Abba Eban (1915–2002) was an Israeli diplomat who served as Minister of Education and Culture (1960–1963), Deputy Prime Minister (1963–1966), and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1966–1974). From 1949 to 1959 he served as the first ambassador to the United Nations for the newly established State of Israel. The speech from which this selection is excerpted provided the Israeli view of the question of the Palestinian refugees.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
British Broadcasting Corporation
In May 1989, a protest movement gathered strength in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, as students convened and constructed a large statue called the Goddess of Democracy. By the beginning of June, the movement had turned into a generalized protest by workers and ordinary citizens in addition to the students. When they refused to disperse, the government sent in the army on June 4 to crush what, to many in the Communist Party, had become an incipient rebellion. The image of a lone man attempting to face down an approaching tank became the instant icon of the movement, but there are many other arresting narratives of the events that occurred during this protest. On the 15th anniversary of the suppression of these protests, the British Broadcasting Corporation interviewed survivors and eyewitnesses, gathering their testimonies into the report excerpted below.
Throughout the 1930s, Churchill had opposed the policy of “appeasement” advocated by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his allies in the British Parliament. His rise to the highest political office was facilitated by Chamberlain’s failure to deliver on the “peace in our time” he had promised after the Munich Agreement in September 1938. However, it was not until May 1940 that Churchill got his chance. Having calmed, encouraged, and directed the British people—and others—throughout the war years, Churchill was himself removed from power in 1945. Nevertheless, at this famous address delivered at Westminster College in Missouri in 1946, Churchill warned of a new regime that also could not, and should not, be appeased. It is considered one of the first salvos in the developing Cold War between the West and the Soviet bloc.
Churchill’s speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, delivered when Churchill was no longer Prime Minister, introduced the phrase “Iron Curtain” to describe the division of Europe between the Soviet Block and the West. This division is often taken to mark the beginning of the Cold War because it defined the deepening rift between the former allies and the widening gap between the ideologies of Communism and capitalist democracy. In his speech, Churchill outlines the emerging geopolitics of the era, in particular the dangers of nuclear confrontation, the need for increasing global cooperation, and the role of a strong United Nations.
From Jussi Hanhimäki and Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 47–8.
Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev
The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 marked the climax, and the most dangerous point, of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. When US spy planes discovered the presence of missile launching pads in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy demanded their immediate destruction and followed up this demand with a naval blockade of the island—and continued reconnaissance missions in Cuban airspace—to prevent the arrival of Russian reinforcements. The world held its breath for several days as Soviet ships, bearing nuclear missiles, sailed steadily for Cuba. The globe teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation, and this exchange of letters reveals, from the Soviet and Cuban side, how very close to that brink the world actually came.
Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (1900–1989) was a leader-in-exile of the revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran (1919–1980) in 1979, but his influence extended far beyond the politics of one Middle Eastern country. The Imam, as he continues to be known to his followers, was one of the century’s most important voices articulating the need for an Islamic “worldview” to counter globalizing forces of western economic structures, secular values, and popular culture.
Throughout the 1980s, a decade that included horrific war with the secular Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Khomeini continued to represent those forces of “revolutionary Islam” that argued that the societies represented by the United States and its western allies were the sources of violence, injustice, and irreligion in the world. The struggles of some followers of traditional Islam to preserve the faith as they understood it introduced the “clash of cultures” as yet another way to understand the continuing violence between human communities.
Imam Khomeini, Islam and Revolution, trans. Hamid Algar (Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press, 1981), 300–06.
Paul H. Nitze
This Report from the National Security Council to President Harry S. Truman laid out the framework for the policy of “containment” that guided US actions throughout the Cold War. Its main author was Paul H. Nitze, then the director of policy planning for the Department of State. The passage below discusses the conflict of ideas and values between the US and the Soviet Union.
From the National Archives “A Report to the National Security Council – NC 68,” April 12, 1950. President’s Secretary’s File, Truman Papers.
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
The 1980s was the final decade of the Cold War. Whereas the period between 1942 and 1962 marked the most hostile stage and 1962 to 1979 was the era of détente, the final stage saw the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931). The invasion cost the Soviets dearly and taxed their military heavily. Gorbachev exerted efforts (successfully, it turned out) to democratize his country’s political system and decentralize the Soviet economy. His support of reformist Communist leaders in soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe led to their eventual secession from the USSR, and his reforms over several years between 1985 and 1991 led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Gorbachev’s counterpart in the United States, Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), was a former actor who became president in 1981 and presided over American foreign policy during this period, becoming one of the most popular modern presidents. In these excerpts, tension over weapons of mass destruction is still front and center in relations between the two countries, notwithstanding the imminent collapse of the Soviet system.
