Cold Warriors

views updated May 21 2018

Cold Warriors

Andrew J. Rotter

Architects of the conflict that gripped the world for nearly fifty years, cold warriors were the men, and few women, who gave shape to the ongoing conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1989. They built the Cold War's institutions, forged its diplomacy, oversaw its military flare-ups and its diplomatic stand-downs, and supplied its fierce rhetoric and its silent espionage. In the West, the so-called free world, cold warriors were usually well-born and well educated. In revolutionary societies and communist countries, high class standing was no asset for a leader, so cold warriors either came from humble stock or claimed that they did. The most prominent cold warriors were men of powercommanders of great armies, of the masses, of economic might, of words and ideas. Cold warriors were frequently messianic in their convictions, believing they represented the one best political, economic, and social system. They were serious men, disinclined to joke about their work and for the most part innocent even of a sense of irony about it; with the exception perhaps of their hubris, they masked their emotions, though they could never fully erase them. Cold warriors were often pragmatic men, able to calculate their nations' interests and if necessary to negotiate with their adversaries in order to protect those interests. Still, despite their pragmatism cold warriors contained within their bodies the cells of history and ideology that compelled them to the contest, in the belief that they were defending their nations' values or in the hope of spreading their values to others beyond their borders.

Cold warriors lived most obviously in the United States and the Soviet Union, but because the Cold War enveloped the world its warriors were everywhere. They included the presidents of the United States, from Harry S. Truman to George H. W. Bush, and their secretaries of state, among them John Foster Dulles, Dean Rusk, and Henry Kissinger. Many other U.S. government officials were cold warriors: appointees such as George F. Kennan, Paul Nitze, and Jeane Kirkpatrick, and elected representatives including senators William Knowland, Joseph McCarthy, and Hubert H. Humphrey. There were members of the intelligence community (J. Edgar Hoover, Edward G. Lansdale, William Colby), prominent journalists who interpreted the Cold War to the American people (Walter Lippmann, James Reston), and theologians, among them Reinhold Niebuhr and Billy Graham, who saw the Cold War as a moral challenge to Americans. In the Soviet Union a commitment to the Cold War was necessary for the leaders who followed Joseph Stalin after 1953, from Nikita Khrushchev to Konstantin Chernenko. The ideologue Andrei Zhdanov was a cold warrior of the first magnitude. Soviet diplomats carried out their superiors' orders but contributed as well their own mite to the conflict; among them were the longtime foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the ambassador to the United States Andrei Gromyko. Lavrenti Beria, head of Stalin's secret police, maintained a bloodstained vigil against all forms of Cold War heterodoxy.

Outside the United States and the Soviet Union, cold warriors fought their own battles in the shadows cast by their powerful allies. Their Cold Wars were similar to the principal super-power conflict in their ideological and geopolitical purposes, but different to the extent that they were influenced by histories that preceded the Cold War and in some ways transcended it, and also different because local concerns pressed down upon a broad Cold War foundation, reshaping it as wood construction forms mold wet concrete. There were British cold warriors, among them Winston Churchill, prime minister and influential statesman, foreign ministers Ernest Bevin and Anthony Eden, and in the last decade of the Cold War, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In Canada there was Lester Pearson (prime minister, 19631968). France had Charles de Gaulle (whose Cold War had an overwhelmingly Gallic flavor), South Africa Hendrik Verwoerd (prime minister 19581966, who invoked the Soviet threat in order to defend white supremacy in his country), and the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos (president 19651986), who traded his support for U.S. military bases on his islands for U.S. help against his domestic enemies, communist or not. On the other side were Kim Il Sung of North Korea, Vietnam's revolutionary nationalist Ho Chi Minh, Walter Ulbricht of East Germany, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

There were thousands of cold warriors; the four profiled here were selected because they represented different sides of the conflict and because, taken together, their influence spanned nearly the length of the Cold War. Joseph Stalin was dictator of the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until his death in 1953. Dean Acheson was U.S. undersecretary of state from 1945 to 1947, secretary of state from 1949 to 1953, and foreign policy adviser without portfolio thereafter. Mao Zedong led the communists to victory in China in 1949 and became the nation's supreme ruler for nearly thirty years. And Ronald Reagan, U.S. president from 1981 to 1989, stoked the flickering fire beneath the Cold War cauldron. All of these men made decisions that had enormous consequences for the world in which they lived and for the world inherited by the next generation of leaders. Strenuous as it was to fight the Cold War, it proved even harder to unmake it.


That Stalin came to lead the Soviet Union following Vladimir Ilych Lenin's death in 1924 was a surprise to nearly everyone. Stalin was a man people underestimated. He was short (five feet, four inches tall) and stocky, with a face pitted by smallpox and a left arm bent permanently by a childhood accident. He mumbled or talked so quietly that he was hard to hear; possibly he was embarrassed at his poor grasp of Russian, which he spoke with an accent. On the eve of the October 1917 revolution, one of Stalin's colleagues on the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet wrote that he gave "the impression of a grey blur which flickered obscurely and left no trace. There really is nothing more to be said about him." But some by then could see in his eyes a fixity of purpose that promised a good deal more. "He's not an intellectual," noted the American journalist John Reed in 1920. "He's not even particularly well informed, but he knows what he wants. He's got will-power, and he's going to be on top of the pile some day."

