Cold War Discussion


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Cold War Discussion Question: How did the Cold War differ from previous "hot" wars?

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Unit 23: The United States and the Cold War, 1945–1953 Lecture On September 16, 1947, the 160th anniversary of the Constitution’s signing, the Freedom Train opened to the public in Philadelphia. The train, containing dozens of the most significant historical documents in American history, including the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg address, toured the nation. Visitors were asked to affirm American ideals by taking a Freedom Pledge and signing a Freedom Scroll. More than 3.5 million visited the train, and even more attended the educational programs and parades that accompanied it. Beneath the surface of the train’s exhibits lay conflict over the meaning of American freedom. Archivists who proposed the initial list of documents for the train intended to include the Wagner Act, which granted workers the right to organize unions, and President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, in which he articulated “freedom from want.” The conservative American Heritage Foundation, to which the Truman administration had given the train, eliminated these documents from the exhibit. The foundation also would not include the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which had established equal and civil political rights regardless of race during Reconstruction. The train did not mention unions or social welfare, and only a few documents, such as the Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment (which outlawed slavery), spoke to black Americans’ history. The train showed how the Cold War affected America. Just before the train opened to the public, President Truman declared that the United States would adopt a policy of containing Soviet power across the world, and that disloyal Americans would be removed from government jobs. Government officials soon praised the train for contributing to the fight against communist subversion, and the FBI even reported on those who criticized the exhibit. The Freedom Train’s history shows how the Cold War transformed freedom by imbuing it with anti-communism, advocacy for “free enterprise,” and support for the status quo in American society. After World War II, the United States possessed enormous industrial capacity, the largest navy and air force (the army was demobilized). and the only atomic bomb in the world. This made it the most powerful nation on earth. Roosevelt had wanted to avoid a return to the isolationism of the post–World War I era and believed the United States should lead efforts to establish cooperation, democracy, and prosperity across the globe, in part through new institutions such as the World Bank and United Nations. U.S. leaders believed that America’s security depended on stability in Europe and Asia and that American prosperity required the rebuilding of economies worldwide. The chief obstacle to American leaders’ visions for the postwar world seemed to be the Soviet Union, whose victorious military occupied much of eastern Europe and eastern Germany. The Soviet Union’s triumph over Germany and its claim that communism modernized Russia appealed to colonized 1 peoples who desired national independence, and like the United States, the USSR intended to reshape the world in its own image. Though Americans knew the Soviet military was too weak to directly threaten the United States, they accurately recognized Soviet intentions to dominate eastern Europe. The wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union was formed only to defeat Hitler. Clashes between American and Soviet interests and values were bound to resurface after the war. The Cold War’s first event occurred in the Middle East, where Soviet troops occupied parts of northern Iran in with rich oil fields. Pressured by Britain and the United States, the Soviets withdrew troops from Iran but simultaneously installed pro-communist governments in Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, a move they compared to U.S. domination in Latin America. To many Americans, Stalin seemed to violate his promise at Yalta for free elections in Poland. Soon thereafter, U.S. diplomat George Kennan, in his famous Long Telegram, told the Truman administration that communist ideology made the Soviet government inherently and permanently aggressive. Only America, he wrote, could prevent the extension of Soviet communist rule in the world. This was the basis for the policy of “containment,” in which the United States aimed to check all Soviet attempts to expand its power in the world. In a speech in Missouri, former British prime minister Winston Churchill declared that an “iron curtain” had fallen over Europe, dividing the free West from the communist East. This reinforced emerging beliefs that a long-term struggle between the United States and the Soviets was at hand. In March 1947, Truman announced that the United States was now engaged in a global conflict with the Soviet Union. This new policy came to be called the Truman Doctrine. When he became FDR’s vice-president in 1944, Truman was an obscure senator from Missouri with little foreign policy experience, and as president he soon faced daunting foreign policy challenges. He did not trust Stalin and believed the United States had to assume world leadership. Truman decided to embrace containment when Britain signaled it could no longer afford military aid to Greece, where a monarchy faced a communist-led revolt, and to Turkey, where the Soviets wanted joint control of the crucial straits linking the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Britain asked America to step in. Though unrest in Greece and Turkey was mostly homegrown and incited by corrupt and undemocratic governments, these states were strategically important as doors to southern Europe and the oil-rich Middle East. To win Congress’s support for containment, Truman was told to frighten the American populace, and he repeatedly invoked the nation’s responsibility to defend freedom at home and abroad. Truman’s rhetoric laid the framework for how Americans viewed the postwar world, and it became the “guiding spirit of American foreign policy.” Republican and Democratic support for Truman’s policy initiated a long period of bipartisan backing for containment. And his speech showed the extent to which the Cold War was an ideological conflict, in which both powers claimed their social system was a model for other nations and that they advanced 2 freedom and social justice while defending their own security. Congress’s approval