Cold War & Beyond
Part 1: The Cold War
At the end of WWII, hopes were high for peace. An international peacekeeping body was established in April 1945. It is known as the United Nations. Preserving world peace was not easy.
Origins of the Cold War
During World War II, the democratic/capitalist US had become an ally of totalitarian/communist Soviet Union in order to stop Nazi Germany. However, disagreements regarding the course of the war and differing ideologies helped lay the foundation for the Cold War.
Post-war goals also put the two nations at odds:
USSR wanted to create a buffer zone of friendly nations on its eastern border so that Germany could not invade it again. The US wanted these Eastern European countries have free and fair elections. The Eastern European countries remained as “satellite states” controlled by the Soviets. The Soviets also occupied East Germany and wanted to keep Germany divided and weak.
The Cold War Begins
The conflicting U.S. & Soviet aims in Eastern Europe led to the Cold War, a conflict in which neither nation directly confronted the other on the battlefield. By 1946, the US-USSR tensions were publicly recognized. Winston Churchill said an “Iron Curtain” had descended upon Europe
The U.S. began to formulate a policy of containment, the taking of measures to prevent any extension of communist rule to other countries. This was initially carried out by the Truman Doctrine, which pledged to contain communism in Europe. The Truman Doctrine declared that “it must be the policy of the U.S. to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed members or by outside pressures (aka: keep Soviet influence from spreading). The Truman Doctrine was first used to provide military and financial aid to Greece and Turkey to resist communist rebels.
Fearing that a war-torn & economically weak Western Europe would elect socialist/communist governments, the US offered aid, the Marshall Plan, to promote economic rebuilding.
At the end of WWII, Berlin was divided between the USSR (East Berlin) and the Americans/Western Europeans (West Berlin). The first Soviet test of the US policy was the Berlin Blockade, in which the Soviets blocked supplies from getting into West Berlin. Their hope was that West Berlin would have to give in and become communist. The US responded with the Berlin Airlift & the US won this first Cold War confrontation.
The Cold War Heats Up
The Cold War intensified….
(1) In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) established a military alliance aimed at the USSR. In 1955, the Soviet Union organized the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance of Eastern European nations & the USSR for defense against NATO.
(2) The test explosion by the USSR (Soviet Union) of an atomic bomb (1949) led the US to accelerate the development of a hydrogen bomb and began a nuclear arms race. Throughout the Cold War, Americans lived in fear of a nuclear attack by the Soviets. For example, many Americans built bomb shelters.
(3) After a long civil war, China, under the leadership of the American-backed nationalist Chiang Kai-shek, fell to the communist forces led by Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong).
Korea was once controlled by Japan. Following WWII, Korea was divided into two countries at the 38th Parallel: North Korea was supported by the Soviets and South Korea was supported by the US. Soviet-controlled North Korea became communist. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. Truman believed that the attack was orchestrated by the USSR. At the urging of the Truman administration, the United Nations voted unanimously to demand a cease fire. Although the UN supported a ‘police action’ to defend South Korea, the majority of troops & financial support for the Korean War came from the US. Formal peace negotiations ended with North Korean forces contained above the 38th parallel, a victory for containment at a cost of 34,000 American lives.
The Cold War at Home
The intensification of the Cold War led many Americans to fear that communists might be try to take over the country from within. Cold War propaganda and anti-Soviet media contributed to this fear. The government harassed many who had alleged ties to communism. This period became known as the second Red Scare. Republicans accused Democrats of being “soft on communism.”
Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy gave his name to the anticommunist crusade, McCarthyism, which used the tactic of the Big Lie, repeating an untrue accusation of affiliation with communism loudly & often, to smear countless diplomats, artists & statesmen. When televised hearings showed McCarthy’s tactics, the public rejected him. (It was later revealed that some spies did aid the Soviets, however. But many were unfairly accused of being communists.)
Cold War in the Middle East
The warning by President Dwight D. Eisenhower said that the US would defend the Middle East against an attack by any communist country was known as Eisenhower Doctrine.
Egypt wanted to construct a dam on the Nile River. The US and Britain originally said that they would pay for this. But, when Egypt recognized communist China and began talks with the Soviets, the US withdrew the offer. In retaliation, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal and put it under their government’s control. This threatened the flow of oil from the Middle East. So, Britain, France, and Israel took over the canal. In this Suez Crisis, Eisenhower refused to support France, Britain, and Israel. Without Eisenhower’s support, they had to withdraw from the Suez Canal.
The Space Race
The Cold War, intensified by the launch of a satellite, Sputnik, into space in 1957. This resulted in an increased American emphasis on quality education, especially in science and math. Prosperity allowed young people to stay in school longer and more young women attended college. This marked the beginning of the “space race,” where the US and USSR sought superiority in space.
