Conflict Builds

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Conflict Builds

T he United States and the Soviet Union had emerged from World War II (1939–45) as superpowers. The two countries had different political and economic philosophies, and each believed its own governmental system was superior to the other. The United States, with its multiparty democratic form of government, valued an open, free society: American citizens elected their government leaders and were guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. The U.S. capitalist economic system allowed private ownership of property and businesses. Prices, production, and distribution of goods were determined by competitive markets, with minimal government involvement. U.S. leaders believed that all countries would benefit from following democratic, capitalist principles.

The Soviet Union had a completely different form of government than did the United States. A single political party, the Communist Party, controlled most aspects of Soviet society. Top members of the party selected government leaders from among their own ranks. The government directed all economic production; private ownership of property and businesses was not allowed. In theory, all the goods produced and any accumulated wealth were to be shared equally by all citizens. Whereas the United States was protected from invasion by two oceans, the Soviet Union had been plagued by land invasions from the west, including the German invasion in World War II. The Soviet Union sought to expand its sphere of influence into neighboring countries to create a security buffer against western invasion and to protect its communist system of government from such capitalist nations as the United States.

After World War II, the basic differences between the two superpowers began to cause conflict. The United States and the Soviet Union quickly became locked in a power struggle known as the Cold War. The Cold War was generally not fought with armies and guns (though that would later change during the Korean War), but it was like other wars in one major respect: It was based on mutual fear and failure to communicate.

In 1945, the two countries had been allies, or alliances of countries in military opposition to another group of nations. At that time, their common goal was to stop German and Japanese aggression. By 1947, however, they were adversaries, or opponents. Case in point: At the February 1945 Yalta meeting of the Big Three—U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45), British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965), and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879–1953)—Roosevelt projected that all American troops would be withdrawn from Europe within two years. However, in March

1947, President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972; served 1945–53) announced that the United States planned to take an active role in combating the spread of communism in Europe and worldwide; in other words, the U.S. military was not going to withdraw after all.

Germany: Focal point of the Cold War

At the close of World War II the Allies had divided defeated Germany into four zones. Military troops from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union each occupied one zone. The three Western powers soon allowed their zones to act as one economic and political unit; these three zones became known as West Germany. The Soviets placed their zone under a communist political system, and that zone became known as East Germany. Officials in West Germany and those in East Germany did little to cooperate with each other, and attempts to negotiate a peace treaty acceptable to all four powers failed. As a result, Germany would remain divided for almost half a century. West Germany and East Germany would become the focal point of the power struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Marshall Plan

In January 1947, George C. Marshall (1880–1959) replaced James Byrnes (1879–1972) as U.S. secretary of state. Marshall announced that the U.S. military would stay in Europe to ensure that the economic reconstruction of West Germany was successful. U.S. officials hoped that a revitalized democratic and capitalist West Germany would prevent Soviet expansion toward Western Europe.

As Soviet influence expanded into Eastern Europe, communist parties were also gaining popularity in France and Italy. Postwar economic conditions were poor in these countries. During the war years, factories had been destroyed, agricultural lands ravaged, and millions of families displaced. Some poverty-stricken people looked to the communists to improve their living conditions, and with its economies in danger of collapsing, Western Europe was ripe for communist intervention. During a visit to Europe in April 1947, Secretary of State Marshall was struck by the dire conditions he saw. Europe was facing critical food and fuel shortages and increasing monetary inflation (increasing consumer prices). He was convinced the United States had to act to save Western Europe from economic and political collapse.

On June 5 in a speech at Harvard University, Marshall announced a massive new U.S. plan to promote Europe's economic recovery from the war. The plan was to be made available to all nations, even those under communist control. Later in June, leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union met to examine the proposed plan. After reading the details of the plan and listening to discussions, the Soviets became alarmed; they felt that the plan put too much emphasis on capitalist values. They abruptly withdrew from further discussions on July 2 and pressured Eastern European countries under their influence to refuse the plan as well. The Soviets charged that the plan would undermine their national independence and that it was primarily a means to spread capitalism. (Indeed, U.S. business and corporate interests were a prominent consideration in shaping the Marshall Plan; one of the goals of the plan was to establish foreign markets for U.S. goods and ensure access to needed raw materials found in Europe.) Other European nations met in Paris, France, later in July to consider the Marshall Plan, and by early fall the plan was adopted. Though more formally named the European Recovery Program for Western Europe, it was still referred to as the Marshall Plan.

