Keith P. Dyrud
Presented at the International Congress of Historical Sciences, Oslo, Norway - August 2000
At the end of the Second World War, the United States set about isolating the Soviet Union as a matter of policy. This was not in response to any factual situation that existed. The policy was actually in opposition to policies established by President Roosevelt before and during that war. Since the Soviet Union had been an ally of the United States during the war, the American people had been encouraged to develop a positive attitude towards the Soviet Union. After the war, the new direction in U. S. foreign policy required that the American people also shift their attitude. The U.S. established this new direction after Roosevelt died. The popular news media were enlisted as the vehicle for changing popular opinion to match the foreign policy. Life magazine was justifiably the most respected of the popular news media which provided credence to the new policy of isolating the Soviet Union.
While the USSR did not share the same political philosophy with the United States, the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, conducted his foreign policy in the same rational way as had the West. The wartime British leader, Winston Churchill, saw the Soviet Union as controlling a sphere of interest only partially overlapping with the interest spheres of the United States and England. President Truman's advisors, however, had a more grandiose view of American interests. They saw a world divided between the Soviet Union and the "Free World." The Soviet Union would be contained, and the United States would dominate the rest of the world. Would the American people be willing to support a U. S. policy of economic domination of the world? Truman's advisors thought they would if the issue were stated in terms of "defending the world from Communism."
When the war ended in 1945, the United States had no enemies, but it had vital interests. Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt all realized that their countries would also have their own vital interests when the war ended. Henry Luce and his Life magazine editors recognized that the United States had defeated its enemies and now had to identify and defend its vital interests.
But not everyone agreed with the vital interest basis for American foreign policy objectives. There is some evidence that Secretary of State James Byrnes was already identifying the Soviet Union as the enemy of the United States even though there was no evidence that the Soviet Union was threatening the United States' vital interests. From the pages of Life it is clear that there were other forces in the United States that also needed an enemy regardless of threats to American vital interests. (See ads by Consolidated Vultee, [October 1,1945] and the Army's presentation of the "36 Hour War." [November 19, 1945]) By March  of 1946 Life magazine had also contributed its support to a United States foreign policy based on an "enemy" rather than on an analysis of United Statesí vital interests.
At Fulton, Missouri, March, 1946, Churchill gave a speech where he talked about the iron curtain and the Communist threat. Churchill said what Truman wanted said. What Churchill did not say, was that the unspoken vital interests of the United States were imperialistic interests. The Soviet Union was not threatening the traditional vital interests of the United States, but their spreading of socialist ideas to the Third World could threaten the flow of raw materials to the United States.
The new American policy encouraged that flow of raw materials from the "third world" to the United States. The American people would have been reluctant to support a policy of taking from the poor if it had not been sold to them in the guise of saving the world from Communism. Thus American foreign policy shifted from a defensive policy of protecting our vital interests to an offensive policy of redirecting colonial trade to the United States. The anti-communism of the Cold War became the central rationale for Americaís other foreign policy objectives.
A popular perception in the US was that the USSR started the Cold War with the US simply reacting to that fact. In The Long Peace, John L. Gaddis didnít say the USSR started the Cold War. He states that US policy makers "perceived a threat". These pages from Life testify to that shift in American foreign policy from identifying and defending American vital interests to identifying and condemning an enemy.
President Truman, some industry, and the Army were preparing for "the next war."
A. Industrial responses to the end of the war:
1. If we look at an August 13, 1945 ad, we see the Dodge Corporation, a Division of Chrysler, saying that we made navy ship parts during the war. We'll make cars after the war. They and other manufacturers advertised that we made military equipment during the war, we'll make domestic products after the war.
A Studebaker ad showed a father with cars and tanks; a son who drove tanks, and the son making cars after the War. Clearly Studebaker was in the class of industrial producers that intended to ignore "the next war."
Even the manufacturers of the army JEEP suggested that they would convert the vehicle for peacetime uses to pull farm machinery and use as the family car [July 30, 1945].
