Cold Warriors

Andrew J. Rotter

Architects of the conflict that gripped the world for nearly fifty years, cold warriors were the men, and few women, who gave shape to the ongoing conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1989. They built the Cold War's institutions, forged its diplomacy, oversaw its military flare-ups and its diplomatic stand-downs, and supplied its fierce rhetoric and its silent espionage. In the West, the so-called free world, cold warriors were usually well-born and well educated. In revolutionary societies and communist countries, high class standing was no asset for a leader, so cold warriors either came from humble stock or claimed that they did. The most prominent cold warriors were men of power—commanders of great armies, of the masses, of economic might, of words and ideas. Cold warriors were frequently messianic in their convictions, believing they represented the one best political, economic, and social system. They were serious men, disinclined to joke about their work and for the most part innocent even of a sense of irony about it; with the exception perhaps of their hubris, they masked their emotions, though they could never fully erase them. Cold warriors were often pragmatic men, able to calculate their nations' interests and if necessary to negotiate with their adversaries in order to protect those interests. Still, despite their pragmatism cold warriors contained within their bodies the cells of history and ideology that compelled them to the contest, in the belief that they were defending their nations' values or in the hope of spreading their values to others beyond their borders.

Cold warriors lived most obviously in the United States and the Soviet Union, but because the Cold War enveloped the world its warriors were everywhere. They included the presidents of the United States, from Harry S. Truman to George H. W. Bush, and their secretaries of state, among them John Foster Dulles, Dean Rusk, and Henry Kissinger. Many other U.S. government officials were cold warriors: appointees such as George F. Kennan, Paul Nitze, and Jeane Kirkpatrick, and elected representatives including senators William Knowland, Joseph McCarthy, and Hubert H. Humphrey. There were members of the intelligence community (J. Edgar Hoover, Edward G. Lansdale, William Colby), prominent journalists who interpreted the Cold War to the American people (Walter Lippmann, James Reston), and theologians, among them Reinhold Niebuhr and Billy Graham, who saw the Cold War as a moral challenge to Americans. In the Soviet Union a commitment to the Cold War was necessary for the leaders who followed Joseph Stalin after 1953, from Nikita Khrushchev to Konstantin Chernenko. The ideologue Andrei Zhdanov was a cold warrior of the first magnitude. Soviet diplomats carried out their superiors' orders but contributed as well their own mite to the conflict; among them were the longtime foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the ambassador to the United States Andrei Gromyko. Lavrenti Beria, head of Stalin's secret police, maintained a bloodstained vigil against all forms of Cold War heterodoxy.

Outside the United States and the Soviet Union, cold warriors fought their own battles in the shadows cast by their powerful allies. Their Cold Wars were similar to the principal super-power conflict in their ideological and geopolitical purposes, but different to the extent that they were influenced by histories that preceded the Cold War and in some ways transcended it, and also different because local concerns pressed down upon a broad Cold War foundation, reshaping it as wood construction forms mold wet concrete. There were British cold warriors, among them Winston Churchill, prime minister and influential statesman, foreign ministers Ernest Bevin and Anthony Eden, and in the last decade of the Cold War, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In Canada there was Lester Pearson (prime minister, 1963–1968). France had Charles de Gaulle (whose Cold War had an overwhelmingly Gallic flavor), South Africa Hendrik Verwoerd (prime minister 1958–1966, who invoked the Soviet threat in order to defend white supremacy in his country), and the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos (president 1965–1986), who traded his support for U.S. military bases on his islands for U.S. help against his domestic enemies, communist or not. On the other side were Kim Il Sung of North Korea, Vietnam's revolutionary nationalist Ho Chi Minh, Walter Ulbricht of East Germany, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

There were thousands of cold warriors; the four profiled here were selected because they represented different sides of the conflict and because, taken together, their influence spanned nearly the length of the Cold War. Joseph Stalin was dictator of the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until his death in 1953. Dean Acheson was U.S. undersecretary of state from 1945 to 1947, secretary of state from 1949 to 1953, and foreign policy adviser without portfolio thereafter. Mao Zedong led the communists to victory in China in 1949 and became the nation's supreme ruler for nearly thirty years. And Ronald Reagan, U.S. president from 1981 to 1989, stoked the flickering fire beneath the Cold War cauldron. All of these men made decisions that had enormous consequences for the world in which they lived and for the world inherited by the next generation of leaders. Strenuous as it was to fight the Cold War, it proved even harder to unmake it.


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See also Cold War Evolution and Interpretations ; Cold War Origins ; Cold War Termination ; Presidential Advisers ; Presidential Power ; Summit Conferences .

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