The Cold War was a geopolitical chess match between the United States, the Soviet Union, and both parties’ allies in which the major power players sought to project their respective ideologies across the globe in the wake of colonialism’s collapse following World War Two. The period occurred between 1947, the year of the Truman Doctrine, and 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.
During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union fought together as allies against the Axis powers. However, the relationship between the two nations was a tense one. Americans had long been wary of Soviet communism and concerned about Russian leader Joseph Stalin’s tyrannical rule of his own country. For their part, the Soviets resented the Americans’ decades-long refusal to treat the USSR as a legitimate part of the international community as well as their delayed entry into World War II, which resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Russians. After the war ended, these grievances ripened into an overwhelming sense of mutual distrust and enmity.
Scroll down to see articles about the Cold War’s beginnings, the foreign policies of American presidents regarding the Cold War, the end of communism in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, and the final Soviet collapse in 1991.
For more articles about the Cold War, go to the category archive.
Cold War: Table of Contents
- Cold War Timeline
- Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech: Predicting the Cold War
- Causes, Major Events, and How it Ended
- The Home Front: McCarthyism
- Detente — US/Soviet Enmity Cools
- What Was the Iron Curtain?
- 8 Amazing Spy Gadgets Used During the Cold War
- What Was The Marshall Plan?
- When Was the Berlin Wall Torn Down
- Reagan Foreign Policy: Peace Through Strength
- Fall of the Soviet Union: The Cold War Ends
- The Cold War — Not WW2 — Was Arguably the Defining Event of the 20th Century
The Cold War Timeline
(See Main Article: Cold War Timeline)
Cold War Timeline
|February 4th – 11th 1945
|Meeting between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin to decide what would happen at the end of the war. Topics discussed included –Partitioning of Germany
Fate of Poland
The United Nations
|May 8th 1945
|V E Day
|Victory in Europe as Germany surrenders to the Russian army.
|July 17th – August 2nd 1945
|The Potsdam Conference formally divided Germany and Austria into four zones. It was also agreed that the German capital Berlin would be divided into four zones. The Russian Polish border was determined and Korea was to be divided into Soviet and American zones.
|August 6th 1945
|The United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima
|August 8th 1945
|The United States dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
|August 14th 1945
|V J Day
|The Japanese surrendered bringing World War Two to an end.
|September 2nd 1945
|Ho Chi Minh proclaimed Vietnam an independent republic.
|March 5th 1946
|Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech
|Churchill delivers his ‘Sinews of Peace’ speech which contain the famous phrase “..an iron curtain has descended on Europe”
|March 12th 1947
|President Truman promised to help any country facing a Communist takeover
|June 5th 1947
|This was a programme of economic aid offered by the United States to any European country. The plan was rejected outright by Stalin and any Eastern Bloc country considering accepting aid was reprimanded severely. Consequently the aid was only given to Western European Countries.
|The USSR set up Cominform (Communist Information Bureau) which was the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers’ Parties responsible for the creation of the Eastern bloc.
|Formation of West Germany
|The French, USA and UK partitions of Germany were merged to form West Germany
|June 24th 1948
|Russia’s response to the merger of the French, USA and UK partitions of Berlin was to cut all road and rail links to that sector. This meant that those living in Western Berlin had no access to food supplies and faced starvation. Food was brought to Western Berliners by US and UK airplanes, an exercise known as the Berlin Airlift.
|End of Berlin Blockade
|Russia ended the blockade of Berlin.
|April 4th 1949
|The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation formed with member states Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States
|June 25th 1950
|The Korean war began when North Korea invaded South Korea.
|March 5th 1953
|Death of Stalin
|Joseph Stalin died at the age of 74. He was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev.
|July 27th 1953
|The Korean war ended. North Korea remained affiliated with Russia while South Korea was affiliated with the USA.
|This set of documents ended the French war with the Vietminh and divided Vietnam into North and South states. The communist leader of North Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh while the US friendly south was led by Ngo Dinh Diem.
|May 14th 1955
|The Warsaw Pact was formed with member states East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union.
|October 23rd 1956
|This began as a Hungarian protest against Communist rule in Budapest. It quickly gathered momentum and on 24th October Soviet tanks entered Budapest. The tanks withdrew on 28th October and a new government was formed which quickly moved to introduce democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. The Soviet tanks returned on 4th November encircling Budapest. The Prime Minister Imre Nagy made a World broadcast that Hungary was under attack from the Soviet Union and calling for aid. Hungary fell to Russia on 10th November 1956.
|October 30th 1956
|Following military bombardment by Israeli forces, a joint British and French force invaded Egypt to regain control of the Suez Canal which had been nationalised by the Egyptian leader Nasser. The attack was heavily criticised by World leaders, especially America because Russia had offered support to Egypt. The British and French were forced to withdraw and a UN peace keeping force was sent to establish order.
|November 1st 1957
|USSR Sputnik II carried Laika the dog, the first living creature to go into space.
|Paris East/West talks
|Talks between Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight Eisenhower concerning the fate of Germany broke down when a USA U2 spy plane was shot down over Russian airspace.
|April 12th 1961
|Russian cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyvich Gagarin became the first human being in space.
