Berlin Crisis, 1949, NATO, Russian Bomb, China Civil War Ends
Korean War – causes, outcome, impact, role of Truman, MacArthur, Ike
McCarthyism, HUAC, Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss,
U2, MAD, Missile Gap, Space Race
CIA Interventions – Guatemala, Iran,
Military Industrial Complex
Bay of Pigs
Cuban Missile Crisis, Hotline
Sino Soviet Split
Nixon and China
SALT I and II
Soviets and Afghanistan
Reagan and the “Evil Empire”
SDI, Star Wars, MX Missile
What was the root cause of the Cold War?
What made the Cold War “cold?”
How did the Cold War influence American foreign and domestic policies?
What were some examples of the Cold War heating up and cooling down in the late 20th Century?
In what way is Ronald Reagan credited with winning the Cold War?
Part 1: Primary Sources about Cold War / Fear of Attacks
Time Magazine July, 1959
Facts of Attack: For a nation that expects to take the first blow in a nuclear war, the US does perilously little hard thinking about what that blow would be like – and even less about what to do to soften it. Last week, in five days of responsibly conducted hearings, a special Joint Congressional Atomic Energy subcommittee called on the Government’s ablest experts for their best estimates of a “moderate-sized” war’s toll. The proposition, as put by California Democrat Chet Holifield, subcommittee chairman: an enemy has dumped 2 3 nuclear bombs, totaling 1,44 megatons (equivalent of 1.4 billion tons of TNT) on 70 key cities and 154 military bases, (“Entirely realistic,” said the Army’s retired Lieutenant General James Gavin.) The experts’ estimates of what would happen:
The attack would kill 23 million Americans outright and fatally injure another 25.9 million. It would also inflict nonfatal blast and burn injuries on 7.3 million, harmful radiation dosages upon 12.7 million.
One ten-megaton blast, of the type likely to be used on the largest US cities, would flatten all brick houses for seven miles around and all frame houses for nine miles, would set fires and cause second degree burns within 25 miles, spread a cigar shaped pattern of radioactive fallout 17 miles wide and 100 miles long.
Unrestricted consumption of exposed foodstuffs and crops would seriously threaten the lives of all survivors. All milk supplies would be lost.
For all the grim statistics, the scientists and the subcommittee concluded that the nation could and would survive-and the extent of survival would depend directly on the number of preparations made in advance. Inexpensive but effective civil defense – of which the US now has practically non- “would save tens of millions of human lives,” said Committee Chairman Chet Holifield. If every American family built its own basement shelter, atom deaths would be cut by 12 million and injuries by another 12 million. Furthermore, said Military Evaluations Chief Walter E. Strope of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, the Government could save a high percentage of US citizens from blast and fallout by spending $5 billion to $20 billion on federal shelters.
Obviously, Congress is unwilling and the Administration does not seem very interested. Last week the House Appropriations Committee turned down President Eisenhower’s request for funds to start work on an underground shelter from which to run the key Government agencies in case of nuclear assault. Cost: $2,700,000.
Part 1 (continued)
Part 2: Cold War Summary Reading
"Let us not be deceived—today we are in the midst of a cold war." Thus spoke Bernard Baruch, a wealthy financier and presidential adviser, in a speech in April 1947. He had coined the term that would come to define the open struggle for power and influence between the Soviet Union and the United States in the decades after World War II.
Though the competition between the world's two dominant superpowers stopped short of open warfare, numerous incidents and crises demonstrated the seriousness of the rivalry. The hostility and mistrust that defined the relationship was all the more intense because it pitted not only two great powers against each other, but two clashing ideological systems—communism and capitalism. The Cold War finally ended in 1991 with the collapse and breakup of the Soviet Union.
Beginning in the late 19th century, a rivalry over economic development and influence in eastern Asia had evolved between the United States—then just emerging as a serious world power—and the ancient empire of Russia under the autocratic rule of the czars. When Bolshevik revolutionaries overthrew the regime of Czar Nicholas II in 1917 and established a new government based on communist principles, the United States officially opposed the new government. Communism, which the 19th-century writer and philosopher Karl Marx had defined as a political and economic system in which workers owned the means and instruments of industrial production and governed themselves, appeared to most Americans a conscious repudiation of their own free-enterprise, capitalist economic system and a direct challenge to American power.
Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party and the new Soviet Union, declared the goal of his regime was to export revolution to other nations and overthrow the capitalist system everywhere. This ambition seemed to support the American view of the new regime as a threat to the Western way of life.
