Cold War (1945–1991)
Cold War (1945–1991)
Culture Clash on a Global Scale
A prime cause of the Cold War was the drastic difference in the ideologies of the United States and the Soviet Union. Differing views on economics, foreign policy, and domestic civil liberties set these two nations apart even before World War II and continued to drive a wedge between them during the four decades that followed World War II’s end. Each nation had reasons to distrust and dislike the other, and relations between the two grew chillier as their rhetoric heated up and their nuclear arsenals grew.
U.S. Capitalism and Soviet Communism
The historical, philosophical, and economic backgrounds of the U.S. and Soviet cultures are extremely complicated. In briefest outline, however, the United States can be described as a country with a capitalist economic system based on free enterprise. Philosophically, the United States believes in limited government interference in the lives of citizens, and protects what it considers to be their “rights”—things like the freedom of speech, freedom to choose their own religion (or not choose a religion), and freedom to associate with whom they please.
The Soviet Union was a nation based on a communist economic and social system that was a response to centuries of gross inequities in Russia. Russian landowners, the ruling class that made up a tiny minority of the population, controlled every aspect of the lives of the Russian peasantry, the majority of the population, and kept them in servitude and poverty. Communist leaders urged the peasants to rise up and establish a truly equal, classless society. In such a society, all land and public works would be owned and operated communally (hence the term “communism”). The idea was that there would be no rich or poor, but that all citizens would be equal and contribute to society according to their abilities. Early leaders of the Soviet Union attempted to make this idea a reality.
There are pros and cons to both the U.S. and Soviet systems, both in theory and in practice. Some of the main criticisms launched against the U.S. system are that unchecked capitalism results in a wide gap between the rich and poor, and that the poor are insufficiently cared for by the government. A criticism of the Soviet system is that by removing money as a motivating factor, workers and businesses have little incentive for operating at high efficiency, improving performance, or generating new ideas. Also, since the Soviet Union recognized only the Communist party, there was no room for political dissent. Although there were elections in the Soviet Union, and the candidates were, in theory, selected by the citizens, in reality candidates were selected by the central Communist party and most, until the late 1980s, ran unopposed. In practice, the ideals of Soviet communism did not come to fruition as planned. Because citizens had as little say in their government as ever, ruthless leaders came to power and misused their authority to violently repress the people.
The United States and the Russian Revolution
U.S.-Soviet relations got off to a rocky start from the very beginning. As the Russian Revolution began in March 1917, the United States was cautiously optimistic and tried to form a workable relationship with the provisional government. The United States and Russia had enjoyed amicable but fairly distant relations during most of the century that preceded the Russian Revolution of 1917–1918. World War I had made Germany a common enemy for the United States, Russia, France, and Britain. It seemed possible this shared aim could help forge a lasting friendship between the countries.
Most U.S. citizens reacted positively to the news of the overthrow of the Russian Czar Nicholas II in March 1917. This uprising against a tyrannical regime followed President Woodrow Wilson’s ideals for world democracy. By mid-March, Nicholas had abdicated and a provisional government was installed. President Wilson soon recognized the new order during the same message to Congress in which he asked for a declaration of war against Germany. He called Russia a “fit partner for a league of honor” and began sending millions of dollars in funds to the new Russian government.
A strange twist of events over the next few months, however, caused the United States and its allies to reverse course toward Russia even while maintaining their alliance with Russia against Germany. In November 1917, revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin mobilized workers and Bolsheviks (a faction of the Russian Communist party) to overthrow Russia’s provisional government. The United States opposed the Bolsheviks for their Communist principles and because Lenin and his movement also wanted to end the war with Germany. President Wilson refused to recognize Bolshevik Russia because it had overthrown the short-lived democratic government, suppressed civil liberties, and was hostile toward private property rights. Clearly, the ideas behind the Bolshevik Revolution were contrary to several basic American principles.
With pressure from American allies Great Britain and France, the United States tried to stop the Bolsheviks from achieving a complete takeover. After much consideration, Wilson agreed to aid Russian anti-Bolsheviks. In December 1917, the United States sent funds through the British and French that ultimately reached the Russian resistance. Also in late 1917, France and Britain defined geographic areas in southern Russia in which they would assist anti-Bolshevik forces. Essentially, the Allies had entered the Russian Civil War against the Bolsheviks, even as the Bolsheviks continued to fight against Germany, their common enemy.
Meanwhile, in the hope of ending the war with Germany and its allies, the new Russian Bolshevik government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918), which ceded much of the western Russian empire to the Germans. The Germans, however, continued their march on Russia and took Kiev and much of the Ukraine by the spring of 1918. The new Bolshevik leaders, Lenin and Leon Trotsky, found themselves in a war against Germany again. At the same time they were still trying to secure their control of Russia itself in the face of internal opposition funded and supplied to some degree by the United States, Great Britain, and France.
President Wilson was squeamish about openly meddling in the Bolshevik conflict within Russia. The other Allies were more aggressive in their attempt to stop the Soviet government, and they pushed for the United States assistance in that effort. Wilson finally sent about 5,700 troops to Murmansk and Vladivostok in June and September 1918. He had stated publicly, however, “Whether from Vladivostok or from Murmansk and Archangel, the only legitimate object for which American or Allied troops can be employed … is to guard military stores” for Russians to defend themselves against the aggressive enemy of Germany, not for the interference with Russian sovereignty or internal affairs.
The British and French had a different view. Winston Churchill, British war minister and later prime minister, had stated that the Allies should “strangle the Bolshevik baby in its crib.” World War I ended with an armistice on November 11, 1918, but the fighting in Russia continued. The Allied still sent aid to the anti-Bolshevik movement, but only in the form of money and war materiel. Ultimately, Lenin and the Bolshevik revolutionaries cemented control of the government. They would not soon forget whose side the United States and its allies had taken during the Russian Civil War.
The First Red Scare
A fundamental part of the “American Dream” is that with hard work, ingenuity, and determination, anyone, no matter how humble his beginnings, can achieve spectacular success. Before and after the Bolshevik Revolution (this October 1917 revolution in Russia led to civil war and the subsequent formation of the Soviet Union in 1922), Americans generally denounced the communist ideas on which the revolution was premised because it ran counter to their belief in the value of hard work and individual genius. Because the revolutionary rhetoric highlighted the worldwide spread of communism as a key goal, American leaders became concerned about the potential for a similar revolution in the United States. In fact, in the early part of the twentieth century, there was a variety of radical political groups, some anarchists (in favor of abolishing government altogether) and some communist, that sought to undermine the U.S. government. In 1919, in what was perhaps an overaction to the potential threat, U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (whose home was the target of an anarchist bomb attack) and J. Edgar Hoover, head of the General Intelligence Division of the Justice Department, raided labor union offices and private homes without warrants to find information on so-called subversives. Their agents rounded up around ten thousand individuals suspected of radicalism, tried many, and deported the foreigners they had arrested. This fear of the destructive potential of Communists and political radicals in the United States was called the “red scare.” (Red was the color of the Soviet flag, and the term was used to refer to communists and other leftists.)
A Temporary Alliance
During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union placed their differences aside in order to defeat the common enemy: Germany. As the war ended and the Nazis were toppled, the Allies grew more concerned about how the Soviet Union was being operated under Joseph Stalin. At war conferences at Yalta and Potsdam, leaders from the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union discussed postwar plans. The tensions between East and West on foreign policy began to grow. Stalin, who had risen to power after the death of Vladimir Lenin (the Soviet Union’s first head of state) in 1924, proved difficult to deal with and ruthless with his own people. The Allies believed he was planning to try to take control of Eastern Europe. The outcome of the Yalta Conference proved them at least partially right: the Soviet Union gained control of Poland, and Germany was divided into eastern and western halves, with the eastern half coming under control of the Soviet Union.
The United States and Britain were concerned because the very freedoms they fought to defend were precisely those denied to citizens of the Soviet Union. Additionally, George Kennan, a high-ranking member of the State Department working in Moscow, began to explain the motives and goals of the Soviet Union to Americans as he helped shape U.S. policy. His observations came through in his telegram to the U.S. secretary of state in 1946 and in his anonymous 1947 article in Foreign Affairs the following year, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” which revealed that Soviet hostility toward American interests was largely caused by Stalin’s ideology. Stalin justified his repressive tactics by arguing that they were necessary to prevent the growth of “evil” capitalism, according to Kennan. While he and the Soviet government began to exert control over East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and other Eastern European nations, Stalin claimed it was to guarantee a proletariat rule free from interference from Western imperialists.
The “Iron Curtain” was the physical, philosophical, and metaphorical divide between the countries of Western Europe and the Soviet-dominated countries of Eastern Europe. The term comes from a famous speech given in 1946 by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in some cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”
Containment and the Truman Doctrine
It was Kennan who proposed the idea of “containment” (preventing Communism from being forced on other countries) in his papers and communiqués. This idea made its way into the Truman Doctrine. In that 1947 doctrine, President Truman stated, “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures.” Other postwar containment initiatives included the Marshall Plan in 1947 and the formation in 1949 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Marshall Plan was a mammoth package of economic assistance for war-torn Europe. NATO aligned Canada, the United States, and several Western European nations together for mutual assured protection against any attack from the Soviet Union or any other Communist Bloc country.
As the diplomatic tensions played out, both sides began the nuclear arms race. Truman had informed Stalin at Potsdam of U.S. nuclear capability after the first successful atomic bomb was exploded in New Mexico. The United States would within weeks detonate atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing about the end of World War II. The Soviets began their work on an atomic bomb in 1945 and by 1949 had successfully conducted their first test.
NATO and the Warsaw Pact
The United States, Britain, and France along with other Western European nations grew further apart from the Soviet Union after World War II. The USSR, which had been their World War II ally, was increasingly seen as a potential aggressor. The United States and several Western European nations agreed that potential Soviet aggression warranted a stronger alliance among them. What resulted was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The USSR had detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949, thereby raising additional concerns and solidifying the consensus in Western Europe that if the United States pulled out of Europe and went back to its former isolationist ways, Western Europe would face a Russian threat. American leaders began to believe that it would be easier to prevent another global war than to win one after it began. The United States also realized that the oceans that had protected it for years were no longer a strong defense against Russian air and missile technology.
The North Atlantic Treaty bound together the United States, Canada, and most Western European nations as a bloc promising each other assistance in case any of them were attacked. Though there was no mention of the USSR in the treaty, it was abundantly clear that it was a Soviet attack that was feared. By 1955, the Allies formally ended their occupation of Germany and gave the new West German Republic full sovereignty. This new country was given full membership in NATO and began to rearm itself for the first time since Hitler’s defeat.
The creation of NATO and the resurgence of Western Germany encouraged the USSR to create an alliance with its satellite nations—the Warsaw Pact. The USSR had essentially controlled or at least held strong influence over Poland, Albania, Bulgaria, East Germany, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. The Warsaw Pact codified the existing relationships the USSR had with those countries and both formally and publicly expressed a mutual defense arrangement on the other side of the Iron Curtain (the term used to describe the dividing line between Western and Eastern Europe). The document was signed in May 1955. It consisted of eleven articles that covered common economic interest, peaceful settlement of conflicts, and joint defense. The military component of the pact allowed for the disposition of troops under joint command for purposes of the treaty. Soviet Marshal I. S. Konev was appointed as the Warsaw Pact commander in chief, while the defense ministers of the other member nations became his deputies. Soon, key military positions in the satellite armies were given to Soviet officers. The USSR had simply expanded its military state further into Eastern Europe under the guise of a multilateral treaty.
With the dividing lines established, the West squared off with the Soviet Union for the next several decades in a Cold War of ideologies marked by considerable interference in the affairs of developing nations and, occasionaly, direct confrontations between the two superpowers.
For much of the early Cold War, the outspoken Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) was the leader of the Soviet Union. Vacillating between confronting the United States and backing off from hard-nosed foreign policies and threats, he also tried to institute significant domestic reforms. Khrushchev’s unpredictability and uneven manner in dealing with the United States led to his removal as the Soviet premier and first secretary of the Communist party by the mid-1960s.
Born on April 17, 1894, in Kalinovka, Russia, Khrushchev was the son of Sergei Nikanorovich Khrushchev, a peasant farmer who also worked as a coal miner. When Khrushchev was able to attend school, he proved to be a gifted student. However, by the time the family moved to Yuzovka, Ukraine, so his father could be closer to the mines, his attendance was often sporadic because he worked to help support his family. By working in a factory and as a mechanic in the coal mines, he experienced the poor conditions under which the working classes labored.
Communist Party Activities
After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution forced a regime change in Russia, Khrushchev joined the ruling Communist Party in 1918. He served in the Red Army in 1919 in defense of the Communist government during the Russian Civil War. Working in the Ukrainian mines again in 1920, Khrushchev was soon put in charge of the mine’s political matters. In 1922, after the death of his first wife left him a widower with young children, he went back to Yuzovka and began receiving more education through the Communist party’s schools.
While attending one such institution, the Donets Industrial Institute, Khrushchev was elected to a position in the Communist Party there. Through the 1920s, he moved up through party bureaucratic ranks in the Ukraine. After the death of the first Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin in 1924, Khrushchev supported Joseph Stalin, who became the Soviet leader after party infighting. Khrushchev’s support of Stalin contributed to his rapid bureaucratic rise.
Rose Through Ranks in Moscow
After moving to Moscow in 1929, Khrushchev received more education at Moscow’s Academy of Heavy Industry. Soon, his political career rose to a new level. When his mentor Lazar Kaganovich became the head of the Communist Party in Moscow in 1931, Khrushchev was brought into the political administration of Moscow. Within two years, Khrushchev held the powerful position of the second secretary of the Moscow Central Committee. In 1935, Khrushchev followed Kaganovich as first secretary of the Moscow city Communist Party, after having been elected to the Soviet Central Committee in 1934.
Khrushchev was a staunch backer of Stalin even during the “purges” of the late 1930s in which many of Khrushchev’s colleagues were executed or exiled. Because of Khrushchev’s loyalty and his assistance conducting the purges, Stalin helped get him elected to the Supreme Soviet and the Politburo, the policy-making executive body for the Central Committee. After thousands of Ukrainian Communist Party members were purged in 1938, Khrushchev was elected the first secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party, another influential post.
National Communist Leader
Khrushchev spent several years controlling Ukrainian politics in order to improve agricultural production under the Soviet collective system, which was resisted by the locals. He also worked to bring the area under the cultural control of the Soviet Union. Nationally prominent by the beginning of the 1940s, he also became an officer in the Soviet Army when his country was invaded by Nazi Germany. Actively involved in combat for two years, he served during the Battle of Stalingrad (1942–1943) and eventually reached the rank of lieutenant general.
When the Soviets had the war under control in late 1943, Khrushchev returned to the Ukraine and reclaimed his position as the first secretary of the Communist Party. In the postwar period, he oversaw the reconstruction of the Ukraine’s economy, as the chairman of the Ukrainian Council of Ministers. In 1949, Khrushchev went back to Moscow after the death of a key Soviet leader, Andrei Zhdanov, and again served as the first secretary of the Moscow Central Committee. Khrushchev consolidated his power with the aim of becoming the Soviet leader after Stalin’s death.
Joseph Stalin died after a stroke in March 1953. Khrushchev was selected as the first secretary of the Soviet Central Committee six months later. Stalin’s chosen successor, Georgy Malenkov, became premier of the Soviet Union. A power struggle ensued in which Khrushchev gained the upper hand in 1955. He forced Malenkov out and put his ally, Nikolay Bulganin, in his place as premier. With Khrushchev in charge of the party and Bulganin as premier, Khrushchev effectively controlled the country.
After gaining power, Khrushchev began speaking out against Stalin’s policies. He alienated Communist hardliners with his de-Stalinization reforms, which began in early 1956. Khrushchev introduced more personal freedom for citizens, closed concentration and hard labor camps, freed many people who had been imprisoned by Stalin, and put certain legal processes back in place. Khrushchev also decreased the powers of the secret police and sometimes allowed more freedom of artistic expression. One reason for such reforms was to improve the Soviet Union’s standing internationally.
However, such changes were not embraced by the whole of the Communist leadership in the Soviet Union. By 1957, the Politburo (the governing body of the Communist party) tried to get Khrushchev dismissed, but Khrushchev’s supporters in the Central Committee blocked the move. He consolidated his hold on power by demoting or expelling party members who had led the dismissal movement. In 1958, Khrushchev took over Bulganin’s place as the head of the Soviet government as well.
Cold War Leadership
While Khrushchev served as the leader of the Soviet Union, the Cold War heated up. One aspect of the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States was the “space race.” It began when the Soviets launched the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth, Sputnik, in October 1957. This development stunned the Western world and compelled the United States to invest heavily in its own space program. To keep up, the Soviets had to do the same.