From Jussi Hanhimäki and Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 307–10.
Just as the United States distrusted the Soviet Union, so the Soviet Union distrusted the United States, believing it to be inherently imperialist and bent on Soviet destruction. Intended as a retort to George Kennan’s “Long Telegram,” in which the American diplomat described Soviet postwar intentions, here Soviet ambassador to the United States, Novikov (1900–1976) described how he saw American foreign policy, suggesting in particular that what drove the United States was the imperialist tendencies of “monopolistic capitalism.” His view both informed and expressed the core of Soviet foreign policy in the postwar years.
From Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996, pp. 209–18.
Gamal Abdel Nasser
On June 9th, 1967, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt resigned his office, after the failure of the Egyptian-led Six Day War against Israel. Nasser had held the presidency since 1956. He was out of office only briefly, however, since a series of nation-wide demonstrations by the people called for his reinstatement. He remained in power until his death in 1970. He blames the Arab defeat in the war on a secret alliance between Israel, Britain, and the United States, and ends with a renewed call for Arab nationalism and unity.
From Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin, The Arab-Israeli Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, 7th edn. (2008), pp. 103–105.
The Soviet view of the Cold War world is reflected in Ambassador Nikolai Novikov’s extended 1946 analysis of the postwar global situation and of U.S. policies and goals. Novikov’s assessment is significant, both because he was based in Washington, D.C., and because his assessment was produced almost exactly one year after the surrender of Japan had ended World War II. In a lengthy telegram to Moscow, Novikov surveyed American involvement in the main global arenas, assessed U.S. goals, and analyzed the roots of anti-Soviet sentiments in America. He concluded that America was an aggressive power that was actively preparing for a future war with Russia in order to achieve complete “world domination.”
Nikolai Novikov, “Telegram to Moscow” (27 September 1946), in Origins of the Cold War, ed. Kenneth M. Jensen (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1991), 3–10, 12–16.
Vo Nguyen Giap
Although Ho Chi Minh was the main political leader of the Vietminh, the dominant military figure was Vo Nguyen Giap (1912–2013). Like Ho, Giap was a long-time revolutionary and nationalist. He studied guerrilla warfare with the Chinese Communist leader, Mao Zedong, and he devised the successful strategy for defeating first the French and then the Americans. When Ho proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Giap was both minister of defense and commander-in-chief of the army. He was the mastermind behind both the decisive Vietnamese victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and the politically decisive Tet Offensive against the United States and South Vietnamese in 1968. In his essay, “The People’s War” (1961), he explains the general strategic conceptions that governed Vietnamese military tactics throughout the struggle for Vietnamese independence.
Ho Chi Minh, Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in On Revolution, ed. Bernard B. Fall, 143–45. Copyright © 1967 by Praeger Publishers.
George F. Kennan
George Kennan (1904–2005) was one of the most distinguished American diplomats of the twentieth century, and his article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (1947) is one of the most influential documents in American diplomatic history. As chargé d’affaires in the American embassy in Moscow, he was singularly well placed to observe and assess the Soviet leadership, particularly because he had served in a variety of foreign service positions in Europe since 1927. From 1947 to 1950, he worked in the State Department in high-level planning and advisory roles. He was ambassador to Moscow briefly in 1952. It is hard to overestimate his impact on American Cold War foreign policy. Possessed of a unique combination of knowledge of Russian history, the ability to synthesize and communicate insights based on that knowledge, and the authority within the foreign policy community of the United States to ensure that his opinions would be heard and heeded, Kennan left a deep imprint on America’s view of the Soviet Union.
In “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Kennan elaborated on the ideas that he had addressed in his famous “long telegram” of February 1946. This had come just six months after the surrender of Japan had marked the effective end of World War II. The main purpose of both of Kennan’s documents was to present the essential elements of the Russo-Soviet historical experience, worldview, and political system in order that the United States could formulate effective, well-grounded policies consistent with its own traditions, experiences, and values. His conclusions provided the framework for a set of policies that have become known as “containment,” which shaped American cold war strategy for at least four decades and articulated America’s self-perception in its struggle against the forces of Communism.
X [George F. Kennan], “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs 25 (July 1947): 566–78, 580–82.