After a Soviet cosmonaut became the first human in space in 1961. As a result, JFK pledged to land a man on the moon. This goal was achieved on July 20, 1969.
Kennedy and the Cold War
In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the American-back dictator in Cuba and soon accepted Soviet aid. Cuban exiles trained by the CIA invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. The plan failed and US prestige suffered.
In 1961, the Soviet Premier order the building of the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Berlin in order to keep East Berliners from fleeing to the West.
In the fall of 1963, American spy planes photographed missiles sites being built in Cuba. President Kennedy placed a naval blockade around Cuba to prevent the Soviets from arming these sites. After 13 days of tension, an agreement was reached that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis and averted nuclear confrontation.
JFK started the Peace Corps to address the problems of poor Third World countries and to win the hearts of citizens there.
Part II: The Post-War Boom
A. Post-war prosperity
As a result of WWII, the US entered a period of prosperity that was enjoyed by many Americans.
1. Why? Pent-up demand for consumer goods that were unaffordable during the Depression years & unavailable during wartime created markets for a wide array of goods & services and helped to recreate consumerism. This time around, people bought things like TVs and cars. The baby boom (discussed below) also contributed as parents bought items designed for their growing families.
2. High demand leads to jobs. With increased demand for consumer products, there was increased production and, consequently, new jobs were created. This fueled the post-war prosperity.
3. Cold War also helped: The government spent money on weapons systems and growing defense industries hired workers.
4. More “white-collar” jobs: The expanding consumer economy led to more jobs in white collar occupations such as clerical, professional, or managerial positions in industries like sales, advertising, insurance, and communication rather than in traditional “blue-collar” manufacturing jobs.
5. Advertising and credit cards: As Americans had more money to spend, businesses offered more products to buy and advertised through print and TV as well as billboards on new highways. TV played a big role in created the national consumer culture and promoting a ‘buy now, pay later’ mentality based on heavy use of credit cards, which were first introduced in the 1950s. This led to increasing consumer debt.
Educational programs expanded as a result of postwar conditions. Veterans returning from war took advantage of the GI Bill, also known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, to attend colleges & trade schools thus providing a more educated & skilled work force that would, in turn, promote economic & cultural growth in the postwar period. This government investment in educational program expanded the middle class and narrowed the gap between rich and poor.
The end of the Great Depression and World War II & the prosperity of the 1950s contributed to an explosion in the birthrate. This baby boom led to an increase in the number of school age children & placed a strain on the educational system so that new schools were needed. Prosperity allowed more people to stay in school longer. Many more young men and women attended college.
C. Housing and suburbanization
1. This GI Bill made available federally guaranteed loans to veterans buying homes or starting new businesses. This enabled many to purchase home who otherwise would not have been able to do so.
2. There was increasing suburbanization:
a. Returning veterans who married & began families needed more housing, spurring suburbanization.
b. The baby boom of the late 1940s & 1950s also contributed to the growth of suburbia.
c. The widespread availability of the automobile & the expansion of highways by the passage of the Interstate Highway Act (originally a Cold War measure to allow the military to move quickly and to evacuate cities rapidly) during the Eisenhower administration accelerated the growth of suburbs. It was also a Cold War measure meant to allow the military to move quickly and to evacuate cities rapidly
d. Shopping malls, motels, and fast food restaurants came along with the increasing suburbanization
e. “White flight” also contributed to suburbanization. During the war years and after many African Americans moved to cities in the North to escape poverty and racism. As middle and upper class people moved to the suburbs, so did jobs and businesses. This left cities (largely made up of African Americans) with high unemployment and a shrinking tax base. This set the stage for race riots in the 1960s.
1. Medicine. The postwar period also saw advances in medical technology that impacted the health of the American people. Penicillin was used extensively during the war and stimulated the search for more antibiotics and other miracle drugs. In the postwar period, scientists developed various vaccines to prevent diseases such as polio. Surgeons who had treated wounded soldiers came
home to develop new surgical techniques including advancements in heart surgery. These lifesaving techniques impacted demographic patterns as the infant mortality rate fell and Americans lived longer. Such changes profoundly impacted society and politics.
There were advances in agricultural technology as a result of the demand for food during the war and the post-war prosperity. For example, the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers provided a great array of foods and improved nutrition. This further impacted peoples’ ability to live longer. Small family farms were consolidated into large commercial farms.
Although women took an active role in the workforce during WWII, most women lost their jobs to returning male veterans. Thus, in the late 1940s and 1950s, many women returned to traditional roles in the home
Advertising and media glamorized the role of the traditional homemaker as women were seen as the chief consumers for their families. As more women graduated from college, they were frustrated by their iinability to find and advance in jobs that matched their skills. The revolutionary book, “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan in the early 1960s, declared that many women were unfulfilled in their traditional roles as wife/mother. This inspired many women to challenge those roles.