A year later, the Cold War took on a new dimension when Khrushchev unexpectedly demanded that the West—specifically, the United States, Great Britain, and France—withdraw from their sectors in West Berlin so that the Soviet Union could control the whole of East Germany. The Soviets did not like having capitalist, Western-supported powers in Berlin. When the president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, ignored Khrushchev, the Soviet leader backed down.
The scenario repeated itself in 1961. Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy, ignored Khrushchev again, and the Soviet leader yielded again. However, this time, he ordered the construction of the Berlin Wall, physically dividing the city into western and eastern halves, so people could be stopped from running from Soviet-controlled territory to the West-controlled half of the city.
Space Race Milestones
The United States and the Soviet Union worked feverishly to establish preeminence in the area of space aeronautics. Here are some milestones of the space race:
- 1957—Russian satellite Sputnik I launched.
- 1958—Explorer I, America’s first satellite, successfully launched.
- April 1961—Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin launched into orbit aboard the Vostok capsule.
- May 1961—Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space, leaving Earth’s atmosphere for fifteen minutes; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launches the Apollo program with the goal of landing a man on the moon.
- 1962—John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit Earth.
- 1965—Alexei Leonov exits his Soviet spacecraft and becomes the first person to go on a “space walk.”
- 1967—The first Apollo spacecraft explodes during a simulation, killing all three astronauts aboard.
- 1969—Apollo 11 lands on the moon.
- 1971—Soviet Union launches world’s first space station, the Solyuz.
- 1973—America launches Skylab, a large space station.
Cold War Incidents
Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union increased in the late 1950s and early 1960s because of several significant incidents. The Soviet Union shot down an American U-2 spy plane flying over the Soviet Union in this time period, and Khrushchev skipped a planned summit meeting with Eisenhower in Paris in May 1960. The biggest incident happened in 1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis.
Because the Soviet Union did not possess nuclear missiles that could reach North America, Khrushchev placed them in Cuba, a Soviet ally located only ninety miles from the United States. After establishing a quarantine around Cuba to prevent the delivery of any more missiles, President Kennedy demanded that the Soviet missiles already in place be removed. After a tense standoff, Khrushchev again backed down and agreed to take the missiles away if the United States promised to not invade Cuba.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union improved. In addition to setting up a secure hot line between the countries, Khrushchev also signed a limited nuclear test-ban treaty in August 1963. While the Soviet leader’s international position was on the rise, he still faced significant problems at home, including a lack of support for his continued reforms of the Communist system. Khrushchev’s economic reforms undermined the Soviet system, and he lost the support of military leaders by reducing the size of the Soviet Army and curtailing the powers of the secret police.
In October 1964, the Politburo succeeded in forcing the removal of Khrushchev as the first secretary of the Communist Party. He was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev. Living under guard, Khrushchev spent the rest his days in homes in Moscow and the countryside, writing a two-volume memoir and gardening. He died in Petrovo-Dalneye, on the outskirts of Moscow, on September 11, 1971, at the age of 77.
Mao Zedong (1893–1976) was the leader of the Communist Revolution in China and ruled his country for several decades until his death in the mid-1970s. Mao wanted to create stability in China and improve the lives of Chinese peasants, but many of his policies increased poverty and led to widespread oppression of his people.
He was born on December 26, 1893, in Shaoshan, Xiangtan County, in Hunan province, China. Mao was the son of Mao Jen-shen and his wife, Wen Qimei. Though his parents were peasants, they were prosperous rice farmers who eventually became landowners and had a rice trading business. When he was five years old, Mao began working in the fields. Two years later, he began his education at a local village school. Though his father wanted him to return home to work in the family business, Mao ran away at the age of thirteen to attend a better school in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province, where he studied Chinese history and literature.
After graduating from a teacher’s training college in Changsha in 1918, Mao went to Beijing University, where he became acquainted with the Marxist and Communist philosophies. He was one of many educated Chinese who thought the communism practiced by Vladimir Lenin in Russia might solve China’s political and economic problems. Throughout Mao’s young life, China had been in a state of breakdown. The power vacuum caused by the crumbling Qing dynasty caused a civil war, and a revolution in 1912 directed by Sun Yat-sen only led to more chaos.
Mao himself participated in the May Fourth Movement in which Chinese students protested the decision of the Paris Peace Conference, which ended World War I, to give German-held territories in China to Japan. Mao looked to Communism for a solution, because other parts of China were controlled by warlords and foreign countries, which created a chaotic situation.
Certain that Chinese peasants could carry out a revolution and take over China, Mao and others founded the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. Over the next six years, the party gained many supporters. By 1923, Communists began working with Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) forces led by Sun in an attempt to unite China. (Nationalist supporters wanted to keep power concentrated among those who owned land and businesses.) After Sun died in 1925, he was succeeded by Chiang Kai-shek. As the Nationalist party took control of China, Communists were forced from cities by Chiang.
Rise to Power
Afraid of what the Communists would do if they had any control or influence, Chiang ordered his army to attack all Communists in April 1927. Though thousands of Communists lost their lives, many, including Mao, survived and organized a rebel government in the Kiangsi province of southern China. The number of Communist supporters grew over the next seven years as Mao built up the Communists’ military force, the Red Army, and adapted guerrilla tactics to political goals.
After founding the Chinese Soviet Republic in Kiangsi and declaring himself chairman in 1931, Mao faced a new challenge. In 1934, because of continued attacks by Nationalist forces, Mao decided the Communists and their Red Army had to move their base north. The six-thousand-mile trek to Shaanxi became known as the “Long March” and was marked by hardships and battles with Nationalist forces. The journey took a year, and only eight thousand of the ninety thousand who began the march survived to reach their destination. Mao emerged as the dominant Communist leader during the march, and after they reached their destination, the Communists elected him the chairman of the party.
The Communist Revolution
While the Nationalists and Communists waged a civil war for the next two years, the two sides agreed to a truce when Japan invaded China in 1937 and China was drawn into World War II. Though the two groups did not trust each other, both hated the Japanese invaders more and reluctantly worked together to rid themselves of their common enemy. When World War II ended in 1945 and the Japanese were expelled, the Nationalists and Communists began fighting for control of China. By the end of the war, the Communists were in control of parts of China with a population of nearly 100 million.
In 1949, the Communists, led by Mao, prevailed over the Nationalists, who were forced into exile on the island of Taiwan. He declared that the People’s Republic of China had been founded. Mao soon signed a Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance with the Soviets. At home, Mao remained the leader of the Communist Party and the Chinese government, though day-to-day operations were handled by Soviet-trained party bureaucrats.
Soon after taking power, Mao instructed peasants to take land and possessions from those who controlled the farmland. Because of Mao’s actions, Chinese peasants were able to grow a surplus of food for the next three years. Prosperity among peasants continued in the early 1950s, after Mao ordered all farms to become cooperatives. By having peasants work tracts of land together, farm output continued to rise and continued surpluses resulted in more prosperity.
By the mid-1950s, Mao wanted to change China from an agricultural to an industrial society. Because this shift required extensive capital, he took control of China’s farming industry in 1956. All farms, animals, and farm equipment were now owned by the government, and cooperatives were replaced by collective farms operated under guidelines established by Chinese officials. Because peasants again received little for their work, they became impoverished, and their situation became even more dire.
In 1958, Mao started a program intended to further compel China’s transformation into an industrial powerhouse. The so-called “Great Leap Forward” demanded that people work harder—and longer hours—to boost production. Citizens were encouraged to make more steel any way they could, including melting their agricultural tools. The primitive process employed only made worthless steel and took people away from food production.
The Great Leap Forward also compelled local Communist Party officials to exaggerate how much food was being produced in order to cover up the policy’s failure. Because the reported amounts produced were much higher than the true figures, what the government gave back to the peasants as their share of the production was often insufficient. Nearly thirty million Chinese peasants starved to death between 1959 and 1961 as a result.
With the failure of the Great Leap Forward and other programs, the Soviet Union no longer gave any support or aid to China. Mao stepped down as the head of the Chinese government in the early 1960s. He remained in control of the Communist Party, however, and still wielded a tremendous amount of power in China. Because the new, more moderate leaders eased government controls and introduced a few reforms, China thrived for a few years.
By 1966, Mao was condemning the new leaders and their programs for drifting from the intent of the original revolution. He started the Cultural Revolution by telling young Chinese radicals, soon organized into battalions of Red Guards, to attack certain institutions like libraries and museums as well as people such as intellectuals, former landowners, and officials. Schools were closed and students were indoctrinated with Mao’s ideas. Millions of people were publicly beaten for moving away from Mao’s form of Communism, and four thousand died as a result.
Within a year, the Red Guards were in-fighting, and China fell into chaos as millions of soldiers and workers joined the battle. After Mao ordered the disbanding of the Red Guards in 1968, peace was restored, and Mao himself soon returned to power in China. A cult of Mao took hold as his ideas were published in several books and his portrait appeared everywhere in China. Mao sought to ensure that his strict version of Communism remained in control of China. Toward that end, he encouraged the development of a cult centered on his personality.
Despite ill health, Mao decided to pursue better relations with other countries in the early 1970s as a means of enhancing China’s reputation on the world stage. He hosted a visit by American president Richard Nixon in 1972, which soon led to a diplomatic relationship with the Unites States. As Mao’s health continued to decline, internal strife between radicals and moderates plagued the Chinese government. Mao died on September 9, 1976, in Beijing, China, and a less repressive Chinese government soon took charge.
Joseph R. McCarthy
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (1908–1957) was America’s most notorious Cold War anticommunist. For four years, from the winter of 1950 to the summer of 1954, McCarthy held the country in thrall with widely publicized charges of Communist subversion in the federal government. His reckless and unsubstantiated accusations led to the Army-McCarthy hearings, a thirty-six-day affair that was broadcast live on television to an audience of roughly twenty million viewers. After discovering a means of manipulating American anxiety over Communism, this once obscure senator became a powerful and much-feared demagogue. Though he failed to uncover a single Communist not already known to the authorities, the damage his histrionics wrought reverberated into the mid-1960s. After McCarthyism, as his reign of terror came to be known, American politicians were limited in their ability to conduct creative and realistic foreign policy with Communist countries, especially Asia. Republicans and Democrats alike saw no subtleties within the varieties of communism in the world after McCarthy. This rigid anticommunism increased the likelihood of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam as no president could tolerate having another country fall to Communism for fear of unleashing another McCarthy.
McCarthy’s Early Years
Joseph Raymond McCarthy was born on November 14, 1908, near Grand Chute, Wisconsin, to nearly illiterate Irish-German parents. McCarthy dropped out of school at fourteen and became a chicken farmer and then the manager of a grocery store. When he was nineteen, he returned to school and completed all four years of high school coursework in one year. In 1930, McCarthy entered Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and graduated five years later. After law school, McCarthy opened his own law practice in Waupaca, Wisconsin, but earned so little he relied on poker winnings to make ends meet. After nine months, he moved to Shawano, Wisconsin, and took a job working with another attorney. In 1939, he ran for circuit judge in Wisconsin’s tenth district and won.
McCarthy did not bother to resign his judgeship during his tenure as a marine officer in the South Pacific during World War II. He simply persuaded his fellow judges to take care of his caseload in his absence. While serving in the South Pacific, McCarthy took a leave of absence to campaign for the 1944 Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. His bid for the nomination was unsuccessful. When the military denied him a second leave of absence to campaign for reelection as judge, McCarthy resigned and returned to Wisconsin. In 1946, McCarthy ran for Senate again. In the general election, he accused his Democratic opponent of ties to alleged Communist groups and won a decisive victory.
McCarthy’s first years in the Senate were spent in relative obscurity. He did, however, earn a reputation for being brash, arrogant, and wildly unpredictable. He frequently violated Senate decorum by questioning the integrity of fellow senators during hearings. This extraordinary breach led to the stripping of his one major committee assignment because the chairman refused to tolerate McCarthy’s presence. By 1950, the overbearing senator began to dwell on his 1952 reelection with warranted anxiety. Beyond his lackluster record, McCarthy feared being investigated for tax evasion and ethics violations. He had to figure out a way to get reelected despite these obstacles. On January 7, 1950, McCarthy was entertaining friends when someone suggested he focus on the issue of Communists in government as a way of increasing his reelection chances. McCarthy jumped at the suggestion, ignoring warnings that he do his homework and be careful with his charges.
The McCarthy Era
Speaking before the Ohio County Women’s Republican Club on February 9, 1950, in Wheeling, West Virginia, Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed to hold in his hands a list of 205 Communist Party members active in the State Department. He went on to say that Secretary of State Dean Acheson knew who those 205 Communist members were, but was doing nothing about it. With those two sweeping and unsubstantiated claims, McCarthy ushered in an unprecedented era of anticommunist hysteria. Domestic fears of Communism had been on the rise since the late 1940s. McCarthy simply took the existing climate of suspicion and fear and used it to his political advantage.
As public furor over McCarthy’s charges began to build, his allegations changed. Two hundred and five communists became fifty-seven. When pressed by the Senate to clarify his charges, it was soon clear that McCarthy had no list, just outdated information about employees the State Department had been planning to dismiss. The whole issue would have disappeared at this point were it not for America’s agitated Communist anxiety. The Democrats convened a special Senate inquiry in 1950 in an attempt to expose McCarthy. The tenacious Republican senator survived the hearings despite repeated challenges to produce evidence that did not exist. He escaped defeat by focusing his attention on accusations that incriminated various government officials for their Communist associations. The temper of the times made it possible, then, for McCarthy to become the nation’s leading anticommunist by making his victims guilty by association, whether they were Communist, noncommunist, or anticommunist.
In June 1951, McCarthy accused Defense Secretary George C. Marshall (1880–1959), a national hero for his roles in ending World War II and rebuilding Western Europe in its aftermath, of aiding the Soviet Union’s rise as a world power. Marshall was forced to resign in shame and disgust. When Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) was elected president and the Republicans gained control of the Senate in 1952, McCarthy’s colleagues looked forward to reining him in. They never trusted him and suspected his charges were partisan politics that would cease when the Republicans ran the White House. But McCarthy outmaneuvered them by appointing himself head of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, a committee that came with a generous budget and the power to issue subpoenas and hold hearings. His first investigations in 1953 were as irresponsible as the Republicans feared they would be. By the summer of 1953, McCarthy had thoroughly demoralized the Eisenhower administration and was regarded as a genuine menace by the Republicans.
When he began investigating the Army’s security clearance procedures at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, though, he actually stumbled on legitimate issues of national security. The famous Army-McCarthy hearings, held in the spring of 1954, were a tremendous spectacle and the ultimate undoing of Joseph McCarthy. The televised trial that kept the American public’s rapt attention for several weeks also made millions of viewers privy to McCarthy’s personal attacks, outbursts, interminable speeches, and tendency to badger and interrupt witnesses. One frustrated victim, close to tears, famously and plaintively asked his accuser, “Have you no decency, sir, at long last?” It did not take long for public opinion to turn decisively against McCarthy.
By the summer of 1954, Cold War tensions had diminished considerably, both at home and abroad. This fact and his own irresponsible and erratic behavior made McCarthy vulnerable to the many enemies he had made in the Senate. McCarthyism came to its official end on December 2, 1954, when the Republican Senate voted to censure McCarthy for violating the spirit and collegiality of the Senate. For the rest of his political life, he was largely ignored. Joseph McCarthy died on May 2, 1957, of complications related to alcoholism.
John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) was the thirty-fifth president of the United States and took office January 20, 1961. In 1962, the United States came to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also during his short time in office, Kennedy authorized the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and increased American involvement in the ongoing Vietnam War.
Born May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts, Kennedy was the third child born to Joseph P. Kennedy, and his wife, Rose Fitzgerald. His father was a business executive who also served in several prestigious government posts, including a stint as the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Kennedy’s maternal grandfather had a notable political career as well, serving as both the mayor of Boston and a congressman.
Despite being frequently ill throughout his childhood, Kennedy enjoyed reading and completed his education at Choate, a private preparatory school. In 1935, he entered Princeton University, but another sickness compelled him to withdraw and recover. Kennedy then went to Harvard University, majoring in government and international relations. A junior-year trip to Europe influenced his senior paper, later published in book form as Why England Slept. It was published in 1940, the same year Kennedy graduated with honors. He then briefly attended graduate school at Stanford University.
World War II Service
In the spring of 1941, shortly before the United States entered World War II, Kennedy was refused enlistment in the U.S. Army because of a back injury. After rehabilitation, Kennedy was able to join the U.S. Navy. He began his military service as an intelligence officer in Washington, D.C. and then prepared for active duty at sea by training with the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron.
Stationed in the South Pacific, he became commander of an armed patrol torpedo, or PT, boat in March 1943. Five months later, the boat under his command, PT-109, saw action and was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer near the Solomon Islands. Two of his men were killed, and the rest clung to life. Kennedy ensured all the men were rescued, including several wounded, by having them swim to an island three miles away. His problematic back was reinjured in the process.
