24. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Planning (Smith) to Secretary of State Herter0


  • Use of “East-West” to describe Soviet Union vis-à-vis Free World
I have thought for some time that our conventional use of the term “East-West”, to describe a relationship between the USSR or the communist bloc and the nations of the free world, carries a very considerable balance of disadvantage for us. I find more and more agreement on this point.
In the first place, use of this term in such phrases as “East-West relations”, “East-West contacts”, the “East-West conflict”, etc., implies that the Soviet Union is the representative, or spokesman, of the entire East—all of Asia at least. This is not true; but it is a concept the Soviets will do all possible to promote, and we give them gratuitous help by reiterating a phrase that tends to confirm it.
In the second place, in the context of current rivalry, there is a tendency for us to give a deprecatory content to the “East” half of the equation. This is not always palatable to our Asian friends, even though the more sophisticated are aware that they are “Easterners” in a different sense.
In addition, when this term or an equivalent is used we are really trying to express a contrast between two systems, not two geographic entities. With the phrase cited, the connotation is thus inaccurate as well as disadvantageous.
I realize that a term so embedded in current usage, and one so convenient, is not easy to change. It would also be difficult to find an equivalent that would have the proper semantic flavor but not be long and clumsy. Further, the concept so often comes into play in contexts where an invidious connotation would be undesirable, that it would probably be impractical to encourage the wide use of such terms as “communist-free world contacts”.
Despite the above difficulties, it might be worth trying to introduce more appropriate terminology. If a satisfactory single-phrase equivalent could not be found, multiple substitutes might be tried. For example, “East-West contacts” could be “communist contacts”—looking [Page 55] from our side of the picture; “East-West relations” might be “relations with the Soviets” or “… with the communist bloc”;1 the “East-West conflict” would perhaps be “communist-free world conflict”, since an invidious touch would be less out of place in a framework of “conflict”. Various other alternatives could doubtless be found.
Perhaps the simplest approach would be re-name those areas where the phrase is a matter of official terminology—such as “East-West Contacts Staff”; to direct departmental officers to avoid the term wherever possible, and use those substitutes appearing most appropriate to them; and to encourage senior officials to take particular care, in preparing material likely to reach a mass audience, to use alternative phrasing with the hope it might gradually be taken over by non-governmental media.2
  1. Source: Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 61 D 385, USSR & Satellites—General 1959–1960. Confidential.
  2. Ellipsis in the source text.
  3. Attached to the source text is a copy of a February 18 memorandum indicating that Secretary Herter approved the recommendations contained in this memorandum.