He was born in 1879, in the Russian state of Georgia. His family name was Dzhugashvili. (Joseph would take the name Stalin, meaning "man of steel," in the early 1900s.) Possibly he was illegitimate. His father, or the man who raised him, was a cobbler, while his mother was a domestic servant. Joseph attended local schools and was a good student, though inclined to challenge the authority of his teachers. His boyhood hero was Koba, a character in a novel called The Patricide, who battled against the forces of injustice and rewarded the downtrodden with the spoils of his victories. Joseph identified so fully with this Russian Robin Hood that he later took "Koba" as one of his code names.

Stalin had no philosophy in the usual sense of the word. Unlike Marx or Lenin he was not much good at theorizing. He understood Russian history as a narrative of triumph and tragedy and took from it the lesson that an unguarded Russia would be ripe for exploitation or worse. Russia had saved Europe from the Mongols in the thirteenth century, had stopped Napoleon in the nineteenth, and would destroy Adolf Hitler's Reich in the 1940s. Each of these hard-won triumphs had saved civilization. Yet it seemed to Stalin that Russia's reward for its sacrifice was to be attacked yet again; the nation was surrounded by enemies who wished for its demise. Superimposed on this view of Russia's haunted history was a particular version of revolutionary communism. Stalin believed that the revolution required a long period of incubation at home, that it would not be ready for export to other nations until it had totally transformed Russia. Agriculture must be collectivized. The state must control industry, goading factory workers to new heights of production. Art, literature, and even science ought to reflect the noble purposes of the communist state, valorizing the proletariat and refusing to indulge in bourgeois fripperies. Suspicious of Russia's neighbors, suspicious of ideological deviation, suspicious, really, of almost everyone, Stalin built by the 1930s an industrial power and a state ruled by intimidation and terror.

No one knows how many Soviet citizens died as a result of Stalin's agricultural policy or by his direct order. Judging the rich peasants, or kulaks, inherently selfish and therefore incompatible with the goal of collectivization, Stalin eradicated them as a class. When grain production fell short of expectations in 1932, Stalin demanded more. The result was the starvation of perhaps five million Russians. Between 1936 and 1938 Stalin instituted the Terror, in which millions more of his political opponents real or imagined were deported to Siberia or executed following a show trial. On one December day in 1937 Stalin and Molotov signed 3,167 death warrants, then went to a movie. A cult of Stalin developed throughout the country. Poems and songs celebrated the dictator. One of his speeches was pressed onto seven sides of a gramophone record; the eighth side contained nothing but applause.

Once disclosed, the horrors of the Stalinist gulag convinced many observers that Stalin's foreign policy would proceed, by comparably brutal steps, to threaten the world with a bloodbath in the guise of revolution. There was a germ of logic to this fear. If Stalin did not hesitate to murder Russian citizens, why should he have scruples about killing foreigners? Revolutionary ideology would not respect national boundaries. The metaphors used to describe it by those who dreaded ita conflagration, a disease, or even, in George Kennan's more measured analysis, "a fluid stream"suggested that Stalinist communism was relentlessly expansionistic.

The reality was a good deal more complicated. Certainly Stalin was opportunistic, looking for trouble spots or turmoil to exploit. He had not abandoned hope of inspiring revolution in other countries, only shelved it temporarily in favor of consolidating control at home. Yet Stalin's first concern was always the preservation of the Soviet state from invasion or erosion from without. There was much to loseincluding, of course, his own power. A shrewd foreign policy must, therefore, state the Soviet Union's claim to survival while nevertheless avoiding antagonizing neighboring countries that were capable of destroying the motherland. This meant, for example, that when Germany was restored to its military power under Hitler during the 1930s, Stalin would seek to offset German strength by finding friends among the bourgeois states that were ideologically anathema to him. When it became clear, after the Munich Pact of 1938, that the British and French had no stomach for opposing Hitler's absorption of other countries, Stalin decided to make his own arrangement with the Germans. The result was the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, in which the two nations agreed not to fight each other, and (secretly) to divide Poland and the Baltic states between them. Stalin even promised that if Germany seemed in danger of losing a war, he would send a hundred divisions to the West to defend his new ally. It turned out badly for the Soviet Union, which in June was invaded by the Germans.

Stalin was at first shocked into near paralysis. "Lenin founded our state, and we've fucked it up!" he said. He fled Moscow and failed to communicate with his generals, who were desperate for instructions. But he recovered and began issuing orders. Russia would not surrender. There would be bloody battles, and many lives would be lostindeed, well over twenty million by the war's end. Germany would be beaten, and the Soviet Union would have a peace that would at last guarantee the protection of the nation against all outside forces.

The Soviet victory over Germany was bought with help from the United States, which provided equipment through President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Lend-Lease program. Stalin was grudgingly appreciative of this aid. Still, he believed that the Americans, along with the British, could have done much more, and he suspected that his new allies wanted Russians and Germans to kill each other in droves, leaving Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill free to dictate the peace. Stalin was especially angry at the allies' failure to open a meaningful second front against Germans in Europe before mid-1944.

It seemed to Stalin that the Russians bore the brunt of the German attack. Over time, however, Stalin found the policy could work to his advantage. Once the Nazis had been defeated at Stalingrad, in February 1943, they fell into retreat, pursued by the Red Army. By the spring of 1944, as the Americans and British were preparing at last to invade Normandy, the Russians had begun arriving at the eastern frontiers of the European nations that had made common cause with the Nazis.

Ultimately, by dint of having the largest army in the region, the Soviets gained predominant influence after the war in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the eastern quarter of Germany. Yugoslavia was controlled by communists. To gain these prizes seemed to Stalin nothing more than a reasonable division of the postwar spoils. He did not picture the eastern European satellites as an entering wedge toward world domination but rather as recompense for Russian suffering at Nazi hands and the logical result of occupation policies established by his allies. And he sought a buffer zone of politically compliant states along the western face of the Soviet Union.

