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The Cold War World: A US Perspective 1945-Present
By Mr. Hermansen
Truman and the Cold War:
Demobilizing: worries/needs?
o The GI Bill (2.3 Million-college)
o 15 Billion dollar package.
US Emerges as an economic leader: Bretton Woods Agreement (creation of the IMF, US
as the benchmark of currency)
o Nations in ruin US could import goods much cheaper
o Science leads to new industry and technology
o Wartime savings and pent up demand “rage to consume and the ability to do so”
Organizing the military National Security Act—four branches.
Truman’s weakness—lack of initiation in the area of national welfare. Wartime
regulations came to an immediate end, led to massive inflation; they were able to handle
it for a while. Staggering rise in prices—led to labor unrest, more work stoppages in 1945
than in any time in US history. By January 1946 3% of Americas were on strike! The free
spending was coming to an end, as the economy became paralyzed. Inflation means
lower wages for workers (not military with their pent up savings).
o Rail strike of 1946, shouting match between Truman and the workers. He
threatened to establish a draft for labor in “vital” industries that would be
Truman’s struggles and electoral success. “To err is Truman”, Truman seemed incapable
of leading, the Republicans enjoyed a resurgence that led to a sure Truman defeat in the
election of 1948. He was seemingly losing his shirt until, using the congress as the fall
guy by calling them into session and asking them to pass laws that everyone was calling
for…they passed none (Do Nothing Congress).
Truman’s handling of the Soviets…hardline. Tensions between Moscow and
Washington were escalating amidst a huge burst in US Nuclear development and the
issue that wouldn’t go away the expansion of communism into the Eastern European
satellite states.
Why did the Soviets want Eastern Europe?
o Stalin
o German invasion “Buffer states”
o Reward for brunt of German aggression.
Course of the tension: They had a 10 million strong army we had nukes. Stalin wouldn’t
budge, nor would Truman. (Truman wary of Chamberlain and Hitler, don’t appease!)
Truman viewed this as a matter of weakness that violated principles of the past and
impaled the US Economy. The battleground: Poland, Russia insisted on the use of a
Soviet system, Truman needed to show strength to bring democracy to the Polish and
stand up to Stalin. His trump card? His demeanor and the Nuclear bomb.
Results of the Polish standoff:
o Stalin determined to outlast Truman, he forbid any “Satellite” state to do
business with the US, seized factories and resources from these areas. Truman’s
response was clear, he would never in treaty or action give in to any Soviet
response. Result: The Truman Doctrine, “containment”. Second response: more
nuclear development and testing.
The Giant Plan: The Marshall Plan (17 Billion Dollars)
Soviet Response in Eastern Europe: takeovers of governments in Hungary and
Czechoslovakia, disruption of the trade to West Berliners. Truman could not act out
against Czech/Hungary without going to war, but he would not allow the German
actions to go unchecked…Berlin airlift. To prevent the Soviets from deploying air
attacks against the planes landing at Templehof Airport every 3 minutes Truman ordered
B29’s to England with the purpose of carrying A Bombs into Russia should it be required,
which Truman indicated he would use if necessary. Truman used this to stir up rampant
Anti-Soviet sentiment in the US.
The Great German social experiment. 1949—the West creates West Germany
NATO Formed in 1949/Warsaw Pact in 1955
Soviets Create East Germany in 1949
Explode an A Bomb of their own in 1949
Communism enters China in 1949
Korean War and Asia:
Korea partitioned after WWII. MacArthur transforms Japan into a prosperous
constitutional democracy and made it into a US satellite state. Communists barred from
all posts, Russia receives no input in Japan.
Communism stomped all over Asia including the Philippines and allowed the French to
resume control over French Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos).
Communist revolution broke out in China, US aided the Koumintang and the USSR
aided the Communists. The inefficient Nationalists of Chaing Kai-Shek were defeated.
These defeats (along with Russian A-bomb in 49) led to a massive wave of anti
communism and fear of spying.
Truman’s response: the Employment of Teller’s H-Bomb theory. The first test was
amazing a 25 mile cloud and the creation of a mile by 175 foot deep canyon.
Thermonuclear tension increased.
