In a speech that is by turns confrontational and sarcastic, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declares that the United States will not “cringe or become panicky” in the face of Soviet nuclear weapons. Dulles’ speech indicated that although the Korean War had finally reached a peaceful conclusion, the United States would continue its policy of containing communist expansion, by force if necessary.
Secretary Dulles began his speech to the American Federation of Labor by observing that he believed world peace was within reach, but was threatened by “communist leaders who openly repudiate the restraints of moral law.” The United States, he declared, “does not believe that salvation can be won merely by making concessions which enhance the power and increase the arrogance of those who have already extended their rule over one-third of the human race.” Acknowledging that the Soviets now possessed a nuclear arsenal, Dulles countered that the United States would not “cringe or became panicky.” Turning to the issue of labor, Dulles then spoke at length about what he called the communist “swindle.” The secretary spoke derisively of the “hoax” played on Russian workers by their own government. “The Russian worker,” Dulles stated, “is the most underpaid, overworked person in any modern industrial state. He is the most managed, checked, spied on, and unrepresented worker in the world today.”
Dulles’ speech indicated that although the new administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower had recently finished negotiating a cease-fire in Korea, the United States was not backing off from its stated Cold War commitment to containing communism. The speech also hinted at two points that would become mainstays of the Secretary’s Cold War diplomacy. First was the idea that the United States would not back down from the Soviets simply because of the threat of nuclear war. This idea eventually became known as “brinkmanship”—the notion that the Soviets, if pushed to the “brink” of nuclear war, would eventually back down. Second was Dulles’ frequently repeated assertion that the people living in communist nations were essentially “captives” of repressive communist regimes. In the years to come, Dulles would expand on both ideas in more detail.