It was not so much ideological conformity as simple cooperation that Stalin sought, in eastern Europe and elsewhere. He hoped that the Americans and British would allow him the buffer zone and a good deal of reconstruction aid as well. Churchill, after all, had in 1944 conceded major Soviet influence in several eastern European countries. Franklin Roosevelt endorsed a spheres of influence arrangement in the postwar world, to include a Soviet sphere roughly east of the Elbe River. Meeting with Stalin at Yalta in February 1945, Churchill and Roosevelt had seemed to accept a face-saving formula on the composition of the emerging Polish government. Stalin felt sure that the others would permit him to do essentially what he wanted there. "The logic of his position was simple," as one of Stalin's biographers has written. "He had won the war in order to have good next-door neighbors." He thought his allies accepted this.

Elsewhere Stalin probed in places where his predecessors had long had interests. He pressured the Turks to revise the Montreux Convention, up for renewal, and grant him joint management of the strategically vital Dardanelles strait. He dragged his feet on the matter of withdrawing Soviet troops from northern Iran in 1946, though he had previously agreed to pull out. And he demanded a share of the occupation authority in Japan, having sent his armies against Japanese forces in China in the last days of the war. When the allies remonstrated or acted firmly against him, however, Stalin backed down. The Dardanelles remained Turkish, Soviet troops left Iran without having guaranteed Moscow's access to Iranian oil, and Stalin pretty much conceded his exclusion from Japanese affairs after 1945. He did not want a confrontation with the United States. He emphatically did not want war.

But between April 1945 and March 1946 Stalin came to believe that the British and Americans sought a confrontation with him. Roosevelt's death in April 1945 deprived Stalin of a rival who had nevertheless shown flexibility in negotiations and apparent sympathy for Soviet predicaments. Roosevelt's successor, Harry S. Truman, seemed less inclined to give Stalin the benefit of the doubt. The American use of atomic bombs against Japan in August was a shock. The Russians had known and had been receiving information that scientists in the United States were working on the bomb, but until he read reports of what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki Stalin had not appreciated the power of the new weapon. He immediately authorized a major effort to build the bomb; unless the Soviets tested their own weapon, he believed, they remained subject to intimidation by the United States. The Soviet bomb was tested successfully in August 1949. Finally, as the disagreements mounted between Russia and the Westquarrels over the disposition of postwar Germany, reparations or loans or aid due the Soviet Union, and the future of atomic weapons the United States and Great Britain seemed to conspire against the Russians. The rhetoric on both sides intensified; the Cold War had begun.

To statesmen in the West, Stalin's culpability seemed obvious. He had clamped down ruthlessly in eastern Europe, suppressing freedom throughout the region, most outrageously in Czechoslovakia in early 1948. He stripped Soviet occupation zones of their factories, refused to bargain reasonably over German reunification, and in 1948 blockaded Berlin. He reestablished the Cominform to coordinate the menacing activities of communist parties everywhere. It looked different to Stalin. He wished only for security, prosperity, and noninterference by other nations in Russia's affairs. Just five years after defeating Germany, the Soviet Union was threatened with encirclement once more.

The emergent Cold War was not confined to Europe. In China a long-simmering civil war between the Nationalist forces of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the communist peasant army of Mao Zedong came to a full boil following Japan's surrender. Stalin did not at first embrace Mao's revolutionary quest and doubted the efficacy of Mao's movement; however, Mao was able to establish the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949. Stalin hoped to preserve Soviet influence in China, which the 1945 treaty provided, and could not afford to subsidize the People's Republic to the extent that Mao would have liked. Strains developed between the two men: Stalin was suspicious of Mao's plans, while Mao resented what he considered to be his second-class treatment in Moscow. While the two men agreed on a treaty of friendship in mid-February 1950, the differences between the communist leaders remained.

The most strenuous test of the new Sino-Soviet relationship, and the most dangerous flare-up of the Cold War to that point, was the Korean War. The North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, visited Stalin at least twice, in April 1949 and March 1950, and corresponded with him at other times. Stalin at first splashed cold water on Kim's assertion that he could reunite Korea by military means. Stalin worried, as ever, that the United States would intervene, thus threatening Soviet security. By the early spring of 1950, though, Stalin had come around. Assured by Kim that his forces were far superior to those in the south, that the Americans were unlikely to act, and that there were 200,000 communists in South Korea who would rise up in support of the North Korean invaders, Stalin went along with Kim's plan to attack. Stalin offered increased military aid and some military advisers. At the same time, he urged Kim to ask Mao for help.

The Truman administration's decision to intervene in the Korean War, buttressed by the United Nations Security Council (from which the Soviet representative was conveniently absent), confirmed Stalin's worst fears. It was a measure of his reluctance to venture too deeply into conflicts with the United States, even those in places close to Russia's border, that he would not commit Soviet troops to the fray. He did nudge the Chinese forward, promising aid and support to Chinese brave enough to go to war, but the aid came stintingly, and Soviet air cover appeared over Korean airspace a full month after the first Chinese soldiers crossed the Yalu River into North Korea. Stalin, who had worried about a U.S.China rapprochement, was not unhappy to see Americans and Chinese killing each other.

The Korean War became a bloody stalemate in 1951, and by then Stalin's health was failing. He continued to rule with an iron hand, arresting those of whom he contrived any reason to be suspicious, reducing more and more the size of the trusted circle around him. But his body had weakened, and his thinking was no longer clear. He had a brain hemorrhage on the night of 28 February1 March 1953, though he managed to remain alive for another four days. Just as he died, according to his daughter, "he suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something up above and bringing down a curse on us all. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace." It was a fitting end for a man who had brought so much suffering to Russian citizens, while nevertheless making the Soviet Union a nation to be respected, or feared, throughout the world.


