When was Joseph Alsop article 'Another Hitler-Time?' first published in the Washington Post? The Washington Post archives doesn't seem to contain this article.

This article contains, the supposed, advice/dictum from Lenin:

They merely follow Lenin's advice to probe with bayonets any situation that looks mushy, withdrawing only if the bayonets meet steel.

This article was referred to in a Senat debate on 1975-05-19 and the full article text added to the record. (I have added the article text below so that those interested can read it in it's original context)

Richard M. Nixon, in a televised interview on 1977-05-11, made a similarly worded 'quote':

... the Soviet party leader, Leonid I. Brezhnev, followed Lenin's dictum: ‘Probe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, proceed; if you encounter steel, withdraw.'

1975 seems to be the first time that this phrase, at least in the West, was expressed - both by peaple who had extensive contact with the Soviets. I have found no reference as to whether it was ever used within the Soviet Union.


Mr. DOMENIC!. Mr. President, last week, during a colloquy on American foreign policy that I joined with 16 of my colleagues in conducting, I pointed out that this Nation must maintain a state of readiness because we could not always depend upon a "black-hatted" enemy that our people could rally against. I also pointed out that because we do not have an obvious monolithic enemy confronting us, the effort to persuade Americans that our international commitments were necessary would be more difficult.
I believe that Americans must play a greater and greater role in helping form whatever foreign policy we create. I called for a new openness, removing foreign policy from the exclusive domain of a few well-intentioned experts and allowing the entire country to weigh the merits of our overseas ties.
I note that columnist Joseph Alsop has written a column in which he, too, recognizes that America may not have the luxury of an egregiously evil villain against which the Nation can unite. I believe that many of Mr. Alsop's points should be seriously considered by us in this body. Therefore, I ask unanimous consent that Mr. Alsop's column in the Washington Post, "Another Hitler-Time," be printed in the RECORD.
There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

(By Joseph Alsop) [Washington Post, 1975-05-19]

In the inner group of American policymakers, the post-Vietnam reassessment is naturally proving both intense and painful.
The pain mainly arises from the somberness of the central question being debated. No one has put it quite that way, but the question can be best summed up as follows:
Can you have another Hitler-time without a Hitler?
It is a pretty important question for everyone in America. The truth is that a significant number of extremely intelligent insiders now see this country as well into a process like the one that led to World War II. One rather widely quoted formula runs, "After the Rhineland (in 1936 and the last really easy chance to stop Hitler) but not yet past the point of no return."
If we are in fact in the midst of a process resembling the tragic developments of the 1930s, it would of course be better if we were also face to face with another Hitler figure. So loathsome a man, so free with his threats and open about his aims, would surely arouse the country in short order. But the bureaucratized Soviet leaders, tirelessly, relentlessly plodding forward on iron-shod feet, could hardly be less Hitler-like.
The Soviets have no grand, obsessive Hitlerian plan of conquest. They do not take Hitlerian risks.

They merely follow Lenin's advice to probe with bayonets any situation that looks mushy, withdrawing only if the bayonets meet steel.

