The President and the Bully

Dwight David Eisenhower was a man of inscrutable contradictions. Our 34th president loved Shakespeare almost as much as he did cowboy novels, and he listened to Beethoven’s “Minuet No. 2” right along with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” At the beginning of his presidency, this avatar of the armed services threatened a nuclear strike against North Korea, although by the end he was sounding alarms about the “disastrous rise” of America’s military-industrial complex. Nowhere were those dueling natures more apparent than in his mercurial and at times mystifying approach to the subject of Senator Joe McCarthy.

While Ike told his family and friends that he detested McCarthy and all that he stood for, he vacillated between strategic retreat and frontal assault, seeming uncertain, for once, about the wisest combat strategy. It wasn’t easy for a professional soldier, much less a venerated five-star general, to wage peace. At times, he tried a middle course of behind-the-scenes obstruction. But during the critical first year of his administration, when the Wisconsin senator was at his reckless worst, President Eisenhower pursued a policy of appeasement that infuriated ­McCarthy haters as much as it delighted the senator himself.

Milton Eisenhower, Dwight’s younger brother and closest confidant, saw up close how McCarthyism and McCarthy bedeviled the commander-in-chief. On the one hand, the president “loathed McCarthy as much as any human being could possibly loathe another, and he didn’t hate many people,” Milton said. On the other hand, his brother knew that hating only had value if acted upon. “I wanted the president, in the strongest possible language, to repudiate him,” said Milton, to “tear McCarthy to pieces.”

Arthur Eisenhower, the oldest sibling and a sober-minded banker, also pushed Little Ike to take on the Wisconsin senator, whom he called “the most dangerous menace to America.” “I think of McCarthy, I automatically think of Hitler,” added Arthur, knowing there was no specter more likely to rouse the former Allied supreme commander to action than that of the Nazi murderer he’d vanquished a decade earlier.

While President Eisenhower listened, he didn’t act. His presidential papers make clear that he was privately fuming at McCarthy, who had vilified his mentor, General George Marshall. But Ike, cautious by instinct and patient by habit, lectured his brothers and his aides that to McCarthy, there was no such thing as bad publicity. Confronting him head-on would just guarantee him more of the spotlight and could make him a martyr. “I developed a practice which, so far as I know, I have never violated,” the president explained in a 1954 letter to a friend. “That practice is to avoid public mention of any name unless it can be done with favorable intent and connotation; reserve all criticism for the private conference; speak only good in public. This is not namby-pamby. It certainly is not Pollyanna-ish. It is just sheer common sense. … The people who want me to stand up and publicly label McCarthy with derogatory titles are the most mistaken people that are dealing with this whole problem, even though in many instances they happen to be my warm friends.”

On another occasion, the warrior-turned-politician confided, “That damn fool Truman created that monster. [McCarthy] didn’t exist until Truman went eyeball-to-eyeball with him. Whenever a president does that with any individual he raises that individual to the president’s level, and Truman was too stupid to understand that.”

So instead, Eisenhower waited, the way he had with D-Day and other great battles during the war in Europe, convinced that McCarthy would do himself in. Ike offered occasional critiques, along with a muted counterpoint to Joe’s raging bravado. “I was raised in a little town of which most of you have never heard. But in the West it is a famous place. It is called Abilene, Kansas,” he said in one of his veiled commentaries, broadcast over national radio and television in November 1953 and, as was his way, not naming the bullying senator. “That town had a code, and I was raised as a boy to prize that code. It was this: Meet anyone face to face with whom you disagree. You could not sneak up on him from behind, or do any damage to him, without suffering the penalty of an outraged citizenry. If you met him face to face and took the same risk he did, you could get away with almost anything, as long as the bullet was in the front.”

Takedowns like that were so veiled that much of America missed Ike’s point, and so tepid that Joe was undeterred. Mainly the president went on with his normal White House routine, while newspapers published so many photographs of Ike swinging golf clubs and casting fishing lines that the public sometimes wondered who was running the government. That uncertainty grew as reporters tried to parse his rambling, garbled answers at press conferences. Was he being rightfully circumspect or was he out of his depth? The verdict at the time was that his was a do-little presidency, a boring and safe aftermath to the wildly eventful Roosevelt and Truman tenures. Ho hum.

Eisenhower outdid Harry Truman in combing the government for security risks and trying to wrest from McCarthy the mantle of top-drawer commie-slayer.

Not so, a lineup of recent Eisenhower biographers tells us. Neither the peace nor the prosperity of the ’50s happened by chance, and the easygoing Ike was doing more than playing golf. His steadying hand was everywhere — ending the Korean War, preserving the New Deal, constructing a nationwide highway network, even taking on Jim Crow segregation by signing, in 1957, the first civil rights law since Reconstruction. The sly presidential fox was misleading Americans on purpose, projecting a grandfatherly calmness that bred public confidence and, not incidentally, helped him outmaneuver adversaries within his own political party. There was no clearer instance of that approach, the president’s defenders say, than his treatment of Senator McCarthy. The seasoned general’s willful silence was a calculated misdirection aimed at ensnaring the runaway senator. Eisenhower wisely “held his fire until McCarthy became open to attack by any right-thinking American,” said Princeton Professor Fred Greenstein, who came up with a name to celebrate that kind of governance by guile: The Hidden Hand.

The Hidden Hand is a convincing way to unravel the riddle of Eisenhower’s surprising successes building highways, expanding Social Security, increasing the minimum wage, and pushing forward on civil rights, but historians have been far too forgiving of the president when it comes to Senator McCarthy. For starters, Eisenhower did more than turn his other cheek. As far back as the 1952 campaign, he signaled his willingness to mollify McCarthy by dropping from a speech in Wisconsin his spirited defense of George Marshall, an about-face that Ike’s pal General Omar Bradley said “turned my stomach.” His aides claimed Eisenhower had to back off for electoral reasons, even though he was on his way to winning 39 of 48 states and would have won in a landslide even without Mc­Carthy’s support or Wisconsin’s electoral votes. Eisenhower advisor and 1948 Republican presidential nominee Thomas Dewey had warned that McCarthy would become his “hair shirt” unless Ike hit him early and hard. Ike said he would, then didn’t. Syndicated columnist Drew Pearson sounded a similar alarm but said, “It was obvious from the questions [Eisenhower] asked that he just did not understand” why the columnist was cautioning him. Instead, according to Pearson, the candidate’s cowardly retrenchment on Marshall tipped off the Neanderthal wing of his party that they could “handle” him. Joe, too, smelled blood in the water.

Attack he did, from the instant Eisenhower moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with the White House failing to push back. That spring, the administration let McCarthy elbow his way into U.S. foreign policy after the senator unmasked the embarrassing fact that our closest allies were shipping goods to our Korean War enemies. In June, the president stood up to the senator over whether left-leaning tomes should be stripped from the shelves of U.S.-supported libraries around the world, but when McCarthy fired back, Eisenhower retreated. Ike stripped J. Robert Oppenheimer of his security clearance when McCarthy threatened to investigate the nuclear scientist and shunned Senator Margaret Chase Smith once she became Joe’s enemy. White House minions and even cabinet officers got the message. The secretary of state gave McCarthy the widest of berths and a say on security clearances; the attorney general brought no indictments in the wake of reports from two Senate committees lambasting McCarthy; and J. Edgar Hoover acted as though he worked for the senator instead of the attorney general and president.

Even more basic to McCarthy’s success, the president never challenged the senator’s meat-and-potatoes premises: that merely believing in communism was sufficient to pose a peril, and that Soviet subversion threatened the stability and safety of America. Determined not to repeat his predecessor’s presumed failure, Eisenhower even outdid Harry Truman in combing the government for security risks and trying to wrest from McCarthy the mantle of top-drawer commie-slayer. No matter that there were few if any real spies left by the time the general moved into the White House. The upshot was that the Red Scare dragged on longer than it had to. As for the constitutional protection that McCarthy undercut most often, President Eisenhower saw nothing wrong: “I must say I probably share the common reaction if a man has to go to the Fifth Amendment, there must be something he doesn’t want to tell us.” It was more delicate than Joe’s branding witnesses Fifth Amendment Communists, but just barely.

This ranking officer had never liked to wage war unless he was certain he would win. But holding back until the senator self-destructed — which happened in 1954, during the famous Army-McCarthy hearings — meant that, in the meantime, the country would pay a searing toll. The White House stayed silent while McCarthy upended the career of Reed Harris of the International Information Administration and rattled the Harris family to the point that his wife Martha later killed herself. Similar fates befell scores of other federal officials. It was on Eisenhower’s watch and partly thanks to his coattails that McCarthy was elected to an office that allowed him to chair the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, where he was able to wreak such havoc.

What could and should this president — the second in a row to be stymied by the rabble-rouser from Wisconsin — have done differently?

He ought to have ordered his FBI to plug its leaks to McCarthy, the State Department to stop cowering and backpedaling, and the International Information Agency not to “deshelve” its overseas libraries. Instead, said Martin Merson, who watched it all from a senior perch at the Information Agency, “the president made the mistake in those early days of not believing enough in the people, of feeling that he had to accommodate himself to the so-called practical politicians, to make compromises, to heed the cry of expediency.” But whereas Merson at least listened to the president’s justifications, McCarthy target James Wechsler offered this harsher verdict: McCarthy “was not superman; he was nourished more by the weakness of those who should have resolutely challenged him — most notably Dwight D. Eisenhower — than by any mysterious resources. There must have been many moments when he shook with laughter over the conduct of those he was harassing; surely he must have enjoyed Mr. Eisenhower’s austere refusal to ‘indulge in personalities,’ the craven formula devised early at the White House for the preservation of internal Republican peace and quiet.”

