Cold War Part 1 Truman and Eisenhower 1945-1960 The Cold War

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Cold War Part 1

Truman and Eisenhower


The Cold War

Following World War II the U.S. dramatically moved from an isolationist country into a military Superpower and leader in world affairs. The reasons were clear; the U.S. economic power (leaving the depression in its wake and the U.S. nuclear power.

The Soviet Union also claimed superpower status due to the communization of Eastern Europe and the sheer size of the Soviet Union itself.

1945 – 1960 Foreign Affairs

Yalta Conference

Decisions at Yalta

  • Big Three decided to divide Germany in to 4 zones.

  • Both sides disagreed on what to do with Poland after the war.

  • Soviets entered the war against Japan – they did on August 8, 1945 – Just as Japan was about to enter – this guaranteed them some spoils of war – specifically North Korea

  • Free elections

As the soviets ‘denazified’ Eastern Europe, communist governments were established in Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. The promise that Stalin made toward self-determination never materialized. (Free elections?) The world quickly divided into two belief systems or ideologies.

San Francisco Conference

  • April 1945, delegates from 50 nations met in San Francisco to adopt the United Nations charter.

  • United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China had permanent seats on the Security Council and veto power. All allies in the war

  • Headquarters in New York City

Nuremberg Trials

  • German war crime trials held in Nuremberg

  • 24 Nazi leaders convicted of planning the war, committing war crimes, committing crimes against humanity, and conspiring to commit the crimes. 12 sentenced to death.

Beginnings of the Cold War

  • lasted from 1940s to 1991

  • Two superpowers emerged from WW II– America and Soviet Union

  • Americans thought they would live in a time of peace and prosperity

  • Churchill declared: “Germany is finished, the real problem is Russia… the Americans [can’t] see it”.

  • WWII changed the United States from isolationist to leader in world affairs.

  • The conflict between US and the USSR dampened America’s enjoyment of the postwar boom.


The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was a threat to all capitalists leading to the first Red Scare in 1919. The United States did not formally recognize the Soviet Union until 1933. Despite the political and economic differences between the two nations, the U.S. and the Soviet Union put aside differences during WWII to defeat Hitler. Optimists hoped cooperation could continue after the war through the U.N.

Over the next four decades the conflict would be called the Cold War. It would be fought on several fronts including:

  • The Nuclear Arms Race and Threat

  • The Space Race

  • Spying and Espionage

  • Propaganda

  • Aid or influence in third world nations

  • How wars fought in proxy nations such as Korea and Vietnam

Satellite Nations

The Soviet Union was determined to rebuild in ways that would protect its own interests. One way included satellite nations subject to Soviet domination. These nations served as a buffer zone against attacks. Elections took place in Eastern Europe as promised at Yalta, but, from 1946 – 1948, the Soviets manipulated elections in favor of communist dictators in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. These nations became buffer satellite states. Remember the big three divided Germany into occupation zones. Under Soviet control, East Germany becomes a communist like state.

Iron Curtain

As the communist world expanded in Eastern Europe, the growing state of international tension was identified by former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The ‘west’ was having trouble identifying a solution to the spread of communism. Churchill’s speech squarely warned the free world that a solution must be found.

During a 1946 speech given in Missouri, Churchill declared From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent (Europe). The term “iron curtain” became a figure of speech that described how the USSR had divided Europe into two sides: one communist, one free.

This is NOT the Berlin Wall, only a figure of speech. The speech called for a partnership between Western democracies to stop the expansion of communism. This speech, along with one given by Stalin set the tone for the Cold War. The Cold War became an ideological competition that developed between the U.S. and USSR for power and influence around the world.


As the Eastern European nations ‘dominoed’ toward Stalin, it seemed as if the spread of communism was completely out of control.

Greece and Turkey – became the next target on the Soviet agenda. This area was the historic ‘crown jewel’ of Russian expansion because of its entrance into the Mediterranean (warm water port).

In Greece: a communist led uprising was exerting pressure on the government pushing the country into civil war.

In Turkey: Soviets were demanding some control over the Dardanelle Straits.

In 1946, George Kennan, an American diplomat in Moscow (also an expert in Soviet/Russian history), sent a telegram to his superiors in Washington offering an observed explanation for Soviet Behavior.

