Containment: 40 Years Later

Containment Then and Now

Operation Dominic: Frigate Bird nuclear explosion

The word "containment," of course, was not new in the year 1946. What was new, perhaps, was its use with relation to the Soviet Union and Soviet-American relations. What brought the word to public attention in this connection was its use in an article that appeared in 1947, in this magazine, under the title of "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," and was signed with what was supposed to have been an anonymous X. This piece was not originally written for publication; it was written privately for our first secretary of defense, James Forrestal, who had sent me a paper on communism and asked me to comment on it. It was written, as I recall, in December 1946, in the northwest corner room on the ground floor of the National War College building. At the time I was serving as deputy commandant for foreign affairs at the college. I suppose it is fitting that I, for my sins, should try to explain something about how the word "containment" came to be used in that document, and what it was meant to signify.

One must try to picture the situation that existed in that month of December 1946. The Second World War was only a year and some months in the past. U.S. armed forces were still in the process of demobilization; so, too, though to a smaller extent (because the Russians proposed to retain a much larger peacetime establishment than we did), were those of the Soviet Union.

In no way did the Soviet Union appear to me, at that moment, as a military threat to this country. Russia was at that time utterly exhausted by the exertions and sacrifices of the recent war. Something like 25 million of its people had been killed. The physical destruction had been appalling. In a large portion of the territory of European Russia, the devastation had to be seen to be believed. Reconstruction alone was obviously going to take several years. The need for peace, and the thirst for

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