Hence, in 1918, the United States and several other European states sent a small expeditionary force to help Russian monarchist, counterrevolutionary forces trying to topple the Bolsheviks and restore the czarist regime. This effort was unsuccessful, however, and the foreign troops had left Russia by 1920, as the new Soviet government wiped out opposition and established itself firmly in control. This intervention, as well as further hostile rhetoric between the Soviets and Americans, established a climate of mistrust between the two nations that prevented them from establishing diplomatic relations until 1933.
Yet it was only in the immediate aftermath of World War II that a real "cold war" developed. In the face of a common threat from Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union joined the United States and Britain in an alliance dedicated to defeating the German armies and ending the threat to world peace and stability. Still, the British and Americans never entirely trusted the Soviets, who had actually cooperated with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler between 1939 and 1941 until Germany repudiated their agreement and invaded Russia.
The Soviet Union, under the iron-willed and ruthless dictator Joseph Stalin, bore the brunt of Hitler's aggression, with some 25 million people killed in the assault and a staggering destruction of property. Throughout the war, the Soviet Red Army did the lion's share of the fighting on land that led to Hitler's ultimate defeat and broke the back of the German forces.
Determined not to be subject to invasion from the West again and to take what he thought was rightly due to his nation after the suffering it had endured and the victory it had won, Stalin insisted that Eastern Europe come under Soviet influence after the war ended. However, the Americans and British had done their fair share of fighting, and the vast productive resources of the United States had supplied not only its armies, but those of the Soviets as well. Moreover, the United States was sole possessor of the atomic bomb, which the Americans had dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war in the Pacific. Thus, the Americans were unwilling to let Stalin dictate the shape of the postwar world. The two nations, despite their wartime cooperation, had not lost their suspicion and mistrust of one another, and they still regarded their economic and political systems as mutually incompatible.
As the war ground to a close in the spring of 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died, and his successor, Harry Truman, emerged as a more determined opponent of communism. He stressed the right of nations (particularly those of Eastern Europe) to choose their own form of government, free trade, open markets, and a strong, rebuilt Europe (including Germany). Stalin clearly favored a different approach, and between 1945 and 1947, he ensured the installation of pro-Soviet communist regimes in the countries of Eastern Europe that were heavily dependent on the Soviet Union.
These actions alarmed the United States and other Western governments. Winston Churchill, the wartime leader of Great Britain, gave one of his most famous speeches at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 194 . In it, he declared, "A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. . . . From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." For the United States, Britain, and other Western powers, the most disturbing aspect of this "iron curtain" dividing Europe was that it ran through Germany, cutting that nation in two.
At the end of the war, Germany had been divided into four occupation zones, with Great Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union each governing their own sectors. As hostility between the Soviet Union and the West grew, Stalin decided to establish the Soviet zone in the east as a separate communist state. Berlin, the former capital of Germany, lay within the Soviet zone, although the city itself was also divided into four occupation zones, each controlled by one of the major Allied Powers. This division of Berlin and its location within the larger Soviet occupation zone was not only awkward but also carried a very great potential for conflict.
The situation came to a head in 1948, when Stalin responded to what he viewed as increasing provocation from the West by setting up a blockade of the western half of Berlin. Truman's response was defiant but stopped short of open armed conflict. Instead, he orchestrated an airlift that flew supplies into the city, thus defying the blockade without openly attacking it. By 1949, Stalin had lifted the blockade, but Germany remained definitively divided into two separate nations, while Berlin remained a divided city.
Stalin's actions in Berlin had been in response to the increasingly tense nature of the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. By 1948, the two nations had already clashed over Soviet control of the Dardanelles Strait in Turkey—which offered access to the Mediterranean from the Black Sea—and over Soviet influence in Iran. In both instances, Stalin had backed down, but bad feelings remained.
A civil war in Greece prompted U.S. leaders to adopt a more organized plan to stop the spread of communism. Truman pledged financial support to monarchists fighting Soviet-backed communists in a speech in March 1947, which also defined his overall approach to the emerging Cold War. The so-called Truman Doctrine sought to rally the American people to commit the resources necessary to support freedom against what he called communist aggression. Truman thereby publicly committed himself to the policy of containment—stopping the spread of communism to other countries—that had already been advocated by American diplomat George F. Kennan.
The second major U.S. initiative of this period was the Marshall Plan, which Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed in a commencement address at Harvard University on June 5, 1947. The plan called for $13 billion in economic aid to rebuild the nations of Western Europe. The Soviets rightly saw this effort as a challenge, as the Americans were intent on preventing the spread of communism in Western Europe and in demonstrating to the world both the generosity of the United States and the superiority of the capitalist system that produced such wealth.