He argued that a combination of history and communist ideology was behind the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe.

He elaborated: “Russia, whether Tsarist or Communist, was relentlessly expansionary.” The Kremlin was also cautious, and the flow of Soviet power into every nook and cranny available to it could be stemmed by firm and vigilant containment.”

The policy of containment was born. It called for the U.S. to resist Soviet attempts to form Communist governments around the world.

The Truman Doctrine

Harry Truman’s first challenge towards the policy of containment occurred with Greece and Turkey. Stalin wanted control of the Dardanelles, to have access from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

To stop this, Truman went before Congress in March 1947, to ask for financial aid for Greece and Turkey to prevent the two countries from falling to Communism.

He declared: “It must be the policy of the U.S. to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.” The Truman Doctrine was born. Congress gave 400 million dollars for aid to Greece and Turkey; communist influences ceased. The success of Greece and Turkey warding off communism gave the breath of life to the Containment Policy commonly called the Truman Doctrine.

The Marshall Plan

Post war Europe was in no position to ward off communist expansion. The devastations of war saw to that. Something had to be done to assist Western Europe from the economic holocaust. The plan was developed by Secretary of State George Marshall. He invited the European nations to outline their economic needs for recovery from WWII.

It reflected the belief that U.S. aid for European economic recovery could create strong democracies and open new markets for American goods. Formally known as the European Recovery Program it gave $13 billion in grants and loans to Western Europe. The European Economic Recovery Plan, commonly called the Marshall Plan, was a complete success.

All of the ‘Western European nations accepted the assistance from the U.S. the Soviets and the Eastern Block did not. (They were also offered Marshall Plan funds) They refused to participate because receiving capitalistic would make communism look weak.

Berlin Airlift

According to the decisions made at Yalta and Potsdam, Germany was divided into four occupying zones until it could be ‘reunified.’

Berlin, lying 110 miles inside the East German – Russian controlled zone, was likewise divided. The three Western Allies: U.S., Britain, and France, were guaranteed access to Berlin over the Russian controlled zone by rail, highway, air and water routes. This was a ‘temporary fix’ until occupation could be replaced with reunification and free elections. Capitalist West Berlin and Communist East Berlin became the clearest symbols of the Cold War.

The ‘4 Powers Agreement’ fell apart when the U.S., Britain and France announced that they were going to ‘pool together’ their occupation zones and create the Republic of Germany. The Soviets responded by announcing they would set up a communist state in their own occupied zone. The Stalin led Soviets also cut off land access between ‘West Germany’ and West Berlin, stopping all transportation on all routes between West Germany to West Berlin. (Mention the Autobahn) Berlin became the ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ If the containment policy was to be the policy that would be used to fight communism, West Berlin must be saved!

All shipments through East Germany were banned. America and Britain responded with a 15 month airlift that took 13,000 tons of goods to West Berlin each day. At the same time Truman sent 60 bombers capable of carrying atomic bombs to England. The world watched nervously for the outbreak of war. Finally, Stalin lifted the Blockade.

A second Berlin crisis will later develop in 1961 when the Soviets separate East Berlin from West Berlin by building a wall to divide the city. The wall became the personification of communist repression for the next 30 years.


The Berlin crisis convinced the U.S. and Western Europe that an alliance organized against Soviet pressure under the leadership of the U.S. was the only way to assure safety from the Soviets.

In April 1949, Canada and the U.S. joined several European nations and formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Member nations agreed that “an armed attack against one or more of them . . . shall be considered an attack against them all.” The principle of mutual military assistance or a mutual defense pact is also called collective security. Western Europe now became protected by the increasingly powerful nuclear arsenal of the U.S.

General Eisenhower became the Supreme Commander of NATO. He placed U.S. troops in Western Europe to deter the Soviet expansion into Western Europe. The Soviets responded to NATO with their own mutual defense alliance known as the Warsaw Pact. The Warsaw Pact defense alliance included the USSR and its satellite nations in Eastern Europe.


1947 Congress passed the National Security Act

  • Centralized the Department of Defense.

  • CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) formed to gather information.

  • NSC (National Security Council) created to advise the president on strategic matters.

