The Cold War: The United States


Figure 1.--The Cold War at its essence was a struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States. America's European allies played critical roles in the Cold War, but without American military power, Western Europe could not have resisted the Red Army and Soviet domination. Germany was pivotal in the Cold War. The 50 year conflict would begin and end in Germany. Here a delighted little German boy gets a ride on an American tank as part of winter maneuvers during 1969. While the Cold War military competition dominated the press coverage, the conflict eventually would hinge on the relative economic efficency of Soviet state socialism and American free market capitalism.

The Cold War at its essence was a struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States. America's European allies played critical roles in the Cold War, but without America, Western Europe could not have resisted the Red Army and Soviet domination. After World War II, Europe was devestated. Britain which played a major role in winning the War was bankrupt. Only the United States had the capability of saving Western Europe from Soviet domination. This required a fundamental shift in American foreign policy. After World War I, the United Sates following its long-term foreign policy, withdrew from Europe. President Truman was determined that America would not repeat this mistake. And thus from a very early point America made a commitment to resist Soviet aggression. The turning pont came with the Soviet takeover of democratic Czechoslovakia (1948). The result was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which committed the Unites States militarily to the defense of Western Europe. This was followed by the Berlin Airlift (1948-49). The American effort to save Berlin from Soviet control proved to be the turning point in the struggle for Germany. And it would be Germany that would determine the outcome of the Cold war. From the brginning, Germany would be pivotal in the Cold war. While the Cold War began in Europe, it gradually spread to the developing world (Africa, Asia, and Latin America). At the onset, much of Africa and Asia were European collonies. And here the Cold War took on a different character. And the Soviets positioned themselves as the great opponent of European colonialsm, while at the same time carving out a huge Eastern European empire of their own. One critism of America is that during the Cold War, the United States was too willing to deal with dictators. That is a valid issue and one that some HBC readers have possed. Those critics rarely make the same critivism of the United Srates dealing with Stalin during World war II. One consequence of decolonization in the aftermath of World War II was that independence came at aime when socialist theory and the Soviet image was at its height. This resulted in many developing countries rejecting democracy and freemarket capitalism and adopting socialist statist sollutions which led to decades of ecomomic stagnation and authoritarian rule. The flash points in the Cold war proved to be Berlin and Cuba. Thankfully a military conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union was avoided. European public opinion began to shift. Many as the Soviet military threat dclined began to see the Cold War as less a security matter and more as conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union with no real difference in character between the two beligerants. This was aroinounced view among the younger generation. The long term consequences of socialist economics gradually became apparent leading to economic decline and undermining Soviet military power. The Soviet economy ultimately could not sustain the cost of the Cold War competition with the United States. It was General Secretary Gorbechev's reluctance to use military force to hold the Soviet Empire and ultimately the Soviet Union together that finally ended the Cold war.

Definition

The Cold War at its essence was a struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States. It began as a struggle over Western Europe, byt developed into a world-wide strugghle, esoecully after the Communisrs seized control of China (1949). America's European allies played critical roles in the Cold War, but without America, Western Europe could not have resisted the Red Army and Soviet domination.

World War II Aftermath

After World War II, Europe was devestated. Britain which played a major role in winning the War was bankrupt. Only the United States had the capability of saving Western Europe from Soviet domination.

Fundamental Shift in American Foreign Policy

This required a fundamental shift in American foreign policy. After World War I, the United Sates following its long-term foreign policy, withdrew from Europe. And even in the face of overwealming ecidence that America was thretebed, the Isolationist Movement was opposed American engagement in Europe.

Preident Truman

President Roosevelt was faced with the daunting task of opposing the German NAZIs ahd the Japanese militarists. He had no choice after Hitler launched World War II (September 1939) but to engage the Soviet Union. This was comploicated by Stalin;s decesion to ally himself with Hitler. This only change when Hitler finally added the Soviet Union to his military targets and struck East (June 1941). President Truman was determined that America would not repeat the error of disengaging from Europe as ut had done after World War I. This decesion was takrn in the atmposher of the Sioviet Union violating its commitment at the Yalta Conference

