Korean War (1950–1953)

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Korean War (1950–1953)


Red Menace

The Red Menace, also known as the Red Scare, refers to the fear of the spread of Communism throughout the United States and the world. This anticommunist feeling, which has roots in the 1917 Russian Revolution, bloomed after World War I and World War II, causing two distinct Red Scares. Though each had its own defining characteristics, both anticommunist crusades led to the passage of anticommunist legislation, the large-scale deportation of immigrants suspected of being Communists, and the active involvement of the attorney general’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in locating subversives. Several events leading up to the Korean War (also referred to as the Korean Conflict, since the United States never formally declared war) persuaded Americans that Communism posed a genuine threat to domestic security. Speeches by Winston Churchill (1874–1965) and Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) in 1946, a 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet explosion of an atomic bomb, and the rise of Communism in China in 1949, and the sensational trials of American Communists throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s caused America’s fear of Communism to evolve into the antiradical crusade that led to McCarthyism and the Cold War.

Persuasive Speeches

Before 1945, anticommunist activists and ideologues tended to inhabit the fringes of American politics. In the immediate postwar years, anticommunist thinking gained legitimacy, which brought activists closer to the mainstream. Two powerfully galvanizing 1946 speeches helped make this change a reality. Winston Churchill gave the most famous of these speeches on March 5 to an assemblage at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, after receiving an honorary degree. In it, Churchill warned, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” The legendary statesman and orator was referring to developments leading to the mobilization of anticommunist sentiment: Stalin’s refusal to allow free elections in Poland and other Eastern European countries and the subsequent realization that he intended to use the Red Army to install Communist regimes in those countries. Churchill’s landmark “Iron Curtain” speech is considered by many to be the beginning of the Cold War.

A month before Churchill delivered his speech, Joseph Stalin gave his own during the Russian elections. In it, he suggested that conflict between the East and West was inevitable and that reconciliation between the two sides was impossible. The speech revealed his own hardening attitude against Western powers and hinted at the complete collapse of Russia’s fragile wartime unity with the United States. Americans took the speech as a threat.

The Truman Doctrine

The growing strength of American anticommunism deepened as a result of the Truman Doctrine. The decision, announced before a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, was triggered by Great Britain’s inability to support Greece and Turkey in their fight against Communist insurgents during the crisis of the Greek Civil War. The nation turned to President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) for help. Truman responded by making the containment of Communism official United States policy, saying, “The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world—and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.”

Communism Abroad

In 1949, the United States was shocked by the “loss” of China to Mao Zedong’s (1893–1976) Communist Red Army. The culmination of over twenty years of civil and international war—the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949,—seemed to confirm the Kremlin’s threat of Communist world domination. The threat had already been advanced on August 29, 1949, the day the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb. Once a remote hypothesis, World War III now appeared to be an imminent reality. Beyond the challenge of war, tangible proof of the success of the Soviet atomic bomb project banished any lingering sense of omnipotence from the American mind. No longer certain of its technological superiority, the United States was for the first time forced to recognize the Soviet Union as a possible military equal. This disquieting realization launched the country into a national obsession with anticommunism.

Communism at Home

The fear of international Soviet expansion and the spread of its ideology inspired Americans to become fixated on a supposed Communist “fifth column” that threatened to destroy the United States from within. The term “fifth column” was first used in the Spanish Civil War and refers to a group within a state that attempts to subvert and weaken the state. The dangers of external expansion and internal subversion, though real, were highly exaggerated in 1949 and 1950. Newspaper headlines reporting the sensational confessions, revelations, and trials of accused radicals only bolstered domestic fears. The confessions of former Communists were especially influential. One Communist-turned-confessor, Elizabeth Bentley (1908–1963), admitted to playing a pivotal role in a Washington, D.C., spy ring during World War II. After claiming responsibility for passing classified documents to the Soviets, she was labeled “the spy queen” by the press. Her 1951 autobiography, Out of Bondage, became a best seller and helped to shape the public’s perception of the Red Menace.

Whittaker Chambers (1901–1961) was revealed to be the era’s most significant apostate. Chambers accused former State Department employee Alger Hiss (1904–1996) of spying for the Soviet Union and backed up his accusation with evidence he provided to the FBI, among other agencies. A New York grand jury indicted Hiss on charges of perjury. His trial blurred the line between radical activism and espionage. It also united conservatives, split liberals, polarized public opinion, and became a defining moment in Cold War history. Americans who believed in a vast domestic Communist conspiracy felt their worst suspicions were confirmed when Hiss was found guilty in January 1950.

United States election results in 1946 and 1950 revealed the impact of the era’s anticommunism climate. In 1946, the Republicans, who made Communism a major campaign issue, won control of both houses for the first time since 1933. In 1950, anticommunism rhetoric was even more explicit. This time around, Republicans accused Democrats of being soft on Communism. Public opinion polls in 1947 revealed that 61 percent of Americans supported a legal ban on the Communist Party. Just one year later, 77 percent believed that Communists should be required to register their political status with the government.

Major Figures

Chiang Kai-shek

Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975) was the head of the Chinese Nationalist Party from 1926 to 1975. He was born in Zhejiang, China, to a Qikou village salt merchant father and educated mother. Chiang showed signs of his future ambitions as a small child when he played war games with the neighborhood children. Young Chiang always appointed himself commanding general and gave orders to his friends. At the age of five, Chiang began receiving lessons from a Confucian tutor. The austere teachings left a lasting imprint on his personality. In 1901, when Chiang was fourteen, he married seventeen-year-old Mao Fumei in a union his parents arranged. In 1908, Fumei gave birth to Chiang’s first child, Chiang Ching-kuo.

Chiang’s teenage years dovetailed with the final, cruel years of the Manchu Dynasty. Angered by the poverty and weakness of his country, Chiang, like many other Chinese youths of the time, resolved to do something to change it. He decided to become a revolutionary and began by lopping off his queue, the long ponytail that symbolized loyalty to the dynasty. In 1906, Chiang began his military education at the Baoding Military Academy. From 1907 to 1913, he attended the Preparatory Academy in Tokyo, Japan. In 1908, he met Dr. Sun Yat-sen, an American-educated agitator responsible for launching seven failed attempts at revolution. In 1913, Chiang returned to China where Yat-sen was devising a plan to overthrow the country’s new leader, Yüan Shih-k’ai.

Kuomintang (KMT)

The Kuomintang (KMT), or Chinese Nationalist Party, was created in 1912. It grew out of a body of political parties that emerged during the 1911 revolution to topple the Manchu Dynasty. As a division commander of Sun Yat-sen’s wing of the KMT, Chiang was responsible for assisting Sun with his revolutionary activities. During this time, Chiang earned a reputation for being impulsive and temperamental. He threatened to quit on several occasions, usually when Sun did not heed his advice.

In early 1923, after failing to secure military and financial aid from the West, Sun allied the KMT with the Soviet Union. That August, Sun sent Chiang to Moscow to obtain arms and study military organization. Chiang, suspicious of the Communists, warned Sun about the Soviet’s “sinister designs.” Instead of heeding Chiang’s warning, Sun allowed members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to join the KMT. In 1924, the KMT opened the Whampoa Military Academy, a military school designed to train officers for the next revolution. Because of his abilities as leader of the National Revolution Army (NRA), Chiang Kai-shek, was appointed its commandant. The Whampoa Military Academy boasted a staff that included future officers of both the nationalist and communist armies.

In 1925, Sun Yat-sen died. A yearlong crisis of succession followed. Chiang was not a front-runner in the contest to fill the vacant position of head of the KMT. He was considered too young. But in March 1926, he appealed to the anticommunist faction as they sought to curtail the growing communist strength of the party. Despite his age, the party chairman ruled in his favor. Chiang Kai-shek would control Chinese politics for the next twenty-three years.

The Northern Expedition

Between 1926 and 1928, Chiang led his NRA on an ambitious drive north to defeat warlord armies that oppressively ruled various sections of China as independent kingdoms. Chiang’s goal in this Northern Expedition was to unite China under KMT rule. His victories were swift and decisive. The NRA began with 100,000 troops in July 1926, but by November it had 264,000. The NRA was popular with the masses, but the increased troop count had as much to do with warlords deciding to join Chiang rather than fight him. When the expedition ended in June 1928, 700,000 of Chiang’s men ruled virtually all of China’s larger cities. Chiang set up a new base in Nanjing, secure in the knowledge that he was the clear leader of China.

One of the most significant occurrences during the Northern Expedition was the slaughter of roughly three hundred communist leaders in Shanghai. This, in effect, destroyed the Communists’ largest base and ended the period of KMT-CCP collaboration. The other significant event of this time was Chiang’s marriage to Soong Mei-ling, a pretty, charming, American-educated Wellesley graduate who spoke perfect English and came from a wealthy Christian family. Chiang divorced his first wife and was baptized for his second. She would go on to play an important role in Chiang’s life as confidante and promoter.

The Xi’an Incident

In the mid-1930s, Chiang opted to continue his anticommunist campaign rather than fight the Japanese. This angered Zhang Xueliang, a young marshal from the city of Xi’an. Zhang ordered his men to kidnap Chiang on his next visit to the city. After Chiang had been seized, Zhang offered his leader a plan to unite the KMT and the CCP in a war against Japan. Chiang replied with a counteroffer: He challenged Zhang to kill him instead. A two-week standoff ensued while China held its breath. When Communist representative Zhou Enlai argued successfully for Chiang’s release, he scored a Communist victory. He had demonstrated that his party was sincere in its desire for peaceful relations with the KMT. Chiang responded by agreeing to a united front against Japan.

