Rhetoric of the Cold War
Rhetorical Challenges and Resources
to Fight the Cold War
There were many obstacles to overcome
to motivate the Cold War
- War exhaustion. The society was tired after
the four difficult years of World War II with 16 million troops in the armed
forces and nearly a half million dead. Beyond that the economic commitment
to total war had stopped the development of technological progress in the
- Fighting a former ally. The Soviet Union had
been an ally during World War II with the United States providing aid to assist
the war effort. Fighting a former ally seemed strange.
- No precipitating attack. There was no Pearl
Harbor. Not even a Lusitania (the passenger ship sunk by the Germans during
World War I). "The Oceans will protect us" isolationism seemed validated.
But there were also some characteristic
beliefs that could serve as rhetorical resources
- Expansionist power was still vivid.
The models of the fascist expansionism were still vivid in people's memories.
Particularly strong was <appeasement>, the idea that Hitler could have
been stopped if he would have been confronted earlier than he was. This yielded
the idea that expansion needed to be resisted early and decisively.
- The United States had a history
of opposing Communism. As early as the 1910s the United States government
had arrested and imprisoned
avowed Communists. The campaign against Communism existed prior to the
Cold War, even if without intensity.
Paranoid Style in American Politics. Through fringe parties and even
governmental policy at times, the notion that an unseen conspiracy by powerful
people threatened peace and prosperity was an old American idea. It traced
back the anti-Masonic
movements of the 1800s, the radical opposition to the railroads after
the Civil War, the fear of secret immigrant societies of the early 20th century.
The Rhetoric of American Anti-Communism
In opposing Communism, the American culture developed a characteristic rhetoric
- Communism was in ultimate conflict with capitalism. The battle was
seen as one between two economic systems. Because Communism flourished in
poor societies, the contrast between American wealth and impoverished Communist
societies was available as a constant theme of danger. Communism threatened
to remove our dishwashers and television sets. Vice-president Richard Nixon
Soviet Chairman Nikita Krushchev in an example of an American kitchen constructed
as a display in Moscow in 1959. Krushchev's boast "We will bury you"
was widely interpreted as a declaration of total war against capitalism.
- The conflict was a conflict of "systems." The Cold War
was depicted as not being between governments but between systems. This positioned
the governmental leaders as leaders of the entire society resisting the threat
of Communism to our way of life.
- Communism was God-less. Marx had called religion the "opiate
of the proletariat." This theme was built into a threat of Communism
to faith and the worship of God. Anti-Communism became a common theme in the
Catholic and Protestant Churches in the United States, proclaimed from the
pulpit and invoked in prayer as a target for God's wrath.
- Communism would destroy our way of life. A byproduct of the conflict
of systems, anti-Communism depicted differences in lifestyle in the United
States and the Soviet Union as threats to our lifestyle. For example, one
theme of anti-Communist rhetoric was that Communism was anti-family because
Soviet women worked and placed their children in day care. In the American
lifestyle of the time, women were to remain at home and care for their own
children. The most important ideograph in opposing Communism was <freedom>,
thus connecting the ideology to a basic American value.
- Communism was unitary. Communist movements anywhere in the world
(including in the United States) were portrayed as directed from Moscow. This
contrasted with our notions of individual choice, freedom of thought and action.
It also made those in the United States who were characterized as expressing
communist ideas automatically the stooges of Soviet Communism.
- The invisible enemy. Communism was portrayed as secretive. According
to this theme, Communists were all around you undermining your society without
your knowing. The efforts to suppress Communism did drive many communist sympathizers
underground. In addition, charges that those with communist sympathies were
in Hollywood or the State department became difficult to disprove. These smear
campaigns and the suppression movement lent validity to the invisible enemy
American popular culture developed and expanded on these themes including television
series like "I Led Three Lives" about an FBI spy who infiltrated a
Communist cell in the United States, and films such as "The Manchurian
Candidate" which depicted a plot to brainwash an American for assassination.
The Rhetoric of the Cold War
Political Leaders drew on the American rhetoric of anti-Communism and the still familar motivations for World War II to motivate the Cold
War. This rhetoric to motivate the Cold War called upon several strategies that together created a Cold War motive through which world affairs were framed throughout the Cold War.
- A bipolar two-valued rhetoric. Only two choices were offered captured in the ideographs of <freedom>
or <Communism>. All people were forced to choose; all nations were forced
- The Cold War motive explained the world and motivated American response in a rhetoric rich with narratives of events around the world. The structure of this narrative provided:
- a Communist antagonist. The enemy was clearly drawn as an antagonist resisting <freedom> loving people and <democracy>. Wide ranges of people were characterized as Communists, but they were ordered around by the Communist party, did not think for themselves, and were victims of Communist ideology. There was a unity of command in which the Communists ultimately answered to Moscow. Communists also had the characteristic of being trustworthy. Proof of this were the agreements that they made and then violated. Finally, communism was aggressively expansionary. Proofs for this came through their own words, the expanding influence of communism, and their all-encompassing influence on nations they controlled.