Wise Men

President Truman in alliance with Winston Churchil (in and out of power) was ctitical in launching the United States in its effort to resist Soviet expansion and the subgegation of Western Europe. Here he was ably assisted by General George Marshall who had shaped and designed the American World War II effort and then served Truman as Secretary of State. There were six men who played a critical riole in constructing America's Cold war policy of containmment. They included Averell Harriman, Dean Achenson, Robert Lovett, John McCloy, and Charles Bohlen. [Isaacson and Thomas] Averel Harriman was an important American diplomat and had served as President Roosevelt's special envoy to both Churchill and Syalin during the War. Dean Achenson was President Truman's ecretary of State who imolenented both the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan. George Kennan was a seasoned diplomat whonis generally recognized as first concepuualizing the polocy of containment. Robert Lovett served as assistant secreyaey of war, undersecretaey of state, and finally secretary of defense. John McCloy was a private citizen, but proved hugely influentuioal. Chrles Bohlen was a professional diplomat and ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Defections

Adding to American understanding of aggrsive Soviet policies and subversise activities was defections. This was the danger to the soviet Union of placing operatives in the West--some would choose feedom. It is why Stalin so brutally treated the Soviet POWs and Soviet slave laboers liberated in the defeated Reich at the end of World War II by the Red Army. He was afraid of even this horific exposure to the West. One defector was a Ukranian, Victor Andreevich Kravchenko (1905-66). Kravchenko became became an engineer before the war. As a yung man he was an enthusiastic Party member (1920s). He became alienated by Stalin's brutal Collectivization program and the famine created to destroy the Uktanin peasantry. He was abused during the Great Terror, but managed to avoid arrest. He served in the Rd army during the ae as a captain before being posted to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. as part of the Soviet Purchasing Commission which wa part of the war-time Lend Lease efort. Once in America he saw real freedom a decoded to defect. He wrote about his activities as a Soviet oficals and his asjust to freedom and capitalism. [Kravchenko] Elizabeth Terrill Bentley (19081963) was an American who spied for the Soviet Union (1938-45). She defected from the Communist Party and Soviet intelligence. She exposed two Soviet espionage networks and named over 80 Americans that were spying for the Soviets. Her story became public and caused a media sensation (1948). She was attacked by left-wing sources because she provided no actual documentary evidence to sunstantiate her charges. The declassification of both Soviet documents and the U.S. codebreaking Venona project subsequently confirmed that the here charges were in fact accurate. Upon Bentley's defection the Soviet Union temporarily suspended espionage activities in the United States. [Weinstein and Vassiliev, p. 68.] There was also a high profile defection in neighbiring Canada -- Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko. These and other decections revealed the magnitude of Soviet espionage activities.

American Cold War Effort

America was involved in almost all of the major conflicts of the Cold War with the exception of the efforts of the European colonial ppwers to hold onto their colonies after World War II. Thus it makes sence to use the Cild War historie we have alresy establisjed rather rhan to create a specifically American Cold War campaign section.

Early Phase

The turning pont in the American effort to resist the Soviet Union came with the Soviet takeover of democratic Czechoslovakia (1948). The result was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which committed the Unites States militarily to the defense of Western Europe. This was followed by the Berlin Airlift (1948-49). The American effort to save Berlin from Soviet control proved to be the turning point in the struggle for Germany. And it would be Germany that would determine the outcome of the Cold war. The end of the furst phase of the Cold war was the Berlin Wall. The most visible aspect of the Cold War was the Berlin Wall - the Wall the Communists built between East and West Germany. It stabilized the European phase of the Cold War. And after the Wall webnt up, the active fronts of the Cold war shifted increasungly to the Third World and way from Germany although it would eventually shift back to Europe, to both Poland and Germany where the Cold War began.

Later Phase

From the beginning, Germany would be pivotal in the Cold war. While the Cold War began in Europe, it gradually spread to the developing world (Africa, Asia, and Latin America). At the onset, much of Africa and Asia were European collonies. And here the Cold War took on a different character. And the Soviets positioned themselves as the great opponent of European colonialsm, while at the same time carving out a huge Eastern European empire of their own. One critism of America is that during the Cold War, the United States was too willing to deal with dictators. That is a valid issue and one that some HBC readers have possed. Those critics rarely make the same critivism of the United Srates dealing with Stalin during World War II. One consequence of decolonization in the aftermath of World War II was that independence came at aime when socialist theory and the Soviet image was at its height. This resulted in many developing countries rejecting democracy and freemarket capitalism and adopting socialist statist sollutions which led to decades of ecomomic stagnation and authoritarian rule. The flash points in the Cold war proved to be Berlin and Cuba. Thankfully a military conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union was avoided. European public opinion began to shift. Many as the Soviet military threat declined began to see the Cold War as less a security matter and more as conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union with no real difference in character between the two beligerants. This was a pronounced view among the younger generation--those that did not recall kiberating American armies in two wirld wars. The long-term consequences of socialist economics gradually became apparent leading to economic decline and undermining Soviet military power. The Soviet economy ultimately could not sustain the cost of the Cold War competition with the United States. It was General Secretary Gorbechev's reluctance to use military force to hold the Soviet Empire and ultimately the Soviet Union together that finally ended the Cold war.