  • 1948, Selective Service System and peacetime draft enacted.

Communism Grows

  • 1949 USSR tested their first atomic bomb.

  • 1952 USA tested the first hydrogen or thermonuclear bomb, thousands of times more powerful than a bomb.

  • Truman organized the Federal Civil Defense Administration to flood the nation with information on how to survive a nuclear attack. The arms race had begun – the race to develop superior weaponry.


National Security Council issued a secret report known as NSC-68 that gave the following measures for fighting the cold war.

  • quadruple U.S. government defense spending

  • form alliances with non-communist countries around the world

  • convince the American public that a costly arms buildup was imperative for the nation’s defense

Cold War in Asia

Communism Takes China

An ongoing Civil War between Mao Zedong (communist) and Chiang Kai-Shek (nationalists) began again after WWII. The Communists took mainland China and forced the nationalists to the small island of Taiwan. Mao set up the People’s Republic of China and Kai-Shek continued as the Republic of China. Republicans blamed the democrats for losing China. 1950 Stalin and Mao signed Sino-Soviet Pact creating worldwide fear that a communist conspiracy existed.


After WWII, Japan controlled by the U.S. General MacArthur was in complete control of rebuilding Japan. Premier Hideki Tojo and others were executed for war crimes. Japan kept Emperor Hirohito as the ceremonial head of state. The new Japanese Constitution renounced war as national policy and limited Japan’s military capability.

Korean War

During World War II, the League of Nations faded into history and was replaced with the United Nations. The purpose of the United Nations was to try to resolve conflicts between nations peacefully. The power of the U.N. was vested in its 5 member Security Council. The Security Council members consisted of the United States, USSR, Britain, France and China. The Security Council members held the veto power – power to prevent any united Nation action. The first test of the United Nations to ‘maintain’ peace was in Korea.

The Korean War grew out of the division of Korea on the 38th parallel after WWII. The Soviets supported the communist North Korea, led by a young communist rebel named Kim Il Sung, and the U.S. supported the Democratic South Korea. In 1948 the two Koreas were established and the two superpowers withdrew their troops.

Two years later, North Korea, in an attempt to unify the two Koreas under Communism, invaded South Korea.


  • 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea in an effort to unite the peninsula under communist rule.

  • The United Nations, backed by the United States, stepped in to put an end to Communist aggression at any cost. (Containment Policy)

  • What follows will be known as a United Nations Police Action. This ‘Police Action’ by the U.S., under the flag of the United Nations, enabled Truman to by-pass Congress, eliminating the need for a declaration of war.


  • U.S. air and ground forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur were driven back and trapped in the small area of Pusan.

  • MacArthur soon launched a counterattack and invaded at Inchon.

  • By October, the UN reached the Yalu River, the boundary between North Korea and China.

  • China entered the war and sent 300,000 troops into the fight. This forced the UN troops back.

  • MacArthur and the UN troops set up a defensive line near the 38th parallel and stopped the advance.

  • With China involved MacArthur wanted to heighten the war and begin attacking mainland China.

  • Truman would not have any part of this so MacArthur went around Truman to Congress.

  • MacArthur threatened the concept of civilian control of the military and was therefore fired for his continued insubordination and his suggestion to take the war to China (nuclear).

  • MacArthur returned to a hero’s welcome. Most understood his policy of “no substitute for victory”

  • At this point, Matthew Ridgeway took command of the troops in Korea. The war now became a back and forth conflict known as the “meat grinder.”

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president in 1952 and promised to end the war. He threatened to use the a-bomb and soon brought forth a negotiation.

  • 1953 an armistice was signed that divided Korea into two nations.


  • 54,000 Americans dead

  • The Koreas remain divided today. North Korea remains communist and is a nuclear threat to neighboring countries.

  • North Korea is part of President George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil.

  • America successfully stopped the spread of communism.

  • The first war where blacks and whites served in the same units.

The war brought to light a top secret report called NSC-68. It warned that the nation’s survival required a massive military build-up. No immediate action was taken but knowing now that communism will invade a free nation, the U.S. took the NSC-68 report seriously and began a massive military build-up. NSC-68 gave the following measures for fighting the cold war:

  • quadruple U.S. government defense spending

  • form alliances with non-communist countries around the world

  • Convince the American public that a costly arms buildup was imperative for the nation’s defense.