- <Free peoples> were the protagonists. Not national governments. Proper governments were the result of <democratic> elections. <Free people> yearned for such elections. But the antagonists denied them. Note the United States does not control. Instead, like in the Arsenal of Democracy, it supports the aspirations of <free people>. Thus, on both antagonists and protagonists the Cold War motive transcends nationalism going to the difference of ideology.
- Plot was the desparate struggle to resist Communism. The plot of Cold War was the desparate struggle of <free peoples> to remain free in the face of Communist aggression. The battle was drawn in extreme terms. <Freedom> itself was at stake. The globe was divided into light and dark lands. The geography of Communist slavery expanded with only the power of the United States to limit it.
- The actions motivated by the motive related to the resistance called for in the plot. Compromise was illegitimate with such untrustworthy adversaries. The US had to assist others in resisting. After 1947 the word to describe this resistance was <containment>, the geographic limitation of Communism's spread.
- The Cold War provided a thorough logic that expanded as the decades advanced.
- Extended to culture as well as military. A strong military was needed to limit expansion, but the Communists were ultimately trying to enslave the <free>. Thus, there was a cultural war as well as a military struggle.
- A slightly mad leadership. The idea was that the Communists were so driven that they were beyond rational. When Premier Khruschev banged his shoe on the podium in 1960, it was evidence of this slightly askew mental acuity.
- The Invisible Enemy. The rhetoric of conspiracy brought suspicion of one's neighbor into the Cold War. Communists were depicted as operating secretly within the American
society. This gave great political weight to revealing the secret Communists
in our midst. This gave rise to McCarthyism.
- Mutual Terror. One of the key strategies of the Cold War was MAD
(mutually assured destruction). This doctrine said that nuclear war could
only be avoided by the ability of one side to totally annihilate the other
with nuclear bombs. Only when war was unthinkable could it be avoided. Thus,
mutual nuclear terror drove the motivations of both sides in the Cold War.
In the two-valued, polemic rhetoric, THEY not only wanted to destroy our way
of life, they wanted to destroy us; and only our ability to destroy them kept
them at bay.
- The Cold War motive defined the responsiblity of citizens engaged in this total war.
- Stay vigilant. Turn in your communist neighbor.
- Support military strength. Duty called all to belong to the Cold War army. A draft was in place to place citizens into the army.
- Contain Communism at every opportunity.
Where the rhetoric of anti-Communism prospered throughout the culture, the
rhetoric of the Cold War dominated the speeches of leaders.
Historical Stages of the Cold War
Although the characteristics above dominate the whole
era, there were three distinct stages in the Cold War. The rhetoric varied somewhat
over these stages.
Beginning of the Cold War
The Cold War really began in the postwar period: 1946-47.
The speech that declared the Cold War was actually a speech by Winston Churchill
in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946. Harry Truman's declaration of "The Truman
Doctrine" a year later declared the United States' interest in the war.
By 1950 a propaganda campaign was in action. The media
reinforced the values and motivations that supported the war. The Presidents
and other national leaders brought new events into the motivational frameworks
to justify responses of containment. John Kennedy reinforced the national commitment
to the war in his Inaugural Address in 1960.
- As the 1970's dawned, the Cold War encountered a period
of less intensity known as détente.
President Richard Nixon and his adviser Henry Kissenger sought to widen a divide
developing between the two major Communist powers -- the Soviet Union and China
-- to construct a triangular rather than a bi-polar foreign policy. As they
did so, the intensity cooled. The Nuclear Freeze movement even emerged from
the social movements of the time to oppose US policy.
- The Cold War motive had begun to lose its power to explain the events happening around people. The era of the citizen army came to a close in 1973 and a professional army was put into place. Nuclear
test ban treaties were signed, not accounted for in the no-agreements rhetoric of the Cold War. The triangulated relationship of the US, the Soviet Union, and China transformed the division into a national division rather that a bipolar ideological war.
- The replacement was the Power Politics motive.
- Characters. The Power Politics motive portrayed
nations who acted in their national interest. Thus, nationalism emerged
from the shadows created by the Cold War motive.
- Plot. Actors in diplomacy would form alliances
across ideology to further their national interests. Thus, even the US
could compromise with either of the other powers if it would further their
- Actions. This then became a period of negotiation
where the United States attempted to pursue its national interests through
engagement with the enemy.
The End of the Cold War
- The final intensification of the Cold War occurred during
the Reagan administration in the 1980s.
- Known for decades as an ardent anti-Communist,
Reagan renewed the idea of the Soviet Union as an "Evil Empire."
escalated the arms race and threatened to imbalance MAD. The resulting spending
on arms nearly destroyed both the US and Soviet economies, but in the end the
pressure of the arms race forced tensions in the Soviet system to the surface.
- The emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev
was a last effort to save the Soviet system but failed. Communist dominance
of central and eastern Europe ended in the Velvet
Revolution and its accompanying relatively peaceful revolutions of 1989
and the dissolution
of the Soviet Union in 1990. George Kennan's prediction in the "X"
article, that the Soviet Union had inherent contradictions that would ultimately
destroy it from internal pressure, had proven true.