China and U.S. Relations

In the late 1930s, the United States began sending weapons, advisors, and money to China. Thanks in large part to Henry Luce, the powerful American media mogul and staunch Chiang supporter, Americans were infatuated with the Chiangs. After the Chiangs appeared on the cover of Luce’s Timemagazine as Man and Wife of the Year in 1937, Madame Chiang entranced Americans during a seven-month visit to the United States, raising millions along the way. The United States government, on the other hand, agonized over China. They would not support the Communists, yet they found Chiang’s government to be loathsome. Its rampant corruption had frustrated the Chinese people enough to want to vote Chiang out of office. American mediations between Chiang and the Communists failed many times until, finally, Chiang’s forces engaged the Communists in April 1946. The Communists defeated the nationalist forces in 1948, leaving Chiang to escape to Taiwan with more than a million followers. Because of pressure from anticommunist forces, the United States continued to recognize Chiang’s government in Taiwan.

Chiang managed to establish and grow a thriving economy in Taiwan over the next twenty years. A combination of economic freedom and political order, as well as a healthy influx of American capital and military hardware, helped Chiang secure the country and produce astounding growth rates. American support and excellent relations with emerging African nations helped keep Taiwan in good stead with other countries. Chiang died on April 5, 1975. Although he remained president of the Republic of China until his death, he was never able to fulfill his dream of regaining China’s mainland.

Henry Luce

Henry Robinson Luce (1898–1967) was the founder and publisher of the magazine empire that included Time, Fortune, and Life. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Luce was America’s single most powerful and innovative mass communicator. Fervently anticommunist, Protestant, and Republican, Luce used his magazines to promote his own views regarding U.S. foreign policy, especially regarding China. His February 1941 Lifemagazine piece titled “The American Century” outlined his vision for America in a postwar world and became famous in its own right. Luce’s brilliance as an editor and publisher was matched by the influential power he wielded over U.S. political policy and public opinion.

Luce’s Early Years

Henry Robinson Luce was born in Shandong Province, China, to American missionary parents. Raised in China, Luce first came to the United States to attend the Hotchkiss School in Lakeview, Connecticut, when he was fifteen years old. While working on the school newspaper at Hotchkiss, Luce met Briton Hadden (1898–1929), his future publishing partner. After graduation, Luce attended Yale University where he and Hadden continued together on the Yale Daily News. After Yale, Luce attended Oxford University from 1920 to 1921. Around this time, he and Hadden first conceived the idea of a weekly news magazine. They believed most busy Americans could not keep up with current events on a daily basis. To remedy the problem, Luce and Hadden raised $86,000 and launched Time magazine. The first issue appeared on March 3, 1923. For four years, Time ran at a loss, but was making a profit by 1927. At the age of thirty, Luce was a self-made millionaire.

Time Magazine

Time was the first newsmagazine of its kind. To serve its predominantly college-educated, middle-class readership, the magazine touched on such diverse topics as architecture, religion, and politics—all with a decidedly interpretive slant. Luce’s editorial influence, first seen in the pages of Time, would become something of a signature as his media dynasty grew. This was no accident. In the prospectus for the magazine, Luce and Hadden included six points of “Editorial Bias.” Luce was often criticized for the lack of objectivity in his publications, but he was not swayed by his detractors. Objectivity, it seemed, was never one of Luce’s goals. He was more concerned with conceiving editorial innovations based on the idea that news should be entertaining as well as informative. A fundamental element of Time editorial policy, then, was to dramatize the news. Another innovation was the use of group journalism, a concept that used teams of researchers, correspondents, and editors to produce stories.

Creating an Empire

The success of Time inspired Luce and Hadden to create a new magazine. Because they believed business was the common denominator of leading citizens and the mark of American genius, they decided to launch a lavish monthly magazine dedicated to the topic. When Hadden died suddenly in 1929, Luce assumed sole control of Time and moved forward with Fortune. The first issue appeared in January 1930, just weeks after the stock market crashed. Despite the crash and the ensuing Great Depression, Fortunewas a success. Luce expanded Time Inc.’s business to include a dramatized radio news broadcast that evolved into a newsreel series called “The March of Time.” First screened in February 1935, the series was viewed thirteen times a year in over ten thousand movie theaters worldwide. Then Luce introduced Americans to photojournalism. Life magazine, with its excellent photography and light articles, appeared for the first time on November 17, 1936, to immediate success. Luce’s fourth successful magazine, Sports Illustrated, appeared on August 16, 1954.

Luce and Domestic and Foreign Policy

Throughout the 1930s, Henry Luce’s foreign policy was that of a conservative businessman defending capitalism. Adamantly anti-Soviet, Timewent so far as to introduce the idea of an international capitalist boycott of the Soviet Union as a way of toppling Stalin. Because Luce believed the world was being clearly divided into fascist and communist camps, he stood firmly on the side of the fascists.

At the beginning of World War II, Luce began to conceive of the idea of a U.S.-led international opposition to Communism. This thinking inspired him to write “The American Century,” which appeared in Lifein February 1941. An audacious declaration of American aims in a postwar world, the piece became instantly famous. In it, Luce wrote that the twentieth century was nothing less than the American century, revealing the breathtaking scope of his vision. He explained that to become a true world power, the United States would have to adopt an aggressively internationalist foreign policy that provided economic assistance and military aid to those nations that supported what he defined as American ideals. The article was not overtly anti-Soviet, but it did divide the world into forces of “tyranny” and forces of “freedom.”

Luce’s China Lobby

Luce’s anticommunism was most evident in Time’s coverage of China. He continually presented in its pages a picture of a country in chaos, which led some to blame the editor and publisher for contributing to America’s general hysteria over Communist China. An influential member of something called the China Lobby, a group of Americans seeking increased U.S. aid for Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists, Luce called for direct American military intervention against Chinese Communists. When Chiang was eventually defeated, Luce blamed American foreign service personnel in China and State Department leaders who criticized Chiang’s government for being corrupt and out of touch. Because of Luce’s press, these “China Hands,” American diplomats and soldiers blamed for the “loss” of China, were chased out of office. Luce’s influence over China policy continued into the early 1960s. It was so powerful that government officials, including John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), were forced to recant any support of more flexible policies fearing political retaliation wrought by the powerful publisher.

Luce’s hold on U.S. policy in Asia had relaxed by the time he died on February 28, 1967. His old age and waning involvement in his magazines coupled with the larger social and political climate of the times were largely responsible. By the time President Richard M. Nixon announced his visit to China, old Republican charges about the “loss” of China had lost their intimidating power.

Syngman Rhee

Syngman Rhee (1875–1965), was a Korean nationalist and anti-Japanese activist who became the first president of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in 1948.

Early Years

Syngman Rhee was born Yi Sung-man in Pyong-san, Hwanghae Province, Korea. He adopted the name by which he is known in the West when he turned thirty in 1905. Rhee was the only son of Yi Kyong-son, a member of Pyong-san’s ruling class. When Rhee was very young, his family moved to the declining capital city of Seoul, where the boy studied classic literature and Chinese before enrolling in a Methodist mission school in 1894. After graduation, Rhee became the school’s English instructor. His interest in Western enlightenment ideas informed his critical view of the anachronistic Korean government, which led to his eventual arrest and imprisonment in 1897. He was a political prisoner for the next seven years. While he was in jail, Rhee converted to the Methodist faith.

In 1904, two months after he was released from prison, he traveled to the United States at the request of high-level Korean government officials. Rhee and the Reverend P. K. Yoon, a representative of the largest Korean community in Hawaii, were sent to enlist U.S. aid in the protection of Korean independence. Rhee and Yoon had to wait six months for an audience with President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). They were turned down. The American-Korean Treaty of 1882 had weakened and the United States was eager to cooperate with Japan now that the country had emerged victorious from the Russo-Japanese War.

An American Education

Rhee continued to pursue his goal of saving Korean independence through a series of fruitless appeals. In the meantime, he enrolled at George Washington University and became a student in the spring of 1905. In 1907, he was admitted to Harvard University and earned his master’s degree a year later. In 1910, the same year that Japan formally annexed its Korean protectorate, Rhee received his doctorate in political science from Princeton University. The title of his dissertation was “Neutrality as Influenced by the United States.” Rhee returned to Korea in 1910 and worked as a YMCA organizer, teacher, and evangelist. In 1912, when an international conference of Methodist delegates was held in Minneapolis, Rhee attended as a lay delegate of the Korean Methodists. He decided to stay in the United States and took a prominent position at the Korean Compound School, later the Korean Institute, in Honolulu, in 1913.

The Road to Korean Independence

On March 1, 1919, Koreans participated in country-wide demonstrations inspired by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s (1956–1924) “Fourteen Points” speech that outlined the right of national self-determination. During the demonstrations, which came to be known as the Mansei Uprising or the Samil Movement or the March First Movement, thirty-three leading Korean citizens signed a declaration of independence and read it to the crowds gathered in the streets. The Japanese response to the massive uprising was immediate and violent. On March 1, over 7,500 demonstrators were killed and roughly 16,000 were wounded. Protests erupted and spread until the Japanese national and military police became unable to contain them. Despite the arrival of Japanese army and the navy forces, protests persisted for months. By the end of the demonstrations, hundreds of Japanese were killed and thousands were injured and arrested.

One outcome of the Samil Movement was the formation of a provisional government by a group of independence leaders in Seoul in April 1919. These leaders moved the provisional government to Shanghai, China, and elected Syngman Rhee the first president of the new government-in-exile. Because he still lived in the United States, Rhee had to perform his duties long-distance, which led to his being impeached in March 1925. Rhee was replaced by Kim Ku (1876–1949) as president of the government-in-exile. Despite his impeachment, Rhee continued to assert his right to the presidency, an assertion supported by the Korean populace in Hawaii.

In early 1933, Rhee traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to appeal on behalf of Korea to the delegates at the League of Nations. Like his appeals in Washington, this one failed. The major powers were either unable or unwilling to check expansionist Japan. But his trip was not completely wasted. In Geneva, Rhee met Franziska Donner (1900–1992), who was serving as a secretary to the Austrian delegation. Rhee and Donner were married in October of that year.