Eisenhower and the Cold War

Eisenhower’s influential secretary of state was John Foster Dulles. Dulles favored the concept of ‘maximum deterrent at bearable cost’ or a ‘bigger bank for the buck.’ Dulles believed that America’s ‘willingness’ to go to the ‘brink’ of war with its intimidating nuclear superiority would convince the Soviets to halt any effort to expand into unwanted areas.

Dulles’ Diplomacy and Brinkmanship

  • He thought containment was too soft and too passive. He advocated a “new look” and took the initiative to challenge the USSR and China.

  • He declared that if nations pushed Communist powers to the brink of war, they would back down because of American nuclear superiority.

This concept of ‘Brinkmanship’ was coupled with the defense strategy of concentrating U.S. military strength in nukes” instead of more conventional armies and navies. By 1955, one U.S. bomber carried more force than all the explosives ever detonated in the entire history of humankind. Any response to future communist aggression would result in the concept of massive retaliation. It was meant to deter the Soviets from launching an attack.

Massive Retaliation

  • Dulles argued that America should spend more money on and rely more heavily on nuclear weapons. Soviet technology was able to match that of the U.S. and the two superpowers delicately balanced the ‘nuclear standoff.’

  • Testing the H-bomb on bikini atoll

  • This mutual balance of terror became known as MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction

  • May have stopped superpowers from head to head conflict but it could not stop the “brushfire” wars in Asia, Africa, and Mid East.

After the death of Stalin in 1953, a more moderate Soviet leader emerged, Nikita Khrushchev. He denounced the ruthlessness of Stalin and advocated a more passive foreign policy called Peaceful Coexistence. This was quite contrary to the massive retaliation policy of Dulles.

Eisenhower and Khrushchev met in 1955 in Geneva. No agreement on nuclear reduction was reached but the world could tell that a ‘thaw’ in cold war tension came out of the meeting of the two ‘grandfather’ figures. That ‘thaw’ was tested during the 1950s as U.S. foreign policy and that of communism often collided.

Unrest in the Third World

Many nations such as India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Ghana became independent countries after WWII. These new Third World Countries lacked stable political and economic institutions. Third World = contrast to the industrialized nations of Western bloc and Communist bloc. Their need for foreign aid from either the U.S. or USSR made them pawns in the Cold War.

Covert Action

  • 1953 – CIA played a role in ousting the Iranian government and placing U.S. friendly Reza Pahlavi as shah (monarch) of Iran. In return he gave us favorable oil prices and made enormous purchases of U.S. arms.

  • CIA overthrew government in Guatemala that threatened U.S. business interests.

  • In Latin America, the United States often supported ruthless dictators simply to oppose communism.


Korean Armistice

1953 –Dulles goes to Korea to see what could be done to stop the war. No quick fix was possible. Diplomacy, threat of nuclear war, and death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953, moved China and North Korea to an armistice. Korea remained divided near the 38th parallel. No peace treaty was ever agreed upon. Eisenhower was satisfied that communism was contained in Korea.

Fall of Indochina: (beginning of Vietnam War)

The French tried to retake Indochina after WWII. Seeking independence, Vietnamese and Cambodians resisted. French imperialism fueled nationalism led by communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The anti-colonial war in Indochina became part of the Cold War rivalry between communist and noncommunist powers. Truman’s government gave U.S. military aid to the French, while China and USSR aided the Viet Minh guerillas led by Ho Chi Minh. In 1954, when President Eisenhower refused to send in troops to help France, the French army collapsed at Dien Bien Phu and forced to surrender.

The American President believed in a concept known as the Domino Theory. This theory developed after the French lost the colony of Vietnam in 1954. Vietnam was divided on the 17th parallel by the ‘Powers’ in an agreement called the Geneva Accords of 1954. At the Geneva Conference that followed the French loss, France gave up Indochina. Subsequently, Indochina was divided into Laos, Cambodia, and North and South Vietnam. Eisenhower believed if newly formed South Vietnam fell to communism, the governments of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and so on would fall, like Dominoes, to communism.