Ironically, the one area where pollsters said Americans doubted their commander-in-chief was his decisiveness — qualms that an iron-fisted response to McCarthy could have put to rest. “At a time when the public would doubtless have welcomed some kind of a statement on McCarthy by the president — either pro or con — he offered nothing,” said John Fenton, then the managing editor of the Gallup Poll. Drew Pearson still hoped he might, telling his diary in November 1953 that “it’s barely possible that Ike will now get off his fat fanny and realize that the chips are down, that he can’t temporize with a would-be dictator.”

Insiders were even more restless. At the same moment Pearson was venting in his journal, C.D. Jackson, Eisenhower’s special assistant on the Cold War, was penning a letter to White House Chief of Staff Sherman Adams. “Listening to Senator Mc­Carthy last night was an exceptionally horrible experience, because it was in effect an open declaration of war on the Republican President of the United States by a Republican Senator,” Jackson wrote in response to McCarthy’s national TV and radio address, in which he charged that the Truman administration had “crawled with communists” and that the Eisenhower administration was only marginally better. “I hope,” Jackson added, “that this flagrant performance will at least serve to open the eyes of some of the president’s advisers who seem to think that the senator is really a good fellow at heart. They remind me of the people who kept saying for so many months that Mao Tse-Tung was just an agrarian reformer.”

Joseph McCarthy points to a U.S. map during the Army-McCarthy hearings
Exposure to the light was his downfall: In 1954, the nationally televised Army-McCarthy hearings offered the American public their first view of Joe McCarthy in action and helped turn the tide of public opinion against him. (Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo)

At times Ike seemed aware of his own vacillating and doubtful of the Hidden-Hand strategy, as reflected in notes to himself and his counselors. “I continue to believe that the President of the United States cannot afford to name names in opposing procedures, practices, and methods in our government. This applies with special force when the individual concerned enjoys the immunity of a United States Senator,” he wrote in 1953 to a friend who chaired the board of General Mills. “I do not mean that there is no possibility that I shall ever change my mind on this point. I merely mean that as of this moment, I consider that the wisest course of action is to continue to pursue a steady, positive policy in foreign relations, in legal proceedings in cleaning out the insecure and the disloyal, and in all other areas where McCarthy seems to take such a specific and personal interest. My friends on the Hill tell me that of course, among other things, [McCarthy] wants to increase his appeal as an after-dinner speaker and so raise the fees that he charges.”

Other times, unable to tolerate the pain he felt biting his tongue regarding McCarthy, this thin-skinned president looked for scapegoats — Democrats, misguided staffers, or, in this case, the press. “No one has been more insistent and vociferous in urging me to challenge McCarthy than have the people who built him up, namely, writers, editors, and publishers. They have shown some of the earmarks of acting from a guilty conscience — after all, McCarthy and McCarthyism existed a long time before I came to Washington,” he wrote in March 1954 to another businessman-friend. “The area in which all of this really hurts is the adverse effect upon the enactment of the program of legislative action I have recommended. We have sideshows and freaks where we ought to be in the main tent with our attention on the chariot race.”

Two weeks later, in March 1954, he finally said he’d had enough and would tell the world how much he loathed the Wisconsin senator. It was liberating, as his press secretary, James Hagerty, reported in his notes on that day’s staff ­briefing, where McCarthy once again was topic number one. “I’ve made up my mind you can’t do business with Joe and to hell with any attempt to compromise,” Eisenhower told his assembled aides, not recognizing that he was echoing the sentiments of the predecessor he scorned, Harry Truman. Walking away with Hagerty, Ike added: “Jim. Listen. I’m not going to compromise my ideals and personal beliefs for a few stinking votes. To hell with it.”

At a press conference later that morning the president was asked whether Joe had the right to cross-examine witnesses in hearings called to investigate his own allegedly improper encounters with the U.S. Army. “In America,” Ike answered, “if a man is a party to a dispute, directly or indirectly, he does not sit in judgment on his own case.” It was the president’s most public and direct assault on McCarthy, but it was hardly the break that Ike had promised barely an hour before, or that Milton Eisenhower, C.D. Jackson, and others said was vital to curb a senator whom Jackson called “a killer abroad in the streets.”

The senator was ultimately brought down when the public saw at those Army-McCarthy hearings how reckless and ruthless he was, and to his credit, the president worked behind the scenes to ensure the Army stood fast against the demagogue from Wisconsin. In December 1954, the Senate found its own equivalently elusive backbone, condemning its colleague in a way that amounted to a political death sentence.

Looking back, it’s clear that Senator McCarthy’s reign of terror should never have lasted as long as it did. It’s also clear that President Eisenhower was the one national figure with the patriotic service and popular following who could have neutralized the out-of-control lawmaker. The president’s monthly approval numbers in 1953, at the height of McCarthy’s power, never dropped below 61 percent and topped out at 73 percent, the kind of fawning most leaders can only dream about and that McCarthy never even approached. In 1954, and in 12 of the 19 years between 1950 and 1968, Americans voted Eisenhower their favorite person in the world. And Ike, alone among Americans, had access to unvarnished reports from the FBI, CIA, and loyalty boards of every federal agency, laying out the limits of government treason and the breadth of McCarthy myth-making. He had the power and knew the lies.

But the most powerful general in America’s history, the supreme commander of an Allied force that crushed Adolf Hitler, shrank from confronting a drunken bully. At this milestone moment, rather than a Hidden Hand guiding the country, the Eisenhower waiting game looked more like an Empty Glove.

Larry Tye is the best-selling author of Bobby Kennedy and Satchel. Previously an award-winning reporter and national writer at the Boston Globe, he now runs the Boston-based Health Coverage Fellowship. For more, visit larrytye.com.

Excerpted from Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy by Larry Tye, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020

This article is featured in the September/October 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo

Considering History: Operation Paperclip and Nazis in America

This series by American studies professor Ben Railton explores the connections between America’s past and present. 

On September 20, 1945, the infamous Nazi scientist Wernher von Braun arrived at Fort Strong, a U.S. military site on Long Island in Boston Harbor. In a period when many of von Braun’s Nazi colleagues were preparing to be tried in the Nuremberg war crimes trials that would commence exactly two months later, von Braun and other Nazi scientists were instead being brought to the United States to serve as prized members (and often leaders) of teams researching the space program, weapons technology, and other initiatives. Known as Operation Paperclip, this secret endeavor, led by the federal government’s newly created Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA), would eventually bring more than 1600 German scientists — many of them former Nazis — to America between 1945 and 1959.

Scientist Wernher von Braun in front of a rocket booster
Wernher von Braun in front of five F-1 engines of the Saturn V Dynamic Test Vehicle (NASA)

The Soviet Union was similarly pursuing Nazi scientists for its own weapons and space programs, and so Operation Paperclip can be framed as part of the incipient Cold War, a reflection of how quickly and thoroughly the two nations pivoted from their tenuous World War II alliance to this new, multi-decade conflict. Yet at the same time, the relationship between the U.S. government and these Nazi scientists cannot be separated from the longstanding, deeply rooted presence of Nazis and antisemitism in America. From prominent figures and voices to mass movements and rallies, the two decades leading up to World War II featured numerous connections between Americans and Nazi Germany, links that reveal that Nazism was never simply a foreign or enemy force.

Group of German scientists who worked for the United States after World War II
104 German rocket scientists who worked in America after World War II (NASA)

One of those Americans with close ties to Nazi Germany was also one of the most successful and famous Americans of the early 20th century: Henry Ford. The automobile inventor and entrepreneur wasn’t just a strident anti-Semite—he was apparently an influence on the rise of German Nazism and even Adolf Hitler himself. Between 1920 and 1927, Ford and his aide Ernest G. Liebold published The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper that they used principally to expound anti-Semitic views and conspiracy theories; many of Ford’s writings in that paper were published in Germany as a four-volume collection entitled The International Jew, the World’s Foremost Problem (1920-1922). Heinrich Himmler wrote in 1924 that Ford was “one of our most valuable, important, and witty fighters,” and Hitler went further: in Mein Kampf (1925) he called Ford “a single great man” who “maintains full independence” from America’s Jewish “masters”; and in a 1931 Detroit News interview, Hitler called Ford an “inspiration.” In 1938, Ford received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, one of Nazi Germany’s highest civilian honors.

Henry Ford
Henry Ford (Library of Congress)

After his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic, aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh was another of the period’s most famous Americans, and in 1938 Lindbergh likewise received a Cross of the German Eagle in 1938, this one from German air chief Hermann Goering himself. Over the next two years, Lindbergh’s public opposition to American conflict with Nazi Germany deepened, and despite subsequent attempts to recuperate that opposition as fear over Soviet Russia’s influence, Lindbergh’s views depended entirely on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that equaled Ford’s. In a September 1939 nationwide radio address, for example, Lindbergh argued, “We must ask who owns and influences the newspaper, the news picture, and the radio station, … If our people know the truth, our country is not likely to enter the war.” Seen in this light, Lindbergh’s role as spokesman for the era’s America First Committee makes clear that that organization’s non-interventionist philosophies during World War II could not and cannot be separated from the antisemitism and Nazi sympathies of figures like Lindbergh and Ford.

