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The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art. If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.

— verge quotation by John Foster Dulles

resource: https://quotlr.com/quotes-about-verge

Why does "get to the verge" (either a border or a grass shoulder) even trigger a war?

And why would you try to run away from the verge?

  • 3
    In this context, verge = brink. – Bruce Murray Jun 15 at 12:38
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    During the Cuban missile crisis, The USA and the USSR were on the brink of war. – Bruce Murray Jun 15 at 12:46
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    I think John Foster Dulles is getting his metaphors in a bit of a twist here. What he's actually talking about is quite obviously brinkmanship - but that's effectively a "loaded" pejorative term, so he's (subconsciously?) trying to mitigate it by non-idiomatically using verge instead of brink. Politicians, eh? Who'd 'ave 'em? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 15 at 15:14
  • ...compare how often nations draw back from the verge / brink of war. It's nearly always the latter. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 15 at 15:20
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Thanks for the background information. It's very helpful. – Zhang Jian Jun 16 at 4:43
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It's like a game of chicken. By "verge" it really means "brink".

In other words: to get as close as possible and just not quite step over the line which would cause a war.

The "running away from" is another metaphor: in this case, to back down from the challenge rather than face up to it.

If a bully gets in your face, then standing straight and not budging, however close and shouty he gets, is one thing. Brandishing a weapon and shouting back and threatening to attack is "getting to the verge". If it proceeds to an actual fight, then you've failed to "get to the verge without getting into the war".

And if when the bully shouts at you, and back down and apologise, even if it's not your place to do so, that is "try to run away from it", because you're "scared to go to the brink".

That at least is the gist of Dulles' expressed philosophy. Whether you agree with his stance or not is a different thing altogether.

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