In seeking to prevent the Domino Theory from becoming a reality, the U.S. Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and other Southeast Asian Countries formed a regional defense pact called the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Eight nations signed the collective security agreement in 1954. SEATO represented those nations that were against the spread of communism in Southeast Asia such as the NATO countries in the North Atlantic and Western Europe.

Throughout the 1950s, the situation in South Vietnam steadily deteriorated as Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnamese government in Hanoi began sending military assistance to aid the anti-SEATO pro-communist rebels in the south. As guerilla warfare intensified in the south, the firm commitment to save South Vietnam also became unyielding.

The Middle East

2 Goals in the Middle East (tough balancing act)

Suez Crisis

While the situation in Vietnam steadily deteriorated, Eisenhower had to deal with another predicament that developed in 1956, the Suez crisis. The 1956 Suez crisis began in the age old conflict between the Jews and the Arabs.

Following World War II, the historical state of Israel was reestablished in 1948. This was the first time the Jews had had their own homeland since they were dispersed by the Romans in 70 A.D. On the border of Israel to the South was Egypt. In 1955, a new Arab nationalist leader came to power in Egypt, Gamal Nasser. He vowed two intentions:

  • Nationalize the Suez Canal (which was owned by Britain and France)

  • Destroy the country of Israel

Eisenhower attempted to appease Nasser and steer him away from his goals because they would surely cause a middle-east war. He began to negotiate with Egypt about U.S. support for helping to construct a major dam on the Nile River at Aswan. An Aswan Dam would be a major step in transforming Egypt economically.

Nasser, seeing how easy it was to gain support from the U.S. started flirting with the communist for military equipment and support. Unwilling to be used by Nasser, the Eisenhower administration withdrew its intended support to construct the dam. Nasser went berserk! He immediately seized the Suez Canal resulting in an attack on Egypt by Israel with support from Britain and France. Why? Loss of the canal threatened Western Europe’s supply line to Middle Eastern Oil.

Eisenhower bellowed that his old allies kept him in the dark. So, he sponsored a U.N. resolution condemning the invasion of Egypt. Under pressure, the invading forces withdrew and Egypt retained control of the canal. Khrushchev sat on the ‘sidelines’ stumping and fuming, threatening to nuke Paris and London.

Eisenhower Doctrine

When events calmed down, Eisenhower realized that communism could not gain a foothold in the oil rich middle-east. In 1957, he announced a new U.S. foreign policy concerning the middle-east, the Eisenhower Doctrine.

The doctrine stated that the U.S. would give economic and military aid to any Middle Eastern nation ‘requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism.’ The first time the Eisenhower Doctrine was used was in Lebanon in 1958 to counter communist pressure Syria.

OPEC and Oil

1960 – Arab nations of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran joined Venezuela to form the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The combination of growing Western dependence on Middle East oil, spreading Arab nationalism, and conflicts between Israelis and Palestinian refugees troubled American presidents from this point until today.

U.S. Soviet Relations

The two superpowers fluctuated regularly from periods of relative calm to periods of extreme tension.

Spirit of Geneva

  • After Stalin’s death in 1953, Eisenhower called for a slowdown in arms production and presented to the U.N. the atoms for peace plan.

  • Soviets established peaceful relations with Greece and Turkey.

  • 1955 – Eisenhower met with new Soviet leader, Nikolai Bulganin, where he proposed “open skies” over each nation’s territory – so that aerial photography could take place – in order to eliminate the chance of a surprise nuclear attack. Soviets rejected this plan

  • The “Spirit of Geneva” produced the first thaw in the cold war.

To further alleviate tensions between the two superpowers in 1956, the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced the crimes of Joseph Stalin. He launched a campaign in the Soviet Union called “De-Stalinization.” De-Stalinization refers to the process of political reform in the Soviet Union that took place after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. Khrushchev’s reforms consisted of changing/removing key institutions that helped Stalin hold power such as the cult of personality that surrounded him, the Stalinist political system and the Gulag labour-camp system, all of which had been created and dominated by Stalin.

Hungarian Revolt

In October 1956 – a popular uprising in Hungary actually succeeded in overthrowing a government backed by Moscow. Khrushchev could not allow this and sent in Soviet tanks to crush the freedom fighters and restore control over Hungary. The U.S. took no action in the crisis. In effect by allowing Soviet tanks to roll into Hungary, the United States gave recognition to the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and ended Dulles’ talk of liberating this region.


