Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources Cold War

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  • "Security requires both control of the use of force and the elimination of want. No people are secure unless they have the things needed not only to preserve existence, but to make life worth living....
  • "All peoples throughout the world must know that there is an organization where their interests can be considered and where justice and security will be sought for all."
    • Eleanor Roosevelt, Chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, who helped to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.


Setting the Stage[edit]


  • We can't do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of the promises he made at Yalta.
    • A very disappointed President Franklin D. Roosevelt, shortly before his death on April 13, 1945, commenting on the Big Three meeting (Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Marshal Josef Stalin of Soviet Russia).


  • We must stand up to the Russians at this point and not be easy with them.
    • President Harry S Truman, shortly after taking office in April, to Secretary of State James Byrnes.


  • Atomic bombs are meant to frighten those with weak nerves.
    • Soviet Marshal Stalin to his advisors, showing that the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not influence him in any way.


  • [F]rom Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent [of Europe]. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe.... [A]ll these famous cities and populations lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere.
    • Former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri (March 5, 1946).


  • "The Lesson on History"
    • Title of speech by George C. Marshall on appeasement of Germany and Russia.


  • The Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the... vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.... The Russians look forward to a duel of infinite duration.
    • George F. Kennan, architect of the Containment strategy


  • "The Cold War"
    • Title of a book by Walter Lippmann, indicating that this conflict was one in which the main opponents — The USSR supporting Communism and the United States supporting Democracy — were not involved directly in shooting warfare against each other, unlike World War II.

The U.S. Responds to the Threat: The Truman Doctrine[edit]


  • One aspect of the present situation... concerns Greece and Turkey. The United States has received from the Greek government an urgent appeal for financial and economic assistance.... The very existence of the Geek state is today threatened by the terrorist activity of several thousand armed men, lewd by Communists, who defy the government's authority at a number of points....
  • Greece must have assistance if it is to become a self-supporting and self-sustaining democracy. The United States must supply that assistance....
  • 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 outside pressures....
  • [O]ur help should be primarily through economic and financial aid, which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes....
  • If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world — and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.
    • President Harry Truman, The Truman Doctrine, in message to Congress (March 12, 1947).

Berlin Airlift[edit]


  • Early in the morning, when we woke up, the first thing we did was listen to see whether the noise of aircraft engines could be heard. That gave us the certainty that we were not alone, that the whole civilized world took part in the fight for Berlin's freedom.
    • Berlin resident.


  • When we refused to be forced out of Berlin, we demonstrated to the people of Europe that with their cooperation we would act, and act resolutely, when their freedom was threatened.
    • President Truman, remarks on the Berlin Airlift, after the Berlin blockade was lifted by the Soviets in May 1949.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)[edit]


  • [A]n armed attack against one or more of them shall be considered an attack against them all.
    • From the NATO Treaty (April 1949), signed by the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, and Luxembourg.

Korean War (1950-1953)[edit]


  • Mr. President, I have very serious news. The North Koreans have invaded South Korea.
    • Secretary of State Dean Acheson to President Truman (June 24, 1950).


  • Dean, we've got to stop the sons of ------- no matter what.
    • President Truman's response to Secretary of State Acheson


  • [The North Koreans were acting] just as Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese had acted ten, fifteen, and twenty years earlier. If this were allowed to go unchallenged, it would mean a third world war, just as similar incidents had brought on the second world war.
    • President Truman's thoughts after learning of the North Korean attack on South Korea.


  • Korea is the Greece of the Far East. If we are tough enough now, if we stand up to them like we did in Greece three years ago, they won't take any next steps.
    • President Truman, on Korea as a place to help contain the expansion of Communism.