The Beginnings of a Political Career
After the war’s end, Kennedy worked briefly as a newspaper reporter. In 1946, he ran as a Democrat for a seat representing Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kennedy won the seat as well as reelection in 1948 and 1950. During his terms in the House, he supported social welfare programs, including low-cost public housing, and pushed for increased regulation of business. Kennedy also spoke out against some of President Harry S. Truman’s foreign policies, especially American involvement in the Korean War.
Instead of seeking reelection to the House in 1952, Kennedy decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Kennedy won the election by seventy thousand votes. As a senator, he continued to back the same issues and programs he had favored as a representative. He also attacked corruption among leaders of the nation’s trade unions and supported the burgeoning civil rights movement. In addition, Kennedy helped pass bills intended to aid the economy in New England, and he sponsored bills that called for the federal government to provide financial aid to education and to ease immigration laws.
Kennedy’s personal life evolved during this time period as well. He married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in 1953, and the couple soon had children, including Caroline and John, Jr. In 1954, Kennedy’s back trouble flared up again, leading to operations in 1954 and 1955. During his recovery, Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage, a collection of biographies of eight U.S. senators, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957.
Senator to President
Kennedy was reelected to his Senate seat in 1958, and then began running for president himself in 1960. Though he secured the Democratic nomination in July 1960 and named Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate, Kennedy had to deal with the controversy surrounding his Roman Catholic faith. All previous presidents had been Protestant. He assured voters that his religion would not play a role in how he made decisions.
After defeating his Republican opponent Richard M. Nixon in several televised debates—Kennedy and Nixon were the first presidential candidates to debate on television—Kennedy won the presidency in 1960 by only 119,450 votes. Kennedy was the first president born in the twentieth century and the youngest president ever sworn into office. While Kennedy made strides in the civil rights movement and launched the Peace Corps during his time in office, Cold War conflicts came to dominate his presidency.
Cold War Conflicts in Cuba, Berlin, and Asia
Four months after Kennedy became president, he authorized one Cold War battle. During the administration of his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Cuban exiles who had escaped the Communist regime of Fidel Castro were trained for military combat by the Central Intelligence Agency. Kennedy allowed the planned invasion of Cuba by the exiles to move forward. They invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961. The invasion failed, partly because the United States did not provide any troops. Kennedy, however, believed that the Cuban people had to rise up and support the invasion for it to be successful. The Bay of Pigs invasion had obviously not succeeded by April 20, and the action further strained U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, Cuba’s primary ally.
Two months after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy met with his blustery Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev. The Soviet leader demanded that all three Western countries that controlled West Berlin—the United States, Great Britain, and France—leave the city by the end of 1961, or he would start a war. Kennedy believed Khrushchev was serious and in response began stockpiling weapons and shoring up the military. Instead of starting a war, Khrushchev, in August 1961, ensured Germans living under his control could not cross over to the West via Berlin. He constructed the Berlin Wall, a heavily fortified concrete wall bisecting the city. Because the wall only partially limited the flight of East Germans, Kennedy stood pat and Khrushchev did not start a war.
Cuba was also the site of another major incident in the Cold War later in Kennedy’s presidency. In October 1962, Kennedy revealed that the Soviet Union was placing nuclear missiles in Cuba and that they were aimed at the United States. More missiles were being sent by ship. The United States erected a blockade around Cuba in response. The American public believed itself on the brink of nuclear war. Kennedy and Khrushchev began negotiations to resolve the matter with the help of Pope John XXIII, and the Soviets backed down after an extremely tense week. Khrushchev pledged to remove the missiles. A treaty was signed with the Soviet Union in July 1963, which included a limited ban on nuclear tests.
Kennedy had inherited another tense situation from Eisenhower: Vietnam. During Eisenhower’s two terms in office, the American government had sent military aid and financial support to South Vietnam to help them combat Communist North Vietnam’s attempts to take over the entire country. Kennedy continued to pour money and troops into South Vietnam, and the United States became more entangled in the civil war there. The Vietnam War would prove to be problematic for Kennedy’s two successors as well.
On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Though many conspiracy theorists believe otherwise, it is generally accepted that Lee Harvey Oswald was the only assassin of Kennedy. Oswald killed the president with a high-powered rifle from a six-story building as the president rode in a motorcade through the downtown area. After Kennedy’s death, Johnson was immediately sworn in and served in the office until early 1969.
“Ich bin ein Berliner”
President John F. Kennedy delivered a powerful, memorable, and policy-shaping speech in West Berlin, Germany, during the summer of 1963. The president’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, given from city hall near the Berlin Wall proved that America would continue to fight for the rights of those trapped in East Berlin and in other Soviet-controlled states.
Berlin had been a bone of contention between the East and West (that is, the Soviet-influenced Communist bloc and the Allied forces of the United States, Britain, and France) since the end of World War II. In dividing the German state, the Soviets occupied the eastern sector, while the other three carved up and occupied the remainder. These two sides became East and West Germany, while the capital city of Berlin, entirely surrounded by the Soviet sector, was also split in a similar fashion.
In August 1961, Premier Khrushchev and the Soviet regime responded to the mass exodus of East Berliners fleeing to freedom in the West by building the Berlin Wall. The Allies, upset by the Soviet action, unanimously agreed this act was no cause for war. But Americans called for a reaction. Kennedy had decided to travel to address the citizens of Berlin. In preparing for the speech, the White House called on a German language teacher from the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute to assist Kennedy with the German pronunciations of phrases he intended to use in his speech.
Upon his arrival, Kennedy received a rock star’s welcome. Kennedy eloquently pointed out what the Berliners had already expressed in their exodus. “There are people in the world today,” he said, “who don’t understand … what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some that say that Communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin.” He continued, saying, “Democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put up a wall to keep our people in.” Kennedy finished with his now-famous line: “Ich bin ein Berliner”—I am a Berliner. With that phrase, he underscored America’s commitment to a free Germany.
Fidel Castro (1926–), the prime minister and first secretary of the Communist Party in Cuba, helped launch the Cuban Revolution (1953–1959). He is the leader of the first Communist country in the Americas. Castro was born on August 13, 1926, on the family sugar cane plantation located near Birán, Cuba. He was the son of Angél Castro y Argiz, a native of Spain, and his second wife, Lina Ruz González.
An eager, intelligent student educated primarily at Jesuit schools, Castro did especially well in history, Spanish, and agricultural studies. He was also a strong athlete who played baseball, among other sports. Castro studied law at the University of Havana beginning in 1945, and emerged as an enthusiastic student activist. Though Castro was a strong public speaker, he did not win any student elections and remained relatively unknown. He eventually joined the Ortodoxo political party, which sought to end corruption while promoting economic independence, social justice, and political liberty in Cuba.
While still a student, Castro showed his support of revolutionary politics by taking part in a mission to launch a coup against Rafael Trujillo, a dictator ruling the Domincan Republic, in 1947. Though the expedition was called off during the sea voyage there, Castro still swam to shore with his gun. In 1948, Castro actively participated in the Bogotazo, revolutionary riots held in the wake of the assassination of the Liberal Party leader in Colombia, Jorge E. Gaitán. On the streets of Bogotá, Castro passed out anti-American propaganda to help start the revolution. After seeking shelter in the Cuban embassy when Colombian authorities went after him and other Cuban students, Castro soon made his way back to school and graduated with his law degree in 1950.
By the early 1950s, Castro was working as a lawyer in Old Havana and decided to run for a seat in Cuba’s congress, replacing the leader of the Ortodoxo Party, Eduardo Chibás. An armed takeover by Cuban military leader Fulgencio Batista tossed out the government of president Carlos Prio Socarrás and prevented elections from taking place. Castro organized his own armed resistance to Batista. He led an attack on a military barracks in the Oriente Province on July 26, 1953.
Captured and tried for his crime, Castro was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He acted as his own lawyer and gave a speech during the trial in which he introduced his manifesto for his revolution. Two years after the incident, he was pardoned. He moved to Mexico City and, while living there, founded an anti-Batista group called the 26th of July Movement. He planned to return to Cuba and overthrow the government. The first military expedition of the small group took place in the Oriente Province. It was a disaster, with a vast majority of the eighty-one members killed or captured during encounters with Batista’s army.
After this setback, Castro went into hiding in the Sierra Maestra mountains, where he came up with a plan for guerrilla warfare to remove Batista and his government. By 1958, Castro, now the leader of the primary movement to remove Batista, controlled most of rural Cuba. As Batista lost support within the military, Castro and the 26th of July Movement gained more and more control of Cuba and the Cuban government.
New Leader of Cuba
Castro and his followers took power in Cuba on January 1, 1959, and Castro took over as prime minister on February 15. Batista and his family were forced to flee the country. With his charisma and his powerful public speaking skills, Castro proved popular with the Cuban people. He promised social reforms like access to health care and education and also promised to implement democratic practices like public elections. Though Castro said he was not a Communist, he took possession of the wealth that supporters of Batista had allegedly illegally acquired. He also had a law passed that confiscated property that was inherited. In addition, Castro took measures to curtail criticism of his new regime by not allowing freedom of the press and by ensuring military leaders were his supporters.
Within a few years of gaining control of Cuba, Castro’s foreign policy revealed his Communist intentions. He first stated that the United States wanted to undermine his revolution, and then he confiscated all U.S. property, including oil refineries, utilities, and sugar mills, in his country. Then he began forging diplomatic relationships with leading Communist countries, especially the Soviet Union.
Drawn into Cold War
Outgoing U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower ended diplomatic relations with Cuba and imposed a trade embargo on the country shortly before leaving office in 1961. The new president, John F. Kennedy, played a more active role in dealing with Castro and Cuba. Kennedy supported the failed efforts of anti-Castro Cuban exiles to invade and regain control of their native country at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.
In October 1962, Cuba played a starring role in the worst confrontation of the Cold War. Castro had allowed his Soviet allies, led by Nikita Khrushchev, to place nuclear missiles aimed at the United States on the island. Though the confrontation nearly led to a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States, Kennedy was able to work out a deal with Khrushchev to have the arms removed. Castro was unhappy with this outcome, feeling disgraced by his ally who left him out of the process.
Active in Latin America
The relationship between the Soviet Union and Cuba continued to be problematic in the mid-1960s, though Castro had created the Communist Party of Cuba by 1965. Castro wanted the Communist revolution to spread throughout Latin America and other parts of the world. Despite Soviet efforts to brake Castro’s plans, he created several organizations to promote his agenda. Nearly all the Cuba-supported revolutions through the late 1960s and 1970s failed, including one led by former comrade Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967.
While promoting revolutions abroad, Castro violently suppressed any opposition to his rule in Cuba. Some critics were executed, while others were imprisoned.
After the Soviet Union abandoned Communism in the early 1990s, Castro lost a key ally and supporter. The Cuban economy began to collapse, and Castro wanted to build relations with the United States to improve the situation. Efforts to get the United States to end its trade embargo were futile, because the central U.S. condition for the lifting of the embargo was the end of Communist rule in Cuba. While the relationship between the two close neighbors improved slightly in the late 1990s, with Castro even visiting the United States, the embargo was still not lifted. On its own, Cuba slowly began to make some moves toward capitalism and a free market economy.
In the early years of the twenty-first century, the aged Castro’s health began to fail. He designated his younger brother Raul as the head of the Cuban military and his successor. Raul Castro’s takeover seemed imminent after Castro fell ill, had several surgeries, and was not seen in public for many months in late 2006 and early 2007.
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973), vice president of John F. Kennedy, took office after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. He won reelection in a landslide in 1964, and led the United States during the height of the Vietnam War. He also emphasized social programs during his time in office, including his “War on Poverty.”
Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, on the family farm near Stonewall, Texas. He was the son of Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., and his wife, Rebekah Baines. His father once served in the Texas state legislature and had been a successful businessman until he lost money on a bad cotton trading deal. Because of his father’s business failures, Johnson was raised in poverty.
Living up to predictions by his paternal grandfather that he would be a politician, Johnson showed a talent for politics by the time he was in first grade. He was an unfocused student, however, and after graduating from high school, he spent three years somewhat aimlessly. Coming home after a failed trip to California, he decided to become a teacher and earned a bachelor’s degree from Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College in 1930.
Early Political Experience
After briefly working as an educator at Houston’s Sam Houston High School, Johnson moved to Washington, D.C., to join the staff of Richard Kleberg, a Texas congressman who took office in early 1931. Johnson worked as Kleberg’s personal secretary and soon became a leader among the secretaries of members of Congress. He was elected to be the speaker of the secretaries’ assembly.
Johnson worked on Capitol Hill and built up a network of contacts until 1935, when he returned to Texas with his new wife, Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor. Johnson then spent two years working as the state director of the National Youth Administration. Johnson was in charge of distributing money to schools and educational projects as part of this New Deal program.
In 1937, Johnson ran for and won his first political office. He became the representative for Texas’s Tenth District after his predecessor died in office. Johnson won over seven other candidates in the resulting special election. Johnson retained the seat through several elections. The young congressman faced some setbacks, however. He ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1941, but lost by a small margin.
As the United States entered World War II, Johnson joined the navy and went on active military duty in December 1941. He became the first member of Congress to actively serve in World War II. Johnson’s war service ended later that year when President Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled all members of Congress serving in the military back to their offices.
Senator to Vice President
Johnson remained a representative from Texas until 1948, when he won his long-sought seat in the U.S. Senate. He soon became a leader in the Senate and was selected to be the Democratic whip. He also had a seat on the Armed Services Committee. Johnson took on a series of leadership posts in the 1950s and was the minority leader in the Senate in 1953. He was named majority leader in 1954, when the Democrats took control of Congress.
In 1960, Johnson sought the Democratic nomination for the presidency. When Kennedy won the nomination, he selected Johnson as his running mate. Johnson’s presence on the ticket and his strong campaigning skills helped Kennedy win the presidency. As vice president, Johnson continued the work he had begun while a senator on civil rights issues. He also encouraged the expansion of the U.S. space program. The Soviet Union had beat the United States to space with the 1957 launch of their Sputnik orbiting satellite, which marked the official start of the “space race.”
Just three years after being elected president, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Johnson was sworn into the presidency the following day on Air Force One. Returning to Washington, he immediately took control of the government and worked to get some of Kennedy’s pending legislation passed. One bill of particular importance was the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Johnson also launched his own initiatives, including his “Great Society” plan to address social issues and preserve natural resources.
As Johnson began his own campaign for the presidency in 1964, America’s increasing involvement in the Vietnam War emerged as a primary concern for voters. Despite Republican opponent Barry Goldwater’s attacks on Johnson’s social programs, Johnson won an overwhelming victory, the biggest margin in the history of the United States at that time.
First Full Term in Office
Johnson pressed forth with more social legislation. He increased spending on education and health care and successfully championed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Johnson’s foreign policy also had some success. He held talks with the Soviet Union on a space-related treaty. Following the protocol of the Truman Doctrine, the United States actively intervened in the affairs of Latin American countries to prevent Communist takeovers. Johnson also sent the U.S. Sixth Fleet closer to the Syrian coast during the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors to balance any threat of Soviet military intervention in the conflict.
Johnson’s biggest challenge was the complicated conflict in Vietnam, a situation inherited from his predecessors. Johnson still believed that by supporting South Vietnam in the face of the attempted takeover by Communist North Vietnam, the United States was addressing its own security interests. Though he made campaign promises to not involve American soldiers in the conflict, Johnson approved U.S. troop increases in 1965 after two American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin were allegedly attacked by the North Vietnamese.
An increasing number of military men and women were sent to Vietnam over the next three years and by 1968 there were more than a half million American troops there. Johnson saw that increasing the number of troops and escalating the war did not lead to a quicker resolution to the conflict, and he faced increasing criticism at home over his handling of the matter. The relative success of North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive in 1968 and Johnson’s inability to get focused peace talks started compelled him to make the difficult decision not to run for another term.
Declined to Run for Full Second Term
Because Johnson believed ending the war in Vietnam was his highest priority, he announced on March 31, 1968 that he would not be running for president again. Freed from running for re-election, Johnson spent the rest of his time in office working on the Vietnam situation. He was able to get peace talks started in the spring, though they accomplished little, and in November he announced that the United States would halt bombing missions over North Vietnam.
When Johnson formally left office in early 1969, he moved to his ranch near Johnson City, Texas. He focused his time and attention on caring for and selling cattle. He wrote his memoirs, executed plans for his Austin-based presidential library, and tried to improve his fragile health. Johnson died on January 22, 1973, after suffering a heart attack.
Richard M. Nixon
As a member of the House of Representatives, vice president to Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the thirty-seventh president of the United States, Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) showed his expertise in foreign policy and played at least a minor role in many events of the Cold War. Although his presidency was marred by scandal, Nixon improved relations with China, began treaty negotiations with the Soviet Union, and oversaw America’s withdrawal from Vietnam.
Richard Milhous Nixon was born on January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California. He was the son of Frank Nixon, and his wife, Hannah Milhous. At the time of his birth, his father owned and operated a lemon farm. When the farm failed, Nixon’s father moved his family, which included several other sons, to Whittier, California and took a job operating a grocery store and service station.