|April 17th 1961
|Bay of Pigs Invasion
|A force of Cuban exiles, trained by the CIA, aided by the US government attempted to invade Cuba and overthrow the Communist government of Fidel Castro. The attempt failed.
|August 13th 1961
|Berlin wall built and borders sealed between East and West Germany.
|October 14th 1962
|Cuban Missile Crisis
|A US spy plane reported sighting the construction of a Soviet nuclear missile base in Cuba. President Kennedy set up a naval blockade and demanded the removal of the missiles. War was averted when the Russians agreed on 28th October to remove the weapons. The United States agreed not to invade Cuba.
|November 22nd 1963
|JF Kennedy was assassinated while on a visit to Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder but there has always been speculation that he was not a lone killer and that there may have been communist or CIA complicity.
|October 15th 1964
|Nikita Krushchev removed from office. He was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.
|150,000 US troops sent to Vietnam.
|August 20th 1968
|Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia
|Warsaw Pact forces entered Czechoslovakia in a bid to stop the reforms known as ‘Prague Spring’ instigated by Alexander Dubcek. When he refused to halt his programme of reforms Dubcek was arrested.
|December 21st 1968
|US launched Apollo 8 – first manned orbit of the Moon.
|20th July 1969
|US Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong became the first man on the Moon.
|April 30th 1970
|President Richard Nixon ordered US troops to go to Cambodia.
|September 3rd 1971
|Four Power Agreement Berlin
|The Four Power Agreement made between Russia, USA, Britain and France reconfirmed the rights and responsibilities of those countries with regard to Berlin.
|May 26th 1972
|Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty signed between the US and USSR.
|August 15th 1973
|The Paris Peace Accords ended American involvement in Vietnam.
|April 17th 1975
|Cambodia Killing fields
|The Khmer Rouge attacked and took control of Cambodia. Any supporters of the former regime, anyone with links or supposed links to foreign governments as well as many intellectuals and professionals were executed in a genocide that became known as the ‘killing fields’.
|April 30th 1975
|North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam. The capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese led to the whole country becoming Communist
|Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
|Joint space venture between USA and USSR heralded as an end to the ‘Space Race’
|January 20th 1977
|Jimmy Carter became the 39th President of the United States
|November 4th 1979
|Iranian hostage crisis
|A group of Iranian students and militants stormed the American embassy and took 53 Americans hostage to show their support for the Iranian Revolution.
|December 24th 1979
|Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan
|Olympic Boycott by USA
|A number of countries including the USA boycotted the summer Olympics held in Moscow in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Other countries including Great Britain participated under the Olympic flag rather than their national flag
|December 13th 1980
|Martial law was declared to crush the Solidarity movement
|January 20th 1981
|Iranian hostage crisis ended
|The Iranian hostage crisis ended 444 days after it began
|During a summit in Geneva Reagan proposed Strategic Arms Reduction Talks
|Olympic boycott by Russia
|Russia and 13 allied countries boycotted the summer Olympics held in Los Angeles in retaliation for the US boycott of 1980.
|March 11th 1985
|Govbachov leader of USSR
|Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union
|April 26th 1986
|An explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine remains the worst nuclear disaster in history
|Glasnost and Perestroika
|Mikhail Gorbachev announced his intention to follow a policy of glasnost – openness, transparency and freedom of speech; and perestroika – restructuring of government and economy. He also advocated free elections and ending the arms race.
|February 15th 1989
|The last Soviet troops left Afghanistan
|June 4th 1989
|Anti Communist protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China were crushed by the government. The death count is unknown.
|Tadeusz Mazowiecki elected leader of the Polish government – the first eastern bloc country to become a democracy
|October 23rd 1989
|Hungary proclaimed itself a republic
|November 9th 1989
|Fall of the Berlin Wall
|The Berlin wall was torn down
|November 17th – December 29th 1989
|The Velvet Revolution, also known as the Gentle Revolution, was a series of peaceful protests in Czechoslovakia that led to the overthrow of the Communist government.
|December 2nd, 3rd 1989
|This meeting between Mikhail Gorbachov and George H W Bush reversed much of the provisions of the Yalta Conference 1945. It is seen by some as the beginning of the end of the cold war.
|December 16th – 25th 1989
|Riots broke out which culminated in the overthrow and execution of the leader Ceauşescu and his wife.
|October 3rd 1990
|East and West Germany were reunited as one country.
|1st July 1991
|End of Warsaw Pact
|The Warsaw Pact which allied Communist countries was ended
|31st July 1991
|The Strategic Arms Reduction treaty was signed between Russia and the USA
|25th December 1991
|Mikhail Gorbachev resigned. The hammer and sickle flag on the Kremlin was lowered
|26th December 1991
|End of the Soviet Union
|Russia formally recognised the end of the Soviet Union
Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech: Predicting the Cold War
(See Main Article: Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech: Predicting the Cold War)
Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech at Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946, ranks as one of the most famous and consequential speeches ever made by someone out of high office, comparable in its force to Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech of 1858 and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963. It is remembered as the announcement to the world of the beginning of the Cold War, although as Churchill knew the seeds had been germinating for some time. It crystallized the new situation facing the United States and Western democracies and also forecast how the new and unusual “cold” war should be conducted so as to avoid World War III and achieve a peaceful future. Churchill had difficulty getting the U.S. government to look ahead to the potential political difficulties with the Soviet Union after the war. He remarked to Franklin Roosevelt shortly before the Yalta summit in February 1945, “At the present time I think the end of this war may well prove to be more disappointing than was the last.” Churchill’s great fear as he traveled to the United States in early 1946 was that the Western democracies would repeat the same mistakes that had so nearly cost them their lives a decade before. As he wrote in The Gathering Storm, the Western democracies “need only to repeat the same well-meaning, short-sighted behavior towards the new problems which in singular resemblance confront us today to bring about a third convulsion from which none may live to tell the tale.”