  • While full-scale Chinese Communist intervention in Korea must be regarded as a continuing possibility, a consideration of all known factors leads to the conclusion that baring a Soviet decision for global war, such action is not probable in 1950. During this period, intervention will probably be confined to continued covert assistance to the North Koreans.
    • Assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency on the likelihood of Chinese Communist intervention in the Korean War (October 12, 1950). While the report correctly pointed to the fact that Soviet Russia was behind the war, it was incorrect regarding the Chinese, who sent a 300,000-man army into Korea on October 27.


  • If I allowed him to defy the civil authorities in this manner, I myself would be violating my oath to uphold the Constitution.... I could do nothing else and still be President of the United States.
    • President Truman, after relieving Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his command in Korea in April 1951.

* The Cold War at Home, 1945-1955[edit]


  • [Members of the U.S. State Department] surrendered to every demand of the Soviet Union and promoted, at every opportunity, the communist cause in China.
    • Sen. Robert A. Taft, (R-Ohio)


  • [The Democratic Party is guilty of] twenty years of treason.
    • Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wisconsin), Lincoln Day Speech (February 12, 1950).

President Eisenhower's Cold War Policy (1953-1961)[edit]


  • We cannot build a 20,000 mile Maginot Line or match the Red armies man for man, gun for gun, tank for tank at any particular place their general staff selects.
    • From "A Policy of Boldness," a Life Magazine article by John Foster Dulles (May 1952)


  • If our policy is to stay where we are, we will be driven back. It is only by keeping alive the hope of liberation, by taking advantage of whatever opportunity arises, that we will end this terrible peril which dominates the world.
    • Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

c. 1953

  • Rather than let the Communists nibble us to death all over the world in little wars, we will rely in the future on massive mobile retaliatory powers.*
    • Vice President Richard M. Nixon, on the Eisenhower administration's policy of "Massive Retaliation" to deter enemy attacks.


  • [Nuclear disarmament would] ease the fears of war in the anxious hearts of people everywhere.... It would make [it] possible for every nation, great and small, developed and less developed, to advance the standards of living of its people.
    • President Eisenhower, at the Summit Conference with the leaders of Soviet Russia, France, and Great Britain at Geneva, Switzerland.


  • If the United Nations once admits that international disputes can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the foundation of the organization and our best hope of establishing a world order.
    • President Eisenhower, in calling for a cease-fire in the Middle East (October 1956).**


  • [The United States was] prepared to use force [anywhere in the Middle East against] aggression form any country controlled by international communism.
    • President Eisenhower, statement of the Eisenhower Doctrine (January 1957).


  • We must never let the weight of this combination (of the military and industry) endanger our liberties or democratic process. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
    • President Eisenhower's Farewell Address.

* President Kennedy's Cold War (1961-1963)=[edit]


  • Let the word go forth that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans....
  • In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility. I welcome it....
  • The trumpet summons us again... to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle... against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself....
  • And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: Ask now what America can do for you, but what together what we can do for the freedom of man....
  • 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


  • [The Bay of Pigs invasion made the United States look] like fools to our friends, rascals to our enemies, and incompetents to the rest.
    • American journalist following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the American-aided invasion of Cuba by Cuban opponents of Cuban Communist President Fidel Castro, which failed because the Kennedy administration failed to provide promised air support.


  • [The Soviet buildup in Cuba was] a deliberately provocative and unjustified change in the status quo....
  • It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States.
    • President Kennedy, address to the nation on the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba (October 22, 1962).


  • We're eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow just blinked.
    • Secretary of State Dean Rusk during the Cuban Missile Crisis, after a Soviet ship heading to Cuba turned back before it could be intercepted by American ships enforcing a quarantine around Cuba (October 24, 1962).