Nixon was an excellent student and emerged as a strong debater at Whittier High School before graduating with honors. Though he was offered a full-tuition scholarship to Harvard University, his family was unable to pay the rest of the costs necessary to support him. He attended Whittier College instead starting in 1930, and he continued to demonstrate his strong debating skills. He showed his growing political prowess by being elected president of his freshman class and then president of the student body as a senior. In 1934, Nixon graduated second in his class.
He attended Duke University Law School on a scholarship. Though Nixon graduated third in his class in 1937, he was unable—in the midst of the Great Depression—to find work at a law firm in New York City. He returned to Whittier to practice law.
World War II Service
In the early 1940s, before the United States entered World War II, Nixon took a job in Washington, D.C. He was employed at the Office of Price Administration, part of the federal Office of Emergency Management. In August 1942, he joined the U.S. Navy as a junior officer. Nixon then spent two years in the Pacific theater, serving in the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command as an operations officer. After his return to the United States in 1944, he returned to his practice of law in Whittier. He formally left the navy in January 1946 with the rank of lieutenant commander.
The Beginnings of a Successful Career in Politics
By this time, Nixon had a new goal. Some Republicans in Whittier had asked him to run for Congress, and in November 1946 he was able to defeat a five-term incumbent in his district, Democrat Jerry Voorhis. Taking office in 1947, Nixon soon showed his expertise in foreign policy and was appointed to a special House committee that gathered supporting information for the proposed Marshall Plan for economic recovery in Europe. He was one of only two freshman members of the Select Committee on Foreign Aid, which traveled to Europe to study postwar problems. He also was appointed to the House Un-American Activities Committee and came to national prominence as a virulent anti-Communist who legally pursued Alger Hiss, for having Communist connections while working in the State Department. While Nixon charged that Hiss had been a Soviet spy in the late 1930s, Hiss denied the allegations. He was charged with and convicted of perjury in connection with his case.
The Second Red Scare
America experienced its first “red scare”—a period of widespread fear about the destructive potential of Communism in the United States—immediately after the Russian Revolution of 1917. It experienced another wave of panic, a second “red scare,” during the 1950s. The person largely responsible for whipping up the frenzy of anti-Communism was Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy electrified the nation when he made the shocking, and unsubstantiated, claim in 1950 that he had a list of high-ranking members of the State Department who were part of a Communist spy ring. He continued making accusations and headlines for several years, ruining the careers and reputations of many inside and outside the government before he was finally censured (punished) and effectively silenced by the Senate in 1954. He died of liver disease in 1957.
McCarthy was not the only member of Congress quick to point a finger at supposed Communists. The members of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was established as a permanent committee in 1946, began to suspect many Hollywood stars and executives of Communist sympathies in the late 1940s. Hundreds of actors, screenwriters, directors, and others associated with the motion picture industry were put before the committee. The movie studios, wary of the effect the taint of Communism might have on their profits, blacklisted (refused work to) those even accused of Communist leanings. Some managed to resume their careers in other countries; others used fake names to keep working in the United States. Most, however, were never able to rebuild their careers.
After two terms in the House, Nixon was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1950 after implying that his opponent, Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas, had Communist inclinations. In 1952, World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to make a run for the presidency as a Republican. He asked Nixon to join his ticket, hoping to capitalize on the support Nixon enjoyed in the western United States and to attract conservative voters through Nixon’s reputation as an anti-Communist. With Nixon, Eisenhower won two terms in office, but Nixon was not fully embraced by Eisenhower’s advisors.
During his time in office, Nixon changed the role of the vice president by becoming the primary political spokesman for the president and handling much of the administration’s foreign travel. During his first year in office, Nixon traveled throughout Asia. In 1958, he visited Latin America and Poland, and the next year he visited the Soviet Union. Such trips deepened his knowledge of foreign affairs and created constructive relationships with these countries. Visiting Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow and engaging him in the so-called “kitchen debate” over the merits of capitalism versus communism, for example, later led to a meeting in the United States between Eisenhower and Khrushchev.
Lost, then Won Presidency
When Eisenhower’s two terms in office came to an end in 1960, Nixon ran for president himself. With running mate Henry Cabot Lodge, Nixon secured the Republican nomination. However, a series of television debates with his opponent, the handsome young Democrat, Senator John F. Kennedy, put Nixon at a disadvantage. Though Nixon debated well, on camera he looked aloof and dour next to the charming Kennedy. The election was close, with Nixon losing by about 100,000 votes. Nixon went back to California, resumed his legal career in Los Angeles, and wrote his first book, Six Crises. He then made an unsuccessful run for California governor in 1962. By the 1968 presidential election, Nixon had again emerged as a top Republican candidate. He secured the nomination and chose Spiro Agnew as his running mate. Nixon was able to defeat the Democratic ticket of Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie.
First Term in Office
Upon taking office in January 1969, Nixon said he would heal the nation, which was divided over the Vietnam War and issues of race and civil rights. Focusing on Vietnam, he tried to negotiate an end to the conflict in talks with North Vietnam held in Paris, but had no success. Though he approved the expansion of the ground war into Laos and Cambodia, Nixon was able to bring American troops home as they were replaced by the South Vietnamese soldiers. It took two years to completely remove all U.S. ground troops.
As president, Nixon also had other significant Cold War accomplishments. On a visit to Asia early in his presidency, Nixon promised material aid to free Asian countries threatened by Communism, but said he would not provide troops. When he traveled to Romania in February 1969, he became the first president to visit a Communist country. By the end of that year, Nixon had signed a treaty with the Soviet Union that called for further work on limiting the production of nuclear arms. More talks continued through the end of his first term.
In 1972, Nixon visited the Soviet Union, where he met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, and China, where he met with Chinese leader Mao Zedong. This latter event marked the first time that a sitting president had visited China. Talks were later held that resulted in the Shanghai Communiqué in which Nixon agreed to recognize the government of the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate Chinese government.
Second Term Ends in Disgrace
In 1972, Nixon and Agnew won reelection in a landslide over the Democratic ticket of George McGovern and Sargent Shriver. But the presidency was soon in jeopardy. During Nixon’s reelection campaign, there had been a break-in at the Democratic Party national headquarters, which was located in the building complex known as the Watergate. The trial of the six men charged in the burglary revealed that many details of the burglary were covered up and that the burglars were linked to the Committee to Reelect the President.
As the investigation into the matter continued throughout 1973, many in Nixon’s administration were forced to resign, including his vice president. Agnew later pleaded no contest to several significant federal charges, including receiving bribes. After the Supreme Court compelled Nixon to hand over official tapes he had made during his election campaign, it became clear that Nixon had known about the Watergate break-in—at least after the fact—and had participated in the subsequent cover-up.
Because of these revelations, which resulted in his impending impeachment, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. He was the first president to voluntarily leave office before his term ended. Nixon and his family went back to California and returned to private life. Nixon was succeeded by Gerald Ford, who had been named vice president after Agnew’s resignation. One of Ford’s first acts as president was to pardon Nixon.
Advisor to Presidents
Nixon took on the role of respected statesman some years after controversy over the Watergate scandal died down. He made visits to Asia, including China, and to the Soviet Union. During the presidencies of Republican George H. W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton, Nixon served as an advisor, especially on international matters. Nixon also wrote his memoirs and oversaw the opening of the Richard M. Nixon presidential library in Yorba Linda. He founded the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, a foreign policy think tank, shortly before dying of a stroke on April 22, 1994.
An important leader in the Chinese Communist party from its earliest days, Chou En-lai (or Zhou Enlai, 1898–1976) also was the premier of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong. Chou was born March 5, 1898 in Huaian, Jiangsu Province, China, the son of Chou Yinen and his wife Wan Dongei. His parents were prosperous landowners, but they had fallen on hard times around the time of the birth of Chou, and both died when he was quite young. He was thereafter raised first by an aunt and then two uncles in Mukden.
After receiving his primary education at various missionary schools and Nankai Normal School, Chou traveled to Japan in 1917 to complete his education. While there, he was exposed to Marxist ideas. In 1919, Chou returned to China to participate in the May Fourth Movement, a student protest against foreign interference in China. Chou became a student at Nank’ai University. Serving as the editor of a radical newspaper and continuing related activities, Chou was arrested after a protest and spent four months in prison in 1920.
Active in the Communist Party
Released later that year, Chou entered a work-study program in France. There, he became influenced by both French and Chinese socialists and joined the Chinese Socialist Youth Corps. This group consisted of young Communists, and Chou soon joined the Chinese Communist Party. In 1922, Chou helped form the party’s European branch and was selected to serve in the Chinese Communist Party’s executive committee for the branch. He also held a similar position with the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, then led by Sun Yat-sen and still allied with the Communists.
Returning to China in 1924, Chou settled in Canton and was soon named the deputy director of the newly formed Whampoa Military Academy’s political department. By late summer 1925, Chou was acting as the political commissar to a division in the Nationalist First Army and was then also the special commissioner of Kwangtung Province’s East River District. When Chiang Kai-shek, an anti-Communist, took control of the Nationalist Party in March 1926, Chou was removed from both positions.
Further turmoil within the Nationalist Party and the group’s total break with the Communists in 1927 led Chou to take a more active role in the Communist Party. He was elected to its Central Committee and Politburo (executive body of the Communist party). Chou led thirty thousand Communist troops to take control of the town of Nanchang on August 1, 1927. Though they failed to keep control of the city, Chou remained with the Communist forces as they tried to establish a base in Kwangtung Province. Chou eventually created a secret police force, the Red Guards, to protect Communist Party leadership in Shanghai.
By 1931, Chou was working with Mao Zedong at the Communist stronghold in Kiangsi province in southwest China. There, the Communists formed the Chinese Soviet Republic. Chou served as the Communist army’s political commissar and was a member of the Central Executive Committee. Forced to retreat from the area because of Nationalist attacks, the Communists decided to move their headquarters to northwest China.
After serving as a military officer on the so-called “Long March,” Chou became the party’s primary negotiator after it established a new base in Yen-an, Shensi province. This position proved important when Japan invaded the country in 1936, and Chou helped his party work with the Nationalists on key common issues related to their shared fight against the Japanese. During and after World War II, Chou also represented Chinese Communist interests in negotiations with international contingents.
Because Chou was unable to get the Communist Party into a position of power in the immediate postwar period, the civil war between Nationalist and Communist forces resumed. When the Communists defeated the Nationalists and forced their leadership into exile in 1949, Mao Zedong declared himself the founder of the People’s Republic of China. Chou was named premier of the republic as well as foreign minister. He also played a role in drafting the new Chinese Constitution.
China’s International Negotiator
In addition to formulating the bureaucracy of the new Chinese government, Chou played a significant role in foreign relations. Early in the Korean War, he warned the United States not to cross the 38th parallel and enter what came to be known as North Korea. Because the United States disregarded this warning, American and Chinese troops came into contact with each other during the conflict. With the help of the Chinese Army, the North Koreans pushed the U.S. Army back into South Korea late in 1950 and early 1951.
Traveling to Moscow several times in the early 1950s, Chou negotiated the Chinese-Soviet alliance, a key relationship for China. Though he gave up his post as foreign minister in 1958, Chou remained active in foreign affairs. When the coalition between the Soviets and the Chinese became troubled in the early 1960s, for example, Chou led the walkout of the Chinese delegation to the Twenty-Second Congress of the Communist Party. Zhou was later able to resolve the two countries’ differences and establish an uneasy peace that lasted at least until his death.
Chou also toured other countries in Asia and in Africa, often acting in support of Communist regimes and developing countries. At the end of the first French-Indochina War, he played a significant role in delineating how the French would evacuate from the area and in the partitioning of Vietnam into Communist and non-Communist halves. By 1960, Chou was successfully working on border agreements with neighbors such as Burma, Mongolia, and Afghanistan. Not all of his negotiations proved fruitful, though. He was unable to reach a border treaty agreement with India at that time, which eventually led to a brief war that ended with a Chinese victory in 1962.
Although he traveled extensively, Chou remained an important leader at home as well. He remained the head of the government’s administrative system. During the brutal Cultural Revolution, which began in 1965, Chou publicly supported Mao’s objectives of ensuring continued support of revolutionary Communism and purging those who did not meet these standards—but he acted behind the scenes as a moderating force. Because even high-ranking officials lost their jobs and lives as a result of the Cultural Revolution, Chou became the second-ranking member of the Chinese government by 1969.
Because of Chou’s international reputation, Chinese and American relations improved in the early 1970s. President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger both traveled to the Chinese mainland. Chou convinced Nixon to drop the long-standing trade embargo and recognize Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic of China, steps that led to a closer relationship between China and the United States. (Before this time, the United States had recognized exiled Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China—Taiwan—as the legitimate Chinese government.)
Chou remained an enthusiastic supporter of Mao in the early to mid-1970s, despite being ill with bladder cancer. He died on January 8, 1976.
Succeeding Nikita Khrushchev as the leader of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982) oversaw the later years of the Cold War. While he forged closer ties with the United States than did his predecessors, the Soviet economy struggled under his administration and his governing style was sometimes brutal.
Brezhnev was born December 19, 1906, in Kamenskoe (now Dneprodzerzhinsk), Ukraine, the son of Ilya Yakolevich Brezhev and his wife, Nataliya Denisovna. His father was a Russian who was employed as a steelworker. When Brezhnev was seventeen years old, he joined the Communist youth organization, Komsomol. Though forced to leave full-time schooling at the age of fifteen to work in the mill with his father, he received training as a land surveyor as a part-time student. He graduated when he was twenty-one years old, and then worked for the Communist Party as an official in minor government posts.
Early Years in the Communist Party
In 1931, Brezhnev became a Communist Party member and spent the next decade rising through the ranks in the Ukrainian branch of the party. He also continued his education at the Kamenskoe Metallurgical Institute, training as a metallurgical engineer. After graduating in 1935, he briefly worked as an engineer before focusing on party activities and working for the Soviet government. In the late 1930s, Brezhnev became acquainted with Nikita Khrushchev, who was by then leading the Ukrainian Communist Party. Khrushchev soon helped Brezhnev become a prominent party leader in the Ukraine.
After serving as the Ukraine’s military commissar and reaching the rank of major general in the Red Army during World War II, Brezhnev was tapped to become the Communist Party leader in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1950. This area had been annexed from Romania at the end of World War II. Having gained national prominence by taking this position, Brezhnev continued to be promoted within the party. In 1952, Brezhnev moved to Moscow and served in the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
When Stalin died in 1953, Brezhnev was temporarily demoted from the Secretariat to lesser posts in the Ministry of Defense. When Khrushchev became the leader of the Soviet Union, Brezhnev was named the Communist Party head in Kazakhstan. There, Brezhnev found favor by successfully implementing Khrushchev’s “Virgin Lands Scheme,” in which more Soviet territory was successfully converted to agricultural use. Two good harvests in 1955 and 1956 increased Brezhnev’s reputation. He was soon recalled to Moscow to return to the Secretariat. Brezhnev supported Khrushchev when the Soviet leader was challenged by hard-line Communist Party members who wanted to oust him for his de-Stalinization reforms in 1957.
It became clear by the early 1960s that Brezhnev was being groomed to be Khrushchev’s successor. He was elected chairman of the Party Politburo (the executive body of the Communist Party, later known as the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet), though he left three years later to return to the Secretariat because of the lack of power in the Politburo post. Brezhnev betrayed Khrushchev in 1964 when another movement to oust Khrushchev reached fruition. Brezhnev joined the faction and helped put his former mentor out of office. He then took over the most important of Khrushchev’s posts, first secretary (by 1966, general secretary) of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee. Though he held the position with the most power, Brezhnev shared control of the country with Alexei Kosygin, who had taken other posts formerly held by Khrushchev, and other party leaders.
Early Years of Soviet Leadership
During the early years of Brezhnev’s time in office, he rolled back many of the de-Stalinization reforms of the Khrushchev era. Literary dissent was no longer allowed, bureaucracy greatly increased, and the secret police regained their fearsome power. While the mass terrorism that was common under Stalin did not return, Soviet citizens faced more restrictions on their behavior. Economically, the Soviet Union improved under Brezhnev. The standard of living for Soviet citizens rose until the mid-1970s as more economic resources were spent on goods for consumers.
In 1968, Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia underwent a period of rapid social and political liberalization under the administration of Alexander Dubček. Dubček launched an “Action Programme” that ushered in many Western freedoms, including freedom of the press. Dubček even made moves toward establishing a democratic, multiparty system of government. The Czech people embraced their new freedoms with fervor. Dissenting voices, silenced for so many years, found their way into the press and literature. The Western media labeled this sudden flowering of political activity the “Prague Spring.” But the flower of Czech freedom was quickly crushed. In August 1968, Brezhnev sent thousands of Soviet tanks and hundreds of thousands of soldiers from five Warsaw Pact armies into Czechoslovakia to reassert Communist control. Dubček was arrested. Shortly after the invasion, tens of thousands of Czechoslovakians fled their country and sought asylum in the West.