Public Support

Americans througout the 19th century diagreed as to their wars. Even the Revolutionry War was essentilly a civil war (1776-83). And of course there was the Civil War (1861-65). There was consierable disagreement concerning the war of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War. But there was no doubt among the American people about the nobility of their nation and its place in history. This was magistically stated by President Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address. This continued into the 20th century. Americans at the outset of World ar I and II wanted no part of it. The vast majority of Americans believed that America was a nobel country, both before and after the United sttes entered both wars. And in contrast to the Axis with used food as a weapon to kill, the United States used its food bounty not only to win the wars, but to save million of lives in both friendly and enemy countries. No country in world history had ever saved so many lives or been so generous to defeted enemy countries. Today there are people, including Americans who attempt to sully that record, but the historical record is there for all but the ideologically biased to see. Counless millions in Rurope, including Russia, are alive toiday because of Americanb food aid and do not even know it. Stalin with the NAZI surrender had achiebed his oblective when he signed the NAZI-Soviey Non-Aggression Pact launching the War. There was no country in Europe capable of resisting the march of the Red Army and NKVD west and the Sovietization of Western Europe. He even had strong domestic allies in the Communist parties of Western Europe. Only one country could prevent this -- the United States. But it was unclear how America with its long history of isolationism would react to the Soviet challenge. President Truman and President Eisenhower responded to the hallenge and crafted America's Cold War policy of opposing Soviet expansion and aggression. Despiite the findamental shift from isolationism, most Americans supported it. American public opinion, however, began to change during the Cold war. Unlike previous periods in American history, Americans began qustioning the nobility of their nation. At first in the glow of the World War II victory which essentially saved Western Civilization, the nubers questioning American values were small. A few left-orinted politicans, including Vice President Henry Wallace began to question American policy, especially policies toward the Soviet Union were small, but they were there. Soviet espionage agents found willing collaborators. As the Cold war developed, anti-Communism grew. This required a major shift in thinking as war time propaganda suppressed the Soviet alliance with the NAZIs and massive war crimes. But Americans came to see the Soviet threat. Some describe an anti-Communist hysteria led by Senator McCarthy. There certainly were excesses, but often overlooked was the massive Soviet espionage and propaganda effort and strength of the military challenge. It was not until the Vietnam War (1961-75), however, that large numbers of Americans began to question the ethical foundation of their nation. Americans became divided beteen those who wanted to accomodae the Soviets and those who wanted a firm stand against totalitarianism and aggression. Preident Regan's election (1980) placed America on a firm path toward confronting the totalitarian Soviet Empire, although there was increasing criticism from liberal Democrats in the Congress. This sesire to accomodate the Soviets was much more pronounced in Europe, Ost-politik, Ban the Bomp activists, and large Communis Parties attempted tonundercut resistance to increasing Soviet power. Primeminister Thatcher and Chancellor Kohl provided, however, foir the firm Anerican stance. And before the soviets were able to take full advantage of the growing discension in the west, the Soviet Union imlopded (1991), undermined by the inherent inefficencies of the Communist state planning and denial of basic human freedom. This essentially ended the Cold War.

Sources

Isaacson, Walter and Evan Thomas. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (2012),

Kravchenko, Victor Andreevich. I Chose Freedom (1946).

Weinstein, Allen and Alexander Vassiliev. The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America--The Stalin Era (Modern Library: 2000).







CIH






Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to Main Cold War country page]
[Return to Main Cold War page]
[Return to Main Communism page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]






Created: 6:25 AM 11/7/2011
Last updated: 5:01 AM 9/18/2015