Rhee’s Return to Korea

Syngman Rhee returned to Korea when Allied powers finally liberated the country from Japanese colonial domination in 1945. The Korean people and the American military government that was ruling the southern half of the country gave Rhee a hero’s welcome. Rhee soon became leader of conservative, right-wing forces in South Korea due to his previous engagement as president of the “;exile government.”

Rhee continued to rise through the ranks of postcolonial South Korean politics. On May 10, 1948, the first general elections in Korean history were held to elect members of the National Assembly. Rhee’s Association for the Rapid Realization of Independence won a number of seats. When the Assembly met for the first time on May 31, 1948, Rhee was elected Assembly chairman. Under his chairmanship, the National Assembly adopted the 1948 constitution of Korea, which provided for a largely democratic, presidential system of government. One of the Assembly’s first official constitutional acts was to elect Rhee as Korea’s first president. He was seventy-three years old.

The Korean War

The new republic was only two years old when waves of North Korean troops invaded South Korea and swiftly occupied the capital of Seoul on June 25, 1950. So began the Korean War, which in several ways was a continuation of ideological disputes that had been active since the Japanese occupation. What started as a civil war quickly exploded into a superpower conflict when U.S.-led U.N. forces came to the aid of South Korea. The war raged for three years, devastating both sides as cities were occupied, abandoned, and reoccupied. A cease-fire was signed in 1953, but a formal peace treaty was never negotiated. A Demilitarized Zone and Military Demarcation Line still divides the two countries.

As Rhee grew older, he seemed less able to compromise and work with others. He was so determined to hold onto his power that he intimidated opponents and fixed elections to do so. But in April 1960, after his fourth successful presidential election, massive protests broke out in several Korean cities. Koreans had finally had enough of government corruption, police violence, election rigging, and Rhee’s emphasis on foreign affairs at the expense of domestic economic development. Rhee was forced to resign the presidency after twelve years. He fled to Hawaii where he lived out the remainder of his life. After he died on July 19, 1965, his body was returned to South Korea and buried in the National Cemetery.

Matthew Ridgway

General Matthew Bunker Ridgway (1895–1993) is widely considered the most underrated American soldier of the twentieth century. His greatest contribution to modern warfare was transforming a lackluster U.N. force into a motivated killing machine that saved South Korea from certain defeat.

Ridgway’s Early Years

Ridgway was born on March 3, 1895, into an upper middle-class family at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. His father, Thomas, was a full colonel in World War I. His mother, Ruth, was a concert pianist from Long Island, New York. Ridgway, a well-bred and charming boy, spent his childhood moving from military post to military post. Determined to become a general, Ridgway went to West Point as soon as he could. He graduated in 1917, just two weeks after the United States entered World War I. He was eager to join the fight in the French trenches, but was instead sent to the Mexican border for the duration of the war. At the war’s end, Ridgway returned to West Point where he became a Romance language instructor. Because he was the only one of six regular army officers fluent in Spanish, Ridgway won several high-level assignments in Latin America in the 1920s. During the 1930s he studied at the best military graduate schools in the country, including the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Command and General Staff School, and the Army War College. Although he rarely commanded troops in the years leading up to World War II, he proved a master motivator when given the opportunity.

Becoming a Commander

Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall was Ridgway’s greatest champion during peacetime. After serving under the influential general on four separate occasions, Ridgway was promoted to brigadier general, assisting the command of General Omar Bradley’s Eighty-Second Infantry Division after the start of World War II. When Bradley was promoted in early 1942, Ridgway was named commander. Under his tutelage, the division was transformed into one of the Army’s first airborne units.

Ridgway led his forces in the invasion of Sicily in 1943, subsequent battles in Salerno, Normandy, Holland, and Germany, and the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge. His paratroopers, as they were called, fought so magnificently that their exploits became the stuff of legend. Following the Normandy invasion in 1944, Ridgway was chosen to head the Eighteenth Airborne Corps, which he commanded through Germany and across the Elbe River into advancing Soviet forces on May 3, 1945. He emerged from the war much decorated and admired. A three-star general by this time, Ridgway was regarded as one of the best Army combat corps commanders of the war. His troops found his mere presence to be awe-inspiring. His reputation was well earned. While commanding forces from the front, Ridgway often exposed himself to heavy fire and possible injury. A well-known incident involving a German grenade left Ridgway with a fragment in his shoulder after he refused medical treatment for the wound.

The Korean War

In December 1950, Ridgway was appointed commander of the Eighth United States Army in Korea. Ridgway’s new appointment was considered one of the most difficult of the Korean War. The Eighth Army’s morale had been destroyed by Peng Dehuai’s tactics. After massive Chinese forces pushed United Nations troops below the 38th parallel, mauling the First Cavalry Division, the Second Infantry Division, and the South Korean forces, the Eighth Army was exhausted. At this point, some military experts doubted the United States’ ability to maintain a foothold on the Korean peninsula. But the U.S. military had faith in Ridgway, a man known for his motivational genius. To combat the superior Chinese forces, Ridgway reorganized the Eighth Army’s potentially catastrophic retreat by transforming the distraught troops into a highly motivated fighting force. On February 21, 1951, he launched Operation Killer, an enormous counterattack involving eight infantry divisions of more than 100,000 troops backed by twenty-two artillery battalions, five tank battalions, and the Far East Air Force. The reinvigorated U.S. forces fought superbly. They retook Seoul and forced Chinese forces above the 38th parallel where the war stalled. The feat was regarded as one of the finest examples of military leadership of the century.

When General Douglas MacArthur was relieved of command on April 11, 1951, Ridgway was selected to serve simultaneous duties as commander in chief of the Far East command, commander in chief of the United Nations command, commander in chief of U.S. Army forces in the Far East, and supreme commander of Allied forces occupying Japan. He oversaw the war from Tokyo for the rest of the year. By now, Ridgway was celebrated as an American hero. The press, who described him in glowing terms, loved his approachability, charm, and articulate manner. Other officers, on the other hand, disliked him. They found him humorless and pretentious.

Ridgway replaced General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the supreme commander of European Allied forces and head of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in May 1952. In 1953, he left that post to become the Army chief of staff. As chief of staff, Ridgway played a leading role in keeping the U.S. military out of the French-Indochina conflict in 1954 and steadfastly defended the Army when Republican senator Joseph McCarthy attacked it. In 1955, Ridgway retired from the Army as a four-star general and America’s top soldier. He then served as director of the Mellon Industrial Research Institute in Pittsburgh until 1960.

Vietnam and Beyond

During the 1960s, Ridgway became famous for his criticism of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to become militarily involved in the Vietnam conflict. Later, in March 1968, Johnson invited Ridgway to the White House as one of the “wise men” who advised Johnson to negotiate a withdrawal from Vietnam. Ridgway actively supported Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) during the 1980 presidential election and accompanied the president on his controversial trip to Bitburg’s German army burial ground in 1985. On July 26, 1993, Matthew B. Ridgway died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the age of ninety-eight. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

See also World War II: Major Figures: Dwight Eisenhower

See also World War II: Major Figures: Douglas MacArthur

See also World War II: Major Figures: Harry Truman

See also Cold War: Major Figures: Joseph McCarthy

See also Cold War: Major Figures: Mao Zedong

Major Battles and Events


Seoul’s History to 1945

Seoul was the center of administration and culture during the Yi Dynasty and was chosen for its favorable and protected location. The Yi palaces and massive city wall were built on the granite base of the surrounding mountains. The well-drained floodplains of the Seoul basin and the Han River were just south of those. Although the city suffered from Manchu and Japanese invasions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the city maintained its vitality.

From 1910 to 1945, the years of the Japanese colonial regime, Seoul was forced to change. Japan built up Korea’s infrastructure, especially its street and railroad systems. In Seoul, the area between the Han River and the old city became the Japanese military, residential, and commercial center. An imposing granite government building was constructed on the site of an old palace and other large banking and commercial buildings were built around the city. But Japan did not just change the Korean landscape. While Japanese leaders built up Korea’s infrastructure, they simultaneously sought to eradicate the country’s culture. Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names, convert to the native Japanese religion of Shintoism, and were forbidden to speak Korean in school and at work. The March First Movement of 1919, also known as the Samil Movement or the Mansei Demonstrations, was one of the first displays of Korean nationalism. It resulted in the killing of thousands, the maiming and imprisoning of tens of thousands, and the destruction of hundreds of homes, schools, churches, and temples.

When the Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945, the Korean peninsula was divided into two distinct republics. After that date, the Soviet Union occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel, while the United States occupied the peninsula south of that line. In 1948, Seoul became the capital of the Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the government of South Korea was democratic. That same year, the Communists established the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea. Pyongyang became the capital of Communist North Korea. Ideological differences led to skirmishes along the 38th parallel, ultimately leading to the Korean War.

The Korean War

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean Army crossed the South Korean border and started the Korean War, hoping to unify the two republics under a single Communist government. Within three days, northern forces captured Seoul, just thirty miles south of the 38th parallel. American troops were sent to assist South Korea, and Chinese Communist volunteers assisted North Korea in a war that lasted three years and claimed millions of lives on both sides.

During the course of the war, Seoul changed hands four times. North Korean forces occupied Seoul on the afternoon of June 28, 1950. After much fighting throughout September 1950, Seoul was retaken by U.N. forces at the end of that month and returned to President Rhee. In early January 1951, Seoul fell to North Korean and Chinese forces. Finally, in mid-March 1951, U.N. forces retook Seoul after expelling North Korean and Chinese troops from the city. On July 27, 1953, a cease-fire was established. The Korean War resulted in a stalemate, ending not far from where it began.