After reaching nuclear parity with the United States through a massive arms buildup, Brezhnev was able to forge closer ties to the United States by exchanging visits with President Richard M. Nixon and agreeing to arms control talks with the United States. The result was the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, SALT I, which stopped the production of certain nuclear weapon systems.
By the early 1970s, Brezhnev had essentially taken over total control of the Soviet government. He became the marshal of the Soviet Union in 1976 and then the head of state as the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in 1977. As his power increased, the Soviet economy began a slow decline beginning in the mid-1970s and stagnated for many years after that. While political awareness increased among those forced to be part of the Soviet Union, there was a greater attack on dissidents by the Soviets.
Wars also became more consuming. The Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979, leading to a decades-long, draining conflict. Some workers in Poland tried to lead their country to break away from the influence of the Soviet Union in 1981. Only a coup carried out by the Polish Army backed by the Soviets stopped the Polish rebellion known as Solidarity.
Lech Walesa and Solidarity
Lech Walesa, a carpenter by trade, spent years agitating for workers rights in Poland. He was first arrested in 1970 after participating in a strike at the Gdansk shipyard that was violently suppressed by the authorities. He spent one year in prison. After a decade of unionist political activity that cost him his job and led to several arrests, Walesa again headed a strike at the Gdansk shipyard in 1980 insisting on unionization rights for workers. This time, the whole country seemed ready to join him. The Gdansk shipyard strike led to a general worker’s strike throughout Poland. Walesa’s Strike Coordination Committee was soon renamed the Solidarity Trade Union after the Communist government granted strikers the right to legal organization.
Walesa, however, was arrested and imprisoned again in 1982. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, after being released from prison. In 1989, Walesa led the Solidarity organization into politics. It became the opposition party to the Communist party, and Solidarity candidates won several seats. By forming alliances with leaders of other parties that had been Communist, Walesa managed to prompt the formation of a non-Communist coalition government of Poland by the end of 1989, making Poland the first country in the Soviet bloc to abandon communism. Walesa was elected president in 1990, and served until 1995.
After years of increased understanding between the United States and the Soviet Union—including the creation of a cooperative space program in 1975, the SALT II treaty in 1979, and the Soviets purchasing an extraordinary amount of American wheat—the Cold War escalated again in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The administration of President Jimmy Carter condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. President Ronald Reagan reignited the arms race and denounced the muzzling of the Polish Solidarity movement after he took office in 1981. In poor health by the early 1980s, Brezhnev died on November 10, 1982, in Moscow.
Elected president in 1976, Jimmy Carter (1924–) negotiated key treaties with the Soviet Union and between Israel and Egypt during his one term in office. After losing reelection in 1980, Carter continued to work for world peace and human rights as a respected elder statesman.
Carter was born on October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia, the oldest child of James Earl Carter, Sr., and his wife Lillian Gordy. His father was a small-time peanut and cotton farmer who also operated a peanut warehouse and store. His father later served in the Georgia legislature. His mother had worked as a nurse until her marriage. She did not accept many of the South’s racist traditions and instilled in her four children a belief in racial equality and a sensitivity to the suffering of others.
Showing an outstanding work ethic from an early age, Carter was experienced in all aspects of farming by the time he graduated from Plains High School as valedictorian in 1941. He then spent a year each at Georgia Southwestern College and Georgia Institute of Technology as he sought to enter the U.S. Naval Academy.
Receiving an appointment to the academy in 1942, Carter became a cadet in 1943. As a student, he displayed skills in naval tactics and electronics. After graduating in the top ten percent of his class in 1946, Carter volunteered for submarine duty and served aboard the USS Pomfret. He also worked on the first nuclear-powered submarines built by the U.S. Navy. Though he aspired to become an admiral, Carter left the service in 1953 when his father died of pancreatic cancer.
Early Political Career
Returning to Georgia, Carter took over the family farm and accompanying businesses. He also was active in civic groups and activities and served on the boards of local libraries and hospitals in Plains. By the early 1960s, Carter was a very successful farmer who harbored political ambitions.
Running for office, he won a seat in the Georgia Senate in 1962 as a Democrat by one thousand votes. Carter was soon known as an effective senator. He was then reelected to his seat in 1964 and ran for governor in 1966.
Though Carter lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary that year to Lester Maddox, he did not give up on his goal to become governor. For the next four years, he traversed Georgia to learn about the concerns of the state’s voters, give speeches, and essentially campaign for the post. In 1970, Carter ran again and won the governor’s office.
As governor, Carter’s inaugural address garnered national attention because he stated that he would seek an end to racial injustice in Georgia. As governor, he wanted to assist the needy in the state no matter what their race. He also supported education and job creation. He also increased the number of African Americans employed by the state and appointed to state boards and agencies.
During his only term in the governor’s office, Carter took on positions of prominence in the national Democratic party. He served as the head of the Democratic Governors Campaign Committee in 1972 and then as the chairman of the Democratic National Campaign Committee two years later. By 1973, Carter had decided he would run for U.S. president in 1976, though he had little national name recognition. After leaving office in 1975, he began campaigning for president. It was not until January 1976 that his efforts brought him national attention as he promised to bring back ethical leadership to the office of the president.
Carter as U.S. President
Carter won the Democratic nomination and named Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale as his running mate. During his campaign, he promised to spend more federal dollars to create jobs and help businesses grow. Buoyed by the support of African Americans and the poor as well as his status as a Washington outsider, Carter defeated incumbent Gerald Ford in the 1976 general election.
After taking office, Carter was able to make the federal government more efficient by reducing redundancy in federal agencies. He also created two new federal departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. While he was able to get income taxes lowered, high inflation plagued the American economy throughout his time in office and made him a relatively unpopular president by 1980.
Foreign Policy Concerns
While not all of Carter’s foreign policy moves were praised, he had some significant successes. In 1977, Carter signed treaties that gave control of the Panama Canal to Panama in 1999 while making sure the key waterway remained neutral. In 1979, he helped broker a peace treaty, the so-called Camp David Accords, between Israel and Egypt, which ended war between the two countries.
Carter wanted to improve the United States’ relationship with the Soviet Union and bring an end to the nuclear arms race. Because of continued human rights violations by the Soviets, the United States soon adopted a more hard-line approach to Soviet-American relations. While halting grain sales to the Soviet Union, Carter worked on an arms limitation treaty with the Soviets for two-and-a-half years. At the end of negotiations in 1979, Carter signed SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) II, which imposed limits on the number of nuclear arms possessed by each country.
The Soviet-American relationship remained tense, however. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Carter decided that the United States would boycott the 1980 Summer Olympic Games, which were being held in Moscow. Not all dealings with Communist countries were as difficult. Carter granted China formal diplomatic recognition, opening the door for closer relations between the countries. The United States then began importing goods from China.
One major foreign policy disaster for Carter came in November 1979. A radical Iranian student group took control of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, taking fifty-two Americans hostage. Carter’s first response was to create economic pressure by cutting off Iranian imports to the United States and freezing Iranian assets in the United States. These measures did not create any change in the situation, and the hostage crisis dragged on for months. Carter authorized an armed rescue operation in April 1980. It failed, and eight Marines died during the attempt. The hostages were released in early 1981 after 444 days of captivity.
By the time the hostage situation ended, Carter had already lost the presidency. Because of economic problems and the situation in Iran, he was easily defeated in the 1980 presidential election by Ronald Reagan. Shortly after leaving office, Carter founded the Carter Center, which continued to promote his human rights agenda in the United States and abroad, encourage economic development, and monitor elections in emerging democracies.
Over the years, Carter has continued to personally intervene in foreign affairs as no sitting president could. In 1990, he was able to convince an opposition leader in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, to allow the elected president to take office in that country. Armed conflict was avoided in Somalia when Carter relayed messages from warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid to President Bill Clinton. Later in Clinton’s first term in office, Carter persuaded North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung to halt his nuclear weapons program. For his efforts, Carter was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) served as president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Because he was president during the decline and eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union, he is often credited with ending the Cold War. Staunchly anti-Communist, Reagan was a successful movie and television actor who also served as the governor of California.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois. He was the son of John Edward Reagan, and his wife, Nelle Clyde Wilson. Reagan grew up in relative poverty; his father was an alcoholic who worked as a shoe salesman but failed to retain employment. His family moved regularly until Reagan was nine years old, when they settled in Dixon, Illinois.
A popular and talented athlete, Reagan was locally famous as a young adult for his many rescues as a lifeguard working at a park on the Rock River. During the summers from 1926 to 1933, he rescued seventy-seven people. Reagan had begun working as a lifeguard while attending Dixon High School, where he was elected student body president as a senior. After graduating in 1928, he entered Eureka College in Illinois, where he studied economics, was captain of the swim team, and was again elected student body president. Reagan completed his college education in 1932.
Radio, Television, and Film Career
Within a few years of graduating from college, Reagan began his career as a sports announcer for WOC, a radio station in Davenport, Iowa. Demonstrating promise on the radio, he soon landed a job at a bigger station, WHO, in Des Moines, Iowa. By 1937, Reagan had acting ambitions and used his position as the rebroadcaster of Chicago Cubs baseball games to get the assignment of covering the team’s spring training camp in California.
Reagan soon landed a contract with Warner Brothers Studio and launched an acting career in the movies. He made his film debut starring in 1937’s Love Is on the Air. While generally considered a “B” movie actor, he received some positive reviews and then national fame for his role as George Gipp in the 1940 classic Knute Rockne—All Americanand his role as an amputee in the 1942 film King’s Row. By the late 1940s, Reagan’s film acting career was on the decline, but his power in Hollywood was on the rise in other ways.
In 1947, Reagan was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in a special election. He held the post until 1952 and then served as the labor union’s president again from 1959 to 1960. As the head of SAG, Reagan often expressed a deeply held anti-Communism, which he continued to espouse as he moved into television work. Though he publicly said that he would not give names of suspected Communists in Hollywood to the House Un-American Activities Committee, he appeared as a friendly witness in front of the committee, and it was later revealed that Reagan secretly provided information about suspected Communists to Congress.
Reagan found more fame as the host of the General Electric Theaterhalf-hour dramatic anthology series beginning in 1954. In conjunction with his work on that show, he also made many personal appearances on behalf of General Electric (G.E.). Reagan regularly gave inspirational speeches that emphasized the importance of a free-market economy while promoting G.E.’s products. Reagan was later fired by G.E. for expressing his increasingly conservative views.
Governor of California
By the early 1960s, Reagan had political ambitions and joined the Republican Party. Supported by conservative Republicans, he ran for the governorship of California in 1966. Securing the Republican nomination with solid campaigning and extensive financial support, Reagan defeated Pat Brown in the election with fifty-eight percent of the vote. He was easily reelected in 1970. As governor, Reagan cut California’s budget, raised state income taxes, and froze hiring by state agencies, all of which put California on a sound financial footing.
While serving as governor, Reagan decided to run for president. His 1968 campaign did not end in the nomination, but it did bring him to national prominence as a potential future Republican candidate. Reagan nearly won the 1976 Republican nomination, but he lost to incumbent Gerald Ford. In 1980, Reagan finally won the nomination and soundly defeated sitting Democratic president Jimmy Carter in the general election. Reagan easily won reelection in 1984 over Democratic candidate Walter Mondale.
During his time in office, Reagan was generally popular with Americans and proved adept at dealing with the media. Because of this skill, he was dubbed “The Great Communicator.” Rebounding from an early 1981 assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Reagan followed his promised conservative course by reducing taxes and spending on social programs while increasing defense spending. Such moves were intended to stimulate business and increase economic growth, though the American economy struggled for several years before gradually expanding.
The U.S. economy was compromised, because the federal budget had massive deficits of at least $100 billion each year. By the time Reagan left office, the national debt had reached more than $3 trillion, which bothered conservatives. Reagan also irked some conservatives by his nomination of moderate Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court.
Foreign Policy Issues
Reagan continued to express strong anti-Communist views as president and disparaged the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” Despite such tough Cold War talk, he restored the grain shipments to the Soviets that Jimmy Carter had stopped. Reagan also provided secret aid to Afghan rebels fighting Soviet occupation of their country.
Reagan aggressively increased American defense spending in order to expand and modernize the military. He wanted to make it superior to the Soviet military. In 1983, he proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, which would use satellites to shoot down missiles fired by an aggressor such as the Soviet Union. Despite proposals for such a program, Reagan continued arms control talks with Soviet leaders, especially after reformer Mikhail Gorbachev took control of the country. Reagan had face-to-face summit meetings with Gorbachev in 1985 and 1986 that eventually resulted in new arms control treaties in 1987. The INF (intermediate-range nuclear forces) Treaty led to the removal of these missiles from Western Europe.
Other foreign policy moves were meant to ensure democracy prevailed over Communism. In 1983, Reagan authorized an invasion of Grenada when it seemed Communist forces were causing problems and could potentially take over. The United States then installed a democratic, American-friendly regime, despite international criticism. Reagan received some disapproval at home for sending U.S. Marines to aid Lebanon during a civil war there early in his first term. After 240 Americans died in an attack in Lebanon, the Marines were removed.
Later in his presidency, Reagan had to deal with the fallout from the Iran-Contra scandal. In 1986 and 1987, it came to light that certain members of the Reagan administration had given a type of aid banned by Congress to Nicaragua. Arms had secretly been sold to Iran as means of gaining the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by Iranian-supported terrorists. The funds gained from the sale of these arms were sent to arm and train the Contras in Nicaragua who were trying to overthrow their country’s socialist government, which was led by Daniel Ortega. The scandal led to hearings in front of a special Congressional committee known as the Tower Commission. Reagan testified he had no knowledge of the arms-for-hostages deal or the support of the Contras and claimed not to remember many conversations he allegedly had with advisors. The Tower Commission found no direct evidence that Reagan was involved in the illegal dealings, but asserted he should have been more aware of the activities of his staff. In the end, three members of Reagan’s administration were indicted on various charges. These charges were later overturned on appeal or pardoned.
Despite the scandal, Reagan remained publicly active and popular for several years after he left office in 1989. He left the public eye in the early 1990s when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Reagan died on June 5, 2004, in Los Angeles.
While serving as the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) oversaw the end of the Cold War and paved the way for political and social reforms in his country. Born Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev on March 2, 1931, in Privolnoe, Stavropol, USSR, he was the son of an engine mechanic. Gorbachev was raised partially by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, Pantelei Yefimovich Gopkalo, was a Communist party member and chairman of a local collective farm before falling victim to one of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s. Gorbachev began working on the farm by the age of ten and had a job as a farm machinery driver at a local machine-tractor station as a teenager. Gorbachev was also an intelligent student, though his schooling was interrupted for several years by World War II.
Joined Communist Party
After joining the Communist Party in 1952, Gorbachev entered Moscow State University and studied law. He married fellow student Raisa Titorenko in 1953 and graduated in 1955. After graduation, he went to Stavropol and became an organizer for the Young Communist League, or Komsomol. He worked for the Communist Party and developed a reputation in the region as a successful administrator and a respected leader.
By the early 1960s, Gorbachev was taking roles of increasing responsibility in the Communist Party. In 1962, he became the Communist Party organizer for all the collective and state farms in the Stavropol region. In addition, Gorbachev soon became an important person on the Stavropol city committee. In 1966, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev named Gorbachev the first secretary of Stavropol. In essence, Gorbachev was the mayor of the city. He soon received more political training from the Communist Party.
Role in Regional Politics
In 1970, Gorbachev moved closer to national prominence by becoming the first secretary of the Stavropol Territorial Party Committee. Mentored by Yuri Andropov, an important national party member from the same region who was the chairman of the KGB (secret police), and others, Gorbachev went to Moscow in 1978 to become the party secretary in charge of agricultural administration. In 1980, he was made a member of the Politburo (the executive branch of the Communist party).
After the death of Brezhnev in 1982, Andropov’s political star rose along with Gorbachev’s. Both were interested in improving the Soviet economy by reforming obsolete and inefficient practices. Andropov became the Soviet leader, but he died two years later of kidney failure. He was briefly succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko, who died in early 1985. In March 1985, Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union when he was elected the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.
Soviet Leader and Reformer
Regarded as a fresh young voice, Gorbachev’s first order of business as Soviet leader was to improve the economic productivity of his country. He wanted to get rid of wastefulness and laziness among all workers, even in the Communist Party itself. The policy he instituted was called perestroika, or restructuring. Gorbachev tried to restructure the economy into one that was decentralized, not centralized, and that gave more control to local governments. He also developed a long-term plan to implement a market-style economy as the institutions needed to support it grew. Gorbachev also connected with the common Soviet citizen with frequent public appearances and promoted the concept of glasnost, or openness.
Gorbachev worked to improve the Soviet Union’s relationship with the United States in order to end the arms race and help the Soviet economy. He wanted to figure out how to reduce Soviet defense spending so that more consumer goods could be produced. A summit meeting with President Ronald Reagan eight months after Gorbachev took office led to no real progress, though talks continued in the late 1980s.