When Dean Acheson became U.S. secretary of state in early 1949 he hung in his office two portraits: one of John Quincy Adams, the other of Henry Stimson. These were significant choices. Adams, perhaps the greatest secretary of state in U.S. history, had conceived the first American empire but had warned his overzealous compatriots against going "abroad in search of monsters to destroy." Stimson, who had served as secretary of state for Herbert Hoover and became secretary of war (for the second time) under Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, had preserved Adams's imperial vision. Both men were among the best and brightest of their generations: Adams the scion of the famous political family, Stimson a partner in Elihu Root's law firm. And both men were dedicated to the service of their country, had a keen sense of right and wrong, and believed that gentlemen should behave honorablyas Stimson said, they did not read one another's mail. Dean Acheson believed these things too.

Acheson was born and raised in Connecticut. His father, Edward, was an Episcopal rector; his mother, Eleanor (Gooderham), was a grande dame with a sense of humor. Both were British subjects. Eleanor spoke with a British accent, and the family celebrated the queen's birthday. Thus was Acheson's Anglophilia instilled at an early age. He went to Groton and Yale, finishing both (Groton barely) without academic distinction. His Yale classmate Archibald MacLeish recalled that Acheson was "socially snobby with qualities of arrogance and superciliousness." Seriousness arrived in his second year at Harvard Law School, when he took a class with Felix Frankfurter. The law captured him, especially for its possibilities as training for government service. Frankfurter arranged a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

Acheson's career in government began in 1933, when he was named Roosevelt's treasury undersecretary. The appointment was short-lived. Acheson opposed FDR's plan to buy gold to shore up prices, and he was asked to resign that fall. But he had made himself known to Roosevelt's men, and early in 1941 Secretary of State Cordell Hull brought Acheson to the State Department as assistant secretary for economic affairs. Acheson quickly made his presence felt. He helped negotiate the lend-lease agreement with the British, into which, and despite his Anglophilia, he inserted a clause demanding an end to preferential economic arrangements within the British empire. Acheson also insisted on tightening an embargo on oil shipments to Japan. And after the United States had entered the war, he became one of the American architects of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both of which would do much to stabilize the economy of the capitalist nations following the war. When, in late 1944, Hull was replaced by Edward Stettinius, Acheson became assistant secretary of state for congressional relations and international conferences.

Acheson fortuitously had had a lengthy meeting with Truman two days before Roosevelt's death in April 1945. Truman made "a very good impression. He is straightforward, decisive, simple, entirely honest." He would "learn fast and inspire confidence." But Acheson was not at first moved to stay on in the government, and after seeing through to completion the drafting of the United Nations Charter, in midsummer he submitted to the president a letter of resignation. Truman and his new secretary of state, James Byrnes, refused to accept it. They wanted Acheson to stay in the administration and to promote him to undersecretary of state, second in command in the department. Acheson hesitated but finally agreed to return.

He was thrust immediately into the maelstrom. Byrnes was a clever politician but a poor administrator, and the volume of information flowing into the department, as well as the demands placed on its employees by the developing Cold War, threatened to overwhelm all of them. Acheson became the department's leading organizer and troubleshooter. Truman assigned him to the crucial task of finding a way to control atomic energy without sacrificing American security. His report, written with David Lilienthal and submitted in March 1946, was a sincere (if doomed) effort to accommodate Soviet concerns about the American nuclear monopoly by establishing an international agency to regulate the production of atomic energy. Yet Acheson found himself, along with his president, moving toward a tougher stance against the Soviet Union. If Stalin thought by early 1946 that his capitalist enemies were encircling him despite the reasonableness of his position, the view from Washington was different. U.S. policymakers came to believe that the Soviets would push and probe and stir up trouble anywhere they were not met with resistance, including potential military action. While the hallmark of American resolve was George Kennan's 1947 essay "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," in which he called for the employment of "counterforce" against the Soviets "at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points," the Truman administration had in fact been pursuing an ad hoc version of this containment strategy since early 1946. Acheson was its lead author. It was he who wrote Stalin a stern note, delivered by Kennan, demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from northern Iran. And it was Acheson who wrote the Truman administration's sharp response to the Soviet demand, in August 1946, that Turkey agree to a joint Russian-Turkish defense of the Dardanelles. Acheson's note, along with arrival in the area of a U.S. naval task force, caused the Soviets to back down.

Acheson also played a vital role in shaping the political and economic institutions of Truman's Cold War. In early 1947, with Byrnes out and George Marshall in as the secretary of state, the anticommunist governments of Turkey and Greece claimed to be under severe Soviet pressure and could not guarantee their own survival. Convinced that the United States must help the Turkish and Greek governments, the administration nevertheless faced the difficult task of persuading a fiscally careful Congress to provide the aid needed to shore up these governments. On 27 February, Truman called a meeting between administration officials and a handful of leading senators and members of congress in hopes of winning over the legislators. Acheson described this encounter as "Armageddon." Marshall spoke first, emphasizing the need for the United States to act because it was the right thing to do and because no one else would help. The legislators seemed unmoved. Was it America's fight? Was the bill likely to be enormous? Acheson asked to speak. Immediately he changed the terms of the debate. The crisis in southeastern Europe, he said, was no local dustup but one that involved the two Cold War powers. The Soviets were pressuring Turkey and Greece as they had pressured Iran. At stake was a vast portion of the free world, for if Greece went communist, "like apples in a barrel infected by one rotten one, the corruption of Greece would infect Iran and all to the east. It would also carry infection to Africa through Asia Minor and Egypt, and Europe through Italy and France," which faced communist threats of their own. Only the United States stood in the way of a communist onslaught that would, if successful, snuff out freedom and destroy all hope of economic recovery in parts of three continents. The congressional leaders were impressed, and the pronouncement of the Truman Doctrine followed on 12 March, promising that the United States would fight communism everywhere.