Before the Marshall Plan could go into action, the American public and Congress had to support the expensive financial aid package. In December 1947, President Truman requested $17 billion from Congress for the program. Congressional debate over the proposal carried on for weeks. Then in February 1948, a communist takeover in Czechoslovakia caused great alarm. Czechoslovakia had been the last democracy in Eastern Europe; its collapse heightened fears about the political stability of Europe. A new presidential advisory group called the National Security Council (NSC) issued a report, NSC-20, concluding that the goal of the Soviet Union was world domination. The report stated that the United States and its allies needed to stop or at least reduce Soviet influence. Another report, NSC-30, advocated the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to further communist expansion. This was a bold new strategy for the United States—an aggressive foreign policy that used the threat of force to influence other nations.

After the fall of the democratic Czech government and the release of the NSC reports, Congress passed the Marshall Plan. Passage of the plan essentially divided Europe economically: The Eastern half kept its communist economic principles, and the Western half accepted capitalist support from the United States. The Marshall Plan would provide over $12 billion by 1952 to help maintain political stability in western Europe, and the United States continued to support a large foreign aid program through the second half of the twentieth century.

The Molotov Plan

In reaction to the Marshall Plan, the Soviets held a meeting with Eastern European nations in September 1947

and formed the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) to create a tighter bond between the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states (countries politically and economically controlled by the Soviets). Cominform's primary mission was to combat the spread of American capitalism and imperialism, the process of expanding the authority of one government over other nations and groups of people. On October 5, the Soviets announced their own economic assistance plan for Eastern Europe, called the Molotov Plan. The plan was named after Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav M. Molotov (1890–1986). It consisted of a series of trade agreements between the Soviet Union and the eastern European countries.

In January 1949, the Soviets enhanced the agreements of the Molotov Plan by creating the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), which more closely tied Eastern European economies to the Soviet economy. Each country was to specialize in the production of particular kinds of products or crops. The council included the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and the Communist parties of France and Italy.

National Security Act

When the Soviets rejected the proposed Marshall Plan in the summer of 1947, U.S. concerns over Soviet intentions escalated. These concerns led Congress to pass the National Security Act, which President Truman signed into law on July 26,1947. The act, which had been intensely debated for two years, brought major changes to the federal government. It created the National Security Council within the executive branch to advise the president on national security policy. It also created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to gather and interpret the meaning of information on foreign activities. The CIA was also designed to carry out secret foreign operations.

A 1949 amendment to the act created the Department of Defense, which united all the U.S. armed services. The new department was headquartered in the Pentagon building, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Some consider the National Security Act one of the most important pieces of U.S. legislation of the Cold War period.


In July 1947, Truman administration policy analyst George Kennan (1904–), using the pseudonym "X," published a highly influential article, entitled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," in the journal Foreign Affairs. In the article, Kennan outlined a foreign policy strategy to block further communist expansion: The United States was to contain Soviet expansion through economic, military, and political means. Economic aid would be offered to countries that might be vulnerable to communist influence because of poverty and lack of jobs. The U.S. military would respond in areas where noncommunist forces might be threatening to undermine a communist government. Political containment included efforts to cause friction between the Soviet Union and other communist countries, such as China. The idea of containment continued to take shape over the next few years, and until 1953 containment was America's primary foreign policy strategy. The goal was to limit the Soviet Union's activity outside its existing sphere of influence and counter other communist threats of expansion around the world.

Rio Pact—OAS

The United States turned its attention to Latin America at this time as well. The United States had long desired to keep foreign influence and intervention out of Latin America. In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was established, declaring that the United States would not tolerate interference from European nations in North and South America. The fear of global communist expansion in the late 1940s renewed this desire to guard against what were considered outside influences. In September 1947, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, U.S. diplomats met with representatives from nineteen Latin American countries and signed an agreement called the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. More commonly known as the Rio Pact, this agreement established a security zone around North and South America. The alliance guarded against the potential growth and expansion of communism. The U.S. Senate approved the treaty on December 8, but some Latin Americans were dismayed that the agreement did not include economic assistance as the Marshall Plan had for western Europe.