Gorbachev continued to show his flexibility and openness in his dealings with the United States. He even visited New York City in 1987 and impressed Americans by shaking hands with them on the street. Reagan then visited Moscow a short time later. After calling for an end to the Cold War in a speech to the United Nations in 1988, in 1989 Gorbachev reduced military spending by withdrawing from Afghanistan and thus ending the Soviet military occupation of that country.
Significant internal reforms were also made in 1989. Gorbachev instituted elections that were open not just to members of the Communist Party, but to non-party candidates as well. Gorbachev also ended the special status afforded the Communist Party as guaranteed by the constitution of the Soviet Union. The government began managing the country, instead of the Communist Party managing the country. As reforms were introduced, the country’s many ethnic groups and nationalities came into conflict with one another, and some demanded their independence. Gradually, the member states of the Soviet Union began establishing independent governments. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Eastern Bloc countries also began dismantling their Communist governments and instituting democratic reforms.
Collapse of the Soviet Union
Against this backdrop, the Soviet economy was failing. Industrial and agricultural production was on the decline, and the Soviet system did not address this situation any longer. Though Gorbachev received the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, a powerful political rival emerged: former ally Boris Yeltsin. He wanted to radically reform the Soviet economy and even left the Communist Party in 1990. Yeltsin was elected the president of the Russian Republic in 1991.
Though change was imminent, staunch Communist Party conservatives—who opposed the changes that had already occurred and those anticipated for the future—detained Gorbachev in an attempted coup while he was on vacation in August 1991. The coup collapsed in a few days. The Soviet Union soon fell apart as the Ukraine and Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) declared themselves independent. Yeltsin remained in charge of the Russian Republic and banned the Communist Party. As Communism receded in Eastern Europe, Gorbachev resigned from all his public positions in December 1991, just as all non-Russian republics of the Soviet Union declared themselves independent. Although the Communist party is still active in many of these countries, the party functions as one of many legal political parties, not the sole political party of the state.
After the Fall
Gorbachev published an autobiography in the United States in 1997. Continuing his support of reform, he founded several organizations such as the International Organization for Soviet Socioeconomic and Political Studies, known as the Gorbachev Foundation. Gorbachev has remained active in these pursuits for many years.
See also World War II: Major Figures: Dwight Eisenhower
Major Battles and Events
The Berlin Airlift was a complex mission conducted by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France in order to feed and supply the German residents of West Berlin in 1948.
The War’s Aftermath
Once the Allied powers defeated Nazi Germany ending World War II, Great Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union began to occupy defeated Germany. Germany was divided into four sectors, and each nation was given territory to oversee. Ideological and political differences pitted the Soviet Union against the other three. The Soviet sector of Germany completely surrounded the capital city of Berlin. Berlin itself was also divided into four sections, each overseen by one of four World War II allies. The western side of the city had become aligned with the democratic and capitalist nations, but was completely surrounded by the forces of the Communist Soviet Union.
Berlin had suffered immensely over the course of the war. Round-the-clock bombing by both U.S. and British forces destroyed the city. Food was in perpetually short supply, housing was limited, and the Soviet soldiers had stripped factories of their machines and bricks and shipped these back to Russia. Only poor survivors remained, living in an economically crippled city where a black market flourished.
The United States and Britain agreed that once the Nazis were defeated, the people of Berlin should be put back on their feet. This was necessary for a healthy Europe and to prevent Communism from spreading westward. France, though less quick to befriend the nation that had occupied it during the war, typically sided with the British and Americans, while the Soviet Union did not.
Fractured Relations with the Soviet Union
At a February 1948 meeting in London, representatives from the United Kingdom, France, the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg discussed the possibility of creating a new West German state. U.S. and Western European leaders believed control of West Germany was essential to stopping Communism’s spread. At a later 1948 meeting that included Soviet representatives, the Soviet delegation demanded details of the prior London meeting. When American General and military governor Lucius Clay said they were not going to discuss the London meeting, Soviet leader Vasily Sokolovsky stood up and marched out with his delegation.
Eventually, the currency reform was enacted in the three sectors occupied by the United States, Britain, and France, while the Soviets refused to accept the plans or the new style of money in their eastern sector. The Soviets began to exert increased control over East Germany and East Berlin. Soon the Russians began an all-out blockade of Berlin, which meant France, the United States, and Britain could not access their sectors of Berlin by road, rail, or canal. The Soviets offered to supply the other sectors of Berlin, but the Berliners refused the offer. French, British, and American forces remained in their parts of the city.
The Berlin blockade became the first major standoff of the Cold War era. On June 21, 1948, Air Force Lieutenant General Curtis LeMay gave a mandate to supply Berlin on June 26. Battered planes from the Normandy invasion took eighty tons of food and medicine into Berlin on the first day. Initially, the combined available forces could only deliver about seven hundred tons per day into Berlin. But an estimated four thousand tons were needed to supply the Berliners with what they needed. Only an intense, detailed, and well-executed plan would save the residents of West Berlin from Soviet control.
Though the resources and logistics necessary to succeed in the early stages of the airlift did not exist at first, the combined commitment from U.S. President Harry Truman, the British, and the airmen involved resulted in a precise and successful mission. “Operation Vittles,” as the Americans called it, became enhanced enough to feed and supply the beleaguered city within months. The allies called for airplanes from throughout Europe, and soon the volunteer gangs that unloaded the airplanes could do so in seven minutes. Truman had said, “The United States is going to stay, period,” and he authorized additional C-54 planes to double the deliveries in July.
As the airlift continued, it became clear that even more supplies would be needed for the approaching winter. By September, five thousand tons per day reached Berlin. In February 1949, the millionth ton was delivered. The West had proved its resolve to remain in Berlin and the West German state. In May 1949, the Soviets called off their blockade. American and British flights continued to supply the city until September 1949.
The Berlin Airlift is remembered as a triumphant humanitarian effort to feed a devastated people. The West Berliners, a determined population, showed tremendous strength in fending off an attempted takeover by the Soviets.
One of the few physical encounters between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War occurred in 1960 when the Soviets downed an American spy plane. United States pilot Francis Gary Powers was surveying parts of Russia to gather information on missile capability when he was shot down.
The U-2 plane was a key element in the United States’s Cold War arsenal. This single-seat aircraft was designed by Lockheed. It had a range of some 2,600 miles, and flew at altitudes of 75,000 feet, well out of the range of Soviet antiaircraft missiles at the time. The planes were equipped with high-tech cameras that could take detailed pictures of key military installations.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), not the military, sponsored these flights that crisscrossed the Soviet Union from American bases in Pakistan and Turkey. Primarily, these U-2 planes provided snapshots for intelligence assessment and for policymaking in Washington, D.C. These flights were clearly a violation of Soviet airspace, but none had been challenged until May 1960.
Francis Gary Powers was born in a large Kentucky coal mining family but attended college and joined the Air Force after graduating. As an airman, Powers soon held the rank of first lieutenant. In 1955, the CIA recruited him and gave him the cover name Francis G. Palmer. “Palmer” was officially a pilot for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation; in reality, he was part of the agency’s complex U-2 intelligence-gathering operations. Powers agreed to a three-year contract for spying over the Soviet Union. Afterward, he was to return to the Air Force.
The Ill-Fated Mission
On May 1, 1960, Powers took a normal surveillance flight from Pakistan to Norway in Air Force plane 360 across the Soviet Union. The U-2 was tracked by radar early in its flight, but the Soviet MiG fighters that tried to engage it, could not reach the U-2’s high altitude. As the U-2 approached the city of Sverdlovsk, a Soviet missile hit it with a surface-to-air missile. Powers tried to maintain control of his aircraft, but eventually had to bail out over Soviet territory. The townspeople of Sverdlovsk rushed to his aid, assuming he was a Russian pilot, but soon realized he was an American. His plane was severely damaged, but evidence remained that proved to the Soviet authorities that Powers was spying. Powers and what was left of the aircraft were sent to Moscow for further investigation.
The incident outraged the Soviet government and Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The United States initially took the position that it had not sponsored such a spying mission, but that this plane was merely a weather plane that had veered off course. Khrushchev produced evidence to the contrary, including the camera and a suicide needle that Powers never used. President Dwight Eisenhower finally admitted to the mission and accepted responsibility, but made no apology nor did he promise such missions would cease.
Powers was then put on public trial in Moscow and easily found guilty. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. On February 10, 1962, however, the Soviets swapped him for one of their own celebrated spies held in U.S. custody. In a simple exchange at the border of East and West Germany, intelligence officials from both sides exchanged their respective prisoners.
Powers did not exactly receive a hero’s welcome back in the United States. Many felt he should have used the needle or at least remained silent about the mission. He went back to the Air Force for a while and then began teaching U-2 pilots at CIA headquarters. Afterwards, he worked for a short time at Lockheed in southern California. After the publication of his book, Operation Overflight, which revealed the details of his ill-fated mission over the Soviet Union, Lockheed fired him. He ended his flying career as a traffic reporter for Los Angeles radio and television stations. He died in 1977 when his helicopter crashed after running out of fuel. President Jimmy Carter granted permission for Powers to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Berlin Wall, one of the key symbols of the Cold War conflict, was constructed by the Soviet-influenced East German state in August 1961 to stop East Berlin residents from fleeing west. For nearly three decades it reminded the world of the division between East and West, between the Communist bloc and the Western allies. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down as the Cold War ended.
A Divided Germany, A Divided Berlin
The Berlin Wall was constructed during the reign of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and East German leader Walter Ulbricht. Since the end of World War II, the Potsdam and Yalta agreements made by the victorious Allies—the United States, the Soviet Union, France, and Great Britain—divided control of both Germany as a whole, and Berlin as the capital city. One of the results of this conference was that the Soviet Occupation Zone fully surrounded Berlin. The city was divided into four sectors also assigned to the respective Allied powers. Soon after the war’s end, the Russian government, which had promised airspace for travel into and out of Berlin, began to block roads and trains in order to starve West Berlin into submission and in hopes of adding the entire city to its sphere of influence. The Berlin Airlift followed. For months the United States led an effort to supply the West Berliners with food and necessities so they would not have to give in to the Soviets.
Neither of the superpowers (the United States and the Soviet Union) were willing to leave Germany entirely under the other’s control, prompting the creation of East and West German states, with the West aligned with the United States and the East aligned with the Soviets. However, this left the city of Berlin in the odd position of being completely surrounded by a Soviet-dominated state even while half Berlin was still under Western control.
It was clearly in Khrushchev’s and Ulbricht’s best interest to rid Berlin of the Western presence. A stark contrast had developed on each side of the city. West Berlin had recovered from the devastation of the war and had a booming economy. The East was drab and dreary and lacked resources or modern conveniences. While the nine-hundred-mile boundary between West and East Germany was well guarded, Berlin became the ideal place for East Germans to make their escape to the West. From the western part of the city, those fleeing Communism could fly to West Germany. Between 1949 when the German Democratic Republic was created and 1961, fully 2.8 million Germans crossed to the West. Khrushchev intended to stem this human tide.
In 1957, fleeing to the West became a crime punishable with a prison sentence. The Communist-controlled press painted a lurid picture of life in the West, with slave traders selling young vulnerable East German women into prostitution. Khrushchev began a softer line on diplomacy in terms of Berlin. After a successful tour of the United States and discussions with President Dwight Eisenhower at Camp David, Khrushchev began thinking a compromise over Berlin was possible. A Paris summit was scheduled for this discussion. But when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, Khrushchev lost patience and the Paris summit was canceled.
The Wall Goes Up
In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 13, 1961, Berlin residents were awakened by the noise of military vehicles and unraveling coils of barbed wire in East Berlin. Trucks lined the border within the city with their headlights providing light for the East German work crews. Armed guards supervised the workers erecting barbed-wire fences and the beginnings of a brick wall. Those who had crossed the border the night before to be with friends or family were stunned to find the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, the transit systems that crisscrossed Berlin, closed. They were prevented from traveling back to their residences. As morning wore on, workers heading to one or the other side of the city were stopped from crossing the line that the East Germans had drawn. Soviet tanks took positions on the east side of the city. Though some government officials feared protests and uprisings, the streets of East Berlin remained eerily quiet.
Newly elected President John F. Kennedy sent General Lucius Clay, who had overseen West Berlin during the 1948 Airlift, and Vice President Lyndon Johnson to West Berlin to reassure the citizens of American support. He also ordered a combat unit of 1,500 to the city for reinforcement. Both the officials and the soldiers were received warmly by West Berliners. But the United States and its allies took no military action to stop construction of the wall. American support for West Berlin remained firm. Kennedy visited in 1963 and gave a famous speech expressing solidarity with the West Berliners, concluding his address with the German phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner”).
For nearly thirty years, the Berlin Wall separated families only miles apart and served as the distinct division between the two superpowers that were hemispheres apart. But in the 1980s, the citizens of Eastern European countries began to push for reform. In Hungary and Poland, workers, students, and progressive leaders began to chip away at the Communist system that repressed them. A new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had taken office in 1985 and pushed dramatic reforms.
In 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited Berlin and addressed its citizens, and those listening around the world. He harked back to Kennedy’s visit and reminded Berliners that the United States had not changed its views on Berlin since the wall was erected in 1961. He said that Americans admired Berliners’ “courage and determination.” He also called the wall a “brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world.” He then questioned Gorbachev’s commitment to reform, challenging him, “Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
The Wall Comes Down
Two years later, while East Germany was still under the oppressive regime of Erich Honecker, East Germans had been inspired by some of the revolutions against Communists in other countries. Gorbachev had recommended to Honecker to consider an East German version of the reforms underway in the Soviet Union, but Honecker refused the suggestion. When Gorbachev visited East Berlin, crowds of thousands came out into streets for torchlight marches, chanting “Gorby, Gorby, Gorby, save us.” The day after Gorbachev left, a gathering of seventy thousand in Leipzig continued to challenge Honecker, who responded by ordering police to fire into the crowd. The police refused, and Honecker was ousted and replaced by a young Egon Krenz. The new prime minister fired his cabinet and looked to Gorbachev for advice. On November 4, a half a million people jammed into East Berlin’s streets for a concert that became a public expression for the current generation against the old regime and the Communist oppression.
On November 9, Krenz announced that his East German government would issue visas for those wanting to visit the West. Crowds began to gather that evening at the eight crossing points in Berlin. The border guards, uncertain as to how to handle the masses lining up at these gates, called headquarters but received no clear instructions. Initially, the guards required the valid visas, but soon the trickle of East Germans heading west turned into an unstoppable flood determined to gain what they had hoped to gain for years. Soon, thousands crossed the wall for a taste of freedom. With sledgehammers, chisels, and anything else they could get their hands on, throngs of Berliners began to chip away at the wall that had divided their city for nearly three decades. Over the next two years, bit by bit, the Berlin wall was demolished. And Germany, a country divided, followed the lead of its historic capital city. The country was reunified in October 1990.
Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 was a United States-sponsored mission intended to overthrow Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba. Castro had led a successful revolution in January 1959, overthrowing the dictator Fulgencio Batista and installing his new coalition government in Havana. As Castro solidified his power, the new Cuba grew distant from the United States and began to develop close relations with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan visited Havana in February 1960 and, at the United Nations in New York in September, Castro and Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev embraced as fellow revolutionaries.
This developing alliance disturbed American leaders. With American business interests crushed by Castro’s revolution and a communist-leaning government in the United States’s backyard, the CIA began a plan to overthrow Castro.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion was conceived in January 1960 and approved by President Dwight Eisenhower on March 17, 1960. The scheme entailed training Cuban exiles for a mission that would land them at the Bay of Pigs southwest of Havana. After the landing, the exiles would rally what was thought to be a strong anti-Castro movement in Cuba and overthrow the government. As late as December 1960, Eisenhower endorsed the plan for an amphibious landing of these CIA-trained paramilitary fighters. John F. Kennedy had already been elected president, but knew nothing of the mission until two days before his inauguration. Kennedy had little choice but to agree to the plan. The former general and outgoing commander in chief was solidly behind it. The Joint Chiefs of Staff supported the invasion, and presidential advisor John Foster Dulles and his brother CIA director Allen Dulles saw this as a quick way to rid America of the threat posed by Castro and weaken Soviet-Cuba connections. Kennedy agreed, but wanted the mission conducted so the United States could deny involvement.
In April, three days before the scheduled invasion, the president announced that the United States would not lead any military invasion into Cuba. On April 17, the invasion went as scheduled. In the early hours of the morning, a force of about 1,400 Cubans landed in Cuba. The mission was botched from the beginning. Both CIA planners and the Cuban exiles predicted the invasion would spark a popular anti-Castro uprising and that the United States would send military support once they achieved the beachhead at the bay. Neither of these things happened. The domestic uprising that was thought to coincide with the invasion never took place. And the United States-sponsored guerillas never received any U.S. military support because Kennedy maintained his public position that he would not intervene militarily. Castro sent his Soviet-made tanks directly at the invaders, who never made it very far inland from the beach. After a three-day standoff, about one hundred of the invading fighters were killed, fourteen were rescued by the U.S. Navy, and 1,189 were taken prisoner.