NSC-68: Truman ordered a massive American military buildup increase of 400% to
counter Soviet aggression. (Military spending tripled)
Korea: North Korean Troops swept across the 38th parallel on 6-24-50. The 38th parallel
was the divider between the North/South Communist/Democratic.
Soviets were caught off guard by the actions of the North Koreans; Truman still blamed
Stalin as using this to test his policy. Stalin in fact provided the North Koreans with
almost no aid!
Truman made this into the super conflict, if they are not stopped now “they’ll move into
Iran and take over the whole Middle East next”.
Truman by passed congress and went to the UN for support, this was a US mission
disguised a s UN action. Douglas MacArthur the chief in command.
North began a quick descent to the Southern tip until they were outflanked by
MacArthur who forced them to retreat all the way back to the 38 th parallel. Truman
ordered an advance into areas just south of the Yalu river near China…couldn’t go into
China! China responded with 300,000 men who drove MacArthur back to back to the
South. Truman sought an armistice at this time with the integrity of each nation to be
preserved. MacArthur wanted a war against China with the Nuclear Arsenal to
devastate the Chinese mainland…two camps emerged, and Truman looked soft on
Communism and afraid of possible Soviet intervention.
Korean totals: 54, 246 dead; 103, 284 missing, 54 billion.
The Emotional Response to the Cold War: Hypernationalism
Many believed that the root of America’s problems with the Soviet Union were related
not to the fear that drove nations to avoid war, but rather was the result of Treason and
This was the result of love of America, and the belief that the Soviets were incompetent (a
comfortable feeling in times of fear) and incapable of producing a take over of Eastern
Europe, facilitating the takeover of Chinese communism and developing Nuclear
These were not new concepts to America who had similar bouts of hypernationalism
during the first world war and even in the civil war for their respective side.
The playground for the events of the cold war was the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC) this became the playground for Joseph McCarthy to launch
his anti communist tirades.
The result was a fear that spies were all around and a general “Red Scare”.
Loyalty and Security initiatives:
o The hysteria started when in 1945 a communist magazine was found to have
classified documents given to it by the state department, the fear was on. Then it
was determined that Klaus Fuchs a scientist on the Manhattan Project had given
the Soviets secrets that had facilitated their development of Atomic technology in
o Truman established the Federal Employee Loyalty Program designed to root out
subversives in Government. Loyalty and background checks became common.
Between 1947 and 1951 3,000 employees were fired for their views on religion or
a like of foreign films.
Anti-communism crusade: magazines and movies contributed to the madness with titles
such as The Red Menace, and I Married a Communist, or the ever popular “Beware Reds
Are After Your Child”. This is when HUAC began launching their probes into American
life. The probes became gradually more public and turned out such espionage victories
such as than the Hiss and Rosenberg trials.
Alger Hiss was an American political institution who despite loyal service in politics for
over 30 years was discredited by the HUAC committee along with the help of a former
Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers as being a communist agent. Hiss under scrutiny of
HUAC member Richard Nixon relented and admitted to letting Chambers live in an
apartment he owned and use his car. He was then convicted of given secret files to the
Soviets, will serve 5 years in federal prison.
The Rosenberg’s: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were implicated in the scandal that saw
Klaus Fuchs sell key Los Alamos secrets to the Soviets. They were found guilty and
sentenced to death at Sing Sing prison in New York. The severity indicated the level of
McCarthyism: The key figure in the 1950’s cold war hysteria was Wisconsin (Appleton)
senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy needed an issue to turn his fledging political career
around…what better issue than the red scare! Using fake lists and show trials as his
platform he became an American icon without ever offering any proof of his allegations
recreating the hysteria that rocked Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials.