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman’s presidency coincided with the early and uncertain days of the Cold War. During his administration (1945–1952), Soviet victories in World War II had placed the Red Army in control of Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, eastern Germany, and part of Austria. In devastated Western Europe, Communist Party members were also gaining power and influence. It did not take Truman long to respond to this perceived threat. In March 1946, he traveled from Washington to Fulton, Missouri, to be present at the speech by Winston Churchill, in which the former British prime minister said that “an iron curtain has descended across Europe.” Churchill also called on the United States to assume global leadership and to constrain Soviet aggression by means of a strong defense and an active cooperation with England. Exactly one year and one week later, Truman addressed Congress in joint session in the speech in which he laid out his broad foreign policy objectives to contain the Communist menace. The Truman Doctrine provided a coherent strategy for American foreign policy in the Cold War and justified America’s intervention in the Korean War (1950–1953). In 1952, Truman declined to run for reelection and retired to his home in Missouri, where he died twenty years later at the age of 88.
Harry S. Truman, Message to Congress (March 12, 1947); Document 171; 80th Cong. 1st sess., Records of the United States House of Representatives; Record Group 233; National Archives.
United Nations Drafting Committee
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, was one of the most significant and lasting results of the World War II. The League of Nations, created after the World War I, had failed to prevent the beginning of another, even more catastrophic and costly conflict. The United Nations was planned throughout the war as a substitute mechanism for global peace and security, but world leaders also believed that a document was necessary to affirm the rights of individuals throughout the entire world. A formal drafting committee, consisting of members from eight countries, was charged with the task. The committee chair was Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Roosevelt and a strong advocate for human rights in her own right. By its resolution 217 A (III), the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight nations abstained from the vote, but none dissented.
United Nations General Assembly
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, was one of the most significant and lasting results of the Second World War. The League of Nations, created after the First World War, had failed to prevent the beginning of another, even more catastrophic and costly conflict. The United Nations was planned throughout the war as a substitute mechanism for global peace and security, but world leaders also believed that a document was necessary to affirm the rights of individuals throughout the entire world. A formal drafting committee, consisting of members from eight countries, was charged with the task. The committee chair was Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Roosevelt and a strong advocate for human rights in her own right. By its resolution 217 A (III), the General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eight nations abstained from the vote, but none dissented.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/)
Ho Chi Minh (Nguyen Ai Quoc)
In September 1945, the same month that World War II officially ended, Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) declared both Vietnamese independence and the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Ho, the head of the Vietminh (the League for the Independence of Vietnam), was both a Communist and the main leader of the Vietnamese nationalist, anticolonial movement. Ho had been raised in a pro-independence family, and he actually tried to present a petition for Vietnamese independence to President Woodrow Wilson in Paris in 1919. Rebuffed by the West, Ho turned to Communism and the Soviet Union, where he trained as a revolutionary in the 1920s. Having worked in the 1920s and 1930s as a revolutionary organizer in China and Moscow, Ho returned to Vietnam with the outbreak of World War II. There he established the Vietminh and cooperated, especially with American intelligence agents, in the war against the Japanese. The Japanese had ruled Indochina through the remaining French colonial authorities up to the very end of the war, when they set up direct Japanese rule. Thus, when the Japanese forces withdrew, there was no established government in Vietnam. Ho took advantage of this vacuum to proclaim the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence (1945), hoping that the United States would support his cause.
Ho Chi Minh, Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, in On Revolution, ed. Bernard B. Fall, 143–45. Copyright © 1967 by Praeger Publishers.
Lyndon B. Johnson
The American leader most associated with American involvement in Vietnam was President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973). In his speech “Why Americans Fight in Vietnam” (1965), he attempted to explain to the American people why the United States needed to undertake a difficult, dangerous, and expensive endeavor. But three years later, with his popularity at its lowest point, President Johnson announced that he would not seek a second term as president, and he retired to his Texas ranch in 1969.
Lyndon B. Johnson, “Why Americans Fight in Vietnam,” in The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, volume 1, 172 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1966), 394–99.
The Vietnam War and the cost it imposed on the young Americans who served there (not to mention on the Vietnamese themselves) was the focus of John Kerry’s testimony before the U.S. Senate, which is excerpted here. John Kerry (1943– ) was a highly decorated (Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts) Vietnam veteran who cofounded and became the leading spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. A Massachusetts native and a graduate of Yale University, Kerry enlisted in the navy and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, leading gunboat patrols in the Mekong Delta. Upon his return, he became a leading critic of the war and its “hypocrisy.” After completing law school, Kerry entered Massachusetts politics in 1976 and later was elected to three terms as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts before running for U.S. President in 2004 and joining the Obama administration in 2012 as Secretary of State. The speech presented here was his introductory statement made to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971. In explaining his opposition to the Vietnam War, Kerry provides a view on the Vietnam conflict that highlights the divisive bitterness that the war created in America.
John Kerry, “Why I Oppose the Vietnam War,” in Legislative Proposals Relating to the War in Southeast Asia, Hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 92d Congress, 1st sess., April–May 1971 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1971), 180–83, 185.