  • If we are to open new doorways to peace, if we are to seize this rare opportunity for progress, if we are to be as bold and farsighted in our control of weapons as we have been in their invention, then let us now show all the world on this side of the wall and the other that a strong America also stands for peace.
    • President Kennedy, after the Cuban Missile Crisis


  • It had been, to say the least, an interesting and challenging situation. The two most powerful nations of the world had squared off against each other, each with its finger on the [nuclear] button.
  • Both sides showed that if the desire to avoid war is strong enough, even the most pressing dispute can be solved by compromise....*
  • I'll always remember the late President [Kennedy] with deep respect because, in the final analysis, he showed himself to be sober-minded and determined to avoid war. He didn't let himself to become frightened, nor did he become reckless. He didn't overestimate America's might, and he left himself a way out of the crisis....
  • It was a great victory for us, though, that we had been able to extract from Kennedy a promise that neither America nor any of her allies would invade Cuba.
    • From the Memoirs of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.


  • Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put up a wall to keep our people in....
  • I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality... and the determination of the city of West Berlin.
  • Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.... When all are free, then we can look forward to the day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe.
  • 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 [I am a ] Berliner."
    • President Kennedy, speech at the West Berlin City Hall (June 1963).

Kennedy and Latin America[edit]


  • We know who killed the Alliance: the oligarchic governments of Latin America.... We know who supplied the poison: the bureaucrats and technicians. And we know who would have defended it if anyone had bothered to let them know that it existed and needed defenders: the people.
    • Latin American author Victor Alba, on the failure of Kennedy's Alliance for Progress.

The Vietnam War (1945-1975)[edit]

  • You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.
    • Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh, to his French enemies in Vietnam (c. 1950).
  • You have a row of dominos set up. You knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very quickly.
    • President Eisenhower, press conference remarks explaining the "domino theory" that one country falling to the Communists will lead to other countries falling as well (April 7, 1954).
  • The Americans will never let us down; the free world will not let us down.
    • French commander of 13,000 troops under attack at Dien Bien Phu by 50,000 Vietminh (Communist Vietnamese). The Americans sent no help and the French surrendered on May 7, 1954.
  • If he thinks I'm inexperienced and have no guts, we won't get anywhere with him. So we have to act. [Vietnam] looks like the place.
    • President Kennedy to an aide in April 1961, after the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.
  • In the final analysis it is their war. They are the ones who have to win or lose it.
    • President Kennedy, on the government of South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem, shortly before Diem was overthrown and murdered in early November 1963.
  • If I don't go in now, they'll be all over me in Congress. They won't be talking about my civil rights bill, or education, or beautification. No sir, they'll push Vietnam up my --- every time.
    • President Lyndon B. Johnson, to an adviser, shortly after becoming president (1963).
  • I don't think it's worth fighting for and I don't think we can get out. I don't see that we can ever hope to get out of there once we are committed.
    • President Johnson on Vietnam (May 1964).
  • Congress approves and supports the determination of the President... to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against forces of the United States.
    • From the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed by Congress (August 7, 1964) after two U.S. Navy ships were apparently attacked by North Vietnamese attack craft.
  • The farmer you waved to from your jeep in the day wold be the guy with the gun looking out for you at night.
    • American soldier in Vietnam (1965).
  • The energy and persistence of the Vietcong [Communist guerrillas] are astonishing. They have accepted extraordinary losses and they come back for more. They show skill in their sneak attacks and ferocity when cornered.
    • Presidential adviser McGeorge Bundy, reporting on his observations of combat in Vietnam (1965).
  • We cannot win. I truly have serious doubts that an army of Westerners can successfully fight Orientals in an Asian jungle.
    • Undersecretary of State George Ball, agreeing with Bundy and calling in the Cabinet for American pullout from Vietnam (1965).
  • If I got out of Vietnam, I'd be doing exactly what [Neville] Chamberlain did in World War II. I'd be giving a big fat reward for aggression.
    • President Johnson, remembering the British appeasement policies in the late 1930s in rejecting the advice of Bundy and Ball (1965).
  • The cost of the war's present course far outweighs anything we can reasonably hope to gain by it, for ourselves or for the people of Vietnam. It must be ended, in a peace of brave men who have fought each other with a terrible fury, each believing that he alone was in the right. We have prayed to different gods, and the prayers of neither have been answered fully. Now, while there is still time for some of them to be partly answered, now is the time to stop.
    • Speech by Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-NY), March 18, 1968.
  • This is what is at stake in Vietnam — the credibility of America's support in Southeast Asia, and, indeed, in many other areas in whose security we have a national interest. Remove this credibility and we will indeed be placed in the position of becoming world policemen, or captives in a fortress America. In theory, there may be better places to fight than Vietnam; in fact, we have no alternative.
    • Eugene V. Rostow of the U.S. State Department (1968).
  • I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll slip the word to them that, 'for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communists. We can't restrain him when he's angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button' — and Ho Chi Minh will be in Paris [at the peace talks] in two days begging for peace.
    • President Richard Nixon to his assistant, Robert Haldeman, before unleashing massive air attacks on North Vietnam in December 1972, which led to the cease-fire the next month (1972).