The world's biggest problems remained economic, and the chief area of concern for Acheson, as always, was neither Iran nor Greece but western Europe. Policymakers in Washington believed that communism fed on economic distress; European nations were vulnerable to radicals promising the redistribution of wealth as a panacea for poverty. Economic aid from the United Statesand in far greater magnitude than that proffered to Turkey and Greecewas essential to Europe's economic recovery, its revival as a market for U.S. exports, and its people's continued faith in democracy. Acheson said as much in a speech he gave in Cleveland, Mississippi, in early May 1947. His call for massive economic aid to Europe found its manifestation in the Marshall Plan, announced by the secretary of state at Harvard the following month. If the Truman Doctrine had made the strategic case for containment, the Marshall Plan was designed to give economic spine to American's closest friends and trading partners in western Europe. Once more, Acheson had played a crucial role in shaping the new policy.

Acheson had previously decided to leave the administration, and when he tendered his resignation effective 1 July 1947, Truman this time reluctantly let him go. He was, however, receptive when Truman, surprisingly victorious in the 1948 election, invited him to return to public life, this time as secretary of state.

The problems to which Acheson returned in January 1949 were even knottier than they had been when he had departed eighteen months earlier. Europeans and Soviets no longer doubted American resolve. But the Nationalist government of China was in the final stages of collapse; as Acheson remarked ruefully, he arrived back in service just in time to have it fall on him. There was not yet a peace treaty with Japan, and France's effort to return to power in its colony of Indochina had met with firm resistance from Vietnamese nationalists associated with communism. The Soviet Union would explode its first atomic bomb later that year. Above all, at least as far as Acheson was concerned, Europe remained dangerously unstable. The Italian and French governments turned over with distressing frequency, threatening Europe's stability and ultimately its solvency. Great Britain still depended on U.S. aid, and a slight U.S. recession in the spring of 1949 undermined the sterling pound and forced a new round of austerity on London. Germany remained divided, with Berlin under siege in the East and with the West, its capital at Bonn, a seeming out-post of Western interests thrust provocatively into the Soviet bloc, economically infirm and utterly defenseless. Here especially, thought Acheson, something had to be done.

Acheson addressed the problems systematically, blending a staunch anticommunism, a fervent faith in liberal capitalism, and a healthy measure of pragmatism. There was not much to be done about China: Chiang Kai-shek was plainly a loser and it would be necessary to "let the dust settle" following the communists' victory. Japan would have a peace treaty in 1952. Vexed by French behavior in Indochina but unwilling to weaken France further or cede more territory to what he construed as world communism, Acheson supplied some economic and military aid to the French-backed (read "puppet") government of Bao Dai in Vietnam. What Europe and especially West Germany needed was an infusion of confidence that the United States would come to the rescue in the unlikely event that the Soviet Union attacked. Working with the Europeans, Acheson helped fashion, in the spring of 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty, which created a group of like-minded nations committed to the proposition, as article 5 of the treaty put it, that "an armed attack against one shall be considered an attack against them all." For Acheson the treaty was valuable as a morale boost for U.S. allies, as well as a means to permit, someday, the military restoration of (West) Germany under multilateral aegis.

Acheson had not spent much time thinking about Korea. His State Department predecessors, and the military, had already put into motion the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea. In a speech in January 1950 Acheson described a U.S. "defense perimeter" in East Asia that incorporated various islands, among them the Philippines and Okinawa. It was possible to take from Acheson's words the implication that mainland Asian nations, including South Korea, fell outside the U.S. picket, though this was a strained interpretation; Acheson did say that the United States had "direct responsibility" for Korea. Certainly Acheson was naive to assume, as he told the Foreign Relations Committee, that South Korea "could take care of any trouble started by" the North. But no cold warrior of Acheson's type would have invited an attack on an ally, even one as troublesome as Syngman Rhee's South Korea. The proof of Acheson's commitment came in the last days of June, once Kim Il Sung had launched his offensive. Truman, closely advised by Acheson and the military, committed U.S. forces to the conflict, seeking UN support for this step afterward.

The Korean War would ultimately serve the ends of the containment strategy. The North Koreans, who were presumed by Acheson to be proxy soldiers for Moscow, were stopped. Still, Acheson's reputation suffered as a result of the war. Conservatives attacked him because he had not seen it coming. He would have, they argued, had he understood the implications of his do-nothing policy on China; his abandonment of Chiang had encouraged communists throughout Asia to think they could launch attacks with impunity. Republicans led by Senator Joseph McCarthy accused Acheson of appeasement or worse. He was part of a "crimson crowd," said McCarthy. Senator Hugh Butler exclaimed: "I look at that fellow. I watch his smart-aleck manner and his British clothes, and that New Dealism in everything he says and does, and I want to shout, 'Get out, Get out. You stand for everything that has been wrong with the United States for years!'"

