Fact Check

Did Walter Cronkite Say War Is 'a Form of Madness'?

Cronkite, a veteran war correspondent and broadcast journalist, was once regarded as "the most trusted man in America."

Published Mar 3, 2023

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Image Via Bettmann/Getty Images
Claim:
Longtime CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite once said, "War itself is, of course, a form of madness. It's hardly a civilized pursuit. It's amazing how we spend so much time inventing devices to kill each other and so little time working on how to achieve peace."

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009), a lifelong print and broadcast journalist best remembered for anchoring the "CBS Evening News" from 1962 to 1981, is frequently credited in online discussions with having made the following observation about war:

War itself is, of course, a form of madness. It's hardly a civilized pursuit. It's amazing how we spend so much time inventing devices to kill each other and so little time working on how to achieve peace.

However, there is scant evidence that Cronkite actually said or wrote these words. Among the scores of social media posts, blogs, and websites that have attributed the quote to Cronkite, we found not a single example that named a source or a date, or provided any other kind of evidence that he said it.

We conducted book searches, periodical searches, and searches of scholarly articles and video archives, but could not locate an attribution of the quote that was sourced or dated. We found no interviews with Cronkite, either in print or in broadcast media, in which he made this statement. 

We did find a passage written by Cronkite that has something of the flavor of the quote in question, in his memoir, "A Reporter's Life," published in 1991. In this passage, Cronkite reflects on the beginning of World War II: 

The great conflagration that engulfed Planet Earth in the fourth decade of the twentieth century is popularly known as World War II. Actually, it was the War of Failure. The most extensive and costliest war was the result of "civilized" man's failure once again to resolve differences without resorting to violence. As long as nations cannot learn to live cooperatively, there must be conflict. As long as there are aggressors, there will be resisters. 

It's easy to imagine Cronkite agreeing with the proposition that "war itself is a form of madness," but to date we have been unable to find evidence that he verbalized it in public. We reached out to one of Cronkite's biographers in hopes of finding clues to help source the quote, and are waiting to hear back. This article will be updated if we receive new information, but in the meantime, due to the lack of evidence, we have rated this attribution "Unproven." 

We encourage readers who have information that may help us authenticate this quote to share it via Snopes' contact form.

Sources

Cronkite, Walter. A Reporter's Life. Random House Publishing Group, 1997.

Walter Cronkite | Biography, Facts, & Views on Vietnam War | Britannica. 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Walter-Cronkite.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.

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