American Nazism was much more than just a perspective held by elite anti-Semites — it was very much a movement. And like so many problematic social movements, it featured a demagogic voice to help spread its alternative realities — in this case, the Catholic priest turned radio host Charles Edward Coughlin. By the time World War II began, Coughlin had been publicly supporting both Nazi Germany and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories for years; his weekly magazine, Social Justice, ran for much of 1938 excerpts from the deeply anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a text that contributed directly to Hitler’s views and the Holocaust. Both Social Justice and Coughlin’s radio show were hugely popular throughout the 1930s — a separate post office was constructed in his hometown of Royal Oak, Michigan just to process the roughly 80,000 letters he and show received each week—illustrating that American Nazism and anti-Semitism were widespread views in the period.

Man selling Charles Edward Coughlin's Social Justice newspaper
Coughlin’s newspaper, Social Justice, being sold in New York in 1939 (Library of Congress)

No moment reflected that American movement better than the February 20, 1939 rally that brought more than 20,000 Nazi supporters to New York’s Madison Square Garden. The rally was put on by the German American Bund, a national organization which consistently sought to wed pro-Nazi Germany sentiments to direct appeals to mythic images of American identity and patriotism. To that end, the rally was held on George Washington’s birthday, and the stage featured a portrait of Washington flanked by both American flags and Nazi flags/swastikas. After the rally opened with a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Bund secretary James Wheeler-Hill proclaimed in his introductory speech that “If George Washington were alive today, he would be friends with Adolf Hitler.” And in his closing speech, Bund leader Fritz Julius Kuhn went further, arguing that “The Bund is open to you, provided you are sincere, of good character, of white gentile stock, and an American citizen imbued with patriotic zeal.”

The German American Bund rally that was held in Madison Square Garden
The February 1939 German American Bund rally at Madison Square Garden in New York (The Nazis Strike, 1943)

Yet many other Americans expressed their patriotic zeal by opposing this Nazi rally. An estimated 100,000 protesters gathered outside the Garden, dwarfing the 20,000 or so Nazi sympathizers inside. The protesters featured World War I veterans, members of the Socialist Workers Party, and countless other local and national organizations and communities. And inside the rally, one young man took such opposition a step further: Kuhn’s speech was interrupted when Isadore Greenbaum, a 26-year-old Jewish-American plumber’s assistant from Brooklyn (and future World War II naval sailor), charged the stage. Greenbaum was attacked by Bund guards, pulled away by police, and charged with disorderly conduct, for which he paid a $25 fine to avoid a 10-day jail sentence. But he was not the least bit apologetic, later stating, “Gee, what would you have done if you were in my place listening to that s.o.b. hollering against the government and publicly kissing Hitler’s behind while thousands cheered? Well, I did it.”

More than 100,000 anti-Nazi protesters outside of Madison Square Garden, 1939 (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Archives and Records Administration, public domain)
Isadore Greenbaum
Isadore Greenbaum (Stars & Stripes, December 8, 1944)

Greenbaum and his fellow protesters make clear that these pro-Nazi sentiments were in no way unopposed in, nor exemplary of, 1930s America. But neither can those figures mitigate the troubling realities of the rally and its reflection of widespread American support for Hitler and the Nazis, support that included some of the nation’s most famous individuals as well as tens of thousands of other Americans. In a moment when Nazi imagery and sentiments have returned to American social and political debates, we would do well to remember their deep roots in our culture.

Featured image: German American Bund parade in New York City in 1937 (Library of Congress)

Is Mutually Assured Destruction Still a Global Threat?

The world breathed a collective sigh of relief in the 1990s when it learned the U.S. and Russia were reducing their nuclear arsenals. For two generations, the world had lived under the threat of a nuclear catastrophe that would ruin both countries — and probably other nations.

It turns out, however, that a radioactive holocaust only took a vacation. Today, international conflict is creating a greater nuclear threat than ever before. And there’s a growing chance that America or Russia could someday cause MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction.

Things were different 75 years ago. Back then, America was emerging victorious from the last conventional world war. But the nature of war changed forever on July 16 of 1945, when scientists from Los Alamos, New Mexico saw their atomic theories proved right with the detonation of the first atomic bomb. [For an account of that day in the desert, see “Behind the First A Bomb,” by Robert Cahn, in our July 16, 1960, issue.]

Our atomic bomb didn’t just drive Japan to surrender; it made us the undisputed, sole superpower among nations — for four years. Then Russia, our ideological enemy, detonated its own atomic bomb.

At first, there was little threat of an atomic attack. Neither side was capable of delivering a bomb across the ocean. But then the atomic bomb was surpassed by the smaller, lighter, more powerful hydrogen bomb. And, in 1959, both nations deployed intercontinental missiles (ICBMs) to land nuclear warheads anywhere on each other’s land.

Thankfully, no atomic war followed. Diplomats and theoreticians believed it was because reasonable people in both governments were reluctant to use such destructive weapons. Skeptics believed the real reason was more practical: launching nuclear warheads on the other nation would trigger an automatic, devastating retaliation. Mutually Assured Destruction acknowledged there could be no victor in a nuclear war. Neither nation could attack the other without suffering catastrophic loss from an unstoppable counter-attack.

Now the goal of America and Russia was to find a pre-emptive edge — a way to deliver a knockout punch that would cripple the enemy’s ability to retaliate.

An early approach by both nations was to eliminate the vulnerability of fixed missile sites. They both developed a mobile launching platform, mounting mobile missile launchers on heavy trucks that could be hidden in the landscape. And they installed missiles with nuclear warheads in submarines, which could surface and attack with little warning. The U.S. had an advantage in this phase since our European and Asian allies enabled us to put our nuclear subs close to the Russian border.

Nuclear strategy now focused on developing projectiles that would destroy incoming enemy missiles before they reached their target — anti-missile missiles. But this concept proved of little benefit against MIRV: the Multiple Independently Targetable Re-Entry Vehicle. These missiles carried multiple warheads, which could be directed at different targets, or on a single target. All the warheads would require their own interceptor missiles, which made defense systems more complicated and more expensive.

Then, in 1983, the U.S. announced it would develop the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). It would use satellite guided X-ray lasers, subatomic particle-beam weapons, or other technology to destroy intercontinental missiles while in their trajectory high above the earth.

The U.S. poured $30 billion into the project, which was ultimately scrapped. The cost was one reason for ending the program, but just as important was the opposition from allies and even members of the U.S. government. If it worked, SDI — aka “Star Wars” — would upset the balance of power. The program would violate the antiballistic missile agreement of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, and might provoke Russia to take pre-emptive action.

The one real benefit of the system was that it forced Soviet Russia to realize the United States could vastly out-spend it on defense. The communist system was approaching bankruptcy in the late 1980s, and the Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev seized the moment to introduce reforms that ultimately led to the end of communist rule of Russia and, incidentally, the Cold War.

Arms-reducing treaties in 1987, 1991, and 2002 led to steadily decreasing numbers of nuclear weapons. The U.S. reduced its 7,300 nuclear weapons in Europe by 90 percent. Russia reduced its non-strategic nuclear weapons by 75 percent.

But the end of the Cold War did not end conflict between the two nations, and gradually a new arms race began.

American and Russian bombers can now deliver nuclear weapons into enemy country, but these aircraft present easy targets for missile defense. So stealth bombers have been developed to avoid detection. And conventional bombers have been armed with nuclear cruise missiles that can be fired from great distances.

Defense strategy now also includes computer-guidance systems and satellites — critical to waging war in the 21st Century — but they are vulnerable to high-tech assault. Both the U.S. and Russia wage continual cyber warfare, burrowing into each other’s top secret systems. Recently, the U.S. created the Space Force to build and protect military space defenses.

Another new development are hypersonic glide vehicles, which travel at low altitudes at speeds up to ten times the speed of sound. Being this fast, as well as maneuverable, they would be hard to shoot down. “Everybody is rushing ahead with investing in this emerging technology as well as trying to find ways to defend against them,” says John Dale Grover, a Fellow at Defense Priorities.

Russia is preparing to deploy nuclear warheads on ICBMs, submarine missiles, and bombers when the New START agreement of 2010 expires after 2021. It has developed an air-launched ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km. Another addition to the Russian arsenal is a 100-megaton nuclear powered drone, which has been called a “tsunami apocalypse torpedo.”

As the ultimate threat, Russia has ensured the U.S. will be destroyed if we ever launch nuclear weapons against them. They have developed “Perimeter,” a doomsday device that will automatically fire all Russian ICBMs at America in the case of a nuclear attack. America does not have a similar system.

According to Grover, “America is now modernizing its own nuclear arsenal and is looking at new weapons as well. In fact, everyone from China to India and Pakistan are looking at improving their weapons as great power competition becomes more blatant.”

The cost to America, he adds, will exceed $1 trillion over 30 years, an amount he says will endanger the U.S. economy. It will also make the chances of global arms reductions even less likely. “New arms control agreements are needed that include China,” he says, “but are unlikely to happen anytime soon.

“New weapons and defenses might be scary, and somewhat destabilizing, but it is important to remember that no weapon or defense is perfect. Missile defense only works 30-50 percent of the time, and then only under not-very-realistic conditions.”

Every race to get a strategic nuclear edge, he adds, causes other countries to develop counter measures. “In other words, each attempt to overcome MAD only ends up enforcing it.”

The U.S. is not totally committed to a new arms race. The Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, within our State Department, works to reduce weapons-of-mass-destruction threats. Using diplomacy and sanctions, the Bureau tries to discourage the expansion of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Recently, Dr. Christopher Ashley Ford, the Bureau’s assistant secretary, told the Council on Foreign Relations, “given their competitive ambitions, it is not clear that either Russia or the PRC is likely to take arms control compliance seriously if it feels it has any chance to get away with cheating.” Yet the U.S. continues “to believe that effective arms control can limit threats, and that it can provide stability and predictability, and we remain committed to pursuing a trilateral agreement with both Russia and China.”