The Emergence of Détente:
As the bombs got bigger, and badder the world clamored for some sort of a détente. The
result was that every nuclear bomb, every missile, every test, every space initiative had to
be checked. It would violate détente any violation of the M.A.D principle meant that you
were that gigantic one step closer to elimination. Eisenhower tried to bring about some
sense of Nuclear peace, but his visions of détente were shattered by the Kennedy
Kennedy had lacked some components of an electoral mandate so he made it his mission
to overshadow his family heritage by emphasizing the issues of civil rights and soviet
toughness. The latter would be tested harshly. Truman had established his Truman
doctrine which indicated that Communism would be contained, well it had failed once
again in 1959 when the small island nation of Cuba had fallen into the hands of the
communists. Kennedy instituted in 1961 a CIA sponsored plan of an invasion/uprising
to turn back the communism his predecessors had failed to contain…the result was the
disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion the invaders had no air support and their Cubans did not
rise up.
To make matters worse to prevent defectors from crossing over into West Berlin (Why
did they cross?) Khruschev constructed the Berlin Wall. Khruschev an old time
Communist party hard-liner viewed his young American colleague as a young upstart in
the dealings with the soviets, more smart than tough and felt he could be had…
October 1962 American aerial photographs revealed that the Soviet Union had begun to
construct nuclear missile bases in Cuba. The missiles were of the short (1,000 mile) and
intermediate (2,000 mile) variety.
Kennedy went on TV in late Oct (22) to denounce the threatening actions of the Soviets.
But behind the scenes Kennedy was planning a tough strategy for his soviet
Step 1: Naval blockade prevent anymore missiles from entering Cuba. An aggressive
Americans and the world were glued to their radio for updates fearing a nuclear
Soviets blinked promising a full withdrawal for a promise to not invade Cuba in the
future, the crisis was averted until the Soviets retracted their offer and added that Jupiter
missiles must be removed from the Soviet’s bloc in Turkey. This was the essence of
The threat turned to the issue of should an invasion into Cuba be launched or a military
strike before the missiles became operational. The result would have been…
The final agreement was a deal allowing Kennedy to save face by a secret agreement to
remove the outdated Jupiters in six months, this was a victory for détente, this concept of
nuclear equality.
Domino theory, the theory was that once one communist state fell that the rest would fall
like a domino.
Johnson and Indochina:
Johnson’s positive points his devotion to Civil Rights, his Great Society and his
domination over Congress were overshadowed by the quagmire that was Vietnam.
Johnson was walking a fine line; he knew that Vietnam was a tenable situation and had
to be prevented from communist takeover, however he also knew that over involvement
could draw the US into direct conflict with the Soviet Union and the Chinese. He
believed if Vietnam (which was a terrible situation to fight in) was abandoned then it
would be picked up somewhere else in another nation.
“I am not going to lose Vietnam, I am not going to be the President who saw SE Asia go
the way of China”
Johnson widened the limited war fought by Kennedy and expanded American air
presence in the region hoping to bomb the North Vietnamese to the bargaining table and
end Vietnam like Korea had been ended with an armistice resulting in no gain.
1964 was the year of Americas advanced movement in Vietnam. Vietnam was the major
campaign issue and to prove to his adversary pro-involvement in Vietnam Barry
Goldwater Johnson opened a massive escalation in the war effort.
Gulf of Tonkin resolution; the greatest example of US ‘half’ truths about the war during
which he lied to Congress about the true events of the North Vietnamese attack on
American gunboats in the Gulf of Tonkin. He painted it as an offensive where as the US
was aiding a South Vietnamese raid against the islands in the region. The Tonkin
resolution which proposed that the president be granted wide-ranging war powers to
“Take all necessary measures” in the war in Vietnam passed with unbelievable fury; 88-2
in the Senate and 416-0 in the House.
Johnson quickly cashed in on his blank check of support by “Americanizing” war and
ordering the most intensive bombing campaign the world had ever seen with Operation
Rolling Thunder which saw 800 tons of bombs a day on North Vietnam more than 3x the
tonnage dropped on Europe, Africa and Asia during WWII.
Unable to achieve his goal with bombs he decided to send in American troops in the
wake of the failure of South Vietnamese forces to win the war. By the end of July, two
months after the decision Vietnam had 184,000 troops of American descent in its midst.
Johnson was clearly uncomfortable in Vietnam claiming that he couldn’t run or hide
from the conflict comparing to being a “hitchhiker caught in a hailstorm on a Texas
highway, I can’t run or hide”.
By 1967 the number of troops was 485,000.