The disruption of civilian life during the back-and-forth movement of Communist and democratic forces was phenomenal. Homes and personal possessions were damaged or destroyed by shelling or bombing; crops were trampled and livestock was stolen for food; and civilians were killed or injured by stray gunfire or spontaneous violence inflicted by soldiers. Male civilians were often forcefully drafted to fight and Koreans were routinely imprisoned or summarily executed if they were suspected of supporting the “other” side. The city of Seoul was severely damaged during the conflict. The prominent buildings erected during the Japanese occupation were reduced to ravaged shells. The rest of the infrastructure became rubble after three years of intense fighting.

Invasion of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

When troops from the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK), or South Korea, crossed into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, a fateful new chapter of the Korean War began. U.S. Commander Douglas MacArthur made the single most important decision of the Korean War, when he ordered the crossing despite warnings that it would provoke Chinese resistance. The bold and dangerous move resulted in the Chinese forces entering the war.

United Nations Forces Support South Korea

On June 25, 1950, North Korean armed forces crossed the 38th parallel, the demarcation line that separated Communist North Korea and nationalist South Korea, thus beginning the Korean War. The South Korean army was small, ill-prepared, and poorly equipped. Their adversary, on the other hand, possessed a skilled army of 135,000 men equipped with a plentiful supply of Russian weapons, including 150 to 200 combat airplanes. Despite U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s (1893–1971) statement on January 12, 1950, that Korea was not within the “defensive perimeter” of America’s vital interests in the Far East, the United States government’s reaction to the invasion was swift and determined.

Prodded by the U.S. government, the U.N. Security Council convened in a special session on the day of the attack and unanimously passed a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of North Korean forces to their former positions north of the 38th parallel. When the aggressors failed to comply with the resolution, the U.N. Security Council met again two days later and passed a second resolution recommending that United Nations members furnish South Korea with assistance so that they might repel their attackers. Ignoring recommendations of caution, President Harry S. Truman moved to enforce the United Nations resolution and committed U.S. military forces to South Korea. The president appointed General Douglas MacArthur as commander in chief of the Far East and supreme commander of U.N. forces.

The committed U.S. forces proved inadequate. By the end of June, more than half of the army of the Republic of Korea had been destroyed. By early August, U.N. forces had been pushed to the southeast corner of the peninsula where they dug in around the port of Pusan. After stabilizing a defense line around the important port, General MacArthur conceived of a brilliant yet risky strategy that was almost unanimously opposed. Instead of employing his forces in a frontal offensive from the Pusan Perimeter, MacArthur decided to dare an amphibious landing at Inchon, the west coast port near Seoul, behind enemy lines.

Battle of the Pusan Perimeter

The Battle of the Pusan Perimeter began shortly after U.N. forces began arriving in South Korea in mid-July 1950, and lasted until the first days of the amphibious landing at Inchon in mid-September. Inchon was a daring and controversial operation that defeated North Korean forces by driving them northward. It was conceived, in part, to give forces holding fast at Pusan a way to break past the line and help recapture Seoul for the South Koreans.

By the time U.N. forces arrived in South Korea, the mighty North Korean People’s Army (KPA) had already assumed control of the majority of the peninsula. The American military landed at the far southern port city of Pusan and immediately established a defensive line, behind which they retreated and dug in. The line, which came to be called the Pusan Perimeter, marked off the southeast corner of the peninsula. Bound on the west by the Naktong River, the east by the Sea of Japan, the north by a rugged range of mountains, and the south by the Korea Strait, the perimeter enclosed the port city of Pusan, the arrival point of American troops and supplies, and the city of Taegu, where General Walton Walker (1889–1950) established his Eighth Army headquarters. Establishing the perimeter had been hard on Walker’s troops. After numerous battle debacles and hundreds of miles of retreat, the Eighth Army was exhausted and disheartened. In a meeting in Taegu with General Walker, General Douglas MacArthur determined that the Eighth Army could retreat no farther. Soon after the meeting, on July 29, Walker issued his now-famous “Stand or Die” speech to the fatigued defenders of the Pusan Perimeter. The battle had become a holding mission, an operation that was just one part of General MacArthur’s overall strategy.

The Holding Mission Begins

To provide an early warning and some initial defense in case of attack, Walker positioned his forces in small manned points along the perimeter. These small groups were ordered to fade back in the case of major assaults. Although the number of troops available to Walker was growing, he could not afford to do more than hold fast at that point. During the first two-thirds of August, that battle became a daily succession of crises that required Walker to rush men to various perimeter points to stop the North Koreans. Finally, sometime after August 21, ground fighting around the Pusan Perimeter was temporarily suspended. Because Walker and the Eighth Army had signal intelligence (SIGINT), they were able to intercept North Korean radio messages. This intelligence gave Walker information about the KPA’s movements and plans, which, at that time, involved reorganizing, resupplying, and regrouping. Messages intercepted during this period revealed that the North Koreans had ordered massive quantities of ammunition and detailed maps of the Taegu area. Follow-up communications let Walker know that river-crossing equipment would be delivered to the KPA by August 23, that ammunition was being delivered around August 25, and that plans to organize a rear reconnaissance unit to annihilate the enemy using fire raids were in the works. Obviously, the KPA was planning something big.

Deflecting North Korean Attacks

By that point, General Walker’s men were utterly spent. The very real prospect of being pushed off the Korean peninsula by North Korean forces did little to boost their flagging morale. Luckily, Walker’s troops intercepted messages that contained very specific instructions meant for KPA units, which revealed the time and place of the planned attack. The instructions were so detailed they even disclosed the type of weapons and the battalion levels the KPA would use. One message, for example, ordered several units of North Korean soldiers and a 76-millimeter gun battalion to strike the enemy and attack its flank and rear at specific points around the perimeter. Knowing this, Walker was able to plan his strategy accordingly and organize his troops to best defend the Pusan Perimeter.

The North Koreans initiated their simultaneous coordinated assault on four fronts on August 31. Though no surprise, the attack required all of Walker’s skills to keep his forces intact. The powerful North Korean effort broke through the American defenses in Masan, cut the Second Division near the Naktong in two, captured Pohang-dong, and forced Walker’s headquarters from its location in Taegu to Pusan. Intercepted messages over the next two weeks alerted Walker to expect continued attacks. He called for additional personnel, weapons, and ammunition from forward locations and ordered the construction and restoration of steel bridges over the North Han, Kum, and South Han rivers. Meanwhile, Walker used information garnered from intercepted messages to continue placing his troops in the most effective positions.

Despite obvious North Korean successes, the KPA, according to various communications, appeared to be weakening in their advances. Weapons and ammunition were slow to arrive at some of the North Korean frontline divisions and officers were instructed to solve weapons problems on their own. Furious messages demanding to know why certain missions were not being carried out began to surface. Tanks were not advancing, fuel shortages were rampant, and American bombing raids were disrupting transportation. Finally, nervous messages reported the arrival of additional British and American troops in Pusan. Along with troop reinforcements, U.N. forces were also receiving antitank mines and entrenching tools. The North Koreans reported mine laying and sandbagging by U.N. forces, too.

Final Push in Pusan

The final push from U.N. forces in the Pusan Perimeter was significantly aided by the surprise amphibious attack on Inchon, a port city roughly thirty miles west of Seoul. This crowning example of General MacArthur’s strategic genius was intended to trap North Korean forces between U.N. forces, outflank them, and drive them straight up the peninsula and back across the 38th parallel. Although President Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff thought the plan too risky, MacArthur persuaded them to let him go ahead.

Landing at Inchon

The Inchon Invasion, also known as Operation Chromite, was a controversial and daring amphibious operation on September 15, 1950, that General Douglas MacArthur conceived. Widely considered MacArthur’s finest military moment, the landing at Inchon immediately changed the course of the Korean War and led to the recovery of the Korean capital city of Seoul.

The Korean War Before the Inchon Invasion

By the end of July 1950, North Korean forces had pushed U.N. forces to the southeast corner of the Korean peninsula. Unable to retreat any further, the American and South Korean troops dug in around the port of Pusan. General MacArthur, commander of U.N. troops, and Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, commander of the U.S. Eighth Army, ordered their men to “stand or die.” For the next six weeks, a bloody, desperate struggle ensued as the North Koreans battled to defeat American and South Korean forces and to gain complete control over Korea. Meanwhile, MacArthur was conceiving a strategy to move inland, retake the capital, and cut the already tenuous North Korean supply lines.

Preparing for the Strategic Landing

Operation Chromite, or the landing at Inchon, took less than three weeks to plan. Given the scope of the forces involved and the tactical challenges they faced, that time frame seems almost incomprehensible. Among the forces gathered for the operation were the First Marine Division, the Army’s Seventh Infantry Division, a handful of South Korean units, virtually every available amphibious ship, and dozens of other Navy warships. The majority of Marines involved had recently arrived from the United States, while the rest were taken from the Pusan Perimeter defenses.

Inchon, located on the west coast of South Korea near Seoul, was a tactically challenging amphibious target. The primary obstacle to landing there was the area’s 32-foot tidal range, which restricts landing operations to a few hours a day. The Operation Chromite planning commission determined that the tides would only be high enough to allow a big landing craft three brief hours inshore on September 15, September 27, or October 11. Beyond that, the coast would become an impassable quagmire of mud. Another challenge was the narrow channel the landing force would have to maneuver. Seawalls along the beach threatened to make the initial assault and disembarkation of vehicles and stores quite difficult.

On August 23, 1950, a contingent of high-ranking U.S. military commanders flew from Washington, D.C., to McArthur’s Tokyo headquarters for a briefing on the planned mission. After the officers heard a summary of the details of the assault, including weather, landing craft, beaches, naval gunfire, and air support, Rear Admiral James H. Doyle said, “the best I can say is that Inchon is not impossible.” To sell his idea to Doyle and the other doubtful officers, MacArthur relied on his well-known theatrical style. He launched into an awe-inspiring forty-five-minute speech, ending his performance with the words, “we shall land at Inchon and I shall crush them!” Three days after the briefing, MacArthur received the formal consent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to proceed with Operation Chromite.