Featured image: Shutterstock

The Accident of McCarthyism

By the time World War II ended, America had paid a high price to stop men who rose to power through hatred and suspicion.

But then came Senator Joseph McCarthy and, with him, McCarthyism. The word wasn’t his invention. It first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor. It was a movement that created a culture of suspicion and mistrust, turned people against each other, and cost thousands their dignity, their jobs, and even their lives.

It’s all the more astonishing, then, that McCarthyism could almost be considered an accident, according to Larry Tye, author of Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy had been elected senator from Wisconsin in 1946. In 1950, his re-election was threatened by past misdeeds catching up with him, including his violation of federal law by running for election while still serving in the armed forces.

His campaign needed a good cause to rally support. One of the top issues of the day was the housing shortage. The construction industry was slow to respond to Americans’ desire to buy a home in the suburbs.

The other issue was communism. Americans had long regarded the communist regime in the Soviet Union with mistrust and fear. No longer allies, the U.S.S.R. and America were entering a long cold war. Nations in eastern Europe were falling under Soviet domination, and the U.S. learned they had stolen our atomic bomb secrets.

Americans wondered why their country seemed to be falling behind the Soviets. Some politicians, like Congressmen Martin Dies, Carroll Reece, and Joe Martin, claimed it was treason by government officials who, they believed, were covertly working for the Soviets.

Republicans won big in the 1946 elections, largely on accusations of communist sympathies among Democrats. President Harry Truman had to show he was taking communist infiltration seriously. He signed an executive order that required millions of federal workers to take a loyalty oath. After 2.5 million employees had been checked, 5,450 went before a hearing and 5,118 were cleared. Of the 332 remaining employees, 102 were fired and the rest appealed their dismissal.

Amidst this atmosphere of suspicion, Senator McCarthy was scheduled to give a Lincoln Day speech to the Republican Women’s Club in Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9, 1950. According to Tye, he arrived with two speeches in mind; one addressing the housing shortage, the other communists in the U.S. government.

He chose the latter.

When he finished discussing the communist sympathizers in the State Department, he held aloft a piece of paper. According to the Wheeling Intelligencer of February 10, 1950, he said, “I have here in my hand a list of 205 [State Department employees] that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”

Tye states that, according to McCarthy’s executive secretary, there were no names. The paper, she said, was only the notes for his speech.

McCarthy was surprised at the enthusiastic response to his claims. Within a day, 33 newspapers had picked up the story of McCarthy’s list of names. Back in Washington, he repeated his charge but wouldn’t release the names. He claimed he wanted­­­­­ to avoid accusing any innocent parties.

What set McCarthyism apart from other demagogic tactics was this use of imaginary proof. Beginning with that list of names, McCarthy’s campaigns continually referred to confidential information that would expose communists in government — information he never fully shared.

Many reporters, as well as millions of Americans, were dazzled by McCarthy, his accusations, his crusade, and his theatrics. Few were willing to oppose his use of slander, innuendo, and baseless accusation to discredit and, in some cases, ruin men and women in government, for fear of being accused themselves.

Among McCarthy’s few outspoken critics were Joseph and Stewart Alsop. On July 29, 1950, The Saturday Evening Post published their article, “Why Has Washington Gone Crazy?” They described a visit to McCarthy’s office on Capitol Hill, saying it was “like being transported to the set of one of Hollywood’s minor thrillers.

“McCarthy, despite a creeping baldness and a continual tremor which makes his head shake in a disconcerting fashion, is reasonably well cast as the Hollywood version of a strong-jawed private eye.”

Here the Alsops were hinting at the senator’s drinking problem, which would bring him to an early death.

A visitor is likely to find him with his heavy shoulders hunched forward, a telephone in his huge hands, shouting cryptic instruction to some mysterious ally. “Yeah, yeah. I can listen, but I can’t talk. Get me? Yeah? You really got the goods on the guy?”

The senator glances up to note the effect of this drama on his visitor.

“Yeah? Well, I tell you. Just mention this sort of casual to Number One, and get his reaction. Okay? Okay. I’ll contact you later.”

The drama is heightened by a significant bit of stage business. For as Senator McCarthy talks he sometimes strikes the mouthpiece of his telephone with a pencil. As Washington folklore has it, this is supposed to jar the needle off any concealed listening device.”

If the Alsops were not impressed, many voters were. They rewarded him with fanatical devotion, seeing him as the one, true American fighting communism. They made loyalty to McCarthy their principal measure of other Americans’ loyalty. Nye cites a report by pollster George Gallup: “Even if it were known that McCarthy had killed five innocent children, they would probably go along with him.” At one point, McCarthy was receiving 5,000 pieces of mail every day from supporters, many enclosing generous donations to his cause.

McCarthy could succeed in 20th century America because he claimed to have solid, specific evidence that would place statesmen or politicians at the heart of a vast conspiracy.

Not only could McCarthy make his case from minimal or nonexistent evidence, he could even use the lack of evidence to prove his point. If someone testified before McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation and refused to answer on the grounds of possible self-incrimination, McCarthy used this non-answer as evidence of the witness’s guilt.

McCarthy had many foes within Washington who pressed him to present his proof of treachery before Congress. McCarthy would always deflect the request, or respond with another accusation. Ultimately this proved his undoing.

In 1954, McCarthy was accusing the U.S. Army of harboring communists. A lawyer representing the army, Joseph Nye Welch, demanded to see the names of 130 communist or subversive workers that McCarthy claimed worked in defense plants, and he wanted it “before sundown.” McCarthy responded by slandering a young lawyer in Welch’s legal firm.

Welch couldn’t believe that McCarthy would assassinate the character of a promising attorney simply to deflect the demand. It was at this moment that Welch declared his famous rejoinder, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Joseph McCarthy and Joseph Welch exchange words as Welch testifies before McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (uploaded to YouTube by AmericanExperiencePBS)

Welch told McCarthy that he would no longer discuss the matter and would not respond to McCarthy’s probing. “If there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good.” He asked for the next witness and the audience broke into applause.

That same month, when Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt was working to curtail McCarthy’s powers, McCarthy threatened to expose the sex-crime arrest of his son. The Wyoming senator committed suicide.

The two incidents provided the evidence that the Senate could use against him. He was censured in December for abusing his power. A broken man, he died a few months after completing his term.

There was never a question that Soviet spies existed in America. But no solid evidence ever emerged that the treachery was what or where McCarthy claimed.

McCarthyism’s goal was never to root out Soviet agents in government. Rather, it was, as President Truman said, an issue of control, which Truman opposed. He had given in on the call to hunt communist employees in the government, but now he said, “I’m going to tell you how we’re not going to fight communism… We’re not going to try to control what our people read and say and think. In short, we’re not going to end democracy.”

And McCarthyism was never simply about one man. Said journalist Edward R. Murrow, “No man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are his accomplices.”

The first page of the article "Why Has Washington Gone Crazy"
Read “Why Has Washington Gone Crazy?” from the July 29, 1950, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Chief Senate Counsel representing the United States Army Joseph Welch (left) and Senator Joe McCarthy (right), at the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations’ McCarthy-Army hearings, June 9, 1954. (Wikimedia Commons)

40 Years Ago, the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team Made Us Believe in Miracles

The story sounds like the stuff of movies. So much, in fact, that it later became one. On one side, you had the most powerful force in their sport, a team of professionals known for their ability to crush everyone in their path. On the other, a group of college students untested in international play, primed to meet an opponent that should soundly beat them in convincing fashion. But that’s not what happened. 40 years ago, the U.S. Olympic hockey team rode an improbable streak into battle against the powerhouse Soviet Union. What resulted was one of the greatest games ever played, capped by perhaps the greatest broadcasting call in the history of sports. But it still wasn’t over. Here are five things you should know about the Miracle on Ice, including the fact that it wasn’t the Gold Medal game.

1. The Soviet Team Was a Monster

Going into the 1980 games, the Soviet team had won the gold in five of the last six Olympics. In fact, the team reigned as the preeminent power in international hockey from 1954 until the U.S.S.R’s dissolution, with 22 International Ice Hockey Federation gold medals between 1954 and 1990. The Soviet players were technically professionals, but their clubs were arranged in such a way that their player status didn’t exactly violate International Olympic Committee rules. That meant that other countries were fielding amateur athletes while the Soviets were using veteran players with long histories and superstar status.

2. Herb Brooks Was Born to Play (and Coach) Hockey

U.S. coach Herb Brooks won a state hockey championship as a high school student. He played in college for the University of Minnesota, but was the last player cut from the 1960 Olympic squad. However, he went on to play for eight U.S. National and Olympic teams between then and 1970. As a coach, Brooks went back to Minnesota and took the Golden Gophers team to three NCAA titles (1974, 1976, 1979); those achievements led to the offer to take the helm for America.

3. The American Team Was Loaded with Students

(Uploaded to YouTube by YouTube Movies)

Brooks selected several of his own players for the team, as well as players from rival schools that he knew well. The U.S. team was definitely seen as a collection of underdogs who were on a collision course with the Soviet legacy. In order to compete with the Eastern European and Soviet teams, Brooks emphasized conditioning while merging the speedier European play style with the more physical American and Canadian game. He surmised that the team that could endure the Soviet assault might actually overcome them. Brooks named Mike Eruzione from Minnesota rivals Boston University as team captain.