2. August 27, 1945 contains a Consolidated Vultee ad (prepared before the end of the Japanese War). [Other ads appeared in June, July]. Consolidated Vultee manufactured military planes and had no domestic product. They were making the point that "By the skin of our teeth" we won. They almost beat us. We can't wait for others to get the jump on us. We need to maintain our air superiority; we need planes, armed services, training, constant research and production. One or two planes are not enough to keep services and manufacturing up to standard. Clearly, Consolidated was promoting a continuation of military spending against an enemy, but without identifying an enemy. Here we have the industrial companion to Truman's admonition to be prepared for the next war with no identified enemy.
[Deja vu] In 1990 the Cold War was over but many military-industrial corporations encouraged continued military investment. The Smithsonian carried a Lockheed ad with "intellectual appeal". It showed a painting of Napoleon in 1804 building ships to invade England. The ad suggested that Napoleon built the troop ships but ultimately did not even try to invade England because the British had the navy which was called the Oak Wall. They were prepared to repel such an invasion. That description is not accurate history. At the Battle of Trafalger the British defeated the French Navy. If Napoleon had moved toward England, other countries, such as Austria, would have attacked Napoleon from his rear. The ad advocates Lockheed continue building the Trident II Missile. We need to defend against any potential "would be" enemy. The enemy is not named. There is a striking similarity between the Consolidated Vultee ads and the Lockheed ad even though there is a 45 year separation. (Lockheed ad, "Napoleon and the Trident II," Smithsonian March 1990, pp. 98-99.)
B. The Executive
1. The President: In an Editorial entitled "National Security," [September 17, 1945] Life reported that President Truman had addressed Congress and reminded them that it was time to start thinking about the next war!
2. The State Department: [Life Editorial on London Conference October 15, 1945] One month after the war with Japan had ended the wartime allies made a major step toward a post-war settlement at the London Conference of Foreign Ministers. Present were the representatives of the Big Five. US Secretary of State James Byrnes opened the conference and said that the United States wanted the Soviets out of Romania and Bulgaria (Churchill and Stalin had previously agreed that those two countries would be primarily in the Soviet sphere of influence). The Soviet Foreign Minister,Molotov, was surprised by Byrnes' demands, and suggested that Byrnes was acting as if he had an atomic bomb in his pocket. The conference broke up on that issue. Byrnes' demand was the first shot of the Cold War. Byrnes could have been absolutely certain that Molotov could not accept his ultimatum on Bulgaria and Romania.
A western bloc united against her, was what Russia feared most. Prior to that, correspondents had talked about Wendell Wilkie's One World. As this editorial suggested, Wilkie's One World, dissolved before the correspondents' eyes. Stalin had bought into Wilkie's One World as had Roosevelt. Stalin had helped liberate Europe and had previous agreements with both Churchill and Roosevelt that led him to imagine a world in which Soviet [bloc] interests could be protected and there would still be cooperation with the West. As recently as November 1944, Churchill had personally suggested to Stalin that Romania and Bulgaria would be in the Soviet sphere of interest. It was not likely that Stalin would back off on Romania and Bulgaria.
C. The Military Response
November 19, 1945, carried a multi-page article with graphic "pictures," "The 36 Hour War." An Army-Air Force General said the next war would last 36 hours. He described an atomic bomb explosion over Washington, D. C. Missiles with atomic bombs had wiped out all American cities with populations over 50,000 that had no defense. To prevent this, the US had to be prepared; the U.S. needed an offensive weapon to prevent such a catastrophe. The article showed the potential offensive weapon and how enemy cities could be wiped out. Paratroopers could then be sent in to occupy the destroyed enemy cities. The United States would win the atomic war at a cost of 40 million U.S. lives, and the city streets would be mere lanes through atomic debris.
What the US actually needed was an expensive system to prevent the war. The US needed a missile system, and an anti-ballistic missile system. [The general got it. It took 20 years and it wasnít just science fiction.] Who was the enemy? The enemy missile trajectory was from "sub-Saharan Africa." [The US military was not yet ready to identify the new enemy.]