The year 1949 proved particularly eventful in the Cold War. In April, the United States formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which united numerous Western nations in a military alliance to counter any Soviet threat to the security of Europe. In August, the Soviet Union successfully tested its first nuclear device, thus ending the American monopoly on such weapons and the military superiority that came with it. Finally, by the end of that year, communists in China had ended their decades-long armed struggle by defeating their rivals and forming a new government. The following year, the Soviet Union and China entered into an alliance. All of these events led to a feeling of uneasiness in the United States.
Confronted with communists gains on several fronts, the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), a body that advised the president on matters of foreign and military policy, presented Truman with a document known as NSC 8: U.S. Objectives and Programs for National Security (1950). It argued that the Cold War had to be given a new priority and level of commitment, with a massive increase in military spending and more extensive efforts on the part of the government to rally Americans to the cause of defeating communism.
This new level of intensity was reflected in the Truman administration's response to developments on the Korean peninsula in the spring of 1950. Korea had been divided into separate nations following the end of World War II, much as Germany had. The two Koreas coexisted uncomfortably until June 25, 1950, when communist North Korea invaded South Korea. Truman reacted forcefully, leading an effort in the United Nations to commit troops to help the South Koreans fend off the communist invasion. Led by U.S. forces, the United Nations mounted an operation that soon developed into a protracted war.
The Americans quickly rolled back the North Korean Army to the Chinese border, but the Chinese responded to the presence of U.S. troops so near their borders as a threat and launched massive attacks that soon pushed the Americans back into South Korea, although fighting up and down the peninsula continued for another three years. The fighting proved bitter, resulting in 33,000 American deaths and 103,000 wounded, while the South Koreans suffered 1 million casualties and the North Koreans and Chinese about 1.5 million.
The new American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, ended the war in 1953, with the peninsula still divided into two nations maintaining an uneasy peace. The Cold war had threatened to become "hot," with armed confrontation between communists and U.S. forces, but the Korean War ended before events spun out of control, in part because the Soviet Union did not become directly involved.
Although U.S.-Soviet relations remained tense, the Cold War seemed to thaw slightly after the Korean War ended. In 1953, Stalin died. Also, with Eisenhower scaling back American military spending and relying more on nuclear weapons for defense, the Cold War seemed to be stabilizing. Nevertheless, a second red scare dominated American political life. Since the end of the war, there had been continuous efforts to suppress communist political activity in the United Sates. These efforts culminated in a very public campaign, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, that sought to unearth alleged communist sympathizers in all areas of American life, from the government to the entertainment industry.
Because McCarthy's campaign was fueled by public hysteria and had little regard for the rules of evidence and proof, many Americans were unjustly accused and persecuted. Those who truly had communist sympathies suffered even more. Many lives and reputations were ruined, often unjustly, and some Americans even went to jail for their beliefs. The hysteria died down in 1954, but the atmosphere of paranoia and fear was deeply destabilizing for the American public.
It was not until the 19 0s that the Cold War again threatened to heat up in a significant way. Americans had been growing increasingly wary of Soviet actions under new leader Nikita Khrushchev. In 1955, he had formed the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance with Eastern European nations intended to counter NATO. In 1957, the Soviets launched the satellite Sputnik, provoking fears of lagging scientific achievement in the United States and a feeling that America was losing the space race. In 19 1, Khrushchev pressured the East German government into building the Berlin Wall, which separated the two halves of the divided city and prevented East Germans from escaping to the West. An escalating arms race further heightened tensions.
The most alarming development for Americans, however, was the Cuban Revolution in 1959, when revolutionary Fidel Castro established a communist government a mere 90 miles from the coast of Florida and promptly signed an alliance with the Soviet Union. Under the auspices of the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. government had attempted to support the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, whereby Cuban militants were landed in Cuba to overthrow Castro's regime. Then, in October 19 2, Americans discovered that the Soviets were installing nuclear missiles on Cuban soil, posing a direct threat to American cities. President John F. Kennedy demanded that the Soviets remove the missiles, and the situation very nearly developed into open war. Ultimately, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles in return for a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba in the future. A secret agreement also committed the United States to removing nuclear missiles from the soil of its NATO ally Turkey.
The second area where the Cold War threatened to become "hot" during the 19 0s was in Southeast Asia. Since the Korean War, the United States had been committed to helping the French maintain their control over Vietnam in the face of a communist-led independence movement. When the French were defeated in the Indochina War in 1954, Vietnam was divided into a communist North and a U.S.-supported South. American and South Vietnamese leaders reneged on their promise to hold free elections, as they feared a communist victory, prompting the North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese communists to begin an armed insurgency in South Vietnam that would last more than 20 years.
One of the reasons the Americans were so intent on preventing the spread of communism to South Vietnam was a new ideology that had emerged in the late 1950s known as the domino theory. It held that the fall of even one country to communism could initiate a domino effect, toppling pro-Western governments one after another like dominoes. More than ever, U.S. leaders were convinced that communism must not be allowed to spread to other countries, a view that proved disastrous for the U.S. military in the emerging Vietnam War.