Although President Harry Truman quickly took the measure of the Soviet Union, it was not yet clear whether the United States would embrace a role as the leader of the free world or would link arms with Britain and other Western European nations in a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union. The status and intentions of Soviet forces in Iran and Eastern Europe were uncertain. There was the prospect of Communist takeovers of the governments of France, Italy, and Spain. America was rapidly demobilizing after the victory over Japan barely six months before, and Americans were looking forward to the material blessings of peace. Churchill knew his warning would cast a pall over the mood of the nation.Truman might have understood the dark intentions of the Soviet Union, but many leading American liberals, such as FDR’s former vice president, Henry Wallace, and his widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, still affectionately referred to the Communist dictator Stalin as “good old Uncle Joe.” It was difficult for Americans, in the space of a few months, to go from regarding the Soviet Union as our ally in war to a potentially lethal enemy. Much of the liberal press was trying to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Britain, while rightwing isolationists opposed any long-term American alliance with European nations.
The Cold War: Causes, Major Events, and How it Ended
(See Main Article: The Cold War: Causes, Major Events, and How it Ended)
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If you would like to learn about the conflict in video form, check out this nine-minute explainer video.
Causes of the Cold War: What caused the Cold War? A number of geopolitical factors that emerged in the wake of the Second World War, pitting Russia against the U.S. World War II ended with the Soviet Union and the United States as allies that triumphed over Nazi Germany. But how did two countries that used to fight on the same side end up a couple of years later as mortal enemies in a Cold War of distrust that prevailed for years to come? Possible Causes for the Cold WarAlthough The U.S. and Soviet Union were allies during WWII, there were many tensions early on and once the common threat of Germany and Japan were removed, it was only a matter of time before the shaky relationship fall apart. Here are some possible factors that contributed to the Cold War:
- The Soviet Union refused to become part of the UN for a long time
- Stalin felt that America and Britain were delaying D-Day, causing more Soviet losses in a plot to weaken the Soviet army. Almost sixty times more Soviets died in the war than the Americans.
- The “Big Three” clashed during the Tehran Conference about Poland and other Eastern European countries that bordered Germany. Stalin felt independent countries were a security threat to Russia because they have been weak enough to let Germany attack the Soviet Union through them several times. Britain and America wanted these countries to be independent, not under communist rule.
- The Soviets and Germans had a non-aggression pact in the first two years of the war with a secret protocol
- The support of the Western allies of the Atlantic Charter
- The Eastern Bloc of Soviet satellite states that was created
- The Allies allowing Germany to rebuild an industry and army, scrapping the Marshall and Morgenthau plans
- The Allies allowing Germany to join NATO
- American and British fears of communist attacks and the Soviet Union’s dislike of capitalism
- The Soviet Union’s fear of America’s nuclear weapons and refusal to share their nuclear secrets
- The Soviet Union’s actions in Eastern Germany, in the Soviet zone
- The USSR’s aim was to promote communism across the world and their expansion into Eastern Europe
The Truman Doctrine: Freedom Precedes OrderThe combination of one of the worst winters in history and the economic consequences of World War II reduced Great Britain in early 1947 to near bankruptcy. On February 21, the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., informed the State Department that Britain could no longer play its traditional role of protecting Greece and Turkey against threats external and internal and would have to withdraw from the region by April 1. Since Greece faced internal agitation by communists and Turkey confronted the hostile Soviet Union, only a firm American commitment could prevent Soviet control of the two strategically located countries. There was no one to protect the strategic interests of the United States but the United States itself. Great Britain’s withdrawal from the international stage had left a political vacuum, and the United States moved to fill it, not for narrow commercial or territorial reasons, but to protect freedom, independent states, and allies in a crucial area of the world.
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THE PRAGMATIC ROOTS OF THE TRUMAN DOCTRINE: On On February 26, Secretary of State George Marshall and Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson brought their recommendations to President Truman. Greece needed substantial aid and quickly; the alternative would be the loss of Greece and the extension of the Iron Curtain across the eastern Mediterranean. Truman wrote in his memoirs, “The ideals and the traditions of our nation demanded that we come to the aid of Greece and Turkey and that we put the world on notice that it would be our policy to support the cause of freedom wherever it was threatened.”Central to the development of the Truman Doctrine was the president’s February 27 session with congressional leaders. Republicans controlled both houses of Congress following the mid-term elections, and Truman understood that he needed the help of the Republican leaders to craft a bipartisan foreign policy. At the White House meeting, Truman asked Marshall to summarize the case for Greek and Turkish aid, which the secretary did in his usual matter-of-fact way. There was a tepid response from the congressional group. Understanding what was at stake, Acheson intervened with a dire warning that the Soviets were playing “one of the greatest gambles in history.” The United States alone was in a position “to break up the play.”Silence ensued, broken at last by a solemn Senator Arthur Vandenberg, the Republicans’ foreign policy leader, who said, “Mr. President, if you will say that to the Congress and the country, I will support you, and I believe that most of its members will do the same.”Truman based the assistance on the belief that governments suited to the peoples of Greece and Turkey would not develop or succeed if tyranny prevailed in those countries. But his concern went farther than the hopes of the Greek and Turkish peoples for a democratic future. He also stressed the implications of communist pressure on the entire region and on the world, asserting that the totalitarian pattern had to be broken. The consolidation of Soviet power in Eastern Europe depended on the local conditions in each country, the strength of the communist-led wartime resistance movements, and the degree of direct Soviet intervention. The Kremlin had promised in the Paris peace treaties to remove its troops from Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary but had failed to do so.