The Western Hemisphere nations met again in April 1948, this time in Bogotá, Colombia. Building on the Rio Pact, representatives established the Organization of American States (OAS), which sought to maintain political stability in the region by providing a means to resolve disputes. The OAS went into effect in December 1951.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

Western Europe did not have a postwar military agreement with the United States. The Marshall Plan primarily addressed political and economic issues. Financially weakened by World War II, Western Europe felt highly vulnerable to future attack; the Soviet Union had the strongest military in the region. Western Europeans wanted the United States, with its atomic bomb capabilities, to ensure their security. However, the United States had a history of isolationism, that is, not entering into formal agreements or alliances that might require U.S. military support in foreign wars. After World War II, the American public was in a mood for peace and retreat from European affairs. Initially Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg formed the Western European Union (WEU), or Brussels Pact, for mutual military assistance. However, the WEU alone could not act as a serious deterrent to a potential Soviet attack; the alliance remained weak without the United States. Seeing this, President Truman began to lobby Congress for support of U.S. entry into a European alliance.

A couple of key events in 1948 helped Truman get the support he needed for joining Western Europe in a military alliance. Early in the year, the communist coup d'état, a sudden change in government leadership by violent force, in Czechoslovakia convinced the American public and Congress that the Soviets were a real threat. Then, that summer, Berlin became the stage for further conflict. Like the whole of Germany, Berlin had been divided into sectors after World War II. West Berlin included three sectors; the United States, Great Britain, and France each occupied one sector. The East Berlin sector was occupied by the Soviet Union. The divided city was located deep within East Germany, the Soviet-controlled portion of the country. Hoping to force the Western powers out of Berlin, the Soviets blocked transportation routes running through East Germany so that the western sectors of the city could not receive supplies. The blockade lasted until May 1949. It took a massive airlift of supplies, which went on for almost a year, to break the blockade. Forced to confront the Soviet threat in this situation, Americans realized they could not remain uninvolved in European affairs. Truman soon received congressional go-ahead to negotiate an alliance with western Europe.

On April 4, 1949, Truman and other Western leaders signed the North Atlantic Treaty. The new alliance, called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), included twelve nations—the United States, the five WEU nations, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Portugal, and Italy. The Senate approved the treaty in July. Article 5 of the treaty stated that an attack on any one of the member nations would be considered an attack on all members; U.S. military assistance in Europe was thus ensured. The treaty was the first peacetime alliance for the United States since its treaty with France in the late eighteenth century. The United States was now the global military leader, and NATO would be key in the attempt to contain communism.

While forming NATO, the allies also decided to make the occupied west German area into a new nation; the Federal Republic of Germany came into being on September 21,1949. On October 7, the Soviets responded by creating the German Democratic Republic from their east German occupation zone. (The countries were still more commonly known as West Germany and East Germany.) The division of Germany between East and West was complete. The official boundary was the line where the communist East and democratic West stood face-to-face amid Cold War tensions, neither backing down. With the formation of NATO, the West had a military defense alliance in place and an organization that clearly increased Soviet fears of an attack by the West.

Communist expansion in the Far East

For centuries, a vast Chinese empire existed in the Far East. However, China's influence began to decline through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the expansion of European influence. By 1911, a revolution had brought an end to the empire and replaced it with economic and political instability. However, by 1928 the United States had officially recognized the new Chinese government. In the early 1930s, civil war broke out in China. The Nationalists (Kuomintang) were led by Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975), who had ruled China since the 1920s. Nationalism refers to the strong loyalty of a person or group to its own country. The Chinese Nationalists wanted to once again raise the world prominence of China. Challenging the Nationalists were communist

forces led by Mao Zedong (1893–1976). The communist forces were largely composed of peasants in agricultural areas; their strength was in northeastern China.

When Japan invaded China in 1937, the two Chinese leaders called a truce and together turned their attention to halting Japanese aggression. But when Japan surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, ending World War II, China's civil war resumed. In the United States, Chinese Nationalist supporters

known as the China Lobby tried to gain active U.S. support for Chiang, and they wielded a good deal of influence. Yet President Truman was hesitant to provide much help, in part because of the poor support the Nationalists received within China. He also knew that Chiang had a reputation for corruption and oppression. On the other hand, Truman knew Mao represented a threat: Despite major philosophical differences between Mao and Soviet leader Stalin, U.S. officials considered Mao a puppet (a leader who is controlled or influenced by outside forces) of the Soviet communists. Taking all of this into consideration, Truman agreed to send some U.S. troops and limited economic aid to help Chiang and the Nationalists. Perhaps in reaction to this U.S. aid, Stalin began providing support to Mao's communist forces.