The greatest measure of the war’s failure was the response to the War’s effort at home.
The reasons?
o Draft
o Amount of peoples in college
o Media criticism
o Media coverage “Living Room War”
o Discrepancies in Government information
o Un-balanced impact on the poor.
o Cultural influences: counterculture cultural shift. (Music)
o Demographics age of those involved.
Rise of the New Left. Led by individuals such as Thomas Hayden who blasted the war
in the famous Port Huron Statement, which consolidated student opposition to the war
on campuses like Colombia, Wisconsin, Berkeley, and Kent St. The manifesto stirred
popular resistance to the war in the 60’s and provided a blueprint for the war’s resistance
in the 60’s.
Make Love Not War became a rallying cry for the student activists and the emerging
counter culture movement. Rallies, protest and marches became the norms.
Culminating in events like Woodstock, the movements were fueled by pop culture and
the rising student radicalism (drugs). Protest movement culminated on May 4, 1969
when the student protestors at Kent St. were shot at by the National Guard fermenting
their resistance movement.
TET offensive; things went from bad to worse in January 1968 which saw the North
Vietnamese pull off a stunning victory (simultaneously) in 100 cities. The US eventually
pushed back the TET (New Years) offensive but the fact that the Vietnamese could get so
close to the US at her bases and embassy in Saigon shocked the nation. The death toll for
the NLF/VC was large at 37,000, which prompted the Johnson government to declare that
the enemy is on the ropes…this was a cover-up. Johnson’s approval rating will plummet
into the 40% range causing him to realize that he was losing not only the war but his grip
on the American conscience. This was cemented by victory of little known Minnesotan
Eugene McCarthy in several primaries. Following he announced that he would not seek
nor accept the nomination for president.
Nixon and Vietnam:
Lyndon Johnson chose not to run again in 1968 responding to the harsh criticism of
America’s developing “New Left” which was incredible critical of Johnson and the war
effort. The Democratic National Convention in 1968 (Chicago) was again a defining
movement of the resistance movement and the harsh criticism towards the policies of
Lyndon Johnson. The party was divided between Eugene McCarthy and Hubert
Humphrey…between Warhawk and Dove the result was egregious violence that ensued
in the streets, violence for an event normally quite tranquil. America was shocked.
Nixon will emerge wit ha a slight victory obtaining only 43 % of the popular vote and
will take office as a minority president.
Nixon immediately became as big a target as Johnson when he invaded nearby
Cambodia for it had become a key point on the Ho Chi Minh supply trail and had
become a key converging ground for the NLF/VC forces. His expansion of the war
stunned America who had begun to accept de-escalation of the war effort in the wake of
the TET offensive and the shakeup of the Johnson administration.
America was clearly bubbling over as along the campaign trail in 68 RFK will be
assassinated, followed by MLK in Memphis.
Nixon’s Vietnamization: Nixon seeking to make his mark in addition to invading
Cambodia early in 1970 began a policy in 1969 of Vietnamizing the war, that is turning it
over to the South Vietnamese ground troops while going back to the Johnson age policy
of air supremacy.
Nixon Doctrine: the policy that America would act as a “partner” as opposed to the sole
protector, this was the backing for Vietnamization. The policy reflected the American’s
weariness of the war, the plummeting morale and national mood.
A key indicator of American morale was the shocking increase of both GI drug use and
“Fragging” the killing of officers by enlisted men.
A shocking increase of both GI drug use and “Fragging” the killing of officers by enlisted
men signaled the decline of GI Morale.
American opinion and the student resistance was forged by the outrage of the My Lai
massacre an event so shocking and telling about the American war effort that it could not
be ignored. American opinion and the student resistance was forged by the outrage of
the My Lai massacre an event so shocking and telling about the American war effort that
it could not be ignored. A regiment of inexperienced men under an inexperienced
Lieutenant massacred 347 defenseless men, women, and children at the village of My Lai
a small hamlet, during which they burned the village and took a lunch break. The
massacre spoke to the opponents’ claims in Vietnam that we were fighting an
unwinnable war against an invisible enemy. The My Lai massacre was representative of
Not even Nixon’s transferring of ground responsibilities to the South Vietnamese could
save the embattled war effort.