As a result, the communists were able to force the socialists to join them in coalitions they dominated. Moscow had also manipulated the Polish elections to eliminate Stanisław Mikołajczyk and his Polish Peasant Party, with the help of a hundred thousand Polish security police agents, modeled on the Soviet NKVD. Because the Red Army did not occupy either Greece or Turkey, Truman saw an opportunity to encourage liberty in the two countries by strengthening domestic conditions and preventing Soviet intervention on behalf of the local communists. He signed the Greek and Turkish aid bill into law on May 22, 1947, declaring, “The conditions of peace include, among other things, the ability of nations to maintain order and independence and to support themselves economically.” Although he did not name the Soviet Union, Truman said that totalitarianism was hindering peace and encroaching on peoples’ territories and lives and called for an unprecedented American involvement in foreign affairs in peacetime. The assertion of the Truman Doctrine was truly historic—the first time since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 that an American president had explicitly defined a principle of foreign policy and put the world on notice. In the absence of an effective United Nations, the president said, America was the one nation capable of establishing and maintaining peace. The international situation, he said, was at a critical juncture. If America failed to aid Greece and Turkey “in this fateful hour,” the crisis would take on global proportions. While political and economic means were preferred, military strength was also needed to foster the political and economic stability of threatened countries. The Truman Doctrine was a primary building block of containment. The president sounded themes that endured throughout his and successive administrations. The United States, he said, must support free peoples who were resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures so that free peoples can “work out their own destinies in their own way.”
MAIN POINTS OF THE TRUMAN DOCTRINE: Faced with a war unlike any previous one, Truman laid the groundwork for a policy of peace through strength. Against the backdrop of postwar domestic needs and wants, he had to educate the American people and persuade congressional leaders that decisive U.S. engagement in a new world struggle was necessary. Between 1946 and 1950, he reached three conclusions regarding global politics:
- Freedom must precede order, for freedom provides the deepest roots for peace. He rejected the realist preference for order above all.
- What kind of government a people choose is decisive in both domestic and international politics. He did not echo President Woodrow Wilson’s call for self-determination with a secondary concern for governing principles. For Truman, a commitment to justice was the overriding principle.
- Security and strength go hand in hand. Truman’s definition of strength included political order and military muscle, that is, a government and people embracing and then maintaining their liberty and justice.
President Truman and his administration proceeded to build on this political foundation. The impending economic collapse of Britain, France, and most of Western Europe in the winter of 1946 and the spring of 1947 led the United States to take action in the economic sphere in the form of the Marshall Plan. Soviet expansionism, including the establishment of puppet governments in Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, Communist agitation in Italy and France, and the Berlin blockade spurred the United States and its allies to form NATO, America’s first military alliance in peacetime. NSC 68 added an international dimension to the concept of peace through political, economic, and military strength. The Truman Doctrine was the linchpin to foreign affairs in this period.
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Policy of Containment: America’s Cold War StrategyShortly after Stalin’s death in March 1953, Eisenhower gave a speech notably titled “The Chance for Peace,” in which he made clear that the United States and its friends had chosen one road while Soviet leaders had chosen another path in the postwar world. But he always looked for ways to encourage the Kremlin to move in a new direction. In a diary entry from January 1956, he summarized his national security policy, which became known as the “New Look”: “We have tried to keep constantly before us the purpose of promoting peace with accompanying step-by-step disarmament. As a preliminary, of course, we have to induce the Soviets to agree to some form of inspection, in order that both sides may be confident that treaties are being executed faithfully. In the meantime, and pending some advance in this direction, we must stay strong, particularly in that type of power that the Russians are compelled to respect.”One of Eisenhower’s first acts upon taking office in January 1953 was to order a review of U.S. foreign policy. He generally agreed with Truman’s policy of containment except for China, which he included in his strategic considerations. Task forces studied and made recommendations regarding three possible strategies:
- A continuation of the policy of containment, the basic policy during the Truman years;
- A policy of global deterrence, in which U.S. commitments would be expanded and communist aggression forcibly met;
- A policy of liberation which through political, economic, and paramilitary means would “rollback” the communist empire and liberate the peoples behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains.