In November 1945, Truman decided to send former U.S. Army chief of staff George Marshall to China to work out a settlement between the Nationalist and communist factions. Meanwhile, the Soviets withdrew their military forces

in May 1946. In July, the Nationalists began an ill-fated military offensive against Mao's forces in northern China. Marshall worked to resolve the conflict but with little success. By the end of 1946, he concluded that no prospect for a peaceful settlement existed. The Nationalist military offensive soon lost strength, and the Communist forces began what would be a victorious counteroffensive.

Mao's communist forces swept southward through China in 1948. In January 1949, Chiang pleaded for military assistance from both the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets asked Mao to stop his offensive and seek a settlement, but Mao's forces pushed on. In the fall of 1949, the Nationalists fled Mainland China and went to the island of Formosa. They renamed the island Taiwan and established the Republic of China (ROC). Mao proclaimed communist rule over Mainland China on October 1 and established the People's Republic of China (PRC). The Soviets recognized the PRC government the following day, while the United States, under continued pressure from the China Lobby, recognized the ROC as the official government of China. However, in January 1950, Truman announced that the United States would not take action to challenge communist control of Mainland China. Feeling nonetheless spurned by the lack of U.S. recognition, Mao adopted a strong anti-American foreign policy and seized U.S. diplomatic property. On February 14, 1950, PRC and Soviet leaders signed the Sino-Soviet Treaty (the term Sino means Chinese), and Stalin promised communist China their full support as well as $300 million in loans.

Japan and Indochina

During the late 1940s, after Japan's surrender in World War II, General Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964), commander of the U.S. Army, guided a political, economic, and social revolution in Japan. A new Japanese constitution was partly written by Americans. The United States was helping rebuild Japan's industrial base, which had been destroyed during the war. After the communist victory in China in 1949, Japan became an important base for American military operations in the West Pacific.

Also in the late 1940s a communist liberation movement in Vietnam was escalating. Vietnam is part of Indochina, a region of Southeast Asia extending south from the southern border of China. Indochina also includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and West Malaysia. France had established colonies throughout Indochina, which is rich in resources such as rubber and rice. Japanese forces overran the area during World War II, but the French returned after the war to reassert their rule. Led by Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969), the communist Vietminh army battled against French control. Ho Chi Minh had received military training in the Soviet Union in 1946. He quickly moved into Vietnam after the Japanese departure and proclaimed establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. War between the Vietminh and French forces broke out in November 1946. In January 1950, China and the Soviet Union extended diplomatic recognition to Ho Chi Minh's government. In opposition to this communist challenge, the United States affirmed its support of French colonial rule.

The Red Scare

The world events of 1948 and 1949 caused great alarm in America. With the communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet blockade of West Berlin, the communist victory in China, and communist advances in Indochina, it appeared that a massive wave of communism was engulfing the world and would soon encircle the United States. The socalled Red Scare was occurring in the United States. (Red is a synonym for communist.)

On August 29, 1949, the Soviets successfully tested an atomic bomb for the first time, further heightening American fears. The world was stunned by the Soviets' rapid atomic development. American experts immediately suspected theft of U.S. nuclear secrets, and in fact, nuclear secrets were being transmitted to Soviet agents by spies at the U.S. atomic bomb laboratory in New Mexico. As a result, the United States no longer had a monopoly on atomic weapons, which meant it no longer had a deterrent to potential Soviet aggression. In the months following the Soviet test, American scientists and politicians debated the development of a hydrogen bomb (H-bomb) based on nuclear fusion; this type of bomb would be even more powerful than the atomic bomb. By late January 1950, Truman decided to build the hydrogen bomb in addition to smaller-scale, tactical atomic weapons. The Soviets had already chosen to develop an H-bomb as well. The race to produce more powerful nuclear weapons in greater numbers led to the most dramatic example of the Cold War deadlock: The Soviet Union and the United States faced the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation if either country dared to defy the other.