While the President, the military, and some industrial complexes, warned of an enemy and "the next war," Life magazine on the other hand, generally maintained a more neutral position:
In a photo we see the "Big Three Agree on Hard Peace" and we see a "happy" picture from the Potsdam World. Be tough on Germany, change borders or confirm existing borders. It is a neutral report on the Potsdam agreement. [August 13, 1945]
In the August 20 issue there is a juxtaposition of the good life here contrasted with Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombs. An editorial states that the weapons are too terrible to use.
In September 3, 1945 [pp. 45-48], Life hinted that USSR might be the new enemy. Using a distorted graph to show projected world population growth, the Soviets were portrayed with military figures showing an extreme population growth prediction for the Soviets and only a slight increase for the US. [Both countries actually grew only slightly.] However, Life magazine continued to portray the Soviet Union in a positive manner (mixed with suggestions that Russia was a questionable post-war ally.)
Life did not suggest that Roosevelt "sold out" at Yalta as many of his later critics have suggested. When the Soviets liberated Poland in 1944, they rebuilt the rails according to the Russian gauge. At Yalta, Roosevelt had told Stalin to change the rails in Poland back to the standard western European gauge. Stalin did. A November 19 photo shows the railroad track being changed back to Polish gauge. [Some historians have actually suggested that Stalin changed the Polish gauge to the Russian gauge as evidence that Stalin intended to Russianize Poland.]
Life magazine also reported on China as a land caught between Russia and the West. Each December 1945 issue reported on events in China. In "Crisis in China", Life reported that the United States didn't want Mao Tse Tung to govern China. So the US and Britain followed an odd policy: they did not disarm the defeated Japanese army , but enlisted the Japanese generals to use their army to fight against the Communists. In the December 17 issue, Life reported "A queer business," pointing out that in the post-war situation in China, the American marines had lost only one soldier in a skirmish with the Mao backed Communists, but the Japanese had suffered "nearly 3,000 casualties" while fighting Mao's forces at the request of the Chinese Nationalist General, Ho Ying-chin. (Similar events occurred in Indonesia and Viet Nam).
The Soviet Army pull-out of Manchuria is especially instructive. Obviously Life magazine had not adopted an entirely anti-Soviet approach by the end of 1945. Henry Luce, the publisher of Life had been raised in China by missionary parents so he had an interest in China. He considered himself to be a Chinese expert, and he strongly favored Chiang Kai-shek over Mao Tse Tung. On December 24, Life reported that the Soviet Army had been scheduled to pull out of Manchuria by the end of the year, 1945. Mao's army was in a position to occupy Manchuria for the Communists, and Chiang's Nationalists were too far away to contest that transfer.
Chiang then requested that Stalin keep his army in Manchuria until Chiang's army could replace the Soviet army. Stalin complied, and turned Manchuria over to Chiang's army, not to the Communist forces of Mao.
January 14, 1946, an advertising executive, Wm. Benton, was appointed Assistant Secretary of State to sell America to the world (and perhaps, sell American foreign policy to the American people). He was to sell the new foreign policy which was in the process of formulation. Essentially, he was placed in charge of propaganda. Obviously such a position was necessary. Even sophisticated Life magazine still was running some positive stories about the Soviet Union.
On March 11, 1946, Life mentions the likely enemy of the United States. In an article, "Operation Muskox," the magazine reported on a Canadian Army exercise held jointly with US. There was a map with the North Pole as the center showing how close Moscow and the Soviet Union were to Canada and the United States. The west must be prepared for Arctic warfare.
The March 18, 1946 issue of Life seems to be the turning point in Life magazine's attitude on the form the post-war world should take, and it was anti-Soviet. That issue contained three significant articles on that subject. The issue contained an editorial entitled "'Getting Tough' with Russia," pictorial and narrative coverage of Winston Churchill's Fulton, Missouri speech, and a foreign policy article by Joseph Kennedy. "'Getting Tough' with Russia" suggested it was "our missionary opportunity" to spread our ideas. The West has to respond to the "iron curtain." The Federal Council of Churches was brought in. The U.N. became a tool of the U.S.