American encroachment into other areas such as Laos and Cambodia brought defeats for
the South Vietnamese armed forces, defeats that were seen on the televisions of America
every night! Nixon responded by stepping up the bombing to levels never seen before
“The bastards have never been bombed like they are going to be bombed this time.”
Nixon’s tough stances brought nothing but disaster and initiated a US retreat from the
war. The results of a truce outlined by Kissinger signaled an American defeat:
o Withdrawl of US troops in exchange for return of POW’s and a recogniton of
North’s advance into S. Vietnam.
This would end the draft and the War and Nixon was able campaign on this claim in
1972 giving him a huge victory. The war would come to a gradual end in 1973 with the
signing of the Paris accords. However, the war would continue for S. Vietnam, but this
time it would be alone.
American costs:
o 150 Billion dollars
o 58,000 Dead
o 300,000 wounded
o 10,000 paraplegics
o 500,000 less than honorable discharges (desertions, druges)
o Average age 19 (WWII 26)
Nixon and Détente:
Détente is the principal that if two parties can submit equal damage
to the opposition that they are a state of equality. Nixon will attempt to convince the
Soviets and Chinese that such a state has been reached between the groups.
Nixon was given a great opportunity to exceed Détente in 1969
when serious conflicts and even skirmishes broke out between the Soviet Union and the
Chinese, these two communist friends were now at odds…if the US could gain an
alliance with the Chinese they could break the cycle of détente and gain an upper hand.
Nixon then made it his goal of bringing the PRC (Peoples Republic
of China) together with the United States. The United States had never recognized their
existence as a legitimate nation so this was a huge step in the right direction. It took
several phases:
o Ping Pong diplomacy: this diplomatic procedure was portrayed in the film
Forrest Gump over the US/Chinese Ping Pong championships which bridged the
wide gap between the two nations.
o 1971: Nixon issues a decree to normalize relations with the PRC
1972: Nixon expresses a great desire to visit the vast land of China and does so
under great fanfare. Bringing the Chinese closer to the US than they are to the
Soviet Union…a slight advantage in détente?
Nixon also made overtures to the Soviets by saying in 1972 upon
returning from China “There must be room in this world for two great nations with
different systems to live together and work together.” This reaching out brought the two
groups to the bargaining table-the topic: Nuclear disarmament. The agreement? S.A.L.T
(Strategic Arms Limitations Talks). The results: in 1972 the Soviets and US agreed to
limit their ABM’s (Anti-ballistic Missiles) to 200 (these types of missiles would be able to
destroy an IBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile). This was a great victory for
deterrence. They followed that up with a limitation on the production and
implementation of ICBM’s.
Examples of Soviet Tension:
Tensions complicate relations…all of these gains had been subtracted by the problems in
the Middle East. The Soviets had always been sympathetic to the Arab side of the
problems (because we were on the opposite side, no ideological agreement) whereas we
had always supported the Israeli’s and their efforts to build a nation. During the 1960’s
and 1970’s, the Israeli conflicts with the Arab world namely Syria, and Egypt put the US
in direct competition with each other.
Chile: in 1970 the South American nation of Chile elected Salvador Allende a Marxist.
This would not do with Nixon, so he secretly sent 10,000,000 to the CIA to fund the
opponents of Allende in a revolution. The US also cut off economic aid and convinced
the global community to cut off economic ties with Chile. In 1973 Nixon’s private urging
led to the murder of Allende by a junta, in its place emerged a military coup sympathetic
to the United States. All aid and trade immediately resumed between the Chilean’s and
the rest of the world.
Nixon’s dreams came crashing down when he was convicted of spying and stealing from
the Watergate building, the democratic national headquarters. This act by King Richard
and the subsequent cover-up created a national scandal that eventually led to his
The Cold War during the Ford, Carter years:
The presidency of these two individuals was quite non-descript. Their exploits
with the Soviets during the cold war fit that description. Both were wrapped up in issues
in the Mid-East and allowed the Nixon age détente to wither. (See Oil embargo of 1973)
Ford pulled the final troops out of SE Asia and made gains on a S.A.L.T I treaty
as well as orchestrating the Helsinki accords which finally solidified the map of post-1945
Europe. Ford was much stronger in this area than Carter who was a joke.
