The Cold War began in the aftermath of World War II. The United States and the Soviet Union had different philosophies and conflicting ambitions and fears. The West saw the pro-Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe as the result of Soviet aggression; the Soviets said they were a defensive buffer. The Truman Doctrine promised to aid nations threatened by communism, and the Marshall Plan, which provided $13 billion to rebuild Europe, was rejected by the Soviets. Germany and Berlin were divided into zones. When the Americans, British, and French unified their zones, the Soviets blocked access to Berlin, leading to a year-long Berlin Air Lift. A western German Federal Republic and an eastern German Democratic Republic were established.
In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created as a defensive alliance against Soviet aggression, one of a series of military alliances. North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, and the West claimed it was instigated by the Soviets. The Cold War spread to space, with the Soviet space satellite, Sputnik I. The Berlin Wall was built in 1961, a major Cold War symbol. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis almost led to nuclear holocaust until the Soviets backed down. In Vietnam, the United States feared a communist victory would result in the fall of all of Asia, like a row of dominoes. The communists achieved victory in 1975, but the dominos did not fall. Tension between the Soviet Union and Communist China improved Chinese and American relations, and detente occurred between the Soviets and America.
By the end of the 1960s, most of Africa had achieved independence. In the Middle East, Israel was founded in 1948 amidst war with the Arab states; the 1967 Six Day War brought the Palestinian West Bank under Israeli control. The Philippines became independent, and British India, with its Hindu majority and Muslim minority, was partitioned into Pakistan and India, but at the cost of a million dead. In China, Mao Zedong’s Communists forced Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists to Taiwan. Mao’s Great Leap Forward failed in its attempt to surpass the West industrially, and in 1966, his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution sought to eliminate all vestiges of the past, often through violence. Soviet emphasis on heavy industry left little for consumers, and when their satellite states pursued independent paths the Soviets cracked down.
The Western European economy boomed. Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic saw France leave NATO and develop an atomic bomb. The Federal Republic of Germany experienced an “economic miracle,” as did Italy in spite of its many coalition governments. Britain’s Labour Party created a welfare state, but unrealistic union demands and a lack of business investment slowed the economy. European integration began with the 1951 European Coal and Steel Community, the 1957 establishment of the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Community (EEC), or Common Market. The New Deal continued to guide the United States domestic policy, the economy boomed, but Cold War fears led to a “Red Scare.” The 1960s was a time of upheaval, with the civil rights movement, race riots, and the Vietnam anti-war movement. Canadian events often mirrored those in the United States.
A new society, with its own challenges, resulted from economic growth and new technologies. White-collar workers increased, and installment plan buying fueled a consumer society. The welfare state provided pensions and health care. Birth control led to smaller families, and more women joined the work force. A significant feminist or women’s liberation movement emerged. Greater sexual freedom and recreational drug use were part of the new “permissive society.” Complaints about authoritarian administrators and irrelevant educational curricula, compounded by opposition to the Vietnam War, led to numerous student revolts. In the arts, Pop Art achieved notoriety and Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot exemplified the Theater of the Absurd. The impact of two world wars and the breakdown of traditional values led to the philosophy of existentialism, which reflected the meaningless of modern society: the world is absurd, there is no God, and man stands alone. The decades also experienced an explosion of popular culture, much of it American in origin.
SUGGESTED LECTURE TOPICS
1. The Cold War, 1945-1970 2. The Development of Nuclear Weapons and the Doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction: A MAD
Balance of Power 3. The Resurgence of Western Europe: The Stagnation of Eastern Europe 4. Decolonization and the New Global Community 5. Modernity and Its Discontents in the Post-War World or “Are Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll Really Good for You?”