Response at Home to the Vietnam War[edit]

  • I didn't want to believe it at first — people protesting against us when we were putting our lives on the line for our country.... How could they do this to us? Many of us would not be coming back and many others would be wounded or maimed.
    • Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, in his book, Born on the Fourth of July (c. 1967).
  • We have too often been disappointed by the optimism of American leaders, both in Vietnam and in Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds.... To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, the face of evidence, the optimists ho have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory conclusion.
    • CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite, in the CBS Evening News broadcast of February 28, 1968.
  • If I've lost Walter, then it's all over. I've lost Mr. Average American.
    • President Johnson to an aide, after Walter Cronkite of CBS came out against the Vietnam War (1968).
  • Tonight I renew the offer I made in August — to stop the bombardment of North Vietnam. We ask that talks begin promptly, that they be serious talks on the substance of peace....
  • There is division in the American house now.... And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American people and the hope and prospect of peace for all peoples....
  • Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
    • President Johnson (March 31, 1968).
  • I saw these young men in uniforms standing on street corners with their rifles, and I was thinking What is this?
    • Leone Keegan, an 18-year-old freshman at Kent State University in Ohio, after the National Guard was brought in to stop violent protests (1970). Shortly afterward, the Guardsmen fired on rioting students who had been throwing rocks at them, killing four of them.
  • [The shootings at Kent State] should remind us once again that when dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy.
    • President Nixon (1970).

Richard M. Nixon's Foreign Policy (1969-1974)[edit]

  • What we have done is simply opened the door, opened the door for travel, opened the door for trade.
    • President Nixon, after visiting China (July 6, 1972).
  • The only time in the history of the world that we have had any extended period of peace is when there has been a balance of power. It is when one nation becomes infinitely more powerful in relation to its potential competitors that the danger of war arises.
    • President Nixon, explaining why he opened up relations with Communist China in order to balance the growing power of Soviet Russia (1972).

Jimmy Carter's Foreign Policy (1977-1981)[edit]

c. 1977

  • We are deeply concerned.. By the... subtle erosion in the focus and morality of our foreign policy. Under the Nixon-Ford administration, there has evolved a kind of secretive ‘Lone Ranger' foreign policy — a one-man policy of international adventure. This is not an appropriate policy for America.
    • Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan's Foreign Policy (1981-1989)[edit]


  • I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.
    • President Reagan, speech proposing the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which would make it possible for a defender to shoot down incoming nuclear attack missiles.

End of the Cold War[edit]


  • For over 40 years, the United States has led the West in the struggle against communism and the threat it posed to our most precious values. That confrontation is over.
    • President George H. W. Bush


  • Others hoped, at best, for an uneasy cohabitation with the Soviet Union; [Reagan] won the Cold War — not only without firing a shot, but also by inviting enemies out of their fortress and turning them into friends.
    • Lady Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, following the death of President Reagan.


  • I think of someone else other than Reagan, someone less of a hardliner, had been in power then the breakthrough in ending the Cold War would not have happened.
    • Former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, following the death of President Reagan.