Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 23: The Cradles of Cold War Theology

Chapter 23: The Cradles of Cold War Theology

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





Previous: Chapter 22   Next: Chapter 24


Chapter 23: The Cradles of Cold War Theology:

245, ¶ 1-2: Ronald A. Knox, God and the Atom (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1945), quotes from pp. 79, 87, 91, 95, 149.

246: Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1994), quotes on p. xxi, 9, 13, 199-202. William Inboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment (New York: Cambridge University, 2008), pp. 29-43.

247: Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light, p. 210.

247-48: Truman’s committee included Dean Acheson, David Lilienthal, Leslie Groves, John J. McCloy, James Conant, Vannevar Bush, and J. Robert Oppenheimer. On the atomic negotiations see Paul Boyer, Fallout: A Historian Reflects on America’s Half-Century Encounter with Nuclear Weapons (Columbus: Ohio State University, 1998), pp. 41-55; Gregg Herken, The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War 1945-1950 (New York: Knopf., 1980), pp. 171-91; Robert Dallek, The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953 (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), pp. 179-208 (Truman quote, p. 208); “worst mistake” from The Journals of David E. Lilienthal: The Atomic Energy Years, 1945-1950 (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), p. 59.

248: Clifford-Elsey Report, “American Relations with the Soviet Union,” September 24, 1946, cover letter and pp. 74-75, at:

Spencer R. Weart, Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1988), pp. 103-27; quote from Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light, p. 106.  Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko, The Atomic Bomb and the Cold War (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2008), pp. 135-70, buried for good the hypothesis that international control was ever possible because neither Stalin nor the Americans ever contemplated surrender of national sovereignty.

248-49: Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light, pp. 223-24; Michael Phayer, Pius XII, the Holocaust, and the Cold War (Bloomington: Indiana University, 2008).

249: Boyer, Fallout, pp. 41-55 (JCS quote, p. 52); John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University, 2005), pp. 79-80.

249-50: William L. O’Neill, A Better World: The Great Schism: Stalinism and the American Intellectuals (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), pp. 138-41, see the founding of ADA as a formative event in postwar America. Its kernel was Niebuhr’s tiny Union for Democratic Action that had opposed the isolationism of Socialist Norman Thomas. The UDA was the first leftist organization that excluded “card-carrying Communists,” while the ADA emerged as a broad coalition hospitable to all opponents of Stalinism including, of course, former Trotskyites.  On the churches’ acquiescence see William Inboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment (New York: Cambridge University, 2008), pp. 49-56 (quote, p. 54); Eric Patterson, ed., Christianity and Power Politics Today: Christian Realism and Contemporary Political Dilemmas (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 1-19; Raymond Haberski, Jr., God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 2012), pp. 20-21; Jason W. Stevens, God-Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America’s Cold War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2010), pp. 1-77 (quote, p. 5); Elesha J. Coffman, The Christian Century and the Rise of the Mainline (Oxford, 2013), pp. 145-81.  The Christian Century likewise urged Truman to “stand firm” against any appeasement of Communism and even use the atomic bomb if necessary.  Hence, the mainline churches’ ambition “to approximate a national religious establishment – to speak for the soul of America – waned” (p. 216).  Robert Jewett, Mission and Menace: Four Centuries of American Religious Zeal (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), pp. 254-55, made it explicit by writing that complacent mainstream churches simply turned complacent during this “high point in the acculturation of religion under the impact of civil religion.”

250, ¶ 1: Mark Edwards, “‘God Has Chosen Us’: Re-Membering Christian Realism, Rescuing Christendom, and the Contest of Responsibilities during the Cold War,” Diplomatic History 33, no. 1 (Jan. 2009): 67; H. W. Brands, What America Owes the World: The Struggle for the Soul of Foreign Policy (New York: Cambridge University, 1998), pp. 182-208; Inboden, Soul of Containment, p. 105.

250-51: The Universal Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948. The vote was 48 to 0 in favor with eight members abstaining. They included the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian and Byelorussian Socialist Republics, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, plus two outliers: Saudi Arabia and the Union of South Africa.  On the origins of the Declaration see Paul Kennedy, The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations (New York: Random House, 2006); Michael H. Hunt, The American Ascendency: How the United States Gained and Wielded Global Dominance (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2007); Mary Ann Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House, 2001); and Paul Gordon Lauren, The Evolution of International Human Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1998).

251: Colin Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2006), pp. 82-113, summarizes the four options available after 1945: neo-isolationism or Fortress America; rollback of Communism by air-atomic attack; a regional bargain, or containment. The last won out because the Soviet military threat ruled out the first two options and no domestic constituency save a few Stalinists and fellow-travelers (Truman’s “reds, phonies, and parlor-pinks”) favored the third option.

