Top 5 Cold War Quotes
The Cold War included plenty of oratorical combat as leaders of the two main sides fought for diplomatic and public advantage. The picture above depicts Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev making a non-verbal point with his shoe during a 1960 debate at the United Nations (it is said he pounded the shoe on the table for emphasis, although some observers disputed that.)
Here are the top 5 Cold War quotes, based on their value in underscoring significant themes in the conflict:
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Triesete in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent:” British Leader Winston Churchill, 1946, coining the phrase “Iron Curtain” to describe the border marking the area of Soviet control in Europe. “Behind the Iron Curtain” came to describe locations in the Soviet Union and its allied countries. The term “behind the Bamboo Curtain” was sometimes used for areas controlled by communist China and other Asian communist countries.
“We will bury you!” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, 1956, to Western Ambassadors. The translation and context of Khrushchev’s original quote has been debated. He later expanded on the comment: “I once said, ‘We will bury you,’ and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you.”
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty:” President John F. Kennedy, 1961.
“Democracy is the wholesome and pure air without which a socialist public organization cannot live a full-blooded life:” Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, 1985. Gorbachev urged reform of the Soviet system based on two main principles: perestroika, or restructuring, and glasnost, or openness.
“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Ronald Reagan, 1987. The wall fell two years later.
“Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!”… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!” President John F. Kennedy, 1963. (Contrary to the urban legend, Kennedy did not garble his German and mistakenly say he was a “jelly doughnut.”)
“What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?” President Ronald Reagan, 1983, in a speech about his “Star Wars” anti-missile plan that many, but certainly not all, historians believe helped hasten the end of the Cold War.
“My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes:” President Reagan, see the context at our Cold War Jokes section.