This fiasco gave Kennedy a rocky start as president and had the unintended effect of bringing Havana and Moscow closer together. The incident also damaged America’s standing with Latin American countries, which began to worry that their large, powerful neighbor had aggressive imperialist intentions. Further, the failed plot led Khrushchev to view Kennedy as weak and ineffective. When Kennedy and Khrushchev met at a summit in Vienna, Austria, in June, the president told his Soviet counterpart that the Bay of Pigs was a mistake. Khrushchev responded by telling Kennedy that wars of national liberation would now be won by Communists and that the United States was on the wrong side of history. The emboldened Khrushchev soon brazenly installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, aiming them at the United States.
Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the United States and the Soviet Union ever came to full-scale nuclear war. The conflict took place during October 1962 after the Soviet Union had shipped nuclear missiles to its ally, Cuba. After intense analysis, contemplation, and diplomacy, the crisis ended and millions of lives were saved.
The failed Bay of Pigs Invasion and a strengthening alliance between Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union encouraged Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to install several dozen missiles in Cuba. Khrushchev considered this a response to the fact that the United States had already installed nuclear weapons in Turkey. It was time, Khrushchev thought, that the Americans learned what it felt like to be threatened.
On Sunday, October 14, 1962, a U-2 spy plane took aerial photographs of the missile sites under construction near San Cristobal in western Cuba. By the next morning, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy informed President John F. Kennedy of the discovery. On Tuesday, the president called together his chief advisors, the National Security Council, including his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to discuss how they should address this volatile situation. They predicted that the missiles might become operational in two weeks, leaving only thirteen days to remove them to guarantee national security. This group agreed prompt removal was necessary, but differed greatly on the manner in which to meet this goal.
Attack or Negotiate?
The first proposal was to strike the missiles before they could ever be installed. The Joint Chiefs of the armed services were the strongest advocates for this tactic. The civilian leaders—the secretaries of state and defense, and the attorney general—on the other hand, saw the political consequences of the United States attacking the small nation of Cuba, especially only a year after the debacle in the Bay of Pigs. Other concerns included the fear that the Soviet Union might retaliate by bombing Berlin.
Kennedy first approached the Soviet foreign minister Andrey Gromyko at the White House to ask about the missiles. Gromyko claimed that any assistance to Cuba was in a defensive nature only and denied that any offensive weapons had been delivered to Cuba. With no quick diplomatic solution in reach, the cabinet secretaries persuaded Kennedy that a blockade of the island would be the best course of action. A blockade would prevent additional missiles from reaching the island and show that the United States was taking this threat seriously, while it would fall short of an aggressive attack.
This solution included alerting America’s B-52 bombers with nuclear weapons stationed in Europe in case the Soviets responded by attacking Berlin. Once this plan was in place, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (ExComm) began to inform Congress and the American public of the crisis. The White House asked for airtime from the three national networks so the president could give a speech from the Oval Office. Before going public, he called a meeting of seventeen congressional leaders to explain the dilemma and how he as commander in chief planned to handle it. When Kennedy addressed the nation on live television, the military was placed on high alert, and the navy deployed 180 ships to surround Cuba in what was officially termed a “quarantine.”
Khrushchev accused Kennedy of violating international law. On October 25, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, Valerian Zorin, challenged the United States delegate Adlai Stevenson II to prove the accusations against the Soviet Union. When Stevenson asked Zorin to answer the question of whether the Soviet Union had in fact placed these missiles in Cuba, Zorin stalled, declaring he was not in an American courtroom forced to answer in an interrogation. But Stevenson replied, “You are in the courtroom of world opinion right now and you can answer yes or no.… I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.” Stevenson presented the aerial photographs to prove what the Soviet ambassador would not confirm.
Tensions continued to mount as negotiators on both sides worked to forestall military conflict. Khrushchev sent a letter asking for a promise from the United States that it would never invade Cuba if the missiles were removed. Adlai Stevenson put forth the idea that perhaps the United States should offer to remove its missiles from Turkey. The military commanders still pushed for a full-scale invasion. A second letter from the Kremlin, which differed in tone and substance from the first, stated that in order for Russia to remove the weapons from Cuba, the United States had to remove its missiles in Turkey.
Though not everyone in the Kennedy administration agreed to this proposal, it was ultimately the compromise that saved the world from nuclear war. Robert Kennedy worked out the details of the deal with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. This executive agreement held that the United States would cease the quarantine and promise not to invade Cuba, and the Soviet Union would then remove the missiles. The United States also promised, though not publicly, to remove its nuclear weapons from Turkey, which it did six months later.
This thirteen-day crisis had a win-win result for both sides. In the United States, it was Kennedy’s finest hour. It appeared to be an American victory, especially since the U.S. missiles in Turkey were removed quietly several months later. The United States appeared once again to be master of its region. In Russia, similar relief and celebration occurred. Khrushchev called it a triumph for common sense and hailed the fact that he was able to get the United States to do what it had not done before—promise to leave Cuba alone. Those parties unhappy with the result included the U.S. Joint Chiefs, Turkey, and Fidel Castro (who was left out of the negotiations and felt betrayed by his Soviet allies). Neverthless, Kennedy was hailed as a hero, and the Democratic victories in the midterm congressional elections gave the president’s party its largest majority in the Senate in twenty years.
Strategic Arms Limitations Talks
The Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) resulted from a handful of 1960s Cold War events and issues. The confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis scared citizens and leaders on both sides. The brinkmanship during that October 1962 standoff luckily ended with both the United States and the Soviet Union agreeing to remove their missiles from Turkey and Cuba respectively and to limit nuclear weapons testing. The arms race had driven both nations to devote vast sums to military spending. In trying to outarm each other, the Americans and Russians endangered the economic health of their countries. And, the Soviet Union had created an antiballistic missile system that the United States would have to imitate. All of these factors led to the discussions known as SALT.
President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin met in New Jersey in 1967. Johnson raised the issue of a ban on antiballistic missiles, to which Kosygin responded that defense is moral, while aggression is immoral. Moscow was not prepared to discuss a ban on defensive missiles, only offensive strategic missiles. The next year, the Soviet Union, United States, and Britain signed the first Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prevented the transfer of nuclear technology from one country to another. Soon after this, the United States and the Soviet Union announced that an arms limitation, including a reduction in both offensive and defensive systems, would follow.
The First Talks
The first arms limitation talks between the United States and the Soviet Union were set to open in Geneva in September 1968, but the United States pulled out of the meeting when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in August. Once President Richard Nixon was inaugurated, the movement toward talks resumed. On November 17, 1969, the United States and the Soviet Union finally sat down at the table to negotiate in Helsinki, Finland. These discussions continued in Helsinki and later in Vienna and dragged on for years. Neither side was willing to lose its military edge. The United States had far passed the Soviets in MIRVs (multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles) and the Soviet Union had outdone the United States with its ABM (antiballistic missile) defensive system. As the negotiations inched forward, technological advances in weaponry continued and sometimes went beyond the scope of the talks.
Finally, on May 26, 1972, at a summit in Moscow, President Nixon and new Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed the agreement that became known as SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) I. The treaty limited the number of ABMs, but SALT did not cover MIRVs, leaving the Russian advantage in missile numbers matched by America’s deliverable warheads. The treaty also did not cover medium- or intermediate-range missiles, nor did it address U.S. bases in Europe. SALT I, however, ushered in a new era of détente (easing or relaxing) in relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. It also essentially froze the military balance between the two nations: each side still had the ability to destroy the other, thus causing both to refrain from taking any action. The world was safer with SALT I.
Over the next few years, under presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, détente waxed and waned as did general Soviet-American relations. In early 1979, President Carter felt a new agreement on arms limitations should be reached. Moscow, too, was ready to negotiate. The first and only meeting between Carter and Brezhnev took place at a Vienna summit in mid-June 1979 and ended with the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II (SALT II). SALT II essentially made final breakthrough agreements that former president Ford and Brezhnev had reached in 1974 negotiations in Vladivostok. Both sides accepted arms production limits.
But the treaty signed by these two executives was never ratified. Carter asked the Senate to delay ratifying the treaty after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Still, Carter promised to uphold the terms of the treaty, and President Ronald Reagan also promised his support of the agreement.
The Pueblo Incident
On January 23, 1968, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) captured the U.S.S. Pueblo, which was conducting a spy mission several miles off the Korean coast. Insisting that the ship was cruising in their territorial waters, the North Koreans took the crew hostage until they received an apology—of sorts—from the American government.
In 1968, the ongoing war in Vietnam tended to overshadow America’s attention to the Korean situation. Nevertheless, the United States viewed the Communist DPRK (North Korea) as a constant threat against the democratic, American-occupied Republic of Korea (South Korea). On January 22, the DPRK attempted to assassinate South Korean leaders. Tensions on the peninsula were running high.
The American navy has always insisted that the Pueblo was in international waters at the time of her capture. Her captain, Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, had specific orders not to provoke an international incident. He was to conduct electronic intelligence gathering, listening for the Soviet navy, without entering South Korean territorial waters. The Pueblo was lightly armed, but her machine guns were under wraps and her ammunition stored below.
On January 23, a DPRK submarine chaser bore down on the Puebloand demanded to know her nationality. When the ship raised American colors, the Koreans threatened to attack her if she did not heave to. The Pueblotried to escape, but the much faster sub chaser was soon joined by three torpedo boats and two MiG-21 fighters. Bucher radioed the U.S. Seventh Fleet in Japan. For some reason, the Americans sent no ships or planes to help. Possibly they feared that a pitched sea battle would inevitably lead to open war.
The Koreans opened fire on the Pueblo with 55-mm cannon and machine guns. As still more enemy ships approached, Bucher surrendered to overwhelming odds and started to destroy all sensitive documents aboard the ship. Nevertheless, the Koreans captured a great deal of intelligence when they boarded the ship.
Eighty-three seamen, including the captain, were captured, bound, blindfolded, and beaten. One sailor was mortally wounded under the enemy fire and would die shortly thereafter.
When they were finally freed, the Americans reported that they had been regularly starved and tortured by the North Koreans. The DRPK declared that the prisoners were being treated well and released pictures of the smiling crew to the international press. However, the Koreans did not catch the cultural significance of some of the men’s hand gestures in the photographs. When asked, the sailors told their captors that an extended middle finger was a “Hawaiian Good Luck symbol.”
When the photos were published, the American press crowed that the servicemen had clearly complied only under duress and with contempt. The North Koreans were furious at the loss of face, and the prisoners endured seven days of brutal reprisals, a period they would later call “Hell Week.”
Bucher apparently bore the worst treatment from the beginning. In an attempt to make him confess to spying, he was dragged in front of a mock execution squad. Bucher claims that he only capitulated when the Communists threatened to murder his men in front of him, starting with the youngest.
Because of the North Koreans’ poor English skills, Bucher was made to write his own confession and read it aloud. Although the DPRK diligently checked the meaning of all his words, Bucher filled his statement with puns, poor sentence structure, and mispronunciations.
The DPRK insisted that the U.S. government admit to spying, apologize, and swear never to do it again. Americans were less than inclined to do so. Outraged hawk congressmen urged Johnson to mine the Wonsan harbor in North Korea. Even the antiwar movement was momentarily quieted in the atmosphere of general national outrage.
However, the Johnson administration hardly had time to react to the crisis. Just a week later, the Tet Offensive broke out in Vietnam. The government decided that a rescue operation in North Korea was simply not possible at the time, and that an attempt at the same would endanger the uneasy Korean armistice. In the generally overcharged political atmosphere of 1968, the issue of the Pueblo quickly receded from public attention.
Eleven months later, the U.S. State Department agreed to a letter of admission, apology, and assurance, though they renounced the document even before signing it. Secretary of State Dean Rusk publicly stated that the apology was a lie, with the sole purpose of reclaiming the crew. Nevertheless, the DRPK accepted the letter, blocked out the paragraph of disavowal, and released the hostages.
On returning to the United States, Bucher immediately faced a naval court of inquiry. Several high-ranking commanders were furious at the loss of the ship, which represented a major intelligence loss for the United States. In recent years, evidence has arisen that the Soviet Union may have asked North Korea to capture the Pueblo. The information gathered from the ship allowed the USSR to make considerable progress in their communications technology.
The court recommended that Bucher be court-martialed for surrendering his command without an attempt at resistance. Secretary of the Navy John Chafee rejected the idea. “They have suffered enough,” he said. The crew members were granted POW (prisoner of war) medals by the American government in 1989.
The USS Pueblo is still held by the DPRK in the port of Pyongyang. Guided tours are given, describing the ship as an example of American imperialist espionage.
Nixon Visits China
President Richard Nixon, a staunch anti-Communist from his early days in Congress, saw an opportunity early in his presidential administration to open relations with Communist China by exploiting the conflict between the Soviet Union and China. He did so with several changes in U.S. foreign policy toward the People’s Republic of China and with a famous visit to the Communist nation.
Much had changed since Nixon’s time as a congressman and vice president. In 1949, Mao Zedong and his Chinese Communist Party led a successful revolution, overthrowing the Nationalist government and its leader Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang’s government fled to the island of Taiwan and formed the Republic of China, while Mao and his followers established the People’s Republic of China on the mainland. The United States strongly sided with Chiang during the World War II fight against Japan, and after Chiang established his government on Taiwan. The Soviet Union and the new Communist China enjoyed positive relations in the postwar years as they both followed Marxist principles and had a common enemy in the United States. But this relationship soured through the late 1950s and 1960s.
Rift Between Soviet Union and China
The Chinese were never happy with the Soviet Union’s level of support during the Korean conflict. The Soviet Union supplied no ground troops and required China to pay up front for Soviet weapons. When Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died, Mao never fully accepted Khrushchev as the head of the Communist world. In the late 1960s, with the development of the Brezhnev Doctrine—the Soviet premier’s philosophy that the Soviet Union could intervene in the affairs of neighboring countries to preserve socialism—China and Mao further distanced themselves from Russia. Heavy levels of troops and warplanes on both sides guarded the long border between the two nations. In a March 1969 dispute, thirty-one Russian soldiers were killed. Mao’s right-hand man, Chou Enlai, had by this time denounced the Soviet Union leaders as the “new czars.”
President Nixon took office in January 1969 and saw his opportunity to capitalize on the rift between China and the Soviet Union. In early October, Nixon placed the U.S. Strategic Command on highest alert to communicate to the Soviet Union that his administration would deter a Soviet nuclear attack on China. Nixon and his closest advisors knew that many in Washington would not favor overt overtures toward China, so Nixon signaled his intentions subtly. In a Time magazine interview, he indicated that he would like to eventually visit China. In July 1971, Nixon secretly sent National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to China; he was the first American official to visit China since 1949. While Kissinger was there, Chou extended an invitation to the American president, which Nixon ultimately accepted.
Nixon announced that he would travel to China within the year. Before he did, additional steps were taken to normalize relations. The United States lifted a twenty-one-year-old trade embargo it had placed on the nation. The nine thousand U.S. troops garrisoned on Taiwan were reduced. And the United States began to recognize Communist China’s right to a seat in the United Nations. Meanwhile, additional troops were pulled out of Vietnam.
Nixon finally arrived in China in February 1972 for a week-long tour and talks with Mao. No actual treaty resulted from the meeting, but what became known as the Shanghai Communiqué, a simple acknowledgment of each others’ positions, was signed. In the statement, the United States agreed to recognize the People’s Republic of China as China’s legitimate government (it had backed the exiled Nationalist government based in Taiwan since shortly after World War II).
The visit resulted in other diplomatic successes. A United States ambassador was placed in Beijing. A year later, diplomatic offices were opened in both Washington and Beijing. Nixon touted his trip as “the week that changed the world.” It truly had opened some eyes to the possibilities of improved U.S.-Chinese relations.
The INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty was a landmark step in U.S-Soviet concessions that led to a thawing of the Cold War. The Treaty essentially eliminated thousands of American and Soviet missiles and proved that the easing tensions in the mid-1980s were more than symbolic. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty in December 1987, but it came as a result of a historic summit in October 1986.
Gorbachev had begun a program of openness and reform in the Soviet Union upon taking office in 1985. He wanted to bring the Soviet Union and the United States closer together. He also wanted to improve economic conditions within his country. His concern for domestic programs and his genuine desire to end hostilities between East and West encouraged him to push for peace between the two superpowers. In August 1986, Gorbachev agreed to a U.S.-Soviet meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland.
On the opening day of the conference, Gorbachev took the initiative to offer a full reduction of strategic arms, intermediate-range missiles, and space weapons. Secretary of State George Schultz accompanied President Reagan to the meeting, and they both agreed that this offer was fundamentally acceptable. The discussions moved toward the missiles that had been placed in Europe. On the second day, the pace of the discussions increased. Both Reagan and Gorbachev agreed on a complete withdrawal of intermediate-range weapons from Europe. They also agreed on cutting ballistic missiles stockpiles by fifty percent over a five-year period. Gorbachev even proposed the idea of eliminating all nuclear weapons in ten years.
