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Cold Warriors


   

“When history says that my term in office saw the beginning
of the Cold War, it will also say that in those eight years
we have set the course that can win it….”

 

     
Harry Truman, January 15, 1953
 

 

Before handing the White House over to Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman reflected over the momentous events and pivotal decisions that crowded his presidency.  He noted that hardly a day escaped him that was not “dominated by this all-embracing struggle.”  Each of the nine Cold War presidents would agree.  The Cold War would absorb and constrain these administrations.  In a war absent of an armed conflict between its two chief rivals, ideology and rhetoric often outflanked strategy and tactics.  The times called for a robust presidency.  In the Cold War, foreign affairs were paramount, destruction was but minutes away, and America needed to speak with a singular voice.  Of its three federal branches, only the presidency, leader in foreign policy and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, fit the bill.


 
The seven Soviet leaders during the Cold War era also would be absorbed and constrained by this war.  Communism presumed an advantage because it did not have to contend with political opposition.  Whereas the American presidency changed political parties five times between 1945 and 1991, each Soviet leader, from Stalin to Gorbachev, was its leader because he was head of the Communist Party, the only party permitted to rule in the USSR. The totalitarian state tried to suppress dissent; democracy embraced dissent as a political necessity.

The challenge of the Cold War president would be to advance the cause of liberty and sustain America’s leadership on the world stage while promoting collective security through international cooperation. The last was not an easy task for a country naturally inclined toward isolation. Yet America was now the leader of the free world, and its president was its chief warrior.  Expanding freedom at the expense of communism was America’s chief aim.

The challenge of Soviet leadership was to advance the cause of the state over that of the individual by presenting communism as the answer to the failures of capitalism; to spread communism and undermine free institutions.  The Soviet premier was to be communism’s leader, and Marxism his main message.  Just as Truman’s presidency had been “dominated by this all-embracing struggle,” each leader of the free world and of the communist world believed that the future of mankind was bound up in this global crusade.

  Photograph of President Truman and Prime Minister Churchill standing on the rear platform of a special Baltimore & Ohio train (evidently en route to Fulton, Missouri for Churchill's "Iron Curtain" Speech), with the President's Military Aide, General Harry Vaughan, seated nearby., 03/04/1946?    

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