Truman and Acheson could not achieve a truce in Korea. An armistice was signed only in July 1953, six months after Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles had succeeded them as the nation's chief cold warriors. Out of harness Acheson drifted. He wanted badly to have influence again on U.S. diplomacy. This was not possible in the Eisenhower administration: Acheson was tainted by his association with the humiliations of the United States in East Asia. In any case he disparaged the administration's reliance on nuclear weapons, a strategy dubbed "massive retaliation," and thought Dulles sanctimonious. Nor would Democrats embrace him. Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats' presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, thought Acheson irascible and controversial, and kept his distance. In Germany in 1957 Ambassador David Bruce, who was Acheson's friend, found the former secretary "devastating, clever, bitter and not constructive. Dean is overfull of bile and it is sad."

John F. Kennedy, the Democrat who won the presidency in 1960, did consult with Acheson. Kennedy took Acheson's advice on cabinet appointments (Secretary of State Dean Rusk was Acheson's suggestion, though Acheson later regretted having made it) and the need to build NATO forces in Europe. Elsewhere Kennedy resisted Acheson's increasingly reflexive militancy. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Acheson, a member of Kennedy's high-level ExCom, urged the president to bomb Soviet missile sites and was disgusted when JFK decided to interdict Russian ships instead, a tactic Acheson thought timid. As the war in Vietnam expanded, particularly under Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, Acheson found himself more and more in demand as an adviser. Johnson treated Acheson with deference. And Acheson's early position on Vietnamthat the United States had no choice but to fight until South Vietnam was preserved against a communist takeovermatched Johnson's.

Averell Harriman said in 1970: "Some people's minds freeze. Acheson's hasn't changed since 1952." That was unfair. While Acheson never lost his suspicion of the Soviet Union, and thus remained convinced of the necessity of containment, and while his contempt for his intellectual inferiors, especially those in Congress, remained undiminished, he came to see the Vietnam War as a waste of American power. Harriman himself, along with Undersecretary of State George Ball, made Acheson see by early 1968 that Vietnam was a peripheral Cold War theater. At a meeting of Johnson's Vietnam "wise men" on 25 March 1968, Acheson spoke bluntly and eloquently of the need for the administration to disengage from the conflict. Johnson, shaken, announced less than a week later that he would seek to negotiate with Hanoi. He added, almost as an afterthought, that he would not seek reelection in 1968 but would instead devote all his energy to finding a way out of the morass in Southeast Asia.

Acheson had come full circle. He had started his public career as a man of principle, demanding to see evidence that one policy choice was better than another, just as Felix Frankfurter and Louis Brandeis had taught him. His Cold Warlike Stalin's, ironicallysprang from ideology tempered by pragmatism. There was assertiveness but no adventurism in the man who helped shape the United Nations, the Bretton Woods economic system, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO. But the harsh criticism of conservatives inclined Acheson toward greater militancy and left him unable to resist the temptations of victory in Korea. Thereafter he grew increasingly sharp with those with whom he disagreed. That never changed. But the Vietnam War restored Acheson to his former view that the United States could not solve every world problem, especially not by military means. When Acheson died on 12 October 1971 he left a legacy worthy, in ambition and execution, of the two secretaries of state he admired most.


The Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong and Dean Acheson were exact contemporaries, born in 1893. But while Acheson enjoyed a comfortable boyhood and moved rather casually through Groton and Yale, Mao left school at thirteen to help with the family farm, married at age fourteen (and was widowed at seventeen), and in 1911 joined the Republican army in its quest to unite and strengthen China. When he was twenty years old Mao, who came from the rural province of Hunan, returned to school and came under the influence of a teacher named Yang, who inspired in him a passion for reform, a strong ethical sense, and an enthusiasm for exercise, generally taken in the nude. When Yang got a job at Beijing University, Mao went north with him. It was the young farmer's first time out of Hunan.

He took a job as a clerk at the university library and came to know a corps of intellectuals who published an influential magazine called New Youth, which became the literary centerpiece of an inchoate but determined reformist movement that emerged following the formal end of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of a republic in 1912. Sun Yat-sen, a Japanese-educated radical from Canton, was the movement's leading political light, but his faith in republicanism was not shared by some young Chinese who sought the end of class oppression. Li Dazhao proclaimed an interest in Marxism and endorsed the Bolshevik revolution. Hu Shih, who had a degree from Cornell, was a literary critic who wrote on women's liberation. Mao was not in their intellectual circle, but the yeastiness of the Beijing scene plainly affected him.

Mao returned to Hunan and the city of Changsha in the early spring of 1919. He thus missed the great urban demonstrations of 4 May, out of which would flow reformist currents that would dominate China for the next thirty years. But Mao contributed a small tributary of his own. He taught history at local schools. And he edited a journal called the Xiang River Review, for which he wrote nearly all the articles. His writing heralded the forthcoming "liberation of mankind," which would arrive when people lost their fear of those who ruled them and the superstitions that held them in thrall. When the local warlord stopped publication of the Review, Mao shifted to another journal; when it, too, was suppressed, he wrote for Changsha's biggest newspaper.

On 23 July 1921 thirteen Chinese and two members of the Soviet-sponsored Comintern (one Dutch, one Russian), met in Shanghai for the First Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Mao Zedong was among them. After days of discussion the Congress decided that it should devote its efforts to organizing the working class, putting off plans to mobilize the peasants and the army. The capitalists would be overthrown and "social ownership" of land and machinery would ensue. Buoyed by these resolutions, and presumably in agreement with them, Mao returned to Hunan to begin building a mass movement.