Carter spend most of his time engaged in conflict over the Oil/Israeli situation in
the Mid East as well as strengthen relationships with Africa. This led him to allow
relations to slip with the Soviets. The SALT II talks died during the last years of the
Carter years representing no growth.
Carter did restore Chinese relations to new levels but that was to no credit of his
own, rather it had more to do with the economic philosophies of new Chinese ruler Deng
Xiaoping who wanted to open up the economy of China.
The Maverick: Ronald Reagan and the end of the Cold War
When Reagan came to power from the governorship of California this former actor
quickly brought with him a no-nonsense cowboy type attitude, much like those of the
former tough guys who embodied his screen persona.
Reagan quickly began referring to the Soviets as the “Evil Empire” and began initiating
dialogue that all that was evil emanated from Soviet Union.
Reagan seemed to be attempting to heat up the cold war tension. The reason the
Communists enjoyed modest expansion of their world order during the 1980’s. Two
examples ensued from the Western Hemisphere.
El Salvador: in El Salvador Communists were gaining power and the Reagan white
house steadfastly (and obviously) supported democratic revolutionaries. The US
sponsored murders of Salvadoran communists.
Nicaragua: The Sandanista government was in the view of Reagan supporting precommunist ideology and thus he threw his support behind the anti-sandinista army of
the Contra’s. The covert war in Nicaragua and Honduras to the American people
represented another Vietnam. The contra’s were not victorious.
Then you have Grenada…in 1983 the small Island of Grenada had a coup replacing the
with a radical and unpopular regime. The result was Reagan sending 2,000 marines into
the region and restoring the previous region by force.
Reagan was convinced that US foreign policy had become weak and they were being
pushed around so he called for a doubling of the military budget. The military budget
was a staggering 300 billion annually! In fact, keeping up with Reagan’s huge spending
was the final blow to the Soviet Union’s government.
Military buildup: the US responded by putting almost 1,000 Pershing Nuclear Missiles in
Europe pointed at Moscow! The US put huge expenditures in nuclear defense with
appropriations going from evacuation plans to the amazing SDI initiative. SDI was short
for Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars. This system named after the movie was a
series of laser armed satellites that were designed to shoot down any incoming missiles
from the Soviet Union. The Spending on this task was extraordinary and contributed to a
near 3 trillion dollar defecit during the Reagan years.
SDI and détente/deterrence. The Soviets felt that the SDI initiative (which they couldn’t
match in technology or funding) was destroying the delicate nuclear balance of power
and as such they viewed Reagan as a madman attempting to start a nuclear war! Why
else would he disrupt the balance of power by creating SDI. The world reacted harshly
to the SDI initative because it did exactly that, it disrupted the delicate balance of power
than had been established during the previous 40 years of the cold war.
The Cold War ended in 1991 when the Communist Regime in the Soviet Union collapsed
under the economic burden of trying to match the US spending dollar for dollar.
1989: One by one Soviet states that had been under their control since WWII declared
their indepdence and nothing was (could have been) done about it.
To follow up the Soviets and US signed a nuclear arms treaty slashing the nuclear arsenal
of each nation by a staggering 25%, the US under Reagan began the unthinkable a
military downsizing.
In 1991, a coup occurred in Russia to oust the liberal Gorbachev. The coup failed under
the watchful eye of liberal Boris Yeltsin. Gorbachev returned from power but was clearly
the second fiddle now to the gregarious Yeltsin. Gorbachev had wished to preserve the
Soviet Union but change it for the better, he failed in the process destroying the
institution that Stalin had carefully constructed in the 1940’s. The republics left one by
one under the leadership of Yeltsin and the USSR was officially over.
The new order: Now What?
The fall of the USSR left the US with a hole in terms of an enemy and
adversary…so now what? The New World Order has us focusing our attention on the
radical elements of Islam and Terrorism as well constructing a peace in the volatile
Middle East. 9-11 has illustrated the severity of that change. Stay tuned...