4. The Miracle on Ice

Al Michaels discusses his legendary call. (Uploaded to YouTube by NBC Sports)

The U.S. didn’t exactly have it easy. They had to play seriously powerful teams at every step of the draw. In the first round, they tied Sweden in the opening game, then went on to beat Czechoslovakia, Norway, Romania, and West Germany. As the brackets merged for the final round, the U.S. had to face the U.S.S.R. To the surprise of everyone, the young Americans hung in with the superior-on-paper Soviet team. U.S. goalie Jim Craig put on a heroic performance, stopping 36 of 39 shots. Eruzione scored with 10 minutes left, giving the U.S. a 4-3 lead. As the clock ticked away and the reality of an American victory sank in, broadcaster Al Michaels made the call, saying “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

5. It Took One More Game for Gold

Dave Christian's hockey jersey
The jersey worn by Dave Christian of the Team USA “Miracle on Ice” squad during the 1980 Winter Olympics on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
(Picture by mahfrot; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Despite the wave of good feeling that swept over the country from the improbable win, the U.S. still had another game to go. On February 24, they faced Finland, coming from behind in the third to win 4-2. The game boosted American spirits that had been battered in the wake of a down economy and the Iran Hostage Crisis. Thirteen of the 20 players on the team would play in the NHL, though Eruzione waved off a draft offer from the New York Rangers, saying that he’d achieved all he wanted as a player. Brooks coached the U.S. team again in 2002, taking them to an Olympic silver; unfortunately, he died in a car accident the following year.

Today, 40 years later, the game remains a legend in both the Olympics and hockey in general. Sports Illustrated named the game the Greatest Sports Moment of the 20th Century. Despite an avalanche of awards that includes multiple Emmys, Al Michaels refers to his “miracle” call as the highlight of his career. He recreated those famous words in Miracle, the 2004 Disney film about the 1980 team, which stars Kurt Russell as Brooks.  After the Olympics began accepting pros in basketball in 1992, hockey followed suit in 1998. The circumstances that made the 1980 win so miraculous may no longer exist, but the memory, and that call, will last forever.

Featured image: The Herb Brooks statue in St. Paul, MN. (Sam Wagner / Shutterstock.com)

Nuclear Fallout: The Silent Killer

Clouds of radioactive particles, invisible but potentially harmful and even lethal, have been blown into the air by the explosion of nuclear bombs, which drift back down upon us as fallout. It contaminates the air, the sea, and the soil. It lies twice as thick over the Northern Hemisphere as the Southern, and is more heavily concentrated in the United States than anywhere else on the earth’s surface. And every living creature, man included, has in its body a few particles of radioactive strontium 90, some of which will remain for life.

Moreover, the fallout will get worse before it gets better, even if bomb tests are never resumed. The spring of 1959, contrary to some of the forecasts, was radioactively the “hottest” yet, due in large part to the Russian tests of last fall. Scientists estimate that the burden of accumulated bomb debris now floating in the stratosphere, 7 to 10 miles up, is so great that “drip-out” to the ground will actually increase for seven years before it begins to taper off.

—“Fallout: The Silent Killer” by Stephen M. Spencer, August 29, 1959

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How America Almost Lost the Space Race

In 1962, a top scientist at NASA declared that landing a man on the moon would be “the most dramatic physical event in history.”

His assessment was shared by many, including President Kennedy. So it was no surprise that America poured millions into its space program. And no surprise that getting to the moon became a contest between the U.S. and its ideological rival: the U.S.S.R.

The Cold War was heading to outer space.

The American space program had Wernher von Braun, the former Nazi officer who had developed the V-2 rocket that terrorized London in World War II. By capturing him and putting him to work on their own rocket program, the United States’ space program took a giant step forward.

However, the Russians had Sergei Korolev. As early as 1933, he was launching rockets for the Soviets. But the Russian program fell behind in 1938, when Korolev was sentenced to a Gulag on charges of being “anti-Soviet.” After six years, he was released and sent to work with the German rocket scientists being rounded up by the Red Army. Three years later, he successfully launched the R-2, Russia’s version of the V-2 rocket.

Meanwhile, the Americans, under von Braun’s direction, were launching V-2 replicas in the New Mexico desert.

The Russians began pulling ahead. Under Korolev’s direction, they started developing multi-stage payloads to give their rockets more power and versatility. By 1949, they had extended the range of their rockets to 186 miles. By 1957, their missiles could fly over 4,000 miles and deliver a payload — like a nuclear bomb — weighing up to five tons. They could also — in theory — send men into orbit around the earth.

Then, on October 4, 1957, came the announcement that shocked America. The Soviets had launched a missile with a thrust over six times greater than any U.S. missile and sent a satellite into orbit around the world — The Sputnik I.

In an editorial from its November 9, 1957, issue, The Saturday Evening Post declared, “Nobody but an idiot would declare that Russia’s Sputnik is just a stunt without military significance. Plainly the Soviet Union’s success in launching this satellite carries enormously important implications, among them the possibility that the Reds will be able presently to unload devastating missiles upon this country.”

Saturday Evening Post editorial, "The Reds Hoped That 'Moon" Would Panic Us"
(Click to Enlarge)

Officials in Washington had been closely monitoring the Soviet space program. They realized that the Russians now had the capability to launched a nuclear warhead onto American soil.  Just as important, the success of the Sputnik launch had diminished American technology and expertise in the eyes of the world.

Sputnik put new urgency in the U.S. space program. Unfortunately, American prestige suffered a further setback in December 6, 1957, when the launch of a U.S. Vanguard rocket, televised live to the nation, failed spectacularly.

The failed Vanguard rocket launch on December 6, 1957 (Uploaded to YouTube by NASA Langley CRGIS)

In 1959, Russia launched the first space probe to reach the moon. And in 1961, they put the first man in space when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth.

So it isn’t surprising to see a Post author in 1962 asking “Can We Still Be the First on the Moon?” The answer, according to author Don A. Schanche was not “particularly reassuring.”

The Soviet rockets were, he wrote, considerably more powerful. They were developed with the goal of doing the heavy lifting to carry nuclear bombs to the U.S. Meanwhile American scientists focused on launching lightweight satellites. Rather than developing more powerful rocket engines, the U.S. team spent their time on miniaturizing its space equipment.

Now NASA turned its attention to developing more powerful booster engines, like the Titan and Saturn series. But this still wouldn’t let the Americans catch up, Schanche wrote. Russians were within a month of being able to link up two space vehicles, something America wouldn’t achieve until 1966.

What Schanche couldn’t have foreseen was that the U.S. space program would build up momentum by 1965. In the following two years, it accomplished its first spacewalk, first spacecraft orbit change, an eight-day spaceflight, a 14-day spaceflight, and the first spacecraft docking.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin seen shaking hands with the crew of Gemini 4, in 1965
Yuri Gagarin shaking hands with the Gemini 4 astronauts in 1965 (NASA)

And that linkup between two Russian space craft expected in 1962? It didn’t occur for another five years.

The two countries’ space programs underwent a reversal of fortune in 1966, when Sergei Korolev died suddenly. There was no competent successor. The next Soviet manned rocket, launched the next year, resulted in the first cosmonaut’s death in Russia’s space program. Russia’s moon landing, planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, never took place.

With the Apollo 11 mission safely returning from the moon, the Americans declared the space race over and won. Seeing America’s advances, the Soviet program switched its efforts to building space stations.

U.S. President Richard Nixon meets with the crew of Apollo 11 as they sit in their recovery chamber.
President Nixon welcoming the Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, from their Mobile Quarantine Facility (NASA)

The contest over, at least to American satisfaction, the way was clear for cooperation instead of competition. Six years after the moon landing, in 1975, America linked up its Apollo space craft with the Russian Soyuz space station 18 for the first international space mission.

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Read “Can We Still Be First to the Moon?” from the November 3, 1962, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Apollo 11 mission control celebrates. (NASA)

The Saturday Evening Post History Minute: The Berlin Airlift

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Considering History: The Cold War, the Korean War, and the Development of NATO

This column by American studies professor Ben Railton explores the connections between America’s past and present.

Map of NATO countries
The member states of NATO. (Addicted04 / Wikimedia Commons)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed in the aftermath of World War II, as an attempt to establish collective defenses against emerging Cold War threats from the Soviet Union and its allies. Five Northern European nations (Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the UK) began the process with the March 1948 Treaty of Brussels, and then brought their alliance to the United States and its Secretary of State George C. Marshall. With Marshall’s guidance those six nations, joined by Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, signed the April 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, officially forming NATO.

Yet the Cold War of course extended far beyond the North Atlantic worlds, and NATO likewise was not limited to that sphere of influence. Indeed, it was in response to a Southeast Asian military conflict that began the following year, the Korean War, that NATO truly began to develop its international military forces and strategies, reflecting interconnections between these regions and issues that remain vital to this day.

While the Korean War’s background and origins were as complex and multi-faceted as any military conflict’s, the war began in earnest with North Korea’s June 25th, 1950 crossing of the 38th Parallel and invasion of South Korea. The United Nations Security Council unanimously condemned the invasion on the same day, and two days later President Truman ordered U.S. air and sea support for South Korean forces. By July 5th U.S. armed forces were on the ground and taking part in the Battle of Osan alongside South Korean troops, a military alliance that would continue for the remaining three years of the war.

Soldier firing a big gun
A soldier firing an M-20 75 mm recoilless rifle in the Korean War.