He organized workers and orchestrated strikes. Mao did not attend the Second Party Congress meeting in July 1922, but he soon after learned that the party, nudged by the Comintern agents, had decided to enter into coalition with the Nationalist, or Kuomintang, Party, then headed by Sun Yat-sen. Communists were instructed to form "a bloc within" the party. In this way, they would work alongside the bourgeois elements in China to overthrow the feudal oppressors, all the while securing their bonds to the working class and awaiting the revolutionary situation that would someday emerge in the country. Mao dutifully joined the Kuomintang. Certainly the Communist decision to create a United Front with the Kuomintang seemed reasonable at the time and was consistent with Marxist doctrine. The Kuomintang under Sun was a militant organization, sympathetic to workers and willing to help them strike for their rights. Nor were there many Communist Party members in China, and the party was broke. The Communists could decide their ultimate course as events unfolded.

Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, and leadership of the Kuomintang, and thus the United Front, was grasped by Chiang Kai-shek, a general who was commandant of the United Front's military academy. In the spring of 1926 Chiang led his forces north out of Canton, determined to destroy the power of local warlords and unite the nation under United Front rule. Communists marched alongside Kuomintang troops, but even more important were the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) organizers, among them Mao, who were assigned to prepare the way for Chiang's soldiers. The men and women of the CCP served as agitators, turning peasants and workers against their local regimes in order to soften them up for the expedition forces. Alarmed at the success of CCP organizers in mobilizing workers, Chiang decided to purge the United Front of its Communists, thus purifying the Kuomintang ideologically and eliminating any awkwardness about power sharing in the future. Chiang's purge was bloody everywhere, but particularly so in Shanghai, where Kuomintang troops killed thousands of their recent allies in April 1927. As the ideological cleansing spread westward, Mao found himself the de facto leader of a demoralized peasant army whose ranks dwindled daily. Increasingly isolated, he moved his remaining supporters to a mountainous area on the border between Hunan and Jiangxi provinces.

His force, as he noted at the time, consisted of "ten thousand messy people." The description was not altogether disparaging. In 1927 Mao had written a report on the peasants in two Hunan counties. Contrary to the Comintern view that peasants were benighted and thus unlikely revolutionary tinder, Mao discovered that the country people were doing a remarkable job of radicalizing and organizing themselves. The Communist Party was at a crossroads: it could continue to deny the revolutionary potential of the rural masses, or it could break with Moscow-inspired orthodoxy, take its place at the revolutionary vanguard, and guide the peasants to victory. For Mao the second road seemed best; however, this decision put Mao at odds with the Comintern and Stalin.

Under pressure from Kuomintang forces, in 1930 Mao and his peasants moved to a new border base and created a government in what they called the Jiangxi Soviet. Mao's grasp of power now slipped. He fell seriously ill several times. In 1932 the national CCP leadership removed to Jiangxi, and the bosses pushed Mao to the side. It was they who decided that the Soviet had become indefensible, and that the Communists would have to leave, though exactly where they would end up was unsettled. Thus began the Long March, an event that would assume legendary status among the Communists, especially as the passage of time dimmed memories of its horrors. Some eighty-six thousand people left Jiangxi in the fall of 1934, Mao among them, though without a leading role. Harried by Kuomintang troops, exploited by the locals, frozen, hungry, and sick, the Communists lost marchers at an alarming rate. As the former Soviet leaders were blamed for the debacle, Mao's star rose. By the time the remnants of the columnonly eight thousand peoplereached far off Shaanxi province a full year after its departure from the Soviet, Mao was back in charge.

The Communists made their new headquarters in the town of Yan'an. Living in caves carved into the sere hillsides, they worked to create their version of a just society, to include some land redistribution and respect for the local peasantry. Mao was the acknowledged leader in these efforts. He insisted that intellectuals learn from rather than teach the masses. But he abandoned sociology in favor of political theory that he represented as unassailable.

In July 1937 the Japanese forced a clash with Chinese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing, then used the incident as a pretext to launch a full-scale assault against China. The Japanese attacked the major eastern cities, took Shanghai, then drove Chiang's Nationalist Kuomintang out of its capital at Nanjing, committing appalling atrocities as they did so. The spreading war forced Chiang to reinstitute the United Front with the CCP. Mao welcomed this step, though he understood that it was born purely of expediency; once the Japanese were defeated, he knew, war between the parties would resume.

Nationalist and Communist troops frequently fought hard against the Japanese, but they cooperated minimally and kept a wary eye on each other. When the war ended in August 1945 Japanese troops remained on Chinese soil. The Americans, who had sent representatives to Yan'an during the war and had encouraged the maintenance of the United Front, were nevertheless determined to help Chiang regain political and military superiority. They gave weapons to the Kuomintang, ferried its troops north to accept the Japanese surrender and thus their weapons as well, and kept Japanese soldiers armed in order to prevent Communist advances. The Russians, for their part, ushered Communist troops into Manchuria in the wake of their own departure. Thus did the Cold War come implicitly to China.

Hoping to prevent the resumption of civil war, President Truman sent George Marshall to China in late 1945. Marshall wanted a coalition between the Communists and the Nationalists, a desire that was as sincere as it was unrealistic. Mao, whose postwar position seemed weaker than Chiang's, proved cooperative, agreeing to remove Communist fighters from southern China and accepting in principle Marshall's proposal for a unified Chinese army. Chiang balked at nearly every American suggestion, preferring to pursue his war against the Communists. When a discouraged Marshall left China in January 1947 he labeled Chiang "the leading obstacle to peace and reform" on the scene. Yet the Americans would not abandon Chiang. He was, the Truman administration judged, the only hope for a united, noncommunist China.