With fear of the Soviets running high in the United States, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (1908–1957) of Wisconsin dramatically pronounced in February 1950 that hundreds of communists were employed in the U.S. State Department. Since he took office in 1947, McCarthy's senatorial career had largely been uneventful and ineffective; his often rude behavior branded him a troublemaker. When he adopted the anticommunism campaign, however, McCarthy instantly became a national figure in Cold War politics. He steadily became more outrageous in his charges, often claiming to have lists of communist sympathizers but then failing to show proof. Even so, he was feared by many, because in this atmosphere of anti-Soviet hysteria, the mere suggestion of having communist ties could seriously damage a person's reputation. Hundreds of college professors, actors, filmmakers, and teachers who were suspected to be communist sympathizers appeared in congressional hearings in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Many lost their jobs. McCarthy even questioned the allegiance of Secretary of Defense George Marshall in June 1951 before the Senate. McCarthy's activities gained him a place in the dictionary: The term "McCarthyism" refers to the suspicion, hostility, and often groundless accusations that were directed at U.S. citizens who held nonmainstream political beliefs in the mid-twentieth century.

Other politicians besides McCarthy, who won reelection in 1952, benefited from the charged political climate. Future U.S. vice president and president Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) won his first political election in 1946, becoming a congressman for California, by naming his opponent, Jerry Voorhis (1901–1984), as a communist sympathizer. Nixon then became nationally known after successfully seeking the conviction of Alger Hiss (1904–1996) for passing secret documents to the Soviets. Hiss, a former official of the U.S. State Department, denied the charge. However, he was never able to clear his name, because the American public, spurred on by news stories and Senator McCarthy's example, had become obsessed with the possibility of communist subversion within the United States.

A plan for security: NSC-68

In January 1950, with the Red Scare running high, Paul H. Nitze (1907–), head of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department, assembled a team of administration officials to write a top-secret report that would offer a new strategy for U.S. foreign policy. Completed in April and known as National Security Council Document 68, or NSC-68, it outlined a plan for keeping Soviet influence contained within its existing areas. The strategy would require dramatic increases in military spending, unprecedented for the United States in peacetime. NSC-68 proposed to increase the military budget from less than $14 billion a year to $50 billion a year. Nitze contended that the United States needed to be prepared to respond to a surprise attack from the Soviets at any point in the world at any time and be ready to address communist efforts in Southeast Asia. However, Truman and the Republican-controlled Congress were not prepared to launch into such substantial deficit spending. (Deficit spending is when the government spends more money than it receives into the treasury, which causes the country to go into debt.) The secret report was shelved, but only briefly.

Korean War (1950–53)

The proposals in NSC-68 were adopted only weeks after Congress originally rejected them. An invasion of South Korea carried out by Soviet-supported North Korean troops meant that the United States would have to substantially increase its military spending to contain this new communist threat. Prior to World War II, Korea was a province of Japan, though the Soviets and the Chinese both tried to gain the territory for themselves. The United States had little interest in the region. After Japan's World War II defeat in August 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States divided Korea into two parts at the thirty-eighth parallel. The North, under Soviet influence, operated under a communist system of politics and economics. The South came under the influence of the democratic United States. The North had been well armed during Soviet occupation; the United States had done little to bolster forces in the South. National elections and UN actions failed to reunify the country, so the divisions were formalized: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was established in the North and led by communist Kim Il Sung (1912–1994); the Republic of Korea (ROK) was established in the South and led by Syngman Rhee (1875–1965), who had lived in the United States for over thirty years. When Soviet and U.S. forces pulled out of the region in June 1949, Kim and Rhee both claimed leadership over the whole of Korea, and limited military skirmishes grew more frequent.

Early in 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1893–1971) commented that Korea lay outside the U.S. perimeter of defense. This remark, coupled with the fact that the United States had not attempted to reinstate former Chinese Nationalist president Chiang Kai-shek in Mainland China, convinced the Soviets and North Korea that the United States would not give South Korea military support in the event of a war. Thus, North Korean communist leader Kim Il Sung, possibly with Soviet approval, boldly launched a surprise military assault on South Korea on June 25, 1950. Invoking the strategies offered in NSC-68, Truman quickly determined it was in America's best interest to respond to the assault. Korea became a symbolic test of the U.S. policy to confront communist expansion worldwide, rather than in Europe or with the Soviet Union directly. Korea was also the first hot spot in the Cold War.

The United States did not have any treaty or alliance with South Korea that would justify a military response to the North Korean attack. Therefore, Truman went to the UN on the day of the attack to recommend a Security Council resolution condemning North Korean aggression. The council passed the resolution that day and two days later voted to assist South Korea in fighting off the attack. Ironically, the Soviet Union was caught off guard. The Soviets had been boycotting the UN in protest over the UN rejection of membership for the People's Republic of China. Therefore, no Soviet representatives were present to veto the resolution. Eventually sixteen nations provided troops to fight the communist North, but the United States was by far the major contributor, providing key air and naval support.

