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Naming The New War

March 2023
1min read

On April 16 Bernard Baruch gave a name to something that had been developing for several years but was still inchoate in the public mind: the Cold War. In a speech before the legislature of his native South Carolina, on the occasion of the unveiling of his portrait, the venerable financier, humanitarian, and presidential adviser said: “Let us not be deceived —we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success.”

The phrase was not original with Baruch. In his autobiography he attributed it to his longtime friend the journalist Herbert Bayard Swope. As early as October 1945 George Orwell had used the same words to refer to a hostile peace, and the following March the London Observer employed them to describe Soviet policy toward Britain. Neither one drew much attention, so commentators made do with references to “current world events” or “Russia’s actions in Europe” until Baruch crystallized the situation in a compact, convenient form.

Baruch had begun his speech by comparing, rather questionably, the Allies’ plight after World War II to that of the South after the Civil War. He went on to stress the importance of industrial production in helping the country and the world rebuild. The centerpiece of Baruch’s address, a call for a forty-four-hour workweek through 1948 with pledges of no strikes or layoffs, was forgotten as instantly as his new phrase was accepted. Later in the year Walter Lippmann used The Cold War as the title of a collection of essays. The usage quickly became commonplace, and the postwar political vocabulary had its second great staple, after Winston Churchill’s coinage of “iron curtain” the previous May. A flood of clichés soon followed, such as peaceful coexistence, agonizing reappraisal , and massive retaliation , before deteriorating into reality-fogging locutions like mutual assured destruction and the blandly chilling megadeath .

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