The successful launching of Sputnik by the Soviets was interpreted in future terms. The Soviets had the technology to develop nuclear warheads, launch them in space with an ICBM, and deliver them over American cities. The U.S. relied on planes to deliver their nuclear arsenal. The missile gap was now evident. Since the missiles that launched the satellites could also deliver thermonuclear warheads anywhere in the world in minutes and there was no defense against them.

Even though Eisenhower’s administration played down the event, the news media and other political leaders voiced the humiliation of the nation as several attempts to launch a U.S. satellite exploded in failure.

Many blamed schools and inadequate instruction in the sciences.

  • 1958 – Congress passed the National Defense and Education Act which authorized giving hundreds of millions in federal money to the schools for science and foreign language education.

  • Same year – created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to direct U.S. efforts to build missiles and explore outer space.

  • Billions were spent to compete with the Soviets in what now became a Space Race.

Fears of nuclear war were intensified by Sputnik. The U.S. relied on planes to deliver their nuclear arsenal. The Soviets developed long range rockets known as ICBMs or intercontinental ballistic missiles. The missile gap was now evident. Since the missiles that launched the satellites could also deliver thermonuclear warheads anywhere in the world in minutes and there was no defense against them.

Second Berlin Crisis

We will bury capitalism.” Riding high on the pride of Sputnik, Khrushchev demanded we leave Berlin. Eisenhower would have none of it. Two agreed to put off the 1958 crisis and meet in Paris in 1960 to discuss the issue. Even as the superpowers competed for nuclear dominance, they continued to talk. In 1959 Khrushchev visited the United States. The visit ended on a sour note because he was denied a request to visit Disney Land. (Security could not be arranged on such short notice.)

Later in the year, Vice-president Nixon visited the Soviet Union, where he engaged Khrushchev in the famous kitchen debate. The impromptu exchange between the two world leaders was over an American exhibition of an entire house. Both leaders argued their positions on capitalist luxuries and communist necessities before an audience of the tag-a-long press.

U-2 Incident

Two weeks before the planned meeting in Paris, the Russians shot down a high altitude U.S. spy plane – the U-2 – over the Soviet Union. The incident exposed a secret U.S. tactic for gaining information. After its open-skies proposals had been rejected by the Soviets in 1955, the United States had decided to conduct regular spy flights over Soviet territory to find out about its enemy’s missile program. America initially said it was a research plane that went off course, however, pilot Francis Gary Powers admitted to the Soviets that he was spying. Eisenhower took full responsibility for the flights. Eisenhower promised that the flights would stop but he would not apologize. By 1960, the stage was set for the two sides to get down to real business – a nuclear test ban treaty. Such a treaty would drench the madness of MAD and soak it in sanity . . . but the famous Paris summit was not to be.

Communism in Cuba

Most alarming under Eisenhower, was the loss of Cuba to communism. Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban dictator Batista in 1959. Early on the U.S. did not know if Castro would be better or worse than Batista. Once in power, Castro nationalized many American owned businesses and properties in Cuba. Eisenhower retaliated by cutting U.S. trade with Cuba. With communism only 90 miles off the shores of Florida, Eisenhower authorized the CIA to train anticommunist Cuban exiles to retake their island. This would be an issue that would end up in Kennedy’s hands.

Military Industrial Complex

In his farewell address Eisenhower spoke out against the negative impact of the Cold War on U.S. society. The persistent pressures from defense contractors, the military and the creation of more powerful weapons systems had Congressmen competing for the next allotment of defense contract jobs for their state. He warned the nation to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence . . . by the military industrial complex.” He thought the arms race was taking on logic of its own. It seemed too many that the U.S. was in danger of turning into a military or imperial state.

Postwar Domestic Advances

Many WWII veterans achieved economic success by way of the GI Bill of Rights or the servicemen’s readjustment act of 1944. This important act gave the 15 million veterans low-interest mortgages and gave them money to go to college. It provided the fuel for the economic boom and middle class society that began in the 50s. Over 2 million GIs attended college and received over $16 billion in low-interest government backed loans to buy homes, farms, and businesses.