On June 27, Truman authorized the use of U.S. naval and air forces on behalf of the UN and on June 30 the use of U.S. ground forces. American troops were sent to participate in a "police action," the term used to describe this undeclared war. Truman thought an official congressional declaration of war could potentially escalate the conflict. The North Korean troops had quickly pushed south, trapping South Korean forces. However, on September 15, 1950, UN forces under the command of General MacArthur of the U.S. Army made a spectacular counterattack by an amphibious (water) landing on the west coast of South Korea at Inchon. UN forces landed behind enemy lines, cutting North Korean forces in half and sending North Korean troops on a hasty retreat, back across the thirty-eighth parallel.

The U.S. strategy soon changed from defending South Korea to defeating the North Korean Communist government. MacArthur led the UN forces into North Korea and pushed all the way to the Yalu River, along the border of China. The Chinese considered this action a direct threat to China's security, but MacArthur did not take warnings from China seriously. So with a force of more than two hundred thousand troops, China attacked, driving into North Korea on November 25 and pushing MacArthur back south, below the thirty-eighth parallel. MacArthur, who had earlier advised Truman that China would not become involved, insisted that the United States needed to retaliate and attack China, perhaps with nuclear weapons. But Truman resisted the idea and ended up firing MacArthur on April 11, 1951. It was a highly unpopular move, demonstrated by MacArthur's return from Korea a hero, which included a parade in New York City and a speech in front of Congress. MacArthur continued to be an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy during the final two years of Truman's administration.

UN forces launched another counterattack, slowly pushing the Chinese troops back north, and reached the thirty-eighth parallel once again by early spring 1951. Truman entered peace negotiations with China on July 10, 1951. However, fighting would go on for another two years as the peace talks continued. By the fall of 1952, the American public was tired of the war and wanted a change in national leadership: The Democrats had been in control in the United States since 1933. Republicans who favored a policy of isolationism nominated U.S. senator Robert A. Taft (1889–1953) of Ohio to be the party's presidential candidate, but internationalist Republicans, or those who favored a policy of cooperation among nations, drafted retired U.S. general Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) to run. Eisenhower, also known as "Ike," was a popular figure who had served as supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II, leading the Allies to victory over Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler (1889–1945). Eisenhower won the Republican nomination and defeated the Democratic candidate, Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson (1900–1965), in the presidential election. When Eisenhower moved into the White House in January 1953, he mentioned using nuclear weapons as a possibility to ending the Korean War. An armistice agreement, or truce, was finally signed in June 1953, leaving the boundary between North Korea and South Korea the same as before the war. Over 54,000 Americans and 3.6 million Koreans had been killed, yet little had been gained. One million Chinese also were killed or wounded, including Mao's son. Some forty thousand U.S. troops stayed in South Korea following the armistice, and the U.S. military would remain there for the rest of the twentieth century.

Implications of the Korean War era

In response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea and other events between 1948 and 1950, U.S. defense spending dramatically increased. The North Korean invasion had confirmed the need to adopt the strategies of NSC-68. The United States began a massive military buildup to be ready to counter any possible communist aggression. The number of U.S. military personnel rose from less than 1.5 million in 1950 to over 3.5 million by 1954; the number of

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personnel stationed in foreign countries rose from 280,000 to almost a million.

Congress adopted a plan to provide technical assistance to less developed regions, including Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Called the Point Four Program, the plan was designed to fight the spread of communism in impoverished Third World, or underdeveloped, countries. The United States set aside almost $35 million for this program in 1950, and the amount would rise to over $155 million by 1953. The program provided assistance for health care, farming, irrigation, and transportation in locations such as India, Paraguay, Iran, and Liberia.

