Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Alsop, Joseph Wright (1910–1989)

Influential American journalist who ardently advocated a hard line toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Born in Avon, Connecticut, on 10 October 1910 into a prominent family, Joseph Alsop graduated from Harvard University in 1932 and then joined the New York Herald Tribune as a staff reporter. After World War II, he collaborated with his brother Stewart on the syndicated column "Matter of Fact," which espoused the new internationalism of their generation. The Alsop brothers parted company in 1958 over personal and political differences.

An unabashed member of Washington's cultural and social elite, Alsop often threw elaborate parties at his fashionable home. An acquaintance of George F. Kennan, Alsop was a staunch supporter of Kennan's containment policy toward the Soviet Union. In the 1950s he became particularly critical of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's efforts to restrain defense spending and repeatedly warned of an impending missile gap with the Soviet Union. Beginning in 1957, Alsop communicated his concerns about the alleged missile gap to Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy. In Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign, during which he tried to assert that the United States had not done enough to address Soviet advances, he found a natural ally in Alsop, the man who would later claim to have coined the term "missile gap."

Kennedy's 1963 assassination shattered Alsop, but he nonetheless continued to support Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. Alsop had single-mindedly supported the war in Vietnam from its very start—as early as 1954, when it was still largely a French enterprise—and he continued to do so as Johnson expanded U.S. involvement. But Alsop was profoundly shaken as he witnessed the American defeat there. Indeed, in 1975, five months before the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, he discontinued his signature column. Alsop died in Washington, D.C., on 28 August 1989.

Christopher A. Preble


Further Reading
Alsop, Joseph W., with Adam Platt. I've Seen the Best of It: The Memoirs of Joseph W. Alsop. New York: Norton, 1992.; Merry, Robert W. Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop; Guardians on the American Century? New York: Viking, 1996.; Yoder, Edwin M. Joe Alsop's Cold War: A Study of Journalistic Influence and Intrigue. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
 

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