While Truman and new Secretary of State Dean Acheson focused their initial public statements on the specific need to defend South Korea from the North’s aggressions, Truman very much believed that the war was part of larger Cold War conflicts as well. As he later argued in his memoir, Years of Trial and Hope (1956), “Communism was acting in Korea, just as Hitler, Mussolini and the Japanese had ten, fifteen, and twenty years earlier. I felt certain that if South Korea was allowed to fall, Communist leaders would be emboldened to override nations closer to our own shores. If the Communists were permitted to force their way into the Republic of Korea without opposition from the free world, no small nation would have the courage to resist threat and aggression by stronger Communist neighbors.”

NATO badge, featuring two drawn swords and a Latin phrase, translated "Vigilance is the Price of Liberty."
The NATO SHAPE crest, which says, “Vigilance is the Price of Liberty.”

NATO saw the Korean conflict and its ramifications in the same way, and responded accordingly. In September 1950 the NATO Military Committee called for a buildup of military forces to counter potential Soviet and allied aggressions around the world, and shortly thereafter the organization formed the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), appointing Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower as its first leader. These efforts culminated in the February 1952 North Atlantic Council meeting in Lisbon, at which a number of key steps were taken: the creation of a Long-Term Defence Plan; the proposed expansion of combat-ready forces to 96 divisions (reduced to 35 the following year, which was still a significant increase); and the creation of a new Secretary General position, with the UK’s Lord Ismay appointed as the first NATO Secretary General.

NATO followed these efforts by undertaking its first major maritime exercise, Exercise Mainbrace, in September 1952. Although Eisenhower had by then resigned his position to run for the presidency, two American military officers and NATO leaders coordinated the exercise: General Matthew B. Ridgway, who had succeeded Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander Europe after commanding all U.S. and United Nations troops in Korea from 1951 to 1952; and Admiral Lynde D. McCormick, the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and himself a veteran of World War II’s Pacific Theater. Under their lead, more than 200 ships and 80,000 men participated in twelve days of military exercises, what New York Times reporter Hanson Baldwin called “the largest and most powerful fleet that has cruised in the North Sea since World War I.”

The headline of Baldwin’s article linked the exercises to NATO’s “Important Role in Defense of Europe.” Yet the exercise’s timing, along with Ridgway’s Korean War experiences and other overt links, made clear just how much the ongoing conflict in Korea served as a vital context and inspiration for these early 1950s NATO buildups and plans. By the July 1953 final armistice that ended the Korean War, NATO had largely become the sizeable, vital international military and diplomatic organization it would remain for the Cold War’s subsequent decades, one that, while centered in the North Atlantic, reflects a world in which Russia, Southeast Asia, and every region and nation are interconnected in the era’s issues and conflicts.

Photo of a NATO meeting.
A 2010 NATO meeting in Brussels.

The Post Keeps Tabs on the CIA

On this day in 1947, the CIA was established by the U.S. National Security Act. Seventy years later, America still can’t quite make up its mind about the Central Intelligence Agency. Does it serve the country or its own agenda?

The agency’s declared mission is to monitor “foreign threats to our citizens, infrastructure, and allies.” It is understandably reluctant to publicize much of its work, but a few years ago it posted several accomplishments on its website. They included identifying terrorist groups and assessing their capabilities, controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction, gathering intelligence on Russia’s unpredictable government and economy, and destroying international drug trafficking.

No one can deny that the CIA played important role in helping the U.S. wage the Cold War. Even the Russians credit the agency with preventing the spread of communism into western Europe.

If only the agency’s record was all so positive. Unfortunately, the CIA has had some memorable failures as well, such as arming the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. It seemed a good idea when these Muslim fighters pushed the Soviet Union out of their country. It seemed a very bad idea when they re-formed as al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The Post became as fascinated by the CIA as the rest of America and published several articles about the agency throughout the 1960s.

The CIA Is Getting Out of Hand

In “The CIA Is Getting Out of Hand” from the January 4, 1964, issue of the Post, Senator Eugene McCarthy pointed out other jobs the CIA wouldn’t be bragging about. They included engineering the overthrow of the governments of Laos, Iran, and Guatemala. (Years later, critics would also place the responsibility for toppling the Chilean government in 1973 on the CIA.) He also mentioned the CIA’s botched Cuban coup at the Bay of Pigs.

The agency lacked any accountability, McCarthy wrote, and its activities sometimes ran counter to stated American policy. It was the CIA, he added, that was telling the president that South Vietnam, with U.S. support, could defeat the communist forces and remain an independent republic. They stuck by that opinion for years while America poured lives and fortunes into the war.

To rein in the agency, McCarthy called for a congressional committee to supervise its actions. That committee — the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — was eventually established in 1976.

 

Front page for the Eugene McCarthy article, "The CIA is Getting Out of Hand"
Click to read “The CIA Is Getting Out of Hand” by Senator Eugene McCarthy, from the January 4, 1964, issue of the Post.

 

I’m Glad the CIA Is Immoral

But that oversight was still in the future when Thomas Braden wrote “I’m Glad the CIA Is Immoral” in the May 20, 1967, issue of the Post. He had worked with the agency to counter Soviet propaganda. Through covert operations, he set up programs that would shift the political alignments in labor, arts, and student groups around the world away from the Soviets.

He acknowledged that the agency had purposely hidden these projects from public scrutiny. But if deception, misinformation, and propaganda were immoral, so what? The U.S. was engaged in a cold war with Soviet Russia, he wrote, and war was inherently “immoral, wrong and disgraceful.”

“The cold war was and is a war fought with ideas instead of bombs. And our country has had a clear-cut choice: Either we win the war or lose it.”

 

Front page for the Thomas W. Baden article, "I'm Glad the CIA is immoral"
Click to read “I’m Glad the CIA Is Immoral” by Thomas Braden, from the May 20, 1967, issue of the Post.

 

Letter from the CIA

The intelligence industry has always been associated with issues of right and wrong. It has also been associated with glamour and intrigue.

In 1968, journalist Anne Chamberlin set out to discover if the CIA was as fascinating as she thought. In “Letter from the CIA,” she reports that the agency flatly turned down her request for a tour or an interview. When she decided to just show up anyway, she found America’s spy headquarters was — surprise!— a lot like other Washington bureaucratic offices.

I asked where I could find the man who had asked me not to come and was quickly escorted to a sort of reception room, with government leather couches, magazines on the tables and a desk presided over by a cheerful lady who asked me to fill in a pink form. It asked who I was, who employs me and whom I wanted to see. Then I was issued a large numbered badge and turned over to a young woman who led me to the office of my reluctant host.

Chamberlin eventually got access to the man she had been trying to see, but learned little other than, like any agency, the CIA had budget woes, too.

Whether you love or hate the agency, you can expect to hear more about it in the coming years, as intelligence, not firepower, becomes the first line of our national defense.

 

Front page for the Anne Chamberlin article, "Letter From the CIA"
Click to read “Letter from the CIA” by Anne Chamberlin, from the March 23, 1968, issue of the Post.

Featured image: Illustration by Arnold Roth for “Letter from the CIA” by Anne Chamberlin, from the March 23, 1968, issue of the Post.

Why Americans Don’t Trust the CIA

Many Americans were surprised to hear of the CIA report that Russian hackers had intervened in the presidential election. They were also surprised when supporters of President-elect Trump dismissed the CIA’s charges, claiming they were politically motivated.

Such criticism of the government’s intelligence agency goes well back in our history. Traditionally, Americans have felt that espionage is basically dishonorable and somehow un-American.

Back in 1929, for example, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson was disturbed to learn that the Army’s Cipher Bureau was reading the coded messages of foreign diplomats. “Gentlemen,” he sniffed, “do not read each other’s mail.”

Another reason for Americans’ historic dislike of intelligence operations has been its unreliability. During the Civil War, for example, the Union army was continually misled by intelligence reports that often exaggerated the size of enemy forces by as much as 50 percent.

Intelligence workers earned new respect during the Second World War when they were able to crack the enemies’ military codes. But in the Cold War that followed, suspicions grew that covert-intelligence agencies were becoming too powerful. Also, as Thomas Braden recounts in “I’m Glad the CIA Is ‘Immoral,’” legislators wouldn’t fund intelligence operations that didn’t support their personal political agendas.

The CIA, along with the media that reported its findings, left itself open to criticism because it collaborated for years in shaping the news. In the 1950s the CIA launched the covert Operation Mockingbird to build anticommunist sentiments at home and abroad. Thomas W. Braden was a key player.

In his article, he describes how the operation countered the Soviets’ propaganda and fake grass-roots campaigns in neutral countries. The operation channeled money to anticommunist labor leaders and student organizations in western Europe and launched a cultural magazine to promote anti-Soviet ideas. It also built goodwill by financing cultural exchanges like the Boston Symphony’s triumphant tour of Europe.

In this article, Braden was responding to criticism from The New York Times, which had called the CIA’s programs immoral and scandalous. Braden considered his programs simply beating the Soviet Union at its own game. Overall, Braden’s piece makes a good case for the CIA’s program.

But one fact diminishes the effectiveness of his argument: Operation Mockingbird also worked to influence American media. Working with nearly unlimited funds, the CIA paid newspapers and wire agencies to present its doctored versions of news stories. Post contributor Stewart Alsop was part of the Mockingbird operation, as was his brother Joseph. For decades, these journalists presented major news events with a slant that the Agency approved. Despite a federal law that prohibited domestic operations, Operation Mockingbird continued for decades at home and abroad with little oversight.

The legacy of programs like Mockingbird is that, today, Americans can’t be certain whether a CIA report is completely true, mostly true, somewhat true, or simply a lie it would like us to believe. Even the best information from the agency is vulnerable to doubt.