Intent on building a line of defense against communist expansion in the Far East, the United States increased aid in the region. Truman extended aid to the island of Taiwan, the adopted home of Chinese Nationalists. Taiwan would become part of a defense chain of islands in the western Pacific. Truman sent the powerful Seventh Fleet to patrol the Taiwan Strait and protect against any possible attacks by the People's Republic of China. Truman also approved military aid to France for their fight against communists in Indochina (this approval came on June 27, 1950, two days after the initial North Korean attack on South Korea). In June 1952, Truman secretly adopted a policy that the United States would hit key targets in Mainland China if the Chinese communists invaded Indochina. In addition, the United States signed a peace treaty and security pact with Japan in September 1951, restoring Japan's national sovereignty, meaning it could once again make decisions without the oversight of the United States and other occupational forces established at the end of World War II, and guaranteeing U.S. defense of Japan. (U.S. occupation of Japan ended on April 28, 1952.) The United States also established an alliance with Australia and New Zealand, known as the ANZUS Pact, and a defense agreement with the Philippines. The United States thus formed a defensive chain of allies running from north to south in the western Pacific.

The invasion of South Korea by communist forces led to U.S. fears that similar attacks could happen in Europe. The United States decided to rearm West Germany (disarmament had been part of the World War II peace treaty) and send more American troops there to provide a stronger defense against any likely Soviet aggression. The United States increased economic aid to Western Europe from $5.3 billion in 1950 to over $8 billion in 1951, and in January 1951 Congress approved an expansion of NATO. (Greece joined NATO in 1951; Turkey, in 1952; West Germany, in 1955.) The United States also extended diplomatic relations to Spain and Yugoslavia.

As NATO membership grew and the United States built alliances in the Far East, Stalin increased the size of his army from 2.8 million in 1948 to 5 million in 1953. The over-whelming strength of the Soviet army ensured the allegiance of the Soviet satellite nations, which extended from the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) to the Balkan States (countries along the Balkan Peninsula of southeast Europe). The Soviets closely controlled the politics and economies of most Eastern European nations. The Soviet Union also increased economic and military aid to the People's Republic of China, its communist partner in the Far East.

Some historians consider the Truman-Stalin era of 1945 to 1953 the most intense period of global rivalry. But a new direction was taking shape. When Eisenhower was inaugurated in January 1953, he became the first Republican president in America in twenty years. The Soviet Union experienced an even more dramatic change in leadership: On March 5, Joseph Stalin died; a two-year power struggle between Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) and Georgy Malenkov (1902–1988) followed, with Khrushchev ultimately winning out. With new leadership in both the United States and the Soviet Union, a new era of the Cold War would begin.

For More Information


Cook, Don. Forging the Alliance: NATO, 1945–1950. London: Secker and Warburg, 1989.

Feis, Herbert. From Trust to Terror: The Onset of the Cold War, 1945–1950. New York: Norton, 1970.

Gimbel, John. The Origins of the Marshall Plan. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1976.

Goncharov, Serge N., John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai. Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.

Grasso, June M. Harry Truman's Two-China Policy, 1948–1950. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1987.

Hogan, Michael J. The Marshall Plan: America, Britain, and the Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1947–1952. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Kaplan, Lawrence S. The United States and NATO: The Formative Years. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984.

Kaufman, Burton I. The Korean War: Challenges in Crisis, Credibility, and Command. New York: Knopf, 1986.

McCullough, David G. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Miscamble, Wilson D. George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947–1950. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Stueck, William W., Jr. Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Talbott, Strobe. The Master of the Game: Paul Nitze and the Nuclear Peace. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Web Sites

"The Cold War International History Project." Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. (accessed on July 8, 2003).

United States of America Korean War Commemoration. (accessed on July 8, 2003).

Words to Know

Capitalism: An economic system in which property and businesses are privately owned. Prices, production, and distribution of goods are determined by competition in a market relatively free of government intervention.

Cold War: A prolonged conflict for world dominance from 1945 to 1991 between the two superpowers, the democratic, capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. The weapons of conflict were commonly words of propaganda and threats.

Communism: A system of government in which the nation's leaders are selected by a single political party that controls almost all aspects of society. Private ownership of property is eliminated and government directs all economic production. The goods produced and accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all. All religious practices are banned.

Containment: A key U.S. Cold War policy to restrict the territorial growth of communist rule.

Isolationism: A policy of avoiding official agreements with other nations in order to remain neutral.

Korean War (1950–53): A conflict that began when North Korean communist troops crossed the thirty-eighth parallel into South Korea.

Marshall Plan: A massive U.S. plan to promote Europe's economic recovery from the war; officially known as the European Recovery Program for Western Europe, it was made available to all nations, though the communist regime rejected it.

Molotov Plan: A Soviet series of trade agreements—made after the rejection of the Marshall Plan—designed to provide economic assistance to eastern European countries.