of military aid to Turkey and Greece rescued these governments and checked Soviet power. Truman’s speech and policy committed the United States to a permanent responsibility in the world and set a precedent both for U.S. support of undemocratic, anti-communist regimes and for the creation of military alliances against the Soviets. The Truman administration soon established new “national security” agencies, such as the National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency, which were removed from congressional oversight. Potential military action was only one element of containment. Secretary of State George C. Marshall outlined another in a speech in June 1947, in which he committed the United States to spending billions of dollars to finance Europe’s economic reconstruction. The destruction caused by the war, food scarcity, and inflation plagued the continent, and these crises expanded support for communist parties in France and Italy, which American leaders feared might go communist. The Marshall Plan promoted the idea that capitalism, even after the Great Depression, would flourish, and it defined as a threat to American security, not just Soviet military power, but the economic and political instability that nourished communism. The Marshall Plan gave a positive meaning to containment, making freedom more than just anti-communism. It represented a kind of New Deal for Europe that would establish mass industry and mass consumption in order to provide employment and a high standard of living for Europeans. In only a few years, production in Europe exceeded pre-war levels. But the plan exacerbated tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which refused to support a plan that would consolidate U.S. influence in Europe. With 23 other nations, the United States simultaneously created the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) to foster more free trade and create larger markets for American goods and investments. In Japan, General Douglas MacArthur administered a U.S. occupation that ended in 1948 with a new, democratic constitution and land reform. The new constitution gave women the vote and affirmed that Japan would never again wage war and would only maintain a small military force for self-defense. The United States supervised Japan’s economic recovery, as well. Though the nation considered dissolving the giant industrial corporations that had enabled Japanese aggression, this idea was scrapped when U.S. policymakers determined that a strong Japanese economy would check communism in Asia. By the 1950s, Japan’s economy was booming. The Cold War rapidly intensified. At the end of World War II, each winning power occupied and administered parts of Germany and its capital, Berlin, which was located far inside the Soviet zone. In June 1948, when the United States, Britain, and France started a process that would lead to a new West German government allied with them, the Soviets responded by blocking all traffic from the American, British, and French zones to the city. Western planes began an 11-month airlift of supplies to West Berlin. Stalin lifted the blockade, but two nations—East and West 3 Germany—took form, each allied with a side in the Cold War, and Berlin stayed divided. West Berlin survived as an isolated city surrounded by communist East Germany, and only in 1991 was Germany reunified. In 1949, the Soviet Union also first tested an atomic bomb, thus ending the U.S. monopoly on nuclear arms. That year the United States, Canada, and 10 nations in western Europe created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defense pact in the event of Soviet aggression in Europe. Many Europeans applauded when West Germany joined NATO, because they hoped it would prevent future German aggression and defend against Soviet advances. In turn, the Soviets in 1955 formed the Warsaw Pact, their own military alliance in Eastern Europe. Also in 1949, Chinese communists led by Mao Zedong won the civil war in that country, dealing a heavy blow to U.S. containment policy. The Truman administration, criticized by Republicans for having “lost” China to communism, did not recognize the new People’s Republic of China and prevented it from taking its seat in the United Nations. Until the 1970s, the United States defended the exiled regime in Taiwan as China’s legitimate government. In 1950, the National Security Council responded to the growing tensions in Germany, China’s new government, and the Soviet atom bomb with a policy of permanent military armament. The document expressing this new policy, called NSC-68, depicted the Cold War as an epochal conflict between “the idea of freedom” and the “slavery” of the Soviets that would determine whether the “free world” survived. NSC-68 spurred monumental increases in military spending. The Cold War turned “hot” not in Europe, but in Asia. In 1945, Korea was split into Soviet and American zones. These became two governments: a communist North Korea, and the anti-communist and undemocratic South Korea, aligned with America. In June 1950, North Korean troops invaded the south in an attempt to unify the peninsula under communist rule, and they nearly conquered all of South Korea. Truman interpreted the invasion as a Soviet challenge to US containment policy, and the UN authorized military action. American troops led by General Douglas MacArthur launched a campaign that resulted in US occupation of most of North Korea. But in October 1950, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops crossed the border and pushed UN forces back down the peninsula. When MacArthur demanded the right to use nuclear weapons to repel the Chinese and perhaps even invade China, Truman declined. MacArthur’s refusal to recognize the president’s civilian control of the military led to his dismissal. The war stalemated, and in 1953, an armistice left the two prewar nations intact without any formal peace treaty. More than 33,000 Americans, 1 million Korean soldiers, 2 million civilians, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops died. The Cold War that began in Europe now became global in scope. Events since 1947 suggested that the world had not found peace, as had been hoped in 1945 when the UN was founded. Instead of one world living in harmony, the world was split between the US, which led what became known as the West (including Japan), or the “Free World.” The US formed 4 more military alliances in Southeast Asia and the Middle east, effectively surrounding the Soviet Union and China. In the Soviet Union, Stalin’s brutal regime had jailed or murdered millions. Its authoritarianism made the Soviet Union seem antithetical to “free enterprise” and