Lieutenant General Edward M. Almond (1892–1979), MacArthur’s chief of staff, was appointed commander of the Inchon landing force, which was designated the X Corps. Two divisions, the First Marine Division and the Seventh Infantry Division, comprised the X Corps. The First Marine Division, comprised of a total of twenty thousand men, was to be the first ashore. A small fleet of cargo ships and landing ships, including six attack transport ships, eight attack cargo ships, three high-speed transports, one medium landing ship, three dock landing ships, seventeen U.S. tank landing ships, and thirty-one Japanese dock landing ships, were rounded up to move the division and their supplies from Kobe, Sasebo, and Pusan to Inchon.

The Seventh was supposed to follow the Marines in the landing, but by early August, their numbers had diminished dramatically. Nearly ten thousand of the infantry’s officers and troops had already been posted in Korean divisions. To make up for the loss, over eight thousand South Koreans were sent to the Seventh Infantry Division in August. American infantry and artillery reinforcements arrived between the end of August and the beginning of September. Although the strength of the Seventh Infantry Division reached nearly 250,000 soldiers, less than half were effectively trained for battle.

A Successful Landing

Despite all odds, the amphibious landing at Inchon was a near-perfect logistical execution. Roughly 250 ships, including the flagship, two escort carriers, a bombardment force, screening and protective ships, minesweepers, supply and hospital ships, and freight and transport vessels carrying the X Corps, began their trek to Inchon as early as September 5. Air attacks began on September 10 with shore bombardment following three days later. On the morning of September 15, the Advance Attack Group, supported by naval and air forces, assaulted and captured the tactically critical island of Wolmi-do in roughly an hour and a half. That afternoon, just as the tide started to come in, the order to “land the landing force” was given. That day, thirteen thousand troops and an impressive amount of assault equipment were unloaded. On September 16, the Seventh Infantry Division arrived. General unloading was ordered, and for the next six days, unloading continued as rapidly as tidal conditions and unloading facilities would permit. During this period of time, nearly fifty thousand military personnel, five thousand vehicles, and more than twenty thousand short tons of cargo were brought ashore.

The Results of the Landing at Inchon

Over the course of the first several days of fighting, as supplies and troops poured ashore, the Marines moved relentlessly toward Seoul. On September 17, Kimpo Airfield was taken and two days later it was in use to support operations. On September 27, MacArthur received permission to pursue the retreating enemy into North Korea. On September 29, after two weeks of fighting, Seoul was returned to the South Korean government and North Korean supply lines were cut. Then, on October 1, South Korean forces chased the North Koreans past the 38th parallel. This last, fateful move marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Korean War.

The Invasion of North Korea

The decision to pursue the retreating foe across the demarcation line was fraught with peril. On the one hand, the American public was pressing for a decisive victory. On the other, Chinese Communist forces warned that an American invasion into North Korea would be met with Chinese resistance. Despite the threat, the United Nations and President Truman ordered South Korean forces north across the 38th parallel. The first crossings by United Nations and South Korean forces took place on October 1, with backup forces following eight days later. The troops sped north, nearing the Yalu River, the boundary between North Korea and Communist China. Chinese Communist troops were assembled near the Yalu, but MacArthur was unaware of their strength or position. On November 1, the leading South Korean divisions were ambushed while a U.S. regiment located at Unsan was attacked. As soon as the U.N. forces stabilized their lines after the violent setback, Chinese forces withdrew northward as quickly as they had struck.

MacArthur pressed for permission to take the fight into China, believing the only remaining course was a bold advance. His “all-out offensive” to the Yalu was met with a powerful Chinese strike on the night of November 25. Roughly 180,000 Chinese troops smashed the right flank of the Eighth Army in the west, while 120,000 others mauled the X Corps near the Chosin Reservoir. On November 28, a shaken MacArthur told the U.S. Joint Chiefs, “We face an entirely new war.”

MacArthur’s men fought courageously just to avoid being annihilated. They were forced to retreat southward down the peninsula past Seoul, which was recaptured on January 5, to about seventy miles south of the occupied capital. On January 15, General Matthew Ridgway, commander of the Eighth Army, began to lead U.N. troops slowly northward, inflicting heavy casualties on the Chinese and North Korean forces as they went. On March 15, his troops recaptured Seoul for the fourth and final time. MacArthur, meanwhile, stepped up efforts, pushing Washington to allow him to bomb targets in China. Being denied permission to do so enraged him. He launched a very public campaign in the press for an increase in U.S. military commitment. He sought an extension of the war into China and complained that military operations were being hamstrung by Truman’s political considerations. Truman responded by relieving General MacArthur of his dual command of U.S. and U.N. forces on April 11, 1951. Ridgway took MacArthur’s place and Lieutenant General James A. Van Fleet (1892–1992) replaced Ridgway as commander of the Eighth Army.

United Nations Cease-fire Resolution

Cease-fire Talks Begin

By this point in the conflict, neither side was willing to launch any new offenses and both seemed eager to begin talks leading to an armistice. On July 10, 1951, both sides sat down at Kaesong and later at Panmunjon to negotiate a cease-fire. The main objective was to restore Korean status quo. The United States refused China’s demands to withdraw all foreign troops from Korea. The United States also refused to restore the 38th parallel as the border, hoping instead for the existing battle line. But the issue that caused talks to break down completely was refusal by the United States to repatriate Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war.

Talks resumed after Stalin died in March 1953 because the Soviets were eager to end the war. Dwight D. Eisenhower was now president of the United States, having won the election on a promise to “go to Korea.” Although many Americans believed this to mean that he was ready to make peace, Eisenhower let it be known that he was ready to force a peace with the threat of atomic warfare. Either way, the talks showed progress despite a new obstacle. The South Korean government wanted the fighting to resume despite the clear intention between the United States and the Soviet Union to reach a permanent armistice. In the spirit of compromise, the Soviets agreed to permit the United Nations to take all prisoners of war who did not wish to go home. To retaliate, South Korea unilaterally released close to thirty thousand North Koreans it claimed had become anticommunist. This act of defiance drove the Soviets from the bargaining table for a month.

Talks resumed in late July 1953. By this time, the U.S. government had convinced the South Korean government to accept an armistice that left Korea divided. If they agreed, South Korea would receive commitment of economic aid to rebuild as well as a promise of the military support of American troops if North Korea invaded again. On July 27, 1953, the armistice was concluded. The terms of the agreement indicated that neither side had gained or lost much of anything after three years of war.

The Home Front

Baby Boom

The term “baby boom” refers to the dramatic surge in childbirths in the United States between 1946 and 1964. Several historical, cultural, and economic factors led to the boom. The most obvious was the return of millions of American servicemen home from World War II. Ready to settle down, marry, and start families, many of these men fathered children within a year of their homecoming. The next factor involves the record prosperity of the United States at the time. These servicemen came home to the most prosperous and powerful nation in the world, one that provided its citizenry with unprecedented economic and physical security. Additionally, low-cost mortgages for veterans and new techniques in manufacturing housing turned millions of acres of farmland into sprawling suburbs, seemingly overnight. The third factor involves the role of women after the war. A boom in marriages preceeded the boom in motherhood. This fact contributed to a reinforcement of the “cult of domesticity,” the belief that women’s proper place was in their homes. Finally, both American women and men felt a sense of urgency about living life to the fullest. After coming of age during the Great Depression and World War II, the continuing uncertainties of the atomic age prompted them to seize the American dream of having it all.

Birthrates actually began to rise as early as 1941. Between January and April of that year, twenty thousand more children were born than the same four months just one year prior. With war still on the horizon, many young couples decided to create a future by marrying and having children as quickly as they could. In 1942, 2.7 million children were born—more than any year since 1921. Those who postponed marrying and having children because of the impending war were quick to start families when it ended. There were almost 2.3 million marriages in 1946—an increase of more than 600,000 over the previous year. A year later, a record 3.8 million babies were born. In the five years between 1948 and 1953, more children were born than had been over the previous thirty years. Prompted by a low death rate, a record birthrate, and an influx of 144,000 immigrants into the country, the largest one-year population gain in American history occurred in 1954. Overall, the population of the United States jumped from 150 million in 1950 to 179 million in 1960. The birthrate stayed unusually high until 1965. The availability of a reliable oral contraceptive, together with changing attitudes about population control and family size, contributed to the mid-1960s decline in births. By the middle of the next decade, when the baby boomers started having children, birthrates were again on the rise.

The Economic Effects of the Boom

Economists in the 1950s often speculated that the growing population was a safeguard against economic stagnation. This seemed obvious, as each new birth represented new demands for food, clothing, and toys. In 1958, Lifemagazine reported on the economic consequences of the boom. The year was significant as children fifteen years old and younger in 1958 made up nearly a third of the population of the United States. Life found that toy sales that year reached $1.25 billion, diaper services were a $50-million business, and that a major supplier of school furniture, the American Seating Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, had tripled its business in the thirteen years since the end of World War II.

Women’s Roles During the Boom

The government and business sectors of society were eager to get America back on track after the enormous disruptions that World War II caused. A significant aspect of this normalization included moving women from the workforce back into the home. During the war, working women, symbolized by “Rosie the Riveter,” were celebrated for stepping in and helping out in the defense industry, doing work their husbands, fathers, and brothers did before being called away. The culture supported working mothers during the war, but after the war everything changed. Women who were poor or single or both continued to work, but working women quickly became stigmatized. Postwar prosperity and the new American image of the family—Mom, Dad, and the children living happily in their shiny new suburban home—left no room for a working mother. It was now wholly unconventional for women to work outside the home.