251-52: Randall Bennett Woods, A Changing of the Guard: Anglo-American Relations, 1941-1946 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1990), pp. 387-96; Fred L. Block, The Origins of International Economic Disorder (Berkeley: University of California, 1977), pp. 32-69; Varga quoted in Lloyd C. Gardner, Architects of Illusion: Men and Ideas in American Foreign Policy 1941-1949 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970), p. 128.

252: Marc Trachtenberg, The Cold War and After: History, Theory, and the Logic of International Politics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2012), pp. 69-109, calls the results of the Potsdam Conference an amicable divorce because of Secretary of State James Byrnes’s tacit acquiescence in Soviet control of eastern Europe. Wilson D. Miscamble, From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University, 2007), says Truman believed in a new world order and was “naively unaware that Stalin was reading from a completely different script in terms of his postwar vision. The time has come to drive the stake finally and completely through the heart of the false accusation that Truman quickly reversed Roosevelt’s accommodating approach” (p. 171).  Others arguing that if anything Truman stuck too long with FDR’s Yalta agenda include Vojtech Mastny, John Lewis Gaddis, Tony Judt, and John Lukacs, according to whom “the American reaction to the Russians was neither too soon nor too drastic, but too late”: Lukacs, “Historians and the Cold War,” in Mark F. Wilkinson, et., The Cold War: Opening Shots, 1945-1950 (Lexington, VA, 2003), p. 36.  Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2006), interprets Truman as a genuine leader rather than puppet precisely because of his civil religious convictions..

252-53: Melvyn P. Leffler, “The Cold War: What Do “We Now Know”? The American Historical Review 104, no. 2 (1999): 501-24, makes this point powerfully: “It is easy for us now to forget, but for many contemporaries in 1945, democratic capitalism had not seemed to work. For the prior half-century, it had failed to keep the peace, provide for the material well-being of the masses, and establish the structures for a prosperous international economy. It had failed to reintegrate Germany after World War I and thwart the rise of fascism.  It had failed to deal with the rumblings of revolutionary nationalism in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.  Although support for communism varied from country to country and was nowhere a majority, faith in democratic capitalism was precarious and shallow.”

253-54: Walter Russell Mead, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 83, imagined Americans free to choose among three options over the whole era from 1914 to 1947: “should the United States supplement British power as it waned, propping up Britain as it propped up the global order? Should the United States stand back and let the world order look after itself? Or should the United States replace Great Britain as the gyroscope of world order, with all the political, military, and economic costs, benefits, and responsibilities that role would entail?”  But no clear choice was made or would be made until the final British withdrawal from “east of Suez” in 1971.

254: Joseph M. Jones, The Fifteen Weeks (New York: Viking, 1955), pp. 148-70 (Acheson quote, p. 159). Jones was a speech writer in the State Department intimately involved with the Truman administration’s mobilization for Cold War. He asked at the end of his book “What, indeed, are the limits of United States foreign policy?” and answered they are “on a distant and receding horizon” (pp. 261-62).  Truman Address to Congress:

254-55: See, for example, William A. Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, rev. ed. (New York: Dell, 1962), the works of Lloyd Gardner, Gabriel Kolko, Walter LaFeber, Thomas J. McCormick, and most recently Arnold A. Offner, Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University, 2002), pp. 185-212 (“walnut” quote, p. 185).

255: William O. Walker III, National Security and Core Values in American History (New York: Cambridge University, 2009), pp. 120-30; Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government (New York: Oxford University, 1987), 237-62. Joseph Schumpeter reflected just before dying in 1949 that the alliance of large corporations and large government bureaucracies rationalizing societies in the name of name of security and efficiency spelled the end of free market capitalism. See especially Jones, Fifteen Weeks, pp. 225-56 (quote p. 239); Robert J. McMahon, Dean Acheson and the Creation of an American World Order (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2009), pp. 39-59 (quotes, p. 57).  William L. Clayton, the first Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs, was a principal architect of the Marshall Plan.  His initial memo of May 27, 1947 highlighted Europe’s economic distress and the consequent political risks if immediate steps were not taken including an outright grant of $6 to $7 billion.  He concluded: “Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Union of South Africa could all help with their surplus food and raw materials, but we must avoid getting into another UNRRA.  The United States must run this show” (Frederick J. Dobney, ed., Selected Papers of Will Clayton (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University, 1971), pp. 201-4).