The latter two options were favored by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who counseled the use of the threat of nuclear weapons to counter Soviet military force. He argued that having resolved the problem of military defense, the free world “could undertake what has been too long delayed—a political offensive.”Eisenhower rejected liberation as too aggressive and the policy of containment as he understood it as too passive, selecting instead deterrence, with an emphasis on air and sea power. But he allowed Dulles to convey an impression of “deterrence plus.” In January 1954, for example, Dulles proposed a new American policy—“a maximum deterrent at a bearable cost,” in which “local defenses must be reinforced by the further deterrent of massive retaliatory power.” The best way to deter aggression, Dulles said, is for “the free community to be willing and able to respond vigorously at places and with means of its own choosing.”As the defense analysts James Jay Carafano and Paul Rosenzweig have observed, Eisenhower built his Cold War foreign policy, largely based on the policy of containment, on four pillars:
- Providing security through “a strong mix of both offensive and defensive means.”
- Maintaining a robust economy.
- Preserving a civil society that would “give the nation the will to persevere during the difficult days of a long war.”
- Winning the struggle of ideas against “a corrupt vacuous ideology” destined to fail its people.
The Eisenhower-Dulles New Look was not, as some have charged, a policy with only two options—the use of local forces or nuclear threats. Covert means were used to help overthrow the pro-Marxist regime of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman in Guatemala in 1954, economic pressures were exerted in the Suez Crisis of 1956, and U.S. Marines were used in Lebanon in 1958. The U.S. Navy was deployed in the Taiwan Straits as part of Eisenhower’s ongoing, staunch commitment to the protection of the Nationalist Chinese islands of Quemoy and Matsu—and by extension the Republic of China itself, Japan, and the Philippines—against communist aggression. With the president’s full endorsement, Dulles put alliance ahead of nuclear weapons as the “cornerstone of security for the free nations.”During the Eisenhower years, the United States constructed a powerful ring of alliances and treaties around the communist empire in order to uphold its policy of containment. They included a strengthened NATO in Europe; the Eisenhower Doctrine (announced in 1957, protecting Middle Eastern countries from direct and indirect communist aggression); the Baghdad Pact, joining Turkey, Iraq, Great Britain, Pakistan, and Iran in the Middle East; the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, which included the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand; mutual security agreements with South Korea and with the Republic of China; and a revised Rio Pact, with a pledge to resist communist subversion in Latin America. As Eisenhower said in his first inaugural address, echoing NSC 68, “Freedom is pitted against slavery; lightness against the dark.” Like Truman, he believed that freedom—rooted in eternal truths, natural law, equality, and inalienable rights—was the foundation for real peace, and he sharpened the idea that faith in this freedom ultimately united everyone: “Conceiving the defense of freedom, like freedom itself, to be one and indivisible, we hold all continents and peoples in equal regard and honor.”Dulles, who had closely studied Soviet history and shared Eisenhower’s deep Christian faith, regarded the very existence of the communist world as a threat to the United States and considered the policy of containment as a righteous duty. While George Kennan argued that communist ideology was an instrument not a determinant of Soviet policy, Dulles argued the opposite. The Soviet objective, Dulles said flatly, was global state socialism. Eisenhower agreed: “Anyone who doesn’t recognize that the great struggle of our time is an ideological one . . . [is] not looking the question squarely in the face.”The common thread running through all the elements of the Eisenhower strategy—nuclear deterrence, alliances, psychological warfare, covert action, and negotiations—was a relatively low cost and an emphasis on retaining the initiative. The New Look was “an integrated and reasonably efficient adoption of resources to objectives, of means to ends.”Not all of Eisenhower’s challenges were external— some originated within the borders of the United States and indeed his own Republican party. The most visible and contentious problem was how to deal with the outspoken, unpredictable Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
Cold War – The Home Front: McCarthyism
(See Main Article: The Cold War Home Front: McCarthyism)
Shortly after WWII a phenomenon known as McCarthyism began to emerge in American politics. McCarthyism was the practice of investigating and accusing persons in positions of power or influence of disloyalty, subversion (working secretly to undermine or overthrow the government), or treason. Reckless accusations that the government was full of communists were pursued by Republican-led committees with subpoena power and without proper regard for evidence. The two Republicans most closely associated with McCarthyism were the phenomenon’s namesake, Senator Joseph McCarthy, and Senator Richard Nixon, who served as Vice President from 1953-1961, and then President from 1969-1974. Both men were driven by personal insecurities as much as by political gain.
Government employees, the entertainment industry, educators, and union activists were the primary targets of McCarthyism. Their communist (or leftist) associations were often greatly exaggerated, and they were often dismissed from government jobs or imprisoned with inconclusive, questionable, and sometimes outright fabricated evidence. Most verdicts were later overturned, most dismissals later declared illegal, and some laws used to convict later declared unconstitutional. The most famous examples of McCarthyism are the investigation into the leftist influence of the motion picture industry by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and investigations conducted by Senator McCarthy’s Senate sub-committee, culminating in 1954 with hearings about subversion within the Army. Both committees were provided information by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under Director J. Edgar Hoover.
In addition to these investigations, several high profile Americans were smeared by McCarthyism, including General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff during WWII and chief architect of the Marshall Plan, and Dean Acheson, President Truman’s Secretary of State and chief architect of American foreign policy during the early stages of the Cold War. McCarthyism, now discredited by all but the most rabid right-wingers, caused enormous conflict within American society.