In the same issue Joe Kennedy spelled out our foreign policy. He placed Russia's territorial interests into categories. He thought it reasonable to let the Russians keep some areas; he acknowledged that Russia would be able to control other areas such as Poland so the US should disapprove but tolerate it. Encroachment in Romania, Bulgaria, Iran, and Turkey should be strongly opposed. We would threaten to go to war if Russia advanced west of the Russian zone in Germany. Russian advance into western Europe, the Philippines, or the Western Hemisphere would lead to war.
During the Cold War, George Kennan's containment policy won out. On March 25, 1946, Life reporting turned negative. As reported in such positive terms in several December 1945 issues, Stalin had agreed to withdraw from Manchuria. In the December 24 issue there had been a positive view of the Russian occupation of Manchuria where Stalin had been told not to pull out until Chiang Kai-chek arrived. Now Life magazine charged. "Russians Strip Manchurian Industries" as the army withdraws.
April 8, 1946, Russia walked out of U.N. organizational sessions. By August 5, 1946, (one year after the war), not all journalists had gone to the Cold War side. Richard Lauderbach had positive pictures showing that Russians still like Americans, though Russians are becoming less friendly than in 1944. He reported that they seemed bewildered by what they saw in the Soviet press. The US and England had become enemies of the Soviet Union. Lauderbach showed the Russians the Life magazine for March 18, 1946 about Churchill's speech and that convinced them that Stalin was correct; the West had turned on them, they were encircled by "capitalists." [Henry Luce was still willing to allow his premier photographer to express an opinion which was contrary to its Cold War editorial policy.]
April 14, 1947, Winston Churchill wrote an article for Life entitled, "If I were an American." He favored America's new foreign policy: Essentially his attitude could be expressed by the following statement: the US is taking over the role of world leader and I approve of their policy.
Did Henry Luce, the publisher of Life, create the Cold War? Was he an unwitting stooge of the government in selling their policy? Did the Soviet Union follow a foreign policy that made it necessary for the United States to respond with the policy of containment which became the cornerstone of Cold War policy? In each case the answer is "no." When Luce reported on the creation of the Cold War, was he reporting reality as it happened? The answer is, "yes." He did report reality, at least the kind of reality which humans can understand and to which they can respond. And Americans did respond. They responded by unquestioningly accepting the necessity of the Cold War policy.
Henry Luce can be faulted only in that he did not report the alternative interpretations of world events, alternative interpretations that could have resulted in an alternative foreign policy that would have been infinitely cheaper, and could have contributed to a more peaceful world. I think that President Roosevelt was examining those alternatives and would have certainly followed a policy contrary to the Cold War policy that Truman and his advisors created.
I think that Luce, Truman, and our foreign policy makers happened to agree on the Cold War policy and chose not to present the American people with alternative interpretations of world events. John L. Gaddis is a respected scholar of the Cold War. He is also very reluctant to say that the United States followed the wrong policy. In fact, in his book The Long Peace, published just before the collapse of the Cold War, Gaddis made it clear that the Cold War policy led to one of the longest periods of peace in modern history. But, Gaddis is fully aware that alternative policies could have been followed. He is aware that in adopting a Cold War policy, the United States was not responding to world events, but creating a policy that shaped world events.
Gaddis suggests that our policy makers (he could also have included Henry Luce) were responding to what they perceived as being the realities of world events. I am reluctant to give either Luce or our policy makers that limited credit. They perceived the complex world, and they chose to present only the interpretation of events that made the Cold War a defensible and reasonable policy to the American people. Without knowledge of an alternative, the American people accepted the Cold war with its trillions of dollars in military spending and the suppression of individual freedom that unified support required for that policy.
Dyrud, Keith. "The Crucial Years: 1943-1945," An unpublished paper.
Gaddis, John L. The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War. London: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Herzstein, Robert E. Henry R. Luce: A Political Portrait of the Man who Created the American Century. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.
Seldes, George. The People Don't Know: The American Press and the Cold War. New York: Gaer Associates, 1949.
Silverstein, Brett. "Enemy Images: The Psychology of U. S. Attitudes and Cognitions Regarding the Soviet Union." American Psychologist, 44, 6 (1989).
Sirgiovanni, George. An Undercurrent of Suspicion: Anti-Communism in America During World War II. Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick and London, 1990.
Soley, Lawrence C. The News Shapers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1989.