At first, American soldiers were in Vietnam in very small numbers in a merely advisory role, but by 19 4, President Lyndon B. Johnson was beginning to commit ever larger numbers of combat troops. The war quickly became unpopular among the American public, provoking large protests on the home front by 19 7 that reached phenomenal proportions by 19 8. The South Vietnamese government was hopelessly corrupt and unstable, and the American military was poorly prepared to fight a guerrilla war against deeply committed communist revolutionaries funded and supplied by the communist governments of the Soviet Union and China.
With military effectiveness hampered by political considerations, the war resulted in escalating casualties without any appreciable gains, especially as it became increasingly more unpopular among the American public. Johnson's presidency was ruined by his commitment to Vietnam, and by the time President Richard Nixon ended U.S. involvement in the conflict in 1973, nearly 0,000 American soldiers had died, along with millions of Vietnamese. In 1975, North Vietnamese forces finally overran the South, ending a conflict that was deeply humiliating for the United States and that had bitterly divided the nation.
The 1970s was an era of relative calm in the Cold War, as American leaders pursued a policy of détente—a French term denoting a lessening of tension between two nations. In early 1972, Nixon visited China in a bid to normalize relations with that nation's communist government. The Soviets, who had broken their alliance with China in disputes over borders and leadership of the communist world, did not want to be left out of the new spirit of "peaceful coexistence" between communist and capitalist nations.
Only a few months after Nixon's China trip, he visited the Soviet Union and its leader, Leonid Brezhnev, where the two men signed a treaty that had grown out of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (START). This treaty placed limits on the number of nuclear warheads and weapons systems that each country could maintain, thus reining in somewhat the costly arms race that had characterized Soviet-American relations since the creation of the atomic bomb.
Despite a second treaty signed by Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter in 1979 (START II), the end of the decade brought renewed tensions. The two superpowers clashed in various areas of the world as they tried to influence revolutionary movements. Particularly disturbing to the United States was Soviet and Cuban support for communist revolutionaries in Nicaragua and Brezhnev's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan to prop up a pro-Soviet regime there.
The 1980s saw an escalation of tensions that equaled those of the early Cold War. After ascending to the presidency in 1980, Ronald Reagan pledged to stand firm against what he termed "the evil empire" of the Soviet Union. The arms race resumed with new vigor, as Reagan spent more than $2 trillion on defense during his presidency and employed belligerent rhetoric in his public pronouncements on the Soviet Union and communism in general. The Soviets matched Reagan's hard-line policies, cracking down on dissent at home and in Eastern European countries like Poland while building up their own military.
Yet despite this environment of fear and mistrust, the Cold War was nearing its end. In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union, pledging thoroughgoing reforms of the entire communist system. His policies of perestroika (economic restructuring) and glasnost (openness) responded to the need for change in a system that had never been able to compete with the West in industrial production and had stifled freedom of thought and creativity. As Gorbachev worked hard to reform his country from within, he actively pursued better relations with the United States and other Western nations and relaxed the iron grip the Soviet Union had maintained for 40 years over the countries of Eastern Europe. It was in that part of the world that the structures of the Cold War first began to crumble.
Soviet withdrawal left the communist governments in Eastern Europe isolated and vulnerable, and in 1989, they began to give way to popular democratic revolutions. The Velvet Revolution of 1989 was mostly nonviolent, and soon nearly all the nations of Eastern Europe had new, democratic, noncommunist governments. Even East and West Germany were reunited under a liberal democratic regime.
Only two years later, nationalist movements in the various regions that made up the Soviet Union pulled that empire apart and destroyed the communist system completely. After 1991, these regions became 15 independent nations, though many were still united in a loose constitutional arrangement known as the Russian Federation. Russia itself, the largest and most powerful of the constituent parts of the former Soviet Union, now had a democratic form of government. It and other former communist countries commenced the slow and often painful transformation to capitalist, open-market economic systems.
The Cold War ended definitively in 1991. Communist governments remained, notably in China, Cuba, and North Korea, but they did not present the same threat to U.S. national interests, despite more or less open hostility between these nations and the American government. Although the potential for military conflict continues to exist in various "hot spots" around the world, the threat of an all-consuming, world-destroying conflict has subsided.
In the place of this bipolar world, in which two great superpowers confronted one another and sought to gain influence at each other's expense in various parts of the world, the United States in the post-Cold War period has been faced with a fragmented international scene, with no major ideological, military, or economic foe to challenge its domination of world affairs. This situation presents its own challenges but lacks the dramatic clash of opposing ideologies that characterized life during the Cold War.