The Origins of McCarthyism
McCarthyism began well before Senator Joseph McCarthy arrived on the scene, and its origins are complicated. Much of it was rooted in fear and anxiety within the Republican Party’s reactionary fringe. The United States had experienced a similar phenomenon from 1917-1920 in reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which represented the emergence of communism as a political movement. Civil liberties were strictly curtailed by the Espionage and Sedition Acts, especially free speech.
After the war, a wave of leftist bombings, labor discontent, and a distrust of immigrants resulted in the First Red Scare, characterized by aggressive Justice Department investigations, severe violations of civil liberties, mass arrests and deportations, and several high-profile convictions. But during the 1930s the Communist Party of the United States gained influence as the image of Communism improved. They championed labor rights and were the bitter enemies of right-wing fascists, especially Nazis. During the worst of the Great Depression, some Americans questioned whether capitalism had failed. Some sincerely believed in the egalitarian promise of communism (and were later bitterly disappointed by its repressive tendencies). Others experimented with leftist ideas as a youthful indiscretion–because it had become popular on campus or within their social circles. During WWII, with the United States and the Soviet Union temporarily allies, anti-communist rhetoric mostly ceased. With the war’s end, however, the Soviets quickly reneged on the promise to hold free elections in territory conquered from Germany and instead installed repressive puppet regimes. Much of Central and Eastern Europe had been freed from Nazism only to become satellite nations of the Soviet Union.
The disillusionment of the post-war failure to free the peoples of Europe gave rise to the bitter winds of the Cold War. Fear and anxiety of Soviet domination were aggravated by revelations of Soviet spying on the West. Just a month after V-J Day, a cipher clerk working in the Soviet Embassy in Canada defected, bringing with him 109 documents detailing Soviet spying in Canada. Another Soviet Spy, this time an American, defected in 1945. Elizabeth Bentley had taken an interest in communism in the 1930s through her studies abroad and at Columbia University in New York. She joined the Communist Party of the United States in 1935. Bentley eventually became a spy for the Russians, first unwittingly, then willingly, through a lover. All of her spying was done during WWII, and the information passed to her by spies in the American government, which she then passed on to Moscow, had to do with what the United States knew about Germany. In 1945 she became disillusioned with her role and contacted the FBI. She subsequently named about 150 persons within the government as her contacts, many of whom were already known to investigators. The American public found out about Bentley in July 1948, and it fanned the flames of McCarthyism.
Even more troubling was the revelation that the Soviets had spied on the West’s atomic research. In 1946 the U.S. and Great Britain cracked one of the Soviet codes and learned that a scientist who had worked on the Manhattan Project and was currently working in Great Britain’s atomic research facilities was a spy. Klaus Fuchs was a German communist who had fled his homeland to escape the Nazis. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, he sincerely believed that the Soviets had a right to the atomic secrets being kept from them by their allies. Fuchs was arguably the most important spy in the Cold War. He passed on secrets that enabled the Soviet Union to end the U.S. monopoly on atomic weapons only 4 years after Hiroshima, and gave them critical information about American atomic capabilities that helped Joseph Stalin conclude the U.S. was not prepared for nuclear war at the end of the 1940s, or even in the early 1950s.
With this information, the Soviets strategized that the U.S. could not deal simultaneously with the Berlin blockade and with the communist’s victory in the Chinese Civil War. Fuchs was convicted in England in 1950. Closer to home, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were arrested in 1950, also for passing along atomic secrets to the Soviet Union during WWII. Events seemed spiraling out of control. Within months of the Soviet Union had successfully tested its first atomic bomb (years before U.S. intelligence had predicted), Mao Zedong’s communist army gained control of the Chinese mainland, forcing the U.S.-backed Chiang Kai-shek to flee to Formosa. Months later, communists in North Korea invaded South Korea. In this way, the events of the Cold war had a direct impact on McCarthyism.
But other forces also contributed to McCarthyism. Many had long been wary of liberal, progressive policies, particularly Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. As far as many were concerned, “New Dealism,” was heavily influenced by communism, and by the end of WWII, it had ruled American society for a dozen years. During the McCarthyism era, much of the danger they saw was about vaguely defined “communist influence” rather than direct accusations of being Soviet spies. In fact, throughout the entire history of post-war McCarthyism, not a single government official was convicted of spying. But that didn’t really matter to many Republicans. During the Roosevelt Era, they had been completely shut out of power. Not only did Democrats rule the White House, but they had also controlled both houses of congress since 1933. During the 1944 elections, the Republican candidate Thomas Dewey had tried to link Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal with communism. Democrats fired back by associating Republicans with Fascism. By the 1946 midterm elections, however, fascism had largely been defeated in Europe, but communism loomed as an even larger threat. Republicans found a winning issue. By “Red-baiting” their Democratic opponents—labeling them as “soft on communism,” they gained traction with voters.
One of the early successful Red-baiters was an ex-Navy officer from California named Richard Nixon. Nixon was recruited into politics by a committee of Republicans in California’s 12th congressional district who were bent on ousting incumbent Democrat Jerry Voorhis, a loyal supporter of the New Deal with a liberal voting record. Nixon came on strong and suggested that Voorhis’s endorsement by a group linked to communists meant that Voorhis must have radical left-wing views. In reality, Voorhis was a staunch anti-communist. He had once been voted by the press corps as the “most honest congressman.” But Nixon was able to successfully link Voorhis to the group, even though Voorhis refused to accept any endorsement unless it first renounced communist influence. Nixon won by over 15,000 votes. Meanwhile, another young WWII veteran from Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy won the election to the U.S. Senate.