I’m Glad the CIA is ‘Immoral’

By Thomas W. Braden

Originally published on May 20, 1967

 

On the desk in front of me as I write these lines is a creased and faded yellow paper. It bears the following inscription in pencil:

“Received from Warren G. Haskins, $15,000. (signed) Norris A. Grambo.”

I went in search of this paper on the day the newspapers disclosed the “scandal” of the Central Intelligence Agency’s connections with American students and labor leaders. It was a wistful search, and when it ended, I found myself feeling sad.

For I was Warren G. Haskins. Norris A. Grambo was Irving Brown, of the American Federation of Labor. The $15,000 was from the vaults of the CIA, and the piece of yellow paper is the last memento I possess of a vast and secret operation whose death has been brought about by small-minded and resentful men.

It was my idea to give the $15,000 to Irving Brown. He needed it to pay off his strong-arm squads in Mediterranean ports, so that American supplies could be unloaded against the opposition of Communist dock workers. It was also my idea to give cash, along with advice, to other labor leaders, to students, professors and others who could help the United States in its battle with Communist fronts.

It was my idea. For 17 years I had thought it was a good idea. Yet here it was in the newspapers, buried under excoriation. Walter Lippmann, Joseph Kraft. Editorials. Outrage. Shock.

“What’s gone wrong?” I said to myself as I looked at the yellow paper. “Was there something wrong with me and the others back in 1950? Did we just think we were helping our country, when in fact we ought to have been hauled up before Walter Lippmann?

“And what’s wrong with me now? For I still think it was and is a good idea, an imperative idea. Am I out of my mind? Or is it the editor of The New York Times who is talking nonsense?”

And so I sat sadly amidst the dust of old papers, and after a time I decided something. I decided that if ever I knew a truth in my life, I knew the truth of the Cold War, and I knew what the Central Intelligence Agency did in the Cold War, and never have I read such a concentration of inane, misinformed twaddle as I have now been reading about the CIA.

Were the undercover payments by the CIA “immoral”? Surely it cannot be “immoral” to make certain that your country’s supplies intended for delivery to friends are not burned, stolen, or dumped into the sea.

Are CIA efforts to collect intelligence anywhere it can “disgraceful”? Surely it is not “disgraceful” to ask somebody whether he learned anything while he was abroad that might help his country.

People who make these charges must be naïve. Some of them must be worse. Some must be pretending to be naïve.

Take Victor Reuther, assistant to his brother Walter, president of the United Automobile Workers. According to Drew Pearson, Victor Reuther complained that the American Federation of Labor got money from the CIA and spent it with “undercover techniques.” Victor Reuther ought to be ashamed of himself. At his request, I went to Detroit one morning and gave Walter $50,000 in $50 bills. Victor spent the money, mostly in West Germany, to bolster labor unions there. He tried “undercover techniques” to keep me from finding out how he spent it. But I had my own “undercover techniques.” In my opinion and that of my peers in the CIA, he spent it with less than perfect wisdom, for the German unions he chose to help weren’t seriously short of money and were already anti-Communist. The CIA money Victor spent would have done much more good where unions were tying up ports at the order of Communist leaders.

As for the theory advanced by the editorial writers that there ought to have been a government foundation devoted to helping good causes agreed upon by Congress — this may seem sound, but it wouldn’t work for a minute. Does anyone really think that congressmen would foster a foreign tour by an artist who has or has had left-wing connections? And imagine the scuffles that would break out as congressmen fought over money to subsidize the organizations in their home districts.

Back in the early 1950s, when the Cold War was really hot, the idea that Congress would have approved many of our projects was about as likely as the John Birch Society’s approving Medicare. I remember, for example, the time I tried to bring my old friend, Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium, to the U.S. to help out in one of the CIA operations.

Paul-Henri Spaak was and is a very wise man. He had served his country as foreign minister and premier. CIA Director Allen Dulles mentioned Spaak’s projected journey to the then Senate Majority Leader William F. Knowland of California. I believe that Mr. Dulles thought the senator would like to meet Mr. Spaak. I am sure he was not prepared for Knowland’s reaction:

“Why,” the senator said, “the man’s a socialist.”

“Yes,” Mr. Dulles replied, “and the head of his party. But you don’t know Europe the way I do, Bill. In many European countries, a socialist is roughly equivalent to a Republican.”

Knowland replied, “I don’t care. We aren’t going to bring any socialists over here.”

The fact, of course, is that in much of Europe in the 1950s, socialists, people who called themselves “left” — the very people whom many Americans thought no better than Communists — were the only people who gave a damn about fighting Communism.

But let us begin at the beginning.

When I went to Washington in 1950 as assistant to Allen W. Dulles, then deputy director to CIA chief Walter Bedell Smith, the agency was three years old. It had been organized, like the State Department, along geographical lines, with a Far Eastern Division, a West European Division, etc. It seemed to me that this organization was not capable of defending the United States against a new and extraordinarily successful weapon. The weapon was the international Communist front. There were seven of these fronts, all immensely powerful.

  1. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers had found “documented proof” that U.S. forces in Korea were dropping canisters of poisoned mosquitoes on North Korean cities and were following a “systematic procedure of torturing civilians, individually and en masse.”
  2. The World Peace Council had conducted a successful operation called the Stockholm Peace Appeal, a petition signed by more than two million Americans. Most of them, I hope, were in ignorance of the council’s program: “The peace movement … has set itself the aim to frustrate the aggressive plans of American and English imperialists. … The heroic Soviet army is the powerful sentinel of peace.”
  3. The Women’s International Democratic Federation was preparing a Vienna conference of delegates from 40 countries who resolved: “Our children cannot be safe until America warmongers are silenced.” The meeting cost the Russians $6 million.
  4. The International Union of Students had the active participation of nearly every student organization in the world. At an estimated cost of $50 million a year, it stressed the hopeless future of the young under any form of society except that dedicated to peace and freedom, as in Russia.
  5. The World Federation of Democratic Youth appealed to the nonintellectual young. In 1951, 25,000 young people were brought to Berlin from all over the world, to be harangued (mostly about American atrocities). The estimated cost: $50 million.
  6. The International Organization of Journalists was founded in Copenhagen in 1946 by a non-Communist majority. A year later the Communists took it over. By 1950 it was an active supporter of every Communist cause.
  7. The World Federation of Trade Unions controlled the two most powerful labor unions in France and Italy and took its orders directly from Soviet Intelligence. Yet it was able to mask its Communist allegiance so successfully that the CIO belonged to it for a time.

All in all, the CIA estimated, the Soviet Union was annually spending $250 million on its various fronts. They were worth every penny of it. Consider what they had accomplished.

First, they had stolen the great words. Years after I left the CIA, the late United States Ambassador Adlai Stevenson told me how he had been outraged when delegates from underdeveloped countries, young men who had come to maturity during the Cold War, assumed that anyone who was for “Peace” and “Freedom” and “Justice” must also be for Communism.

Second, by constant repetition of the twin promises of the Russian revolution — the promises of a classless society and of a transformed mankind — the fronts had thrown a peculiar spell over some of the world’s intellectuals, artists, writers, scientists, many of whom behaved like disciplined party-liners.

Third, millions of people who would not consciously have supported the interests of the Soviet Union had joined organizations devoted ostensibly to good causes, but secretly owned and operated by and for the Kremlin.

How odd, I thought to myself as I watched these developments, that Communists, who are afraid to join anything but the Communist Party, should gain mass allies through organizational war while we Americans, who join everything, were sitting here tongue-tied.

And so it came about that I had a chat with Allen Dulles. It was late in the day and his secretary had gone. I told him I thought the CIA ought to take on the Russians by penetrating a battery of international fronts. I told him I thought it should be a worldwide operation with a single headquarters.

“You know,” he said, leaning back in his chair and lighting his pipe, “I think you may have something there. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re losing the Cold War. Why don’t you take it up down below?”

It was nearly three months later that I came to his office again — this time to resign. On the morning of that day there had been a meeting for which my assistants and I had been preparing ourselves carefully. We had been studying Russian front movements, and working out a counteroffensive. We knew that the men who ran CIA’s area divisions were jealous of their power. But we thought we had logic on our side. And surely logic would appeal to Frank Wisner.

Frank Wisner, in my view, was an authentic American hero. A war hero. A Cold War hero. He died by his own hand in 1965. But he had been crushed long before by the dangerous detail connected with Cold War operations. At this point in my story, however, he was still gay, almost boyishly charming, cool yet coiled, a low hurdler from Mississippi constrained by a vest.

He had one of those purposefully obscure CIA titles: Director of Policy Coordination. But everyone knew that he had run CIA since the death of the wartime OSS, run it through a succession of rabbit warrens hidden in the bureaucracy of the State Department, run it when nobody but Frank Wisner cared whether the country had an intelligence service. Now that it was clear that Bedell Smith and Allen Dulles were really going to take over, Frank Wisner still ran it while they tried to learn what it was they were supposed to run.

And so, as we prepared for the meeting, it was decided that I should pitch my argument to Wisner. He knew more than the others. He could overrule them.

The others sat in front of me in straight-backed chairs, wearing the troubled looks of responsibility. I began by assuring them that I proposed to do nothing in my area without the approval of the chief of that area. I thought, when I finished, that I had made a good case. Wisner gestured at the Chief, Western Europe. “Frank,” came the response, “this is just another one of those goddamned proposals for getting into everybody’s hair.”

One by one the others agreed. Only Richard G. Stilwell, the Chief, Far East, a hard-driving soldier in civilian clothes who now commands U.S. forces in Thailand, said he had no objection. We all waited to hear what Wisner would say.