Powerful men and women of the era echoed the tenets of the “cult of domesticity” in influential sociology papers, commencement speeches, women’s magazines, and television shows such as Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, and Leave it to Beaver. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, women were told that their fundamental status came from their roles as wife and mother. They were to be the anchor of the family, and their sphere of influence was to be the home.

The Boomers Themselves

By the sheer force of their numbers, the “baby boomers,” Americans born between the mid 1940s and the mid-1960s, have shaped American society at every phase of their lives. In the 1950s, increases in school enrollment caused overcrowded classrooms. Ten and twenty years later, colleges were overfilled. In the 1960s and 1970s, twice the number of students entered higher education compared to the previous generation. In the 1970s and 1980s, the job market became glutted with floods of recent college graduates looking for work.

Several cultural elements served to inform the psychology of the baby boomers, which, in turn, affected American society at large. Although the 1950s and early 1960s were prosperous and peaceful years in American history, they followed on the heels of nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. This fact made the baby boomers the first generation to have lived with the evidence that humanity possessed the power to destroy itself. The paradox between those two states of understanding, coupled with the simmering tension of the Cold War, is widely seen as the psychological basis for later acts of revolt carried out by the baby boomers. They questioned the values handed down from the previous generation. Their contribution to the civil rights movement, the anti–Vietnam War movement, and the women’s and gay liberation movements helped change the face of American society.

International Context

East and West in Europe

The Cold War forced a split between Eastern and Western European countries around the time of the Korean War. This was due to the influence of the two main enemies of the Cold War—the United States and the Soviet Union. In the post–World War II atomic age, both sides were afraid of fighting each other directly. Instead of entering into a “hot” war with active fighting that could potentially destroy everything, the Soviet Union and the United States battled each other with threats and denouncements. Their most effective weapon, though, was supporting various global conflicts that reflected their respective foreign policies. This “cold” war eventually split the world into three groups: those countries with democratic political systems followed the United States, or the West; those countries with Communist political systems followed the Soviet Union, or the East; and those countries that did not want to be tied to either the West or the East remained nonaligned.

Soviet Influence Over Eastern Europe

During World War II, the Soviet Union allied itself with the Western democracies of the world in its struggle against the Axis powers of Italy, Germany, and Japan. Shortly before the war ended, though, the future of Eastern Europe became a point of conflict between the Soviet Union and its Western allies. Because the Soviet Union had been invaded by Eastern European forces in both of the world wars, and had suffered greatly for it, the nation was determined to install “friendly” regimes throughout Eastern Europe at the end of World War II. The strategy was designed to protect the Soviet Union against future invasions. By the fall of 1944, the Soviet Red Army had liberated a large part of Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union then found itself in a position to influence the type of governments that would emerge in those liberated states after the war.

The Soviet Union, believing it had an agreement with Western democracies that made Eastern Europe a Soviet sphere of influence, assumed it would have dominance over the region. At the Yalta Conference in early 1945, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin pressed the issue, categorizing Soviet control of the region as a matter of national security. Stalin also announced that he would not allow Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other Eastern European countries to elect anti-Soviet governments into power after the war. As the war neared its end, the Soviet Union quickly consolidated its control over Eastern Europe. The Red Army influenced postwar elections by intimidating voters and changing voting lists to suit its agenda. As a result, coalition governments formed after the war were predominantly Communist. The Soviet Union had succeeded in virtually annexing the Eastern European countries it conquered in World War II. Even so, Stalin was not satisfied with Communist control of Eastern Europe. He pushed Communists to influence postwar elections in Western Europe, too. By late 1946, just months after Winston Churchill declared that an “iron curtain” was descending across the European continent and the United States began favoring a policy of strong resistance against the Soviet Union, Communism was on the rise in France and Italy.

The Cold War Begins

Already alarmed by Soviet expansion in Europe, the United States became increasingly concerned when, on February 21, 1947, Great Britain declared it could no longer provide the Greek government the military and financial aid it needed to fight Communist guerillas. Greece was not the only largely peasant nation in danger of being overthrown by the Communists; Turkey was also being threatened. Recognizing just how powerful the Soviet Union would be if it dominated Greece and Turkey, the United States prepared itself for a war against its former ally.

On March 12, 1947, President Truman issued a proclamation before a joint session of Congress. The proclamation, which came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, was clearly anticommunist. The president called for Communist containment and massive military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey. It was, among other things, a thinly veiled declaration of war against the Soviet Union. The essence of Truman’s speech was that “it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure.”

A few months later, on June 5, 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall delivered a speech at Harvard University. In it, he outlined a plan to rebuild war-torn Europe and halt the westward spread of Communism. The Marshall Plan, as it came to be known, suggested an offer of $20 million of economic aid to the desperate European nations, but only if they agreed to come together and draw up a rational plan for spending it. The stipulation ensured that they act as a single economic unit that had to work together. The plan was a success. It helped feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and put the European economy back on its feet. Once the economies and governments of the Western European nations were stabilized, the popularity of Communist parties went into sharp decline.

Western Forces Unite

The first major crisis of the Cold War came in June 1948 when Soviet forces blocked all entries into the Western-held portion of Berlin, Germany, a multinational area within the Soviet zone of the country. The blockade kept all American, British, and French road and railway transport from entering the city. President Truman responded by ordering military planes to fly food, medicine, and coal into the city. The Berlin airlift, as it came to be known, continued for almost a year. With the help of Great Britain and France, almost 2.5 million tons of supplies arrived in Berlin on roughly 280,000 flights from June 1948 to September 1949. The blockade was officially lifted in May 1949. The Berlin Blockade led to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, a joint military group whose purpose was to defend European countries against Soviet forces. Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United States were NATO’s first member countries. Six years later, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies formed their own joint military group. The organization was known as the Warsaw Pact, or, more officially, The Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance. The Warsaw Pact survived through the Cold War, but began to crumble following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1991.

Independence Movements in Asia

The most significant Asian independence movement in the twentieth century took place in India. The country’s nationalist struggle for freedom from British colonial rule began with the formation of the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885, but grew teeth when political activist and social reformer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became leader of the independence cause around 1918. Gandhi, a devout Hindu and proponent of nonviolent civil disobedience, was instrumental in achieving independence for India in 1947.

The Birth of the Indian National Congress

One of the oldest, most unique, and most effective nationalist movements of Asia and Africa could not have happened without the Indian National Congress. Shaped by emerging Indian nationalism, the development of the colonial education system, and the rise of the new urban, Western-educated, English-speaking Indian elite, the INC was originally comprised of upper-caste Hindu lawyers, doctors, educators, and journalists. Connected through their similar educations but representing Indian diversity, the INC sought to give expression to common grievances and hopes for the country. Their first meeting in 1885 in Bombay revealed the modest demands of the founders. They praised the positive contributions of British rule, but demanded better Indian representation in the higher levels of civil service, a broader electoral base of the Legislative Council, and greater support and development of indigenous industries.

The second generation of the INC was more radical and drew its inspiration from Hindu revivalism. Unlike the first generation, these INC members were drawn from urban India’s lower middle-class and had less exposure to English education. Because they were unable to achieve any sort of significant status or position within the new colonial order, they developed a natural sense of disdain for Britain based on religious, economic, political, and social frustrations.

But the most profound development of the INC came after World War I. The rise of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948) as leader of the independence movement deeply affected the leadership, organization, appeal, methodology, and goals of the Congress. Gandhi restructured the organization of the INC into what he called a parallel government to win the loyalty of the Indian people. Among his many great gifts was his ability to attract a wide sector of Indian society. He counted among his supporters the rising indigenous industrial elite, lawyers from small district towns, the rural peasantry, Indian traditionalists attracted to his successful political adaptation of Hindu symbology, and a large contingent of Muslims. His most powerful contribution to the INC and the system for which he is most commonly remembered, though, was his unique method of mobilizing political action through the use of nonviolent resistance, or satyagraha.

Inspired by the writings of nineteenth-century American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi’s civil disobedience relied on mass political mobilization, leadership, and organization and helped the Congress evolve from an urban, middle-class phenomenon into a highly successful movement unparalleled in the third world. One of Gandhi’s first acts of mass civil disobedience involved a program of political action unlike anything the world had ever seen. To protest the Rowlatt Acts of 1919, a series of repressive laws that gave judges the power to ignore the fundamental rights of citizens in the case of political uprisings, Gandhi called for a nationwide boycott of all British institutions, including universities, shops, and governmental bodies. As a result, many Indian political leaders resigned their offices and returned honors and decorations that had been given by the British government. Students boycotted their university classes and ordinary citizens picketed shops selling British goods. For the first time in history, a nationwide action united Indians usually deeply divided by language, region, and religion.

Gandhi’s civil disobedience campaigns of 1921–1922, his renowned campaign against the salt tax of 1930–1933, and the Quit India Movement of 1942 deepened the base and political appeal of the Congress and played a leading role in the success of the independence movement.

India Before and After World War II

In 1935, Britain passed the Government of India Act, which outlined a framework for Indian self-rule. It allowed for elections and special seats for minority groups and was made effective in 1937. In 1939, World War II broke out. Britain responded by automatically involving India. It mobilized Indian troops and imposed economic regulations on the country. Although the INC was sympathetic to Britain’s position in the conflict, it resented not being consulted and was frustrated that it had not been allowed to make decisions for India. The Muslim League opposed the INC and the divide between the two groups widened further. Initially, many Muslims followed Gandhi’s lead, but the president of the Muslim League, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876–1948), strongly opposed satyagraha. Although he opposed British rule and wanted to see India free, he feared that the majority population of Hindus would not protect the rights of Muslims under Indian self-rule. Gandhi never succeeded in his many attempts to gain Jinnah’s trust and cooperation.

