Allies during the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union fell out quickly once it ended. By late 1945 and early 1946, concern had already arisen about Soviet attitudes and actions in Europe. In response to a request from the State Department, in February 1946, George Kennan (1904–2005), the Chargé at the American Embassy in Moscow, sent a telegram that offered an explanation for Soviet actions. Quickly dubbed the “Long Telegram,” its analysis and recommendations, along with a version that Kennan published in the journal Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym Mr. X, became the basis for the policy of containment that in one way or another guided America’s actions toward the Soviet Union until the end of the Cold War. A manifestation of containment was the so-called Truman Doctrine announced by President Truman about a year after Kennan sent his response to Washington. Like containment, the Truman Doctrine became a fundamental part of America’s response to the confrontation with the Soviet Union. From the beginning, both containment and the Truman Doctrine had critics (see Walter Lippman’s The Cold War and Henry Wallace’s speech). As the Cold War continued, it became a struggle not just between two political and military powers but between two ways of life or which of the two could better meet human needs. Even the quality of American and Soviet kitchens and what that represented could be part of the debate.

Library of Congress Digital Collection, This text is taken from The Cold War: Core Documents, edited by David Krugler (Ashland, Ohio: Ashbrook Press, 2018), 73–77.

In the summer of 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon traveled to Moscow to formally open the American National Exhibit, a fair sponsored by the United States to show the Soviet people how Americans lived. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev accompanied Nixon on a tour of the exhibit, with a team of journalists and photographers trailing them. The so-called Kitchen Debate was actually an unscripted series of exchanges between the two leaders about the merits and flaws of their respective economies and political systems. (One exchange came during a visit to the model American kitchen featured in the exhibit.)

Nixon and Khrushchev remained in good spirits as they argued; both leaders were mindful that their conversation was being captured using the new technology of color television and video recording. For Nixon, the encounter offered an opportunity to praise American technology, capitalism, and the high standard of living in the U.S. He observed that the debate itself showed the power and importance of free expression. For Khrushchev, the exchange allowed him to question how advanced the United States really was and to praise the communist system. The international attention the Kitchen Debate received showed the significant role that ideas and communication played in the Cold War.

U.S.S.R. Moscow, Mr. K[hrushchev] & V.P. Nixon on T.V. at American exhibit, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-19730.

Study Questions

A. What were the arguments for and against containment and the Truman Doctrine? Why did Kennan think that a political regime that thought it had to destroy the United States in order to survive could be contained? If the Soviet Union could be contained, did that mean it did not have the character that Kennan ascribed to it?

B. Compare the documents below with those used to justify American involvement in the Philippines. Do the documents show the same understanding of America’s place in the world and how it should deal with other countries and foreign populations?

C. Do the arguments for and against containment of the Soviet Union recall earlier arguments for and against the containment of slavery? How do the arguments for and against containment and the Truman Doctrine differ from the arguments made about the war with Mexico?