In those mid-term elections of 1946, the Republican Party won a majority in both the House and Senate. Much of that had to do with voter discontent with Harry Truman over his refusal to lift wartime price controls and his handling of several high-profile labor disputes, but Red-baiting played a role. Being in the majority meant control of committee chairs, including the House Un-American Activities Committee, which had existed in various forms since 1934. This committee, known as HUAC, initiated a major revival of anti-communist investigations.
J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI
Reacting in part to Republican gains in the midterm elections and allegations that he was soft on communism, President Truman initiated a loyalty review program for federal employees in March 1947. The background investigations were carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This was a major assignment that led to a dramatic increase in the number of agents in the Bureau. It also gave more power to the FBI’s director, J. Edgar Hoover, who reigned over the agency for decades as an untouchable. Possessed with an ego that required constant flattering by his subordinates, even Congressmen and Senators were reluctant to challenge his methods (which included illegal wiretapping) for fear that he might have files on them. The legendary Hoover’s extreme anti-communism and loose standards of evidence resulted in thousands of government workers losing their jobs. Hoover insisted on keeping secret the identity of his informers, so most of the investigated were not allowed to cross-examine or even know who had accused them. In many cases, they were not even told what they were accused of.
In October 1947 HUAC investigated whether communist agents and sympathizers had been secretly planting communist propaganda in American films. This was the moment for conservatives to push back against the leftist politics of the Hollywood elite going back to the 1930s. “Friendly” witnesses who testified before the committee included Walt Disney, Screen Actors Guild president (and future U.S. President) Ronald Reagan, and actor Gary Cooper. The friendly witnesses testified to the threat of communists in the film industry, and some of them named names of possible communists. HUAC assembled a witness list of forty-three people, some of whom were known to have been members of the American Communist Party. Nineteen of the forty-three said they would not give evidence, and of those, eleven were subpoenaed to appear before HUAC and answer questions. One of these ultimately cooperated. The remaining ten, known as the “Hollywood Ten,” were labeled “unfriendly” witnesses.
Other Hollywood elite also resisted HUAC. They founded the Committee for the First Amendment as a protest against government abuse. Members included Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly, Edward G. Robinson, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn, Groucho Marx, Lucille Ball, and Frank Sinatra. In October 1947 the group traveled to Washington to watch the hearings. After each unfriendly witness was sworn in, he was asked the same question: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
Membership in the Communist Party was not and had never been illegal. Each of the witnesses had at one time or another been a member (most still were), while a few had been in the past and only briefly. The unfriendly witnesses refused to answer the questions on First Amendment principles. Sometimes the questioning generated intense hostility, as in the case of screenwriter John Howard Lawson’s testimony. After the hearings, proceedings against the Hollywood Ten took place in the full House of Representatives. On November 24, they voted 346 to 17 to cite the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress. The next day Motion Picture Association of America president Eric Johnston issued a press release declaring that the Hollywood Ten would be fired or suspended without pay until they were cleared of contempt charges and had sworn that they were not communists. This was, in effect the first Hollywood blacklist. The Hollywood Ten were convicted and sentenced to one-year prison terms.
During the Cold War, Humphrey Bogart felt enough pressure from the backlash of his involvement with the Committee For The First Amendment that he felt compelled to publish an article in Photoplay titled, “I’m No Communist.”
Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television
The investigation of the entertainment industry continued for several years. In June 1950 a right-wing journal called Counterattack published a book with the names of 151 actors, writers, directors, producers, musicians, broadcast journalists, and other entertainers, and the organizations they were linked to which were supposedly communist. No evidence was provided linking these organizations to communism. Many were labor organizations and newsletters. Called Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, it claimed these entertainers were actively engaged in manipulating the entertainment industry. Red Channels effectively blacklisted these entertainers. Executives in the movie and growing television
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Industries avoided hiring persons on the list to avoid controversy and risk losing advertising sponsors. For example, veteran film and radio actress Jean Muir was scheduled to play the character of Mrs. Aldrich in the new NBC television series, The Aldrich Family. Just weeks before the season premiere, Muir was listed in Red Channels. After receiving a flood of phone calls, the show’s sponsor, General Foods, canceled the first episode, fired Muir, and replaced her with another actress. The first episode was quickly reshot and aired a week later. Lawrence Johnson, an official in the National Association of Supermarkets, pressured the manufacturers of products sold in supermarkets to not buy TV advertising for any program that used an actor listed in Red Channels. This was fairly common practice during the Cold War.
When the TV series Danger tried to use one of these actors, Johnson told the show’s sponsor, the makers of Amni-dent toothpaste, that all grocery stores would put up a sign next to Amni-dent suggesting their programs employed communists. Meanwhile, they would put a sign next to a competitor’s toothpaste, Chlorodent, saying, “Its programs use only pro-American artists and shun Stalin’s little creatures.” The actor in question was quickly removed. By 1951, the major radio and TV networks had set up their own blacklist offices to clear actors with people like Johnson, always over the phone. The voice at one end would go down the list of proposed actors, and the person on the other end would respond with “yes” or “no.” Questions were not asked. Many careers were ruined, and nervous movie studios stayed away from scripts with plots that could be seen as controversial, resulting in nearly a decade of fluff, westerns, and patriotic war films.