In the American policy-makers' debate,the foregoing view of the Soviets is justifiably taken for granted from long experience in the Middle East and elsewhere. But quite another point is being made by those debaters who hold that you can indeed have another Hitler-time without a Hitler. They are also arguing that it took a lot more than Hitler to produce the Hitler-time. This is, of course, exactly right. The historical Hitler of the final prewar phase, hovering over Europe like a greedy bird of prey, instilling fear in almost all the trembling, awe in far too many, was not the mere creation of his own misbegotten genius.
This common conception of Hitler is both cheap and superficial. For a deeper understanding of Adolf Hitler's brilliant initial successes, you have to remember a rule laid down by the great German strategist, Karl von Clausewitz, and often quoted nowadays by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
The rule is that those who fight in self-defense are always to blame for wars, since their enemies always ask nothing better than getting all they want without fighting.
At the beginning of the Hitler-time in 1932, every possible advantage lay with France and Britain. They were the responsible great powers of that period-whereas the United States was then peripheral-because they were the dominant powers in Europe. Each was richer by far than Germany.
Together, they also enjoyed a wide military superiority over Germany-until Hitler's rearmament was well advanced.
Yet the British and French refused to increase their own strength in step with Hitler's rearmament. They missed their easy chance in 1936, when Hitler was committed to resign if the reoccupation of the Rhineland met with the slightest resistance. They made the sordid Munich agreement in 1938.
And in the end they had to go to war anyway, with every former advantage already lost to them, because their only other choice was to get ready to submit to Hitler a bit further down the road.
Two factors quite external to Germany in truth created the situation that Hitler exploited so long. The first factor was the flaccid British and French acceptance, as the '30s progressed, of a position of grave military inferiority amounting to military disarmament. Worse still, however, was the second factor. Almost until the moment when they belatedly turned and fought, the British and French were morally disarmed as well.
These grim facts from the past now haunt the discussions of the American policy-makers for an extremely simple reason. Post Vietnam, the signs are plain that the United States now suffers from the kind of moral disarmament that finally ended the long careers of Britain and France as great powers in the world.
One must not take too seriously the more macabre kind of thinking that now flourishes on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Yet Sen. Frank Church of Idaho is after all a fairly representative Democratic member of the present Foreign Relations Committee. So it was a sign not to be ignored when Sen. Church recently announced on television that he saw no reason for the United States to defend any positions on the other side of the Pacific. That ocean, he said, would be a good enough "moat."
Presumably this means Sen. Church now wants to throw away all that is symbolized by the Iwo Jima monument, with its little group of Marines desperately struggling to raise the Stars and Stripes. Beyond much doubt, too, Sen. Church was specifically thinking about South Korea, which has swiftly become a major danger point because of what has happened in Cambodia and South Vietnam.
The South Koreans now fear, and the North Koreans now expect, another American abandonment. The megalomanic North Korean Communist dictator, Kim Il Sung, has just gone to Peking to argue that the precedent of American abandonment of Southeast Asia. has now made it quite safe to launch another attack on South Korea. According to reports, Kim will later go to Moscow-which he has scorned to do for 10 years-in order to present the same thesis.
Fortunately or unfortunately, meanwhile, America's credit in the world is deeply engaged in South Korea-not to mention the Middle East, because of Israel, and several other danger points as well. The higher thinkers, of course, say that our country's credit in the world is of no consequence.
The trouble is that they are mostly too well heeled to know what it is like to get a bad credit rating.
More down-to-earth persons know better.
A good credit rating permits a man to do all sorts of desirable things that a bad credit rating prevents; and even more important, a good credit rating protects a man from all sorts of unpleasantness that a bad credit rating unfailingly invites.
Any nation's credit in the world further has precisely the same effects as a private credit rating. So we can fear the worst if we now lack the will to maintain our national credit in South Korea or elsewhere.
Again, however, the higher thinkers in the Senate and the ghastly groves of academe now maintain that there is no real worst to fear.
They had better go back and study the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The United States then enjoyed crushing superiority in strategic weapons and in local conventional forces. Above all, the United States then had the will to fight, if need be, to get the Soviet missiles out of Cuba. Nikita S. Khrushchev's move in Cuba was in fact a probe of the firmness of this U.S. will. If the needed will had been lacking, too, Cuba would now be bristling with Russian missiles aimed at our heartland.
Cuba further typifies the kind of renewed Soviet probe that may come someday and come, too, in the absence of America's now lost military superiority! What else can we expect if the American loss of will is also proven, later on, by a whole series of ducked challenges like the one that will perhaps occur in South Korea? Or does anyone seriously suppose that the Soviets have changed Lenin's rule about testing mushy-looking situations?
Maybe Cuba seems too farfetched, despite the record, and you also do not give a damn about Israel. Then you might consider the remote and ill-defended Persian Gulf. Here the energy jugular of the United States and the West is now nakedly exposed. So what will the President, the Congress and the higher thinkers do if a long course of American weaknesses finally invites a Soviet decision to seize control of the Persian Gulf?
In sum, imitating the British and French in the tragic 30s will be catastrophically dangerous for the United States in the troubled '70s-even if we have no Hitler figure to make us see the danger clearly!

  • 3
    Searching for the quote "After the Rhineland (in 1936 and the last really easy chance to stop Hitler) but not yet past the point of no return.", I get a link for the Post-Standard, May 17, 1975, (Paywalled). If Alsop was syndicated its possible that might be an indication of the publication date you are looking for.
    – justCal
    Apr 8 at 12:18
  • May 19, 1975, according to Rep. Bill Chappell, Jr, according to p147 of a record of a congressional subcommittee, (22 May 1975, p.147): books.google.com/… Apr 8 at 15:25
  • As for the authenticity of the quotation, someone else did the legwork - Lenin spoke on 1920-09-20 at the 9th conference of the Bolshevik Central Committee about "probing with bayonets the readiness of the Polish proletariat for revolution" - but the part about mush and steel (and the notion of "advice") was absent.
    – SPavel
    Apr 9 at 3:22

1 Answer 1


The essay is in the Washington Post archives, here is the citation from the "Cite" link on that page:

Alsop, Joseph. "Another Hitler-Time?: Mr. Alsop Writes a Syndicated Monthly Column." The Washington Post (1974-), May 19, 1975, pp. 1. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/another-hitler-time/docview/146408367/se-2.

(despite the provided citation, it is actually on page A22 of that day's paper)

Found by logging in to my wapo account, clicking "Print Archives (Subscribers Only)" at the bottom and then entering "another hitler-time" at the search box. The result includes your quote about bayonets.

Interestingly, the bottom of the page says, "(c) 1975, Los Angeles Times"

  • A friend of mine, who has a Washington Post account, did as you described and was able to download a PDF of the article. Apr 9 at 7:50

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