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I am old enough to remember the fall of the Soviet Union, but not old enough to have had any interest in world affairs in the times before.

Did Americans/Westerners refer to the "Cold War" by that name during the Cold War? Note: I am not asking about the origin of the phrase. I'm sure it was coined long ago.

Specifically, it seems odd to refer to the historic event in a present sense, especially since the Cold War was marked by a lack of war-like activity. Saying "the war in Afghanistan" makes sense, because it is happening, and war-like things are taking place.

But in the modern context, saying "the Cold War" refers to an era, not an event (or set of events).

In short, did people, during the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, or Eighties, commonly refer to the the state of Western-Soviet affairs as the "Cold War"?

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As a corollary, if so, during which decade did common usage start? –  Arkamis Feb 25 at 20:39
    
I remember it being used in the 80s in the Netherlands, but I also remember seeing lots of English and US troops on German autobahns, protests about nuclear weapons stationed in the Netherlands, seeing the wall and the DDR border, and the threat of Russian tanks coming towards us. There were also many proxy wars between the US and Russia, of course. I don't agree that there was a lack of war-like activity. But all that is of course off topic on this SE... –  RemcoGerlich Feb 26 at 10:56

6 Answers 6

up vote 42 down vote accepted

As this ngram shows, the term began to be used in the 1940's and it peaked in usage (at least in the materials Google samples) around 1960.

The coining of the term to describe US and Soviet relations is generally attributed to Bernard Baruch in a speech given in 1947. He stated that it was suggested to him by H.B. Swope, the editor of the New York World.

George Orwell also used the term in a somewhat similar manner in 1946

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Interestingly, if you toggle off case sensitivity, "cold war" peaks around 1961, but "Cold War" as a proper name doesn't take off until the late 80s. So perhaps the notion of perceiving it as a proper historical era only really gained traction near the end. –  Arkamis Feb 25 at 20:50
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The case insensitive version has more interesting info: the lower case "cold war" started its decline in 1962 (the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis) and both terms grow considerably starting in 1987 (year of Gorbachev's democratization reforms, Regan's "Tear Down the Wall" speech, and the "Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty), with the title case version growing exponentially from that point on. Also both seem to have always begun around 1940, but it wasn't until 1968 that the title case version becomes more popular. –  Thunderforge Feb 25 at 21:25
    
hmm, I thought the first to coin the term was Churchill, possibly as early as around the time of the Yalta conference. –  jwenting Feb 26 at 7:52
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That reminds of me one of Lincoln's most famous quotes, "Don't believe everything you read on the internet." –  corsiKa Feb 26 at 20:39
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@corsiKa: It was Churchill, not Lincoln, who bitcoined that expression. –  Drew Feb 26 at 22:23

I am 70 and clearly remember the term being used when I was in high school (1957-1961). My understanding was that it referred to a war of words and wills rather than to a "hot" war.

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Was the use more of the form "we are in a state of 'cold war'", or was the usage "the Cold War" also common? –  Arkamis Feb 25 at 20:59
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the latter was most often used. –  Oldcat Feb 25 at 21:29
    
But it was also the tensions associated with knowing that each side had enough fire power to wipe the other out, several times over and that the only thing stopping it happening was the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). We can look back in a relaxed way because we now know that nuclear weapons were never used in anger. But at the time we didn't know that they wouldn't be. And during times of tension, such as over Cuba, it was potentially quite frightening. –  WS2 Feb 25 at 23:40
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Arguably both the Korean and Viet-Nam wars were Cold-War conflicts, but they were anything but cold! –  WS2 Feb 25 at 23:43
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The term "cold war" referred to the political situation between the West and the USSR. I have seen the term used as both a noun and an adjective. Recently a news commentator said, "We're returning, it seems, to a cold war situation with Russia." –  Julian Adams Feb 26 at 12:37

The answer is emphatically 'yes'.

The first reference the OED has was in an article by George Orwell in Tribune in 1945.

Britain, being closer geographically to the Soviet Union became aware of the potential for tension earlier than the Truman Administration. Hence Churchill (who had been voted out of office in 1945) when he spoke at Fulton Missouri in March 1946, used the opportunity (with the understanding of Britain's Labour Prime Minister) to counsel the US Administration as to the dangers ahead. He spoke of an 'Iron Curtain' which now hangs across Europe. The first real crisis was the blockade of Berlin in 1948.

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"Britain, being closer geographically to the Soviet Union..." No it wasn't. The USA was only about 30 miles from the Soviet Union; the UK was several hundred. ("I can see Russia from my house" an' all that.) –  David Richerby Feb 25 at 22:38
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@DavidRicherby You are absolutely right. I had quite forgotten that. But if you read the history of the late forties it is quite clear that Britain had to fight quite a battle to persuade America to remain involved in Europe. The eventual result was the NATO treaty. –  WS2 Feb 25 at 23:33
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@DavidRicherby what counts is the proximity of their centers of power. London is a lot closer to Moscow than is Washington DC. Even back then the outlying districts were pretty much irrelevant to those in control of nations, except during election season of course. –  jwenting Feb 26 at 7:58

Yes. It was coined early on:

See the wikipedia article

It was used by George Orwell in 1945 in an essay "You and the Atomic Bomb".

It was attributed to Bernard Baruch as being the first to use it to describe the US vs the USSR in 1947.

And, it was made more widespread by Walter Lippman in his book the Cold War. He attributed it to a French term from the 1930s la guerre froide.

After that the usage was fairly widespread.

The other terminology frequently used was detente meaning an easing of hostilities. This term was particularly used during the later Cold War to denote the attempts to ease the hostilities. But, it can be applied earlier in the sense of downgrading from a potential overt hot war to a cold war.

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Detente was the 70s era version supposedly trying to 'loosen up' the tensions of the Cold War by saying nice stuff while doing more or less what we always had. –  Oldcat Feb 25 at 21:29
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@Oldcat Plus it was nice and French. So it added a certain je ne sais quoi to it all. –  David M Feb 25 at 21:30
    
The French guerre froide is a much older phrase perhaps better translated as cold-bloodied war to describe something planned and methodical for political gain, rather than a war driven by passion or necessity. –  Henry Feb 26 at 9:07
    
Part of detente was to normalize US relations with China, which was a strategic manouvre and actually not that nice to the USSR in dyplomatic terms (it exerted pressure on it, threatening it to be left out) –  Morawski Feb 26 at 15:03
    
@Morawski Detente itself means an easing of hostilities. It makes the usage in this case mildly ironic because it was used in the sense of easing the hostilities from a hot war to a cold war. But, historically, you are 100% accurate. –  David M Feb 26 at 15:05

I'm British, and old enough to remember the 80's, and yes we talked of the 'cold war' then. In 1977 Robert Asprin released a sci-fi novel called "The Cold Cash War" who's title was a play on 'cold war', so the term was widely enough used in 1977 to allow someone to use it in a in-joke.

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Well, I'm British, I was alive duirng the Cold War and at that time, I called it the Cold War. However, I was only old enough to be aware of the term in the early eighties.

For a less localised but, no more valid reference, Tom Clancy's first novel, The Hunt For Red October, was published in 1984 and written before that time. This shows that the Cold War was a tangible concept in popular culture.

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