Detente — US/Soviet Enmity Cools
(See Main Article: Cold War Detente — US/Soviet Enmity Cools)
By the time of the Nixon presidency, the nature of the Cold War had changed. Applying its interpretation of peaceful coexistence, an aggressive Soviet Union called for “wars of national liberation,” and supported many of them in the 1960s.
The communist world had grown substantially, spreading from Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, and North Vietnam to other parts of Asia (Cambodia and Afghanistan), Africa (Angola and Mozambique), and Latin America (Nicaragua). Many political and intellectual elites in industrialized countries openly voiced their preference for the policies of Moscow and Beijing rather than Washington and London. The nonaligned world, led by India, often sided with the communist bloc in the United Nations and regional organizations, while presenting itself as neutral.
The American domestic scene had also substantially changed. After twenty years, the bipartisan consensus on the Cold War was coming apart. Anti-war demonstrations were increasing, and congressional hawks were turning into doves. Vietnam was a major, but not the only, cause of contention. So was the issue of nuclear parity.
The Soviet Union had made quick progress building its nuclear program, while the United States chose to permit parity through defense spending decisions and arms control treaties. Supporters of the parity policy argued that the decision was forced by limited means and a balancing of defense and domestic needs. Opponents countered that America should have fought the Vietnam War differently and made different decisions regarding national security and domestic priorities. They stressed that the United States should have pursued a policy of peace through strength rather than peace through negotiations from a position of parity.
What Was the Iron Curtain?
(See Main Article: What Was the Iron Curtain?)
During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain is a term that received prominence after Winston Churchill’s speech in which he said that an “iron curtain has descended” across Europe. He was referring to the boundary line that divided Europe in two different political areas: Western Europe had political freedom, while Eastern Europe was under communist Soviet rule. During the Cold War, the term also symbolized the way in which the Soviet Union blocked its territories from open contact with the West.
Although it seemed as if the Iron Curtain’s restrictions were a bit relaxed after Stalin died in 1953, the Berlin Wall’s construction reinforced them in 1961. It was only in 1991 when the Cold War ended and the one party communist rule in Eastern Europe was abandoned that the Iron Curtain ceased to exist
8 Amazing Spy Gadgets Used During the Cold War
(See Main Article: 8 Amazing Spy Gadgets Used During the Cold War)
(See Main Article: When Was the Berlin Wall Torn Down?)
The Berlin Wall, often called the “Wall of Shame” and a symbol of the Iron Curtain of the Cold War, was torn down on November 9, 1989, two years after President Ronald Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
Free Travel For East Germans
When Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, the Cold War began to thaw in East Germany and finally, on November 9, 1989, an East Berlin official announced that citizens of the GDR (East Germany) would be allowed to cross the country’s borders freely and would also be allowed “permanent departure.” The idea was that exit visas or passports would be issued freely, but there was a lot of confusion about what exactly he meant. Nevertheless, thousands of East and West Berliners flocked to both sides of the wall and started to press forward toward it. The guards were not sure what was expected of them and finally opened the gate for the East Berliners to pass freely for the first time in almost three decades.
Reagan Foreign Policy: Peace Through Strength
(See Main Article: Reagan Foreign Policy: Peace Through Strength)
The following article on the fall of the Soviet Union is an excerpt from Lee Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards Spalding’s book A Brief History of the Cold War It is available to order now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The fall of the Soviet Union was a decades-in-the-making outcome of Cold War politics, but it happened quite suddenly in the late 80s and early 90s, primarily at the level of U.S.-USSR politics. Even then the end of the Cold War was not clear. The first of the three Bush-Gorbachev summit meetings did not take place until December 1989 in Malta, where Bush emphasized the need for “superpower cooperation,” choosing to overlook that the Soviet Union was no longer a superpower by any reasonable criterion and that Marxism-Leninism in Eastern Europe was headed for Reagan’s “ash-heap of history.”
The second summit was in May 1990 in Washington, D.C., where the emphasis was on economics. Gorbachev arrived in a somber mood, conscious that his country’s economy was nearing free fall and nationalist pressures were splitting the Soviet Union. Although a virtual pariah at home, the Soviet leader was greeted by large, friendly American crowds. Bush tried to help, granting most-favored-nation trading status to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev appealed to American businessmen to start new enterprises in the USSR, but what could Soviet citizens afford to buy? In Moscow, the bread lines stretched around the block. A month later, NATO issued a sweeping statement called the London Declaration, proclaiming that the Cold War was over and that Europe had entered a “new, promising era.” But the Soviet Union, although teetering, still stood.
The Cold War — Not WW2 — Was Arguably the Defining Event of the 20th Century
(See Main Article: The Cold War — Not WW2 — Was Arguably the Defining Event of the 20th Century)
The Cold War existed vaguely in a fifty-year stretch and lacked the defining moments of a major military conflict. However, there is a strong argument to be made that it defined the 20th century. While most point to World Wars One and Two as the most important events of the century, the institutions that dominate today’s nations are by-products of the Cold War: the military-industrial complex, their political systems (whether capitalist, socialist, or something in between), funding for scientific research, and even space programs.
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