255-56: In 1985 Kennan said “the first thing we Americans need to learn to contain is, in some ways, ourselves”: Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall, America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2009), p. 370. According to John Lewis Gaddis, George F. Kennan: A Life (New York: Penguin, 2011), Kennan’s favorite saying throughout life remained the John Quincy Adams line that “America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” He feared not that Americans would try to do too little in the world but they would try to do too much in countries remote from their shores, culture, and experience.  Lee Congdon’s George Kennan: A Writing Life (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Press, 2008) showed how atomic weapons only reinforced Kennan’s belief that the United States must seek to influence other countries by example rather than preaching or coercion lest it succumb to Edward Gibbon’s “demon of Socrates” that causes even the wise and good man to deceive himself and others and “slumber in a mixed and middle state between self-illusion and voluntary fraud” (p. 43).  One need not be a sixties revisionist or Marxist to argue that the origins of the Cold War might be found principally in American policy.  See Fredrik Logevall, “Bernath Lecture: A Critique of Containment,” Diplomatic History 28, no. 4 (2004): 473-99, for an excellent summary.  Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, Inside the Kremin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1996), pp. 275-76, argue that Stalin, though a ruthless tyrant, would not risk unbridled expansion, hence “the Cold War was not his choice or his brainchild.”  Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of a European Settlement, 1945-1963 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1999), p. 19, argues that Stalin “saw the USSR as a great imperial power that had to deal with a rival, although not necessarily hostile, bloc of powers….  There was certainly no reason to think that the policy he had chosen would put him on a collision course with his rivals.”  Melvyn Leffler, The Spectre of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1953 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1994), p. 42, and Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University, 2003) agree that Stalin, like the tsars, probed the limits of Western tolerance, but not to the point of an all-out rift.  Why then did the Cold War happen?  Was it, as Kennan himself said, because “We Americans like our adversaries wholly inhuman; all powerful, omniscient, monstrously efficient, unhampered by any serious problems of their own, and bent only on schemes for our destruction” (pp. 488-89)?

256: Ernest R. May, ed., American Cold War Strategy: Interpreting NSC-68 (Boston: Bedford, St. Martin’s, 1993), pp. 23-82. Curt Cardwell, NSC 68 and the Political Economy of the Early Cold War (New York: Cambridge University, 2011), has recently demonstrated the centrality of economics for the National Security Council planners, including Paul Nitze, John P. Davis, Robert Tufts, Robert Hooker, Dean Acheson, Chip Bohlen, Major General Truman Landon, Samuel S. Butano, and Robert Lovett. Truman fantasized as early as 1946 that the thing to do was “<g>et plenty of Atomic Bombs on hand – drop one on Stalin, put the United Nations to work and eventually set up a free world” (Monte Poen, ed., Strictly Personal and Confidential: The Letters Harry Truman Never Mailed <Boston: Little, Brown, 1982>, p. 31).  But in fact a powerful taboo against preventive war prevailed in the early Cold War.  See Scott A. Silverstone, Preventive War and American Democracy (New York: Routledge, 2007), pp. 25-79.

256-57: Robert R. Bowie and Richard H. Immerman, Waging Peace: How Eisenhower Shaped an Enduring Cold War Strategy (New York: Oxford University, 1998). Eisenhower expressed his lament most famously in his 1961 Farewell Address. But he fully agreed with the sentiment expressed by his Secretary of State Dulles in 1958 to the effect that “no man should arrogate to himself the power to decide that the future of mankind would benefit by an action entailing the killing of tens of millions of people”: Marc Trachtenberg, “A ‘Wasting Asset’: American Strategy and the Shifting nuclear Balance, 1949-1954,” in History and Strategy (Princeton University, 1991), pp. 100-52 (p. 146).

257: Edwin Borchard, “Treaties and Executive Agreements: A Reply,” The Yale Law Journal 54, no. 3 (1945): 616-664. He was replying to Yale law professor Myres McDougal who claimed there was no democratic deficit in this trend. But Borchard (citing John Bassett Moore), wrote that “the so-called intelligentsia of the country, which he holds largely responsible for foisting on the American people the theory of ‘peace by force,’ collective punishment of ‘aggressors’, and Executive control or ‘leadership’ in foreign affairs.”  No doubt, he added, the Kellogg-Briand Pact had made “a strong appeal to our intelligentsia, easily the most emotional and most voluble and, as I often think, so far as concerns the realities of international life, the most uninformed, the most injudicious, and the most susceptible to propaganda” (p. 664).  On Ike and presidential war powers see Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower, vol. 2: The President (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), p. 154; John Woo, Crisis and Command: The History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Kaplan, 2009), who applauds the huge increase in war powers, and Garry Wills, The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (New York: Penguin, 2010), who does not.

258, ¶ 1: Daniel Yergin, Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977); Michael J. Hogan, A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State 1945-54 (New York: Cambridge University, 1998), Taft and Humphrey quotes, pp. 363, 330; on garrison state: pp. 469-82; Aaron L. Friedberg, In the Shadow of the Garrison State: America’s Anti-Statism and its Cold War Grand Strategy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2000). On the Constitutional issues see Walter A. McDougall, “The Constitutional History of U.S. Foreign Policy: 222 Years of Tension in the Twilight Zone”: FPRI E-Books 2010 on-line, and Lewis Henkin, Constitutionalism, Democracy, and Foreign Affairs (New York: Columbia University, 1990).


Previous: Chapter 22   Next: Chapter 24