter Ubricht, June 15, 1961, less than two months before construction of the Berlin Wall begins.
  • “This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet Military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.”—President John F. Kennedy, address to the nation on the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 22, 1962
  • “We’re eyeball to eyeball…and I think the other fellow just blinked.”—Secretary of State Dean Rusk to National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy upon learning that Soviet ships headed toward Cuba had stopped dead in the water, October 24, 1962.
  • “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, Ich bin ein Berliner.”—President John F. Kennedy, speech to the people of West Berlin, June 26, 1963.
  • “I believe this resolution to be a historic mistake. I believe that within the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to mistake such a historic mistake.”—Sen. Wayne Morse (D-OR) on the Senate’s impending vote to adopt the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, August 7, 1964.
  • “We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”—President Lyndon Johnson, speech at Akron University, October 21, 1964.
  • “We do this in order to slow down aggression. We do this to increase the confidence of the brave people of South Vietnam who have bravely born this brutal battle for so many years with so many casualties. And we do this to convince the leaders of North Vietnam—and all who seek to share their conquest—of a simple fact: We will not be defeated. We will not grow tired. We will not withdraw either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement.”—President Lyndon Johnson, address to the nation on U.S. war aims in Vietnam, April 7, 1965.
  • “Declare the United States the winner and begin de-escalation.’’—Sen. George Aiken (R-VT) offering advice to President Lyndon Johnson on how to handle the politics of reducing the U.S. commitment in Vietnam, October 19, 1966.
  • “But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”—Walter Cronkite, CBS Evening News, February 27, 1968.
  • “Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”—President Lyndon Johnson, address to the nation, March 31, 1968.
  • “And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support.”—President Richard Nixon, address to the nation asking for support for his Vietnam policy, November 3, 1969.
  • “It is in that spirit, the spirit of ’76, that I ask you to rise and join me in a toast to Chairman Mao, to Premier Chou, to the people of our two countries, and to the hope of our children that peace and harmony can be the legacy of our generation to theirs.”—President Richard Nixon, toast on his visit to China, February 25, 1972.
  • “From secrecy and deception in high places; come home, America. From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation; come home, America. From the entrenchment of special privileges in tax favoritism; from the waste of idle lands to the joy of useful labor; from the prejudice based on race and sex; from the loneliness of the aging poor and the despair of the neglected sick — come home, America.”—Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, July 14, 1972.
  • “During the day on Monday, Washington time, the airport at Saigon came under persistent rocket as well as artillery fire and was effectively closed. The military situation in the area deteriorated rapidly. I therefore ordered the evacuation of all American personnel remaining in South Vietnam.”—President Gerald Ford’s statement following evacuation of United States personnel from the Republic of Vietnam announcing the Fall of Saigon, April 29, 1975.
  • “Under Lenin, the Soviet Union was like a religious revival, under Stalin like a prison, under Khrushchev like a circus, and under Brezhnev like the US Post Office.” —National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski at a cabinet meeting, as recorded in President Jimmy Carter’s diary, November 7, 1977.
  • “My opinion of the Russians has changed most drastically in the last week than even (sic) the two-and-a-half years before that. It’s only now dawning upon the world the magnitude of the action that the Soviets undertook in invading Afghanistan.”—President Jimmy Carter, interview with ABC News, December 31, 1979.
  • “Well, the task I’ve set forth will long outlive our own generation. But together, we too have come through the worst. Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best— a crusade for freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a world in which all people are at last free to determine their own destiny.”—President Ronald Reagan, speech to the British Parliament at Westminster Hall, June 8, 1982.
  • “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?”—President Ronald Reagan, address to the nation on defense and national security that launches the Strategic Defense Initiative, March 23, 1983.
  • “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”—President Ronald Reagan during a microphone test before a radio address, August 11, 1984.
  • “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.”—British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, BBC interview, December 17, 1984.
  • “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”—President Ronald Reagan, speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, June 12, 1987.
  • “The threat of world war is no more.”—Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev on the ending of the Cold War December, 1991.
  • “But the biggest thing that has happened in the world in my life, in our lives, is this: By the grace of God, America won the Cold War.”—President George H.W. Bush, State of the Union address, January 28, 1992.

More on:

United States

Russia

Wars and Conflict

For more suggested resources on the Cold War, check out the other posts in this series:

Ten Cold War Memoirs Worth Reading

Ten Histories of the Cold War Worth Reading

Ten Cold War Novels Worth Reading

Ten Cold War Films Worth Watching

More on:

United States

Russia

Wars and Conflict

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