democracy. But some Americans argued that approaching the Cold War as a titanic struggle between freedom and slavery was problematic. Even George Kennan, who inspired containment policy, argued that US leaders should avoid ideological decisions and view international crises on a case-by-case basis if they were to determine if freedom or American interests were in danger. Walter Lippman condemned turning foreign policy into an “ideological crusade” that required the US to constantly intervene abroad and violate its own ideals by allying with authoritarian anti-communist governments – many of which faced rebellions sparked by domestic problems, not Soviet subversion. Lippman argued that communists were bound to be part of the movements for national independence that the US should itself support. The war elevated awareness in the US about imperialism and decolonization, even as anti-colonial movements used the Declaration of Independence to make claims for self-government. Some liberals and black leaders pressed Truman to promote decolonization, and in 1946, the US gave independence to the Philippines. But the Cold War saw the US retreat from the pressure that FDR had exerted on America’s European allies to grant sovereignty to their colonies. Britain and France hoped to retain their possessions in Africa and Asia. While geopolitical and economic interests influenced US foreign policy as much as ideas of freedom, US policymakers used the language of freedom to justify actions that seemed to contradict freedom. Even extremely repressive governments were included in the “Free World” as long as they were anti-communist. One such ally was South Africa, where an apartheid regime preserved white supremacy and suppressed the black population. The Cold War was an ideological conflict in which both sides sought to win support across the world. Freedom was central to mobilizing public opinion, and in the 1950s freedom was a prominent theme in the academy, the media and mass culture, and government. The Cold War set the boundaries for understanding freedom. Culture and history were mobilized for the Cold War. Historians argued that the American Creed of pluralism, tolerance, and equality had always defined American life, and neglected the ways in which race and ethnicity had restricted freedom. The federal government pressed Hollywood to make anti-communist films, from which all references to racism were to be removed. The CIA and the Defense Department patronized the arts, enlisting actors, dancers, and musicians to promote the superiority of American values at home and abroad, and sponsoring magazines and academic conferences. The CIA even funded the controversial abstract expressionist art of painter Jackson Pollock, whose canvasses, created by dropping and splashing paint, were said to embody cultural freedoms absent in socialist nations. 5 The Cold War’s other master concept was “totalitarianism.” First used in World War II to describe fascist Italy and German as aggressive, ideological governments that harshly controlled all of civil society and denied the rights and alternative values that might lead to social change, totalitarianism soon came to describe the Soviet Union and its allies. This concept helped spread the belief that powerful governments were the greatest threat to freedom. Whatever the Soviet Union supported was automatically deemed antithetical to freedom. The American Medical Association launched the largest public relations campaign in history against Truman’s proposal for national health insurance, calling it “socialized medicine.” Soviet hostility to organized religion automatically made Christian worship a bastion of freedom. The Cold War also shaped the idea of human rights. The war’s atrocities and the Four Freedoms and Atlantic Charter sparked calls for a new global order ruled by universal rights for all of humanity. The war crimes trials of German officials showed that the international community would hold individuals accountable for violations of human rights. In 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which declared that all people should have basic rights to freedom of speech and religion, should be free from arbitrary government, and should enjoy social and economic entitlements such as housing, education, health care, and an adequate standard of living. Though the document could not be enforced anywhere, its assertion that governments were accountable for the way they treated their citizens became widely accepted. Debates over the UDHR showed the contradictions and tensions in the idea of human rights. How much human rights should supersede national sovereignty, and who or what should protect the human rights that governments violate, are still unsettled questions. Both the US and the Soviet Union resisted the creation of a mechanism to enforce the UDHR because they feared outside interference in domestic and foreign policy. American leaders were particularly sensitive about race relations, which they feared might invite UN action against the US. In the 1950s, Cold War considerations limited human rights and both the US and the Soviet Union used human rights for their own interests. The USSR claimed to provide its citizens with social and economic rights, while the US criticized the Soviets for violating democratic rights and civil liberties. Only in 1992 did Congress ratify the part of the UDHR that covers “Civil and Political Rights”; it has not yet ratified the declaration’s “Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.” After the war, President Truman faced the monumental task of shifting America from war to peace. The more than 12 million men still in the military in 1945 wanted to return to their families and jobs, and demobilization occurred rapidly. While some veterans found civilian life difficult, others used GI Bill benefits to build or buy homes, start small businesses, and go to college. Most veterans went into the labor force, taking jobs from more than 2 million women workers. The government dismantled wartime agencies that regulated industry and labor and set price controls, which sparked immediate inflation. 6 Backed by Democratic liberals and unions, Truman in 1945 tried to revive New Deal politics with a program he eventually called the “Fair Deal.” This would improve the social safety net and raise living standards. Truman pressed Congress to hike the minimum wage, create a national health insurance system, and increase public housing, Social Security, and educational aid. The year 1946 was one of labor revolt. The AFL and CIO launched Operation Dixie to bring unions to the South and ...
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