Gandhi took advantage of Britain’s preoccupation with the war and pressed for immediate independence for India. Because of violent clashes between the Hindus and the British, the Muslims became even more favored in the eyes of the colonial power. When Gandhi met with Jinnah to try to resolve the dispute, Jinnah declared that he would not support a united India. He and his fellow Muslims demanded the creation of a separate country. The country, located in the northeast region of India, would be called Pakistan, or Land of the Pure.

By the close of World War II, Britain was devastated. The nation had neither the energy nor the resources to continue fighting in India so it announced that August 15, 1947, would be India’s Independence Day. It was decided that the two new nations, primarily Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, would become self-governing dominions in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Despite the victory and the rejoicing, Hindus and Muslims continued fighting bitterly. Hindus living in Pakistan and Muslims living in India began migrating. Wherever refugees flowed over national boundary lines, fighting broke out. Gandhi, heartbroken over the division of his country, began a fast for peace. A shaky truce was reached only when Gandhi neared death. On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was assassinated by a zealot Hindu.

Western Withdrawal from Asia

Britain made India and Pakistan members of its Commonwealth of Nations when it left the subcontinent in 1947. The two countries fought several conflicts in the following decades to settle their boundaries. In less than a year, it had withdrawn from all its Asian colonies but Hong Kong. Burma (present-day Myanmar) became an independent republic in early January 1948, followed by Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) later in January, and Malaya (including present-day Malaysia and Singapore) in February. Other Western powers found it tougher to let go of their holdings in the East. The Netherlands, which had held the Pacific islands of modern-day Indonesia for centuries, was forced out in 1949, after four years of violent revolution. France would hold onto its colonies in Asia for a little while longer.

French Indochina—present-day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos—came under France’s control in the late nineteenth century. After being occupied by Japan during World War II, the three countries reverted to French control, and each promptly declared its independence. The Vietnamese were lead by communist Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) and backed by China. The resulting French-Indochina War, which lasted until 1954, became the first major struggle of Eastern and Western political philosophies after World War II. Laos and Cambodia, which fought for France in that conflict, were granted their independence in 1953, and 1954, respectively. At the end of the war, France left the peninsula, Vietnam was divided into communist North Vietnam and anti-communist South Vietnam, and the stage was set for the Vietnam Conflict in the 1960s and 1970s.

Independence Movements in Africa

In Cold War parlance, the “third world” referred to Asia, Africa, and Latin America—countries that were thought to lack the literacy, national cohesiveness, and economic power necessary to make liberal democracies work. “First world” countries, commonly referred to as the West, were capitalist, industrialized nations, while “second world” countries, commonly referred to as the East, were Communist industrialized nations. Because the world after 1945 was dominated by the first and second worlds—the liberal-democratic, capitalist world led by the United States, and the Communist-socialist world led by the Soviet Union—third world countries struggling for liberal independence had to ally themselves with one or the other.

Decolonization in Africa was one of the most significant turning developments of the postwar world. The success of the independence movement in India in 1948 gave Africans a reason to dream of a society free of European control. At that time, only Egypt, Liberia, and Ethiopia were independent nations. African decolonization began in earnest after 1945, but gained momentum between 1954 and 1970. By the mid-1970s, only scattered vestiges of colonial territories remained.

Although every occupied African country shared the common goal of decolonization, each country went about achieving that goal in very different ways. One way, the way India found to be so successful, was to find a peaceful way to shake off colonial rule, and then allow the West to assist in setting up new states based on the Western model. African countries that chose this way were assured the West’s economic, military, and bureaucratic support. Another way was to decolonize by carrying out wars of national liberation. These wars were usually funded by Communists, which meant that the new state that emerged would be directed by Soviet or Chinese allies.

The Decolonization of Africa

By the end of World War II, Britain had lost the resources and the will to run an empire. At the same time, African nationalists were growing increasingly adamant in their demands for self-rule. The problem was that neither group knew how or when to dismantle the colonial machine. Beginning in West Africa, African nationalists took charge of events by putting their weight behind the independence movement. The leaders of these movements formed organizations, held elections, and negotiated new constitutions. Britain had largely relinquished its holdings on the continent between the late 1950s and late 1960s, and France withdrew from most of its holdings around 1960. By the mid-1970s, most of today’s African nations were free from colonial governments, although they were hardly at peace. Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union distorted politics in Africa for much of the late twentieth century.

European settlers in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) wanted to cut ties with Britain and Portugal, but still maintain white minority rule, which excluded the African population. For their support of capitalism, a Western ideal, the white governments of South Africa and Rhodesia found their human rights violations tolerated by the international community. Angola and Mozambique, on the other hand, found financial and military support from the Soviet Union support for their campaigns for independence from European interference. At different times in the 1960s and 1970s, Guinea-Bissau, Congo, Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Benin received some form of support from the Soviet Union, but none remained under communist influence.


Nuclear Arms Race

The nuclear arms race, the rapid development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union and the United States, was central to the Cold War. The fear that one nation might use nuclear weapons against the other is precisely what kept the war from becoming “hot.” The United States, after nearly completely obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, was the last nation to use atomic or nuclear weapons in battle, yet the fear of “the bomb” was powerful enough to keep the Cold War alive for several decades.

The Beginning of the Atomic Age

The atomic age began with a $2 billion secret U.S. wartime program known as the Manhattan Project. Some of the world’s most eminent scientists, including J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967), collaborated in an unprecedented research effort in various sites across the country that culminated in the first successful atomic weapons test in July 1945. Less than a month later, President Truman, hoping to force Japan to surrender, ordered nuclear bombs to be dropped first on the city of Hiroshima then on the city of Nagasaki. These two events are still the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare. The cities were devastated. In Hiroshima, an estimated 45,000 people were killed on the first day. Another 19,000 died over the course of the next four months. In Nagasaki, 22,000 people were killed on the first day. Another 17,000 died over the course of the next four months. Unrecorded deaths of military personnel and foreign workers may have added considerably to these figures.

After Japan surrendered, the United States began a rapid postwar demobilization. The American public, exhausted by the war and feeling safe in the knowledge that the United States alone possessed atomic weapons, wondered at Truman’s seemingly alarmist call for economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey. Although Soviet-style totalitarianism was flourishing in European nations infiltrated by Joseph Stalin’s Red Army, and Communist guerrillas threatened the takeover of both Greece and Turkey, the American public seemed beguiled by the propaganda image of a gentle “Uncle Joe” Stalin, as was his image during World War II. Anticommunism rose only after Stalin’s Berlin Blockade, the 1949 Communist victory in China, and the explosion of the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb. Fearing a Soviet nuclear attack, the United States was now ready to support the passage of any U.S. government legislation intended to arrest the spread of Communism.

The Race Is On

Truman funded research to develop hydrogen bombs in January 1950. In November 1952, the United States tested a successful hydrogen bomb, just nine months before the Soviets did. Despite the development of these bombs, Truman pressed for continued moderation and a policy of Communist “containment.” When Stalin suddenly died in 1953, American hopes soared, then were quickly dashed when his successors continued the relentless drive to military primacy.

Immediately following the Korean War, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (1900–1986) pressed for the use of atomic energy in submarines. In 1954, the Nautilus, the nation’s first nuclear-powered submarine, was launched. Taking a different road in the race for primacy, the Soviet Union shocked the world when it demonstrated a four-thousand-mile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in August 1957. The development realized Hitler’s dream of being able to bombard the American mainland. In October of the same year, the Soviets alarmed Americans with the launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to successfully orbit the earth. The space race between the two superpowers had begun.

A contest was underway between the Soviet Union and the United States to perfect rockets for lofting nuclear warheads from one continent to another at supersonic speeds that compressed flight times between Moscow and Washington into mere minutes. The Soviet Union maintained an early lead by dint of the sheer size and payload of its missiles. The United States, on the other hand, used miniaturization to achieve superior sophistication and accuracy in its missiles. Fearful of falling behind in the arms race, the U.S. Congress authorized millions of dollars for new weapons, as well as programs to promote science and math education. In reality, the United States maintained a definite lead due to the accuracy of its ICBMs and the superiority of the U.S. Navy, which had the ability to deliver warheads from invulnerable submarines all over the world. When President Eisenhower left office in 1961, he was disappointed in his inability to achieve a breakthrough with the Soviets. In his farewell address, he warned of the existence of a “military industrial complex” in the United States. He explained that the inordinate influence of the defense lobby had spurred a costly arms race and the permanent militarization of the Cold War.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1959, Cuba had come under the revolutionary leadership of Communist Fidel Castro (1926–). Shortly thereafter, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) made the fateful decision to place medium-range nuclear weapons in Cuba as a way of deterring ongoing American efforts to topple the Castro regime. In October 1962, the world edged toward nuclear holocaust when U.S. aerial surveillance of Cuba discovered the weapons. Estimates revealed that the missiles would be able to reach northward as far as Detroit. President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) met with a team of advisers after confirming Soviet actions. After extensive discussions, Kennedy chose to confront the Soviets publicly by going on national television to announce the existence and location of the missiles and to demand their removal. Rather than launch a preemptive bombing, as some suggested, Kennedy announced a quarantine of Cuba. After several tense days, diplomacy prevailed and the very real possibility of nuclear war was averted. Khrushchev agreed to remove his missiles from Cuba if the United States removed its missiles from Turkey. The United States also agreed not to invade Cuba and pledged to cease efforts to overthrow Castro. In 1963, sobered by the near-catastrophe, Kennedy and Khrushchev signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty. The treaty called for the elimination of all aboveground and undersea nuclear tests and the installation of a “hotline” for instant communication in the event of future crises.

The nuclear arms race continued. The Soviet Union pursued a steady buildup of a new navy, which prompted the United States to improve its own. In 1964, it was discovered that China also had “the bomb” and refused to agree to limitations on it. The first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between the Soviet Union and the United States led to the SALT I treaty of May 26, 1972. In it, the United States agreed to a five-year freeze on weapons production, which gave the Soviet Union enough of a superficial lead to deter China from attacking it. In November 1974, President Gerald R. Ford (1913–2006) and Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982) furthered the deténte by signing an agreement at Vladivostok. The agreement raised weapons levels and, because some critics felt the terms heavily favored the Soviet Union, fear of a Soviet nuclear attack persisted through the 1980s.

