Life Magazine Declares the Cold War: March 18,
by Keith P. Dyrud
Presented at the International Congress of Historical Sciences
Oslo, Norway - August 2000
A Presentation with pictures from Life
[an * indicates a picture of a page from Life
Introduction: Post-war American Foreign Policy
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
magazine was justifiably the most respected of the popular
news media which provided credence to the new policy of isolating the Soviet
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 also
recognized that the United States had defeated its enemies and now had to
identify and defend the vital interests of the United States.
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 and the Army's presentation of the "36 Hour War.") By March of 1946
magazine had also contributed its support to a United States
foreign policy based on an "enemy" rather than on an analysis of United States'
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 the flow of raw
materials from the "third world" to the United States. Americans 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 American
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 didn't say the USSR started the Cold War. He states that our
policy makers "perceived a threat". These pages from Life
that shift in American foreign policy from identifying and defending American
vital interests to identifying and condemning an enemy.
The Ads and Articles of Life
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
*Even the manufacturers of the arm JEEP suggested
that they would convert the vehicle for peacetime uses to pull farm machinery
and use as the family car.
2. *August 27, 1945 contains the 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.
] *In 1990 the Cold War was over but
many military-industrial corporations encouraged continued military investment.
carried a Lockheed ad with "intellectual appeal".
It showed Napoleon in 1804 building ships to invade England. But the British
had the navy which was called the Oak Wall. They were prepared to repel such
an invasion. But 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 ads though
there is a 45 year separation. (Lockheed ad, "Napoleon and the Trident II,"
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: * October 15, 1945 [Editorial
on London Conference] a major step occurred. It was the first post-war settlement,
one month after the war with Japan had ended. There was a London Conference
of Foreign Ministers. Present were the Big Five. Secretary of State 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).
Molotov, surprised at Byrnes' demands, 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
This was what Russia feared most, a western bloc united
against her. * Prior to that, correspondents had talked about Wendell Wilkie's
. As the editorial suggested, Wilkie's One World
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.
Stalin could not back off on Romania and Bulgaria.
C. The Military Response
* November 19, 1945, carried an article, 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 cities over 50,000 that had no defense. U.S. 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 be sent in to occupy the destroyed enemy
cities. We would win the atomic war at a cost of 40 million U. S. lives. The
city streets would be lanes through debris.
What we actually needed was an expensive system to
prevent the war. We needed a missile system, and an anti-ballistic missile
system. [He got it. It took 20 years. It isn't just science fiction.] Who
was the enemy? The missile trajectory was from "sub-Saharan Africa." [Our
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
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 20 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, 1945, there is a hint that USSR might be the new enemy.
Using a distorted graph to show world populations, the Soviets were portrayed
with military figures showing an extreme growth prediction for the Soviets
and slight increase for the U.S. Both countries actually grew only slightly.
Sept. 3, 1945. pp. 45-48.)
magazine continued to portray the Soviet
Union in a positive manner (mixed with suggestions that Russia was a questionable
Roosevelt did not "sell out" at Yalta. 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 to standard western
European gauge. Stalin did. *A Nov. 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.
Now we look at China. What price peace? The United
States didn't want Mao Tse Tung. So the U.S. and Britain followed an odd
policy of using the defeated Japanese army to fight the Communists. They
turned the Japanese army around and ordered it to fight Mao Tse Tung. *In
the Dec. 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
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 Dec. 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
*December 10, 1945 there is a photo of Zhukov and
Eisenhower with a favorable portrayal.
Selling American Foreign Policy
* 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.
The Enemy is mentioned
*March 11, 1946, Operation Muskox, a Canadian Army
Exercise held jointly with U.S. and Canada was covered. There was a picture
of Moscow. Be prepared for Arctic warfare.
Life Magazine Declares the Cold War
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 we 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 in western Europe, Philippines,
or the Western Hemisphere would lead to war.
During the Cold War 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
*"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. They seem bewildered by what they see in the Soviet press. The
U.S. and England have become enemies of the Soviet Union. Russians were shown
magazine for March 18, 1946 about Churchill's speech and that helped
convince 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
entitled, "If I were an American." He favored America's new
foreign policy: Essentially his attitude could be expressed by the following
statement: the U.S. is taking over the role of world leader and I approve
of their policy.
Did Henry Luce, the publisher of Life
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
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 for the policy required.
Dyrud, Keith. "The Crucial Years: 1943-1945," An unpublished
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
, 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
University of Minnesota, 1989.