Everyone—the two leaders, their representatives, and onlookers—was astonished. But before these landmark proposals could be agreed to, Gorbachev brought up Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative that the United States had researched and partially developed. This mammoth program, mostly in the research stages, would eventually defend America from nuclear missiles with lasers from space, if Reagan had his way. The Soviets were offended by the so-called Star Wars (SDI) plan because they felt it violated the ABM Treaty, which prevented defense systems. If the United States could finalize the Star Wars Program, the deterrent of mutually assured destruction would be eliminated. The Soviets saw the program as a potential for the United States to become aggressive once they were fully defended. Gorbachev proposed that the SDI program be confined to the laboratory only.
Reagan was still pressing for his pet program and refused to accept the offer. This prevented the signing of any treaty while the leaders were in Iceland. Despite this anticlimax, great progress had been made at Reykjavik. Gorbachev stated at a post-summit press conference that in spite of all the drama, “It is a breakthrough which for the first time enabled us to look over the horizon.” Reagan, as well, spoke positively of the meeting. He emphasized the significance of the conference was “not that we didn’t sign the agreements in the end; the significance is that we got as close as we did.”
Such attitudes by the two heads of state led to eventual ratification of the INF Treaty. Other nations had their say on the treaty before it would be finalized. West Germany, a potential Soviet target throughout most of the era, insisted that short-range missiles aimed at it, must be included in the treaty. The Soviets responded that similar U.S. weapons, seventy-two Pershing 1A missiles positioned in West Germany and aimed at the Soviet Union, must be removed. The United States agreed to these terms, and Gorbachev pulled back from insisting that the United States halt the SDI. Reagan and Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty in Washington, D.C., on December 8, 1987.
The treaty was of historical proportions. Both nations for the first time agreed to reduce their arsenals and to eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons. The treaty banned all land-based missiles with a range of 1,000 to 5,500 kilometers, and short-range and intermediate-range weapons that could reach 500 to 1,000 kilometers. In total, the United States agreed to destroy fewer than one thousand warheads, while the Soviets would eliminate more than three thousand. The talks eventually allowed for inspections to verify enforcement of the treaties.
Reunification of Germany
After the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the four Allied powers either occupied or oversaw Germany until late 1990. Germany and its capital of Berlin became the epicenter of the Cold War, dividing East and West. Both the nation and the capital city were split along ideological lines. The United States, Britain, and France occupied and created West Germany, while the Soviet Union influenced and occupied East Germany. These two states formed early in the Cold War. Most Germans and Berlin citizens wanted a democracy free from Soviet influence, but the Soviet Union built a wall to stop East Berliners from escaping to the west and placed a fence with armed guards along most of the new border between the two states. By 1989, much had changed in Eastern Europe. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was instituting reforms in the Soviet Union, and Eastern Bloc nations were breaking free of Communism and the influence of the Soviet Union. In November 1989, the citizens of Berlin seized the moment and broke through the Berlin Wall en masse and used the tools at their disposal to begin chipping away at the hated wall.
The opening of the Berlin Wall was the first step toward reunification of Germany, divided since the end of World War II. Gorbachev eyed German reunification warily as a potential security threat. A united Germany would probably join NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), an adversary of the Soviet Union and its satellites.
Gorbachev proposed discussions among the same four powers who had occupied and divided Germany in the first place. By March 18, 1990, the East Germans held an election that ousted the Communist Party and put a new democratic coalition in power. It became even clearer that reunification was going to occur.
U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, serving under President George H.W. Bush, had offered the “Four plus Two” talks. That is, the fate of Germany and whether or not it joined NATO should be decided by the four major powers that had originally divided Germany and the two German states that had existed for over a generation. The Soviet Union accepted this proposal, but it still wanted to keep a united Germany out of NATO. Talks began in May 1990. At a Washington summit, President Bush gave Gorbachev several assurances: NATO forces would not be placed in the former East Germany, Soviet forces could depart the region gradually, and the new unified Germany would have to reaffirm its commitments to neither produce nor possess nuclear weapons. The Soviets counterproposal asked for a transition period of three or four years so the four powers could set limits on Germany’s armed forces and establish a structure that would prevent a resurgence of Nazi ideology. Russian foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze had made these offers and wanted to ensure that NATO’s goal was to create political, not military, alliances.
To allay Soviet fears, NATO gathered in London during a July summit and approved a declaration proclaiming the Cold War was over. The body also invited the Warsaw Pact nations to assign diplomatic liaisons with NATO and asked the organization to make a similar statement declaring that Cold War tensions had subsided. With these expressions, Germany joining NATO would make no difference. President Bush also pledged to remove nuclear weapons from Europe if the Soviet Union would reciprocate.
Both Gorbachev and Shevardnadze praised the London Declaration and Bush’s offer. It became clear to the Soviets that further delay in allowing Germany to unite and join NATO would only alienate the United States. On July 14, 1990, the Soviet leadership accepted the unification of Germany and its NATO membership. In response to this, West German chancellor Helmut Kohl promised large loans and economic aid to the Soviet Union and funds to assist the removal of Soviet troops.
With the Soviet blessing and agreements among all six nations, the East German parliament set October 3 as the date for the East to join the Federal Republic of West Germany. On September 12, the Four Allied Powers that controlled Germany’s destiny since the Potsdam Conference of 1945 relinquished all power and recognized a democratic, independent Germany with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany. The unification took place as scheduled, and on December 2, 1990, the Germans held their first free election since the 1920s.
The Cold War in Film and Literature
The Cold War cost Americans vast amounts of money and countless hours of worry over nuclear annihilation, but it also produced some exciting books and films. The Soviets were bad guys audiences and readers loved to hate. They were smart, crafty, dangerous, exotic—the perfect foe. From the end of World War II until the breakup of the Soviet Union, American and European novelists, screenwriters, and filmmakers created an array of suspenseful spy films, parodies, documentaries, and docudramas based on tension caused by the Cold War.
British writer Ian Fleming created the quintessential Cold War hero in his secret agent James Bond. Starting in 1953 with the publication of Casino Royale, readers thrilled to the adventures of the dashing British spy. Offical film versions of the books followed, starting with 1962’s Dr. No starring Sean Connery as Bond. Bond’s enemies are invariably Soviet spies or those aligned with the Soviets.
American writer Tom Clancy also got a lot of mileage out of Cold War tensions in his spy novels. His fictional hero Jack Ryan (military officer, CIA analyst, president), often faces off with Soviet enemies, notably in the highly successful 1984 novel The Hunt for Red October. Espionage thrillers by Robert Ludlum (author of the 1980 novel The Bourne Identity and many others) and John le Carré (author of such novels as the 1963 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) also made successful careers spinning tales of the Cold War exploits of their superspy heroes.
Not all writers focused on the adventure potential of having an adversary as powerful as the Soviet Union. Many writers and filmmakers preferred to dwell on the destructive potential of Cold War tensions. Australian writer Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel On the Beach depicts a world slowly dying after an atomic war. Dr. Helen Caldicott’s 1982 Academy Award–winning short documentary If You Love this Planet also examines the potentially catastrophic effects of nuclear war. The year 1983 saw the release of the popular film WarGames, starring a young Matthew Broderick, that featured a supercomputer that almost accidentally starts World War III. The 1984 movie Red Dawn, a cult classic starring Patrick Swayze, tells the story of a Soviet invasion of the United States that sparks all-out war between the superpowers.
Some filmmakers managed to find humor in the threat of total nuclear destruction. One of the better-known Cold War–era films is director Stanley Kubric’s Dr. Strangelove (1964), a black comedy about nuclear war that features British actor Peter Sellers in several different roles. In the movie’s unforgettable climactic scene, Air Force Major T. J. “King” Kong (played by Slim Pickens) rides a nuclear bomb falling through the air as if it were a bucking bronco, shouting and waving his arm with gusto as he plunges toward his doom. The scene poked fun at the seemingly cowboy-like enthusiasm American military leaders had for their nuclear weapons.
Though they made less money than the action movies that pitted a Russian oppressor against an American hero, the docudrama productions that examined the effects of a nuclear attack brought greater attention to potential Cold War results. These movies were less about good and evil or right and wrong; they were more about the harsh realities of an atomic war. The most notable was The Day After, which aired on ABC in November 1983. The film was set and filmed mostly in Lawrence, Kansas. The filmmakers chose a mid-American town and followed a handful of fictional families who experienced the devastation of a nuclear attack. Other U.S. films with similar plots and themes in 1983 included Special Bulletin and Testament. Testament showed how a northern California community would have to handle nuclear catastrophe. In Special Bulletin, a radical group takes Charleston, South Carolina, hostage and threatens to detonate a nuclear bomb if nuclear weapons in the Charleston area are not immediately disarmed.
The Cold War defined how generations saw the world. Its end was a tremendous relief to both Americans and Russians. But the fading of Cold War animosities has left many fans of spy thrillers and action movies yearning for the “good old days” when our enemy and our enemy’s goals were clearly defined.
U.S. Military Presence Worldwide
When World War II ended, tensions increased between the Soviet Union and its former allies the United States, Great Britain, and France. The world looked on, wondering which nation and ideology would prevail, and what these nations would do to prevent another global catastrophe like World War II. The United States had emerged from the war as a true superpower, and it moved quickly to defend its interests and the interests of its allies around the world.
To end the war in the Asian theater, the United States had dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Historians debate the real motive for that decision, but few can dispute that it sent a message to potential U.S. adversaries: the United States was not to be trifled with. The United States was in exclusive control of a devastating weapon that could kill hundreds of thousands of people and wipe out a nation’s infrastructure. After detonating the two weapons that caused Japan to surrender, the U.S. government continued to research and build nuclear weapons.
Protector of Europe, a Presence in Asia
As American soldiers began returning home, some remained in the strategic U.S. Army stations and naval bases located throughout the world. To ensure that the defeated Axis powers honored the terms of their surrender, U.S. soldiers and military commanders occupied those nations. The United States occupied Japan until 1952, implementing policies to prevent the return of aggressive imperialism and to rebuild the country’s economy. The United States took the same position in Germany, where the Allies from the West came into conflict with the Soviet Union. Ultimately, Germany was divided into two nations: West Germany, under U.S. protection, and East Germany, under Soviet protection. The U.S. military established several bases in West Germany that were key to the security of Western Europe as a whole. The United States built additional bases in other European nations throughout the Cold War era, all with the purpose of protecting its allies from Soviet aggression. In the Pacific region, the navy stayed in the islands of Guam and Midway, and maintained bases in the Philippines, South Vietnam, South Korea, and elsewhere.
The Truman Doctrine
While postwar matters were still being settled in 1950, the U.S. National Security Council (NSC)—the president’s primary advisory group on security issues—drafted a now famous document named NCS-68. The paper laid out the basic premise that would later form President Harry Truman’s so-called Truman Doctrine: that a threat to freedom anywhere was a threat to freedom everywhere, and that the advance of Communism must be contained.
The National Security Council was keeping a wary eye on the Soviet Union. They had witnessed the nation take over countries in Eastern Europe, detonate its first atomic bomb, and contribute to the takeover of China by the Chinese Communist Party. The document called for a boost of U.S. conventional forces and an enormous increase in military spending, about 350 percent per year.
Throughout the 1950s, the United States experienced a period of economic growth. Increased tax revenues were put toward Cold War aims. By 1960, defense spending amounted to nearly $50 billion—fifty-two percent of all federal spending and about ten percent of the Gross Domestic Product. By this time, the United States had nearly 1.5 million servicemen stationed around the world and another million in the civilian sector working closely with the military. Major companies like General Dynamics, Lockheed, McDonnell-Douglas, and Newport News Shipping were constructing and selling fighter jets, naval vessels, and other war materiel to the U.S. government. Defense expenditures were also the impetus for many other businesses. America’s military-industrial complex, President Eisenhower warned in his farewell speech, had reached such substantial size that citizens should approach this concentration on defense cautiously over the next decades.
Military spending would continue to dominate the federal budget, and the Defense Department would be Washington’s biggest employer. Not to be outdone, the Soviet Union, the world’s other superpower, also devoted the majority of its resources to its military. In fact, it was the near-ruinous cost of defense spending that likely brought both countries to the conclusion that negotiations to end the arms race were necessary in the 1980s.
China Rises Economically
China traveled down a rocky road during the Cold War, before it reached its current place in the world economy. After Mao Zedong’s revolutionary takeover of mainland China in 1949, the People’s Republic of China became a Communist nation. The first decades of Communist rule were marked by closed borders, a state-run centralized economy, and human rights abuses. Since the end of the Cold War, China has emerged as an economic powerhouse with fewer trade restrictions, the Western world as its marketplace, and membership in the World Trade Organization.
The Marxist ideals adopted by Mao in his Great Leap Forward—Communist China’s second five-year plan that put rural peasant farmers to work on small industrial projects throughout the country—proved to be faulty. The public works projects that Mao ordered transferred the farmers away from their fields. This and unusually poor weather resulted in famine. It was truly a great leap backward, for it likely killed more than twenty million Chinese and was ridiculed by the Soviets, who by then began distancing themselves from their Marxist neighbor.
Deng Xiaoping and the Four Modernizations
China’s relations with the United States were strained, to say the least, after the 1949 revolution. No American embassy operated in Beijing, and trade between the two nations did not exist. In 1972, President Richard Nixon made a trip to China that began to mend relations. Mao welcomed him, and that trip was the first step in opening the door again to China. Mao died in the mid-1970s, and after a confusing and unstable transfer of power, Deng Xiaoping became the country’s new leader. He began a program called the Four Modernizations that was aimed at enhancing agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense. His program took China away from the failed central planning of Mao and invited foreign investment. Deng had returned many farmers from the socialist collective to the private farm, which helped increase production. A degree of capitalism had also returned to China.
Deng opened relations in other ways, too. Chinese students were sent abroad to learn advanced skills in science and technology, and foreign scholars were invited to come to China to share ideas. Tourism to China also provided additional revenue. The results over the next years were astounding. In the 1980s, real per capita incomes rose more than twenty-two percent—an unbelievable ninety percent in the countryside.
With Mao gone and Chinese citizens witnessing these improvements, Mao’s influence over Chinese life also faded. The United States finished under President Jimmy Carter what Nixon had started. Carter sent his national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski to China with instructions to begin a new phase in Sino-American relations. This trip was motivated not only by economic prospects for both nations, but by the desire to create an alliance against the Soviet Union. The trip was successful, and Carter announced that relations would be normalized on January 1, 1979. Deng visited the United States later that year and traveled abroad to other capitalist countries. Within five years, the United Kingdom agreed to return its colony of Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997.
Tianamen Square Massacre
In April 1989, several thousand Chinese students and their supporters occupied Tianamen Square in Beijing for several weeks in a peaceful protest for democratic reforms. As the occupation of the square continued through May, millions of citizens joined in the protest. The world watched as the protest took on an almost festival-like atmosphere. Hundreds of students went on a hunger strike to draw increased attention to their demands. Many wondered whether the wave of liberalization sweeping through Eastern Europe could possibly spread to China, whether the Communist regime might finally topple when faced with the people’s demands for freedom.
On June 3, such hopes were dashed. Tanks rumbled into Tianamen Square and the army converged on the protestors, shooting at the unarmed protestors. Hundreds of protestors and innocent bystanders were killed. The world expressed outrage at this brutal action by the Chinese government, and Chinese efforts to improve their economic stature and political reputation internationally were severely hampered by the incident.
In the 1980s and 1990s, China’s economy continued to grow, but distrust of Communist ways and a history of human rights abuses allowed only a very slow improvement in China’s status on the world stage. By 1993, however, China had reached its pre-1939 share of world trade, and its share of world trade continued to grow after that. Many peasants among the more than one billion citizens had been lifted out of poverty. The raw materials that China needed were arriving from other nations, and Chinese manufactured goods were traveling to overseas markets. The country had even applied to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). But approval of that application took some time; China had to earn the respect of the other member nations. Known for a generation of restricted trade and opposition to capitalism, China had a hard time convincing the WTO it had evolved. And Mao’s legacy of inhumane treatment—millions were killed during his reign, and farmers and workers were treated harshly—was regarded as a serious impediment to membership in the WTO. But in December of 2001—after years of application, negotiation, and concessions by the Chinese—China was admitted to the WTO.
Barson, Michael and Steven Heller. Red Scared! The Commie Menace in Propaganda and Popular Culture. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001.
Isaacs, Jeremy, and Taylor Downing. Cold War: An Illustrated History, 1945–1991. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998.
Powaski, Ronald E. The Cold War. The United States and Soviet Union 1917–1991. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Internet Movie Database <http://www.imdb.com> (accessed May 29, 2007).