Part Two: Genesis and Ideology of the Cold War
After Hitler’s tyranny was crushed, the world did not enter onto those “broad, sunlit uplands” that Winston Churchill had foreseen. Instead, the world found itself in another war: the “Cold War”.
The “Cold War” began in late 1945 when President Truman responded with harsh words to Stalin’s attempts to restrict the rights of U.S. British and French military assigned to what was supposed to be a shared occupation of Germany. Then, during 1946 and 1947 it became necessary for Truman to respond to Stalin’s intimidation of the governments of Greece, Turkey and Iran, actions that were obviously intended to pave the way for imposition of governments as servile to the USSR as were the governments of Czecho-Slovakia and Poland. Truman’s response took the form of the Greek and Turkish Aid bill.
The rationale for these actions can be found in an article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” written by X – who was in reality George F. Kennan, a senior State Department official — and published in Foreign Affairs, January, 1947. The crux is in this famous line: “The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.”
Truman’s gestures of “containment” inspired general admiration throughout the Western world and confidence in America’s readiness for sacrifice of its money and of the lives of its young men in defense of the fundamental values of Western civilization. By June 1950, when Truman managed to rally majority support in the United Nations for collective military response to North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, the Western democracies had reluctantly given up the last vestiges of hope for resumption of the wartime spirit of comradeship with Russia. In the meantime, the United States offered the Marshall Plan — “the most unsordid act of recorded history,” Churchill called it (inventing an ugly word for the purpose) — as a framework for Europe’s economic recovery, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for its collective defense.
Ideological Accompaniment to the Cold War
These accomplishments were only possible because the public in the United States, Britain and Europe were persuaded that everything that made life worth living was at stake in the contest that had developed between the West and Communist Russia. In those days, most commentators, apart from those of the extreme Left, spoke freely of the defense of “Christian civilization” in explanation of the spirit of sacrifice which had seen us through the struggles of war and that now needed to be called up again to see us through the struggle with Communism. Television preachers like Bishop Sheen went further, pointing to “Godless Russia” as Anti-Christ, the enemy of Christian (or Judeo-Christian) Civilization. Language like this would be considered too indecent for public use today.
Winston Churchill, incidentally, did not in private conversation identify himself as a Christian; he seems to have drawn most of his vague and vapid private theology from Swinburne and the neo-pagan poets of the late-Nineteenth century. Still, his allegiance to “Christian civilization” was absolutely genuine. (Serious Christians of the sort who visit this website will be baffled by this anomaly.) Churchill thought of Christianity as the public force that accounted for the strength of character shown by “average Englishmen” during the Blitz. It was one face of the national character.
During the Presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower, American foreign policy spokesmen routinely and ritualistically asserted that the ultimate cause of current unhappiness was “atheistic communism.” By contrast, no politician would expect to get traction with the public today by even hinting at a connection between Christian faith and the fortunes of the nation. All reference to God has been driven out of official discourse and from the schools by the courts. Practical atheism provides all the philosophical assumptions necessary for official rhetoric. The culture has become aggressively anti-Christian. Here in the Western world the historic doctrinal positions of the churches have no obvious practical effect on public policy or on the voting practices of the politicians. For at least sixty years now, since the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, most Roman Catholic politicians have made a point of pride of affirming that on such matters as abortion, definition of the family, etc, their vote is never affected by the teaching of the Church.
At the same time, the best scholarly authorities differ as to whether actual allegiance to Christian religion has declined. For some decades, signs of growth have been noted on the Evangelical and Pentecostal end of Protestant faith and recently at least there have been indications of improved attendance at Mass on the Roman Catholic side. [“The Pope effect: New pontiff has seen huge increases in church congregations since election eight months ago/Cathedral attendance in UK up 20 per cent since Pope Francis’s election, France, USA, Italy, Spain and Latin America report similar increases,” Daily Mail, November 17, 2013.] However that may be, no one doubts that attendance and membership have both been declining steadily for about a half a century among the “mainline” churches – that is, in that quarter of the church where priority is put upon “relevance.”
Putin Seeks a Reversal of the Ideological Poles
When the Cold War began, Western propagandists were united on the theory that the fundamental cause of the threat to civilization was Russia’s abandonment of Christianity and its ensuing captivity to atheistic communism. Many of our leading politicians added their voices to leading ecclesiastical voices in print and in the media who claimed that, by default, if nothing else, the cause of Christ in the contest with anti-Christ must be picked up and sustained in our public life. Since then, however, all reference to Christianity (or to Judeo-Christian heritage, as preferred by the more sophisticated) has gone out of public expression. Our public rhetoric is for all practical purposes conducted on the premises of atheism, while all reaches of our culture have become aggressively anti-Christian. In the U.S.A., all of the classical premises about belief in God as the basis of public life have been driven out by Supreme Court decisions and judicial and civil-administrative decision at all levels. Among other matters, all appeal to traditional understanding of marriage has been ruled irrelevant to current legal consideration.
Meanwhile, under Vladimir Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church has been virtually restored to the privileged position it held in the public life before the Bolshevik Revolution. Putin’s actions along this line reflect his confidence that a return to faith is taking place among the Russian public, and that he must get in front of it. To suggest as some have that this amounts to a virtual reversal of the poles — that Vladimir Putin has run off with our ideological clothes and is now situated to lead the campaign for restoration of God’s rightful in public lie in the post-Christian world West — is certainly over the top. (See, Patrick J. Buchanan, “Whose Side Is God on Now?” National Review, April 4, 2014.) But there is a kernel of truth here, which must be addressed – as I shall attempt in a subsequent essay.