A change occurred in the American work force. For the first time, beginning in the 50s, white collar workers outnumbered blue collar workers. Postwar prosperity also led to an expanding middle class. With so many people working and making more money the baby boom occurred. It started in the mid-40s and continued through the 50s. 50 million babies are born between 1945 and 1960.
Postwar Politics

Truman became president when FDR died in office. Most important in 1948, Truman ordered the end to racial discrimination in the departments of the federal government and all 3 branches of the military. The 22nd Amendment was added to the Constitution in response to FDR’s four elected terms. It limited the presidential terms to two full terms in office.


The Second Red Scare- just as the first red scare had followed the U.S. led victory after World War I, a second red scare followed the U.S. led victory after World War II. Regardless of political motivations or not, serious allegations and events characterize the fear of domestic communists influences in the country during the late 40s and early 1950s.

The House Un-American Activities Commission began a postwar probe of Communist infiltrators. Not only did the Committee search for communists in the government and the military, they also searched groups like the boy scouts and Hollywood.

Spies in America

One incident, the Hiss-Chambers case, came before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The case involved accusations of spying, secret document exchanges, and other espionage laments. The well media-hyped case was significant because:

  • Many Americans could not help wondering if the highest levels of government were infiltrated by communist spies

  • A young Congressman from California, Richard Nixon, was thrown into the lime light for his tenacious search for the truth in the spy case. He gained national prominence as a ‘red hunter.’

Another incident involved the targeting of the House on Un-American Activities on alleged rumors of Hollywood writers and actors associating with communist elements. Ten actors and directors who refused to cooperate with HUAC on first amendment right principles were made an example and jailed for their non-cooperation. The ‘Hollywood Ten’ found themselves blacklisted from the movie industry.

The case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg enhanced the red scare. In 1949 the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb, convincing many Americans that spies helped steal the atomic technology from the United States. An FBI investigation traced a spy ring to the Rosenberg’s who worked in the nuclear program. They were convicted under the 1917 Espionage act and sentenced to be electrocuted. They proclaimed their innocence up until their deaths in 1953.

The McCarthy Era

Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy became the person who exceeded the zeal to purge the U.S. of ‘nonconformists.’ His influence was so great that the term ‘McCarthyism’ became synonymous with the anti-communist crusade.

He jumped into the national spotlight when he claimed that he had a list of 205 known communist working in the State Department. (No names were produced) The press covered McCarthy avidly. His picture on the front cover of Time, Newsweek, and other news magazines heightened cold war and communist hysteria. He became chairman of the Senate investigating committee that targeted thousands of ‘un-American’ and communist sympathizers.

McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade violated fundamental constitutional rights of freedom of speech, press and ‘association.’ Thousands were humiliated and discredited, and hounded from their jobs. To be placed before McCarthy and his committee . . . assured your guilt.

In 1954, McCarthy accused the Army of harboring suspected communists. The army challenged McCarthy’s accusations and key military personnel appeared before McCarthy’s investigative committee. Much of the McCarthy-Army hearings were televised. For the first time the nation was able to observe ‘McCarthyism.’ McCarthy was bullying, reckless and dishonest and people realized he was no more than a ‘witch hunter.’ The Senate ‘censured’ him for his ‘recklessness.’ With all of his support gone, the media hype died down and so did the second red scare.

Eisenhower Takes Command

Eisenhower dominates the 50s. Election of 1952: Eisenhower is the first Republican presidential victory in 20 years. Eisenhower’s VP candidate was Richard Nixon.

Interstate Highway System

Eisenhower seized the opportunity to improve the nation’s cold war defense strategy by passing the Interstate Highway Act of 1956. It authorized construction of 42,000 miles of interstate highways linking major cities. The act justified new taxes on fuel, tires, and vehicles to improve national defense.

The system of interstate highways created jobs, increased the transportation of goods efficiency and decreased regional isolation. Militarily, it would enhance troop movement if necessary and a nation-wide airplane run way system was designed within the highway system if needed by the military. The highway public works project created jobs, promoted trucking industry, accelerated growth of suburbs.

It became the most permanent legacy of the Eisenhower years.


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