National Security Act: An act that created the National Security Council, which advised the president on national security policy.

National Security Council Document 68, or NSC-68: A plan for keeping Soviet influence contained within its existing areas; the strategy required dramatic increases in U.S. military spending.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): A peacetime alliance of the United States and eleven other nations, and a key factor in the attempt to contain communism; the pact meant that the United States became the undisputed global military leader.

People to Know

Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975): Ruler of China's Nationalist (Kuomintang) party, 1943–49.

George Kennan (1904–): Long-time U.S. Cold War advisor.

Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964): Supreme commander of occupational forces in Japan, 1945–51, and of the UN forces in Korea, 1950–51.

Mao Zedong (1893–1976): Chairman of the People's Republic of China and its Communist Party, 1949–76.

George C. Marshall (1880–1959): U.S. secretary of state, 1947–49; secretary of defense, 1950–51.

Joseph R. McCarthy (1908–1957): U.S. senator from Wisconsin, 1947–57; adopted an anticommunism campaign and became a national figure in Cold War politics.

Joseph Stalin (1879–1953): Dictatorial Russian/Soviet leader, 1924–53.

Harry S. Truman (1884–1972): Thirty-third U.S. president, 1945–53.

The Communist Coup in Czechoslovakia

Edvard Beneš (1884–1948) was president of Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1938. In 1938, Germany annexed Czechoslovakia, and Beneš left the country. He then taught briefly in the United States and spent time in France before moving to London. At the same time, Klement Gottwald (1896–1953), a prominent member of the Czech Communist Party, also fled German rule, going to Moscow. In London, Beneš formed the Czech National Committee. The Western allies recognized this committee as the official provisional (temporary) government of Czechoslovakia while Germany occupied that country. In 1943, Beneš gained Soviet support by signing with them a pact that would help deal with a postwar Czechoslovakia.

When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, resulting in the defeat of the German Nazi government, Beneš returned to the Czech capital of Prague and resumed his role as president of the Czech government. The communist Gottwald also returned. Facing pressure from the Soviet communists, Beneš first named Gottwald deputy premier in the newly reestablished government; Gottwald became premier in 1946. Gottwald also assumed leadership of the Czech Communist Party. Beneš mistakenly believed he had the support of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to participate in the Marshall Plan, the U.S. program of financial assistance for war-torn European nations. However, Beneš came under intense criticism for his attempts to participate in the plan, and by

late 1947 Gottwald began planning a coup to overthrow Beneš. In February 1948, Gottwald launched his coup, first gaining control of the Czech militia, police, and other agencies. By June 7, Beneš retired from public life, and Gottwald became the new president. Gottwald formed a close alliance with Stalin and instituted a harsh communist rule that led to the arrest and execution of many leading Czech officials.

Czechoslovakia was Western Europe's next-door neighbor; it had been the last democracy in Eastern Europe. Therefore, when it fell to communism, Western European and American fears intensified: The threat of communist world domination seemed one step closer to becoming a reality.

Yugoslavia: Communist but Independent

As World War II came to a close, the Communist Party gained control of many parts of Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia. However, unlike the other countries coming under Soviet influence, Yugoslavia maintained some independence, much to the disfavor of the Soviets. This unusual development—an independent communist nation—can be largely attributed to the strong personality of Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980). Tito, a Communist Party leader, had exceptional leadership qualities and directed Yugoslavia without Soviet assistance. It was no small accomplishment bringing together such ethnically diverse provinces as Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but Tito succeeded in doing just that.

Tito became an internationally known figure, and this status enhanced his independence from the Soviets. At first, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin respected Tito's achievements and did not pressure Yugoslavia into strict obedience of Soviet rule as he did with other Eastern European countries. But by early 1948, tension built between Moscow and Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia. Stalin had grown tired of Yugoslavia's independence. On June 28, four days after beginning the West Berlin blockade, the Soviet Union evicted Yugoslavia

from the community of communist states and demanded that other Soviet satellites break their ties with Yugoslavia as well. The Soviets essentially established an economic blockade against Yugoslavia, just as they had against West Berlin. By the fall of 1949, economic conditions inside Yugoslavia were deteriorating. Somewhat reluctantly, Yugoslavia negotiated a trade agreement with the United States. While remaining an independent communist state, Yugoslavia would ultimately receive $150 million of aid from the United States. It maintained its unique standing in Europe throughout the Cold War.