Incredibly, he put his hands out, palms down. “Well,” he said, looking at me, “you heard the verdict.”

Just as incredibly, he smiled.

Sadly, I walked down the long hall, and sadly reported to my staff that the day was lost. Then I went to Mr. Dulles’s office and resigned. “Oh,” said Mr. Dulles, blandly, “Frank and I had talked about his decision. I overruled him.” He looked up at me from over his papers. “He asked me to.”

Thus was the International Organization Division of CIA born, and thus began the first centralized effort to combat Communist fronts.

Perhaps “combat” does not describe the relative strengths brought to battle. For we started with nothing but the truth. Yet within three years we had made solid accomplishments. Few of them would have been possible without undercover methods.

I remember the enormous joy I got when the Boston Symphony Orchestra won more acclaim for the U.S. in Paris than John Foster Dulles or Dwight D. Eisenhower could have brought with a hundred speeches. And then there was Encounter, the magazine published in England and dedicated to the proposition that cultural achievement and political freedom were interdependent. Money for both the orchestra’s tour and the magazine’s publication came from the CIA, and few outside the CIA knew about it. We had placed one agent in a Europe-based organization of intellectuals called the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Another agent became an editor of Encounter. The agents could not only propose anti-Communist programs to the official leaders of the organizations but they could also suggest ways and means to solve the inevitable budgetary problems. Why not see if the needed money could be obtained from “American foundations”? As the agents knew, the CIA-financed foundations were quite generous when it came to the national interest.

I remember with great pleasure the day an agent came in with the news that four national student organizations had broken away from the Communist International Union of Students and joined our student outfit instead. I remember how Eleanor Roosevelt, glad to help our new International Committee of Women, answered point for point the charges about germ warfare that the Communist women’s organization had put forward. I remember the organizations of seamen’s unions in India and in the Baltic ports.

There were, of course, difficulties, sometimes unexpected. One was the World Assembly of Youth.

We were casting about for something to compete with the Soviet Union in its hold over young people when we discovered this organization based in Dakar. It was dwindling in membership, and apparently not doing much.

After a careful assessment, we decided to put an agent into the assembly. It took a minimum of six months and often a year just to get a man into an organization. Thereafter, except for what advice and help we could lend, he was on his own. But, in this case, we couldn’t give any help whatsoever. The agent couldn’t find anybody in the organization who wanted any.

The mystery was eventually solved by the man on the spot. WAY, as we had come to call it, was the creature of French intelligence — the Deuxième Bureau. Two French agents held key WAY posts. The French Communist Party seemed strong enough to win a general election. French intelligence was waiting to see what would happen.

We didn’t wait. Within a year, our man brought about the defeat of his two fellow officers in an election. After that, WAY took a pro-Western stand.

But our greatest difficulty was with labor. When I left the agency in 1954, we were still worrying about the problem. It was personified by Jay Lovestone, assistant to David Dubinsky in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

Once chief of the Communist Part in the United States, Lovestone had an enormous grasp of foreign-intelligence operations. In 1947 the Communist Confèdèration Gènèrale du Travail led a strike in Paris which came very nearly to paralyzing the French economy. A takeover of the government was feared.

Into this crisis stepped Lovestone and his assistant, Irving Brown. With funds from Dubinsky’s union, they organized Force Ouvrière, a non-Communist union. When they ran out of money, they appealed to the CIA. Thus began the secret subsidy of free trade unions which soon spread to Italy. Without that subsidy, postwar history might have gone very differently.

But though Lovestone wanted our money, he didn’t want to tell us precisely how he spent it. We knew that non-Communist unions in France and Italy were holding their own. We knew that he was paying them nearly $2 million annually. In his view, what more did we need to know?

We countered that the unions were not growing as rapidly as we wished and that many members were not paying dues. We wanted to be consulted as to how to correct these weaknesses.

I appealed to a high and responsible leader. He kept repeating, “Lovestone and his bunch do a good job.”

And so they did. After that meeting, so did we. We cut the subsidy down, and with the money saved we set up new networks in other international labor organizations. Within two years, the free labor movement, still holding its own in France and Italy, was going even better elsewhere.

Looking back now, it seems to me that the argument was largely a waste of time. The only argument that mattered was the one with the Communists for the loyalty of millions of workers. That argument, with the help of Lovestone and Brown, was effectively made.

By 1953, we were operating or influencing international organizations in every field where Communist fronts had previously seized ground, and in some where they had not even begun to operate. The money we spent was very little by Soviet standards. But that was reflected in the first rule of our operational plan: “Limit the money to amounts private organizations can credibly spend.” The other rules were equally obvious: “Use legitimate, existing organizations; disguise the extent of American interest; protect the integrity of the organization by not requiring it to support every aspect of the official American policy.”

Such was the status of the organizational weapon when I left the CIA. No doubt it grew stronger later on, as those who took charge gained experience. Was it a good thing to forge such a weapon? In my opinion then — and now — it was essential.

Was it “immoral,” “wrong,” “disgraceful”? Only in the sense that war itself is immoral, wrong, and disgraceful.

For the Cold War was and is a war, fought with ideas instead of bombs. And our country has had a clear-cut choice: Either we win the war or lose it. This war is still going on, and I do not mean to imply that we have won it. But we have not lost it either.

It is now 12 years since Winston Churchill accurately defined the world as “divided intellectually and to a large extent geographically between the creeds of Communist discipline and individual freedom.” I have heard it said that this definition is no longer accurate. I share the hope that John Kennedy’s appeal to the Russians “to help us make the world safe for diversity” reflects the spirit of a new age.

But I am not banking on it, and neither, in my opinion, was the late president. The choice between innocence and power involves the most difficult of decisions. But when an adversary attacks with his weapons disguised as good works, to choose innocence is to choose defeat. So long as the Soviet Union attacks deviously, we shall need weapons to fight back, and a government locked in a power struggle cannot acknowledge all the programs it must carry out to cope with its enemies. The weapons we need now cannot, alas, be the same ones that we first used in the 1950s. But the new weapons should be capable of the same affirmative response as the ones we forged 17 years ago, when it seemed that the Communists, unchecked, would win the alliance of most of the world.

Featured image: Shutterstock

May 22, 1947: The Cold War Begins

The Cold War seems unreal now. But it seemed unreal in its own time, too.

It involved nearly every nation on earth, and used a bewildering array of weapons: economic warfare, diplomatic maneuvering, and endless propaganda. And though it was a “cold” war in the west, it frequently erupted into long, bloody conflicts in southeast Asia, Africa, and Central America.

Here in America, the Cold War became the real and daily threat of sudden nuclear annihilation for 42 years, which only ended in 1991 when the Soviet Union suddenly imploded.

There was no signing of a peace treaty because there had never really been a war. If the Cold War had a formal beginning, it was probably May 22, 1947. On this day, President Harry S. Truman signed into law what might be his most durable legacy: The Truman Doctrine.

At the time, the Soviet Union was actively fomenting revolution in the post-war world, and gambling that the United Nations were tired of fighting. Soviet forces had already seized control of much of eastern Europe, and begun walling off eastern Germany. It was also looking to expand into the Mediterranean, where governments were still staggering from the war.

Great Britain, financially drained from six years of war, was unable to continue its aid to democratic governments in Greece and Turkey. The United States feared these countries would fall to Russian domination without British help.

The Truman Doctrine launched America’s counter-offensive to the Soviets with a grant of $400 million in aid to stabilize the Turkish and Greek governments.

The Truman Doctrine committed America to containing communism. It was the opening of a broader initiative that eventually granted $17 billion to help war-torn Europe rebuild its economies and peoples.

The Post provided extensive coverage of these events and Americans’ attitudes about what their government’s initiatives. A short editorial article from the June 7, 1947 issue was titled “Most Americans Think the U.N. Worth Saving.”  Addressing Americans’ attitude toward the appropriation of monies to Turkey and Greece, it says:

“They accept the necessity of sending food and extending military aid to Greece and Turkey, but they have a feeling that the scheme is too much like the establishment of a military bridgehead and too little like economic reconstruction.”

The American people were also extremely concerned that the money and aid were not going to fix the “root” of the problem.  The problem at the time was perceived as:

“We have done too little to prevent Europe from rotting at the core – i.e., Germany – and, as a consequence, find ourselves trying desperately to patch her up around the edges.”

This latter statement was clearly referring to the Marshall Plan’s $17 billion in aid.

In “Why The Truman Doctrine Makes Sense,” appearing just a few weeks later, the editors state that the US had averted a disaster in the Mediterranean.

“State Department officials are certain that, if the United States had not acted promptly upon the announcement of British withdrawal, Greece would have been the victim of a coup d’etat within a few weeks.”

Later that month, the editors wondered about the proper recipients of aid under the Truman Doctrine in “Must We Lend Britain More Billions?”

“Our Truman Doctrine makes no sense at all if the United States is to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into puny countries like Greece and Turkey and Korea without simultaneously guaranteeing Britain against economic collapse.”

History has shown the wisdom of Truman’s plan. The United States pumped a fortune into Western  Europe, but it stabilized global politics enough to ensure a 44 year stalemate.

It could be argued on a much larger scale that Truman’s foreign policy have led to America’s present-day involvement around the world.

It must have been unsettling to many Americans in 1947 to hear their governments was getting ready to commit billions upon billions of dollars in aid to ensure global peace, but it proved, ultimately, to be a good investment. And it might give us reason to be hopeful for peace beyond today’s terrorism.