Civil Rights Movement

The American civil rights movement emerged with the “separate but equal” standard set by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision. The discrete efforts of different groups were galvanized in 1954 by the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision ordering the integration of public schools, just as the United States was getting involved in the Cold War. The timing of the two events was no coincidence. As Americans grew increasingly aware of the difference between their democratic right to freedom and Soviet totalitarianism, they were forced to see the hypocrisy in enforced racial segregation. The transformative effect of the Cold War was not limited to international relations. The East-West confrontation also influenced domestic life in the United States. Civil rights leaders in the late 1940s were given ammunition for their cause in light of the fact that America’s self-proclaimed role as world protector of freedom and democracy flew in the face of its system of legal racial oppression. The discrepancy was not lost on PresidentTruman. In 1947, he shocked the nation by appointing the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. A year later, he issued an executive order to end segregation in the United States armed forces.

Post–1945 America

The Cold War profoundly affected the politics, society, and culture of postwar America. It shaped family life, gender relations, and the trajectory of domestic policies. But it most significantly challenged the predominant social question of the era—the struggle for racial justice. Now that the Soviets were using America’s “Jim Crow” segregationist policies to garner support from the rest of the world, Americans had to scrutinize more closely questions about democracy, freedom, tyranny, and oppression.

Tensions between the East and West served as the perfect vehicle for civil rights leaders to advance their domestic aims. They pointed time and again to the inconsistency between America’s mission abroad and the persistence of segregation at home. Leading figures in the civil rights movement asserted relentlessly at conferences and meetings, on the radio, and in newspapers and magazines that Jim Crow was incompatible with America’s international role. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), W. E. B. DuBois (1868–1963), Walter White (1893–1955) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other prominent activists made clear that the United States must practice at home what it preached abroad. It did not take long for their message to get through to President Truman.

Truman Supports Civil Rights

In 1947, as the Cold War intensified and the United States became increasingly intolerant, President Truman shocked the nation by authorizing a fifteen-man committee on civil rights. The goal of the committee was to recommend new legislation to protect people from discrimination. That same year, Truman became the first president to address the NAACP. In his address, he announced that the federal government was working to protect African Americans against discrimination, violence, and race prejudice. In 1948, an election year, Truman continued his push for civil rights, partly out of conscience and partly out of politics. Senator Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978), a deeply committed civil rights advocate, persuaded the Democratic Party to support a strong civil rights platform in its campaign. When the platform passed at the Democratic Convention, South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond (1902–2003) and a group of Southern delegates walked out. After the convention, Truman issued an executive order calling for the desegregation of the U.S. armed forces. His stance on civil rights won him the black vote that year—and the presidential election.

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) was the most famous civil rights activist of the twentieth century. The youngest man to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for his promotion of peace, nonviolence, and the equal treatment of people of all races, King followed the teachings of pacifist Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi. He became active in the civil rights movement in 1955 as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and continued to lead civil rights activists in marches and protests until his violent shooting death on April 4, 1968.

King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. He loved books, even before he could read, and showed talent as an orator from an early age. For years he deliberated the decision to become a minister like his father, but King Sr. dissuaded him, explaining that the ministry was not a sufficiently intellectual pursuit for his bright son. In 1944, King entered Morehouse College where he majored in sociology. After graduating in 1948, he entered Crozer Theological Seminary. Despite his father’s advice, King had decided to pursue a career in the ministry. As a seminary student, King attended a lecture by Howard University president, Modecai Johnson, about Indian pacifist, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi. The lecture gave King his purpose and direction in life. He graduated from Crozer in 1951 and entered Boston University. He received his doctorate degree from the university in 1955. That year, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

In 1957, King and minister Ralph Abernathy founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) following the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The goal of the SCLC was to coordinate the action of local protest groups throughout the South. That year, King’s home and church were bombed, and violence against black protestors escalated. The bombing made King conscious of the possibility of being killed, but it also reinforced his dedication to nonviolence because, as he said, “Nonviolence can touch men where the law cannot reach them.” Because he was always ready to demonstrate the power of nonviolence, he made himself vulnerable to violent confrontations and run-ins with the police. He was arrested and jailed many times, was stabbed while autographing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom and criticized by militant black activists, like Malcolm X (1925–1965) and Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998), who favored more extreme methods of protest.

King used visionary language and wisdom to bring people together. His now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington in 1963, has become one of the most eloquent and stirring speeches in American history. King’s insistence on nonviolence and his gift as a powerful and persuasive orator made him the center of a whirlwind of historical events. In 1963, Time magazine named him Man of the Year. A year later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He continued his work as a driven civil rights leader until he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. There to assist striking garbage workers in their push for increased wages, King spoke almost prophetically about his demise. In his speech to the garbage workers, he said, “I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

Space Race

The October 4, 1957 launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik I shocked the United States into greatly accelerating its space program, thus beginning the “space race” between the world’s Cold War superpowers. The Soviet launch not only made Americans feel vulnerable to attack, but it also undermined American declarations of scientific superiority.

The Space Race Begins

Germany developed the world’s first long-range guided missiles during World War II and used them to fire warheads into English cities. After the war, the United States recruited German rocket scientists to assist with the U.S. missile program. The Soviet Union recruited German scientists, too. When the Cold War began, the superpowers were prompted to engage in a race to develop and stockpile thermonuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. This so-called “arms race” eventually led to the space race.

The Soviet Union tended to construct rockets capable of launching large payloads. The United States, on the other hand, concentrated on smaller, more agile rocket missiles. The success of Sputnik I and the launch of a dog in a second Soviet satellite a month later inspired American scientists to rethink the development of larger rockets. From 1957 to 1961, Soviet spaceships were the first to send live animals into space, orbit the sun, reach the vicinity of the moon, photograph the far side of the moon, and return live animals from space. In the meantime, the United States was focused on manned spaceflight. In 1958, Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to oversee the civilian space program. In 1959, NASA established the Project Mercury program with a goal of putting a man in orbit around the earth. The Soviet Union shocked the United States a second time when it was first to put a man, Yuri Gagarin (1934–1968), into orbit around the earth on April 12, 1961. Science and the Cold War arms race had converged and turned a dream into reality.

Gagarin’s spaceship, the Vostok I weighed 10,395 pounds and orbited the globe in eighty-nine minutes at a top speed of seventeen thousand miles per hour. The flight was incredibly smooth. Gagarin reported writing a note, eating, and drinking while in orbit. His reentry into earth’s atmosphere, which was faster than anticipated, damaged the capsule, but Gagarin landed unharmed four hundred miles southeast of Moscow. Soviet factories and businesses were closed during the flight so that everyone could listen to radio broadcasts about it. Because the Soviet propaganda office was prepared for the historic event, a commemorative stamp was printed the same day Gagarin reached space. Two days later, the jubilant nation celebrated its hero with a four-hour parade before the Lenin-Stalin mausoleum. That evening, Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev presented the first cosmonaut with the nation’s highest award, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Although America was making significant scientific space progress, the Soviet Union was clearly monopolizing the drama of space exploration.

The Race Continues

Once Gagarin returned safely to earth, President John F. Kennedy congratulated the Soviet Union on a victory that, he claimed, would be beneficial to all nations. Soon after, on May 25, 1961, he announced a national goal to land an astronaut on the moon by 1970 and safely return him to earth. The pronouncement was a surprise to many, including members of the space program. Kennedy had campaigned on a promise to close the missile gap; now he was promising to close the spaceship gap. According to the president, the moon was the finish line for the space race.

On May 5, 1961, Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. (1923–1998) rode Freedom 7, a Project Mercury capsule, 115 miles into space. Shortly thereafter, Kennedy requested a $1.8 billion appropriation for space and defense-related programs. Estimated calculations revealed that the United States would have to spend between seven and nine billion dollars between 1962 and 1967 if it wanted to take the lead in the space race. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Yuri Gagarin’s famous flight was followed by Major Gherman S. Titov’s (1935–2000) seventeen orbits around the Earth on August 6–7, 1961. In his twenty-five hours aloft on Vostok II, Titov was able to record the effects of a weightless day in space on a man’s capacity to work. The Soviets, it seemed, were still leading the race.

The United States Pulls Ahead

For the first part of the decade, the Vostok launch system was veiled in secrecy. When the launch vehicle was displayed at the Paris Air Show in 1967, American space scientists were surprised by what they saw. Instead of enormous engines, the Vostok relied on a combination of small engines to propel and place the spaceship into orbit. This kind of technology allowed the Soviet Union to dominate the first decade of the so-called Space Age. Soviets had been the first to launch manned spacecraft, send a woman into space, create multipassenger spacecraft, send a man to walk in space, land on a planet (Venus), send a probe to the moon, send photographs from that landing, launch a functioning satellite of the moon, and carry out automated rendezvous and docking on spaceships. But by this time, the United States was scoring firsts in communications, weather satellites, and nonautomated spaceship rendezvous and docking missions. In 1962, John Glenn (1921–) became the first American to orbit the earth. Between Glenn’s flight and the March 1965 two-man Gemini space flight, four manned Mercury flights were successfully launched. The heart of the U.S. lunar program, Project Apollo, was launched in 1966. The race was getting closer.

In December 1968, the first Apollo mission to orbit the moon sent amazing pictures of the planet back to earth. The public was captivated. Finally, on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (1930–) and Neil Armstrong (1930–) became the first human beings to walk on the moon. Roughly half a billion people around the world watched the event 240,000 miles away on live television. President Kennedy’s goal had been achieved.



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