Mao may have hoped for a more genuinely balanced U.S. policy but he could not have been shocked when the Americans sided with Chiang. Never, despite his pretensions, a sophisticated political theorist, Mao soon proved his abilities as a battlefield strategist. He maintained high morale and fought relentlessly and without quarter. Within each new area seized from the Kuomintang, Mao instituted land reform, with the understanding that the beneficiaries in their gratitude would become eager recruits for the Communist army. Beginning in the fall of 1947 CCP forces won battle after battle against the Kuomintang. On 1 October 1949 Mao declared in Beijing the founding of the People's Republic of China. Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, taking with him the remnants of the Kuomintang government and vowing to reconquer the mainland.

China desperately needed help. There had been a flicker of hope of establishing a diplomatic relationship with the United States. Even after the failure of Marshall's mission, Mao had signaled that he would welcome American assistance, and Mao's compatriot Zhou Enlai, who would become premier of the People's Republic, had seemed even more willing to make overtures to Washington. But in June 1949 Mao had given a speech in which he declared the need for China to "lean to one side" in the Cold War, specifically toward the Soviet Union. Mao's pronouncement did not ensure that the Soviets would embrace the Chinese Communists. Stalin had all along treated the Chinese revolution as an odd and ominous strain of the species, and he remained ambivalent about its prospects even after the CCP had won. Mao came to resent the widely held perception that he was Stalin's junior partner in revolution, and he was not reassured by the treatment he received when he arrived in Moscow in December, seeking a new relationship with the Kremlin and a good deal of economic aid. He got far less than he had hoped for with the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship signed in February 1950.

Mao's most important goal was to consolidate the revolution at home, which required the establishment of Communist political legitimacy and economic policies that would eradicate poverty. He was also intent on liberating Taiwan from Chiang; without this step, the revolution would remain unfinished. Stalin promised no help, but when the Americans indicated their disinterest in defending the island, Mao began to concentrate his forces along China's southwest coast in preparation for an attack across the Formosa Strait. But Kim Il Sung moved faster. Having received Stalin's permission to go to war, Kim came to Beijing in May 1950, seeking Mao's blessing as well.

Mao was unenthusiastic about Kim's plans and asked him to reconsider. Kim refused. In the end Mao offered Kim a green light but promised nothing in the way of help, and Kim did not then pursue the matter, figuring he was likely to win quickly or that the Soviets would give him any assistance he needed. Mao was also surprised when the Americans intervened to halt the North Korean attack and placed their fleet in the Formosa Strait. The United States, Mao decided, was determined to destroy the People's Republic, and had taken its first step toward doing so in Korea. In response Mao began redeploying troops to northeast China near the Korean border. In September, following Douglas MacArthur's successful landing at Inchon and the subsequent rout of the North Korean army, Mao wrote to a Manchurian comrade: "Apparently, it won't do for us not to intervene in the war. You must accelerate preparations."

On 16 October Chinese units crossed the Yalu River in force. Mao professed confidence in their ultimate victory. Once the Chinese had bloodied U.S. forces in battle the American people would demand an end to the conflict. Privately Mao looked for additional help from the Soviet Union. Stalin was not at first forthcoming; he evidently wanted to test Chinese determination, and he remained wary of antagonizing the Americans. But as the Chinese routed UN forces and gave every indication that they intended to stay the course, Stalin relented, putting Soviet warplanes into action over Korea in mid-November.

Military stalemate came in Korea by the spring of 1951. The negotiations toward ending the war then dragged on for two frustrating years. During this time Mao used the war to rally people to the CCP. He mounted campaigns aimed at rooting out "counterrevolutionaries," crypto-capitalists, and Kuomintang sympathizers. His own power grew. By 1953 he was not only chairman of the Communist Party but also chairman of the People's Republic of China itself and in charge of its armed forces. Stalin's death in March left Mao unrivaled as a source of revolutionary wisdom and experience. He became the leading symbol of the communist Cold War, dispensing advice to would-be revolutionaries throughout the world, rattling sabers at the capitalist powers and their "running dog" allies, and threatening, as always, to absorb Taiwan.

The relationship between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union, tense during the best of times, deteriorated rapidly following Stalin's death. Nikita Khrushchev, who ultimately succeeded Stalin and who exposed some of Stalin's crimes to the world, found Mao cruel and megalomaniacal. At a time when Khrushchev was seeking to coexist with the United States, Mao seemed always to be courting war. In Moscow in 1957 Mao, according to Khrushchev, told Communist Party delegates that they should not fear "atomic bombs and missiles." If the imperialists started a war China might "lose more than three hundred million people. So what? War is war. The years will pass, and we'll get to work producing more babies than ever before." The Russians present were appalled. The following year Mao confronted the United States (for a second time) over the status of Quemoy and Matsu, two Nationalist-held islands in the Formosa Strait. Having precipitated a crisis Mao then backed down, which suggested to Khrushchev that the Chinese leader was better at creating confrontations than he was at resolving them. (Mao would say the same thing about Khrushchev following the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.)

By then the breach between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union was total. The Russians found intolerable Chinese abuse of Soviet advisers sent to help China develop its oil and build an atomic bomb, and in 1960 the Soviets removed their people. Mao, meanwhile, was incredulous that the Soviets would sell advanced MIG jets to India in 1962, given the friction that existed on the border between China and India. For his sixty-ninth birthday that year, Mao wrote a poem that contained the defiant lines "Only the hero dares pursue the tiger,/Still less does any brave fellow fear the bear." It may be presumed that Mao himself was the "hero," even more contemptuous of the Russian bear than of the paper tiger of imperialism.

As ever Mao's Cold War abroad directly affected his domestic policies. In 1958 Mao inaugurated a program of economic acceleration called the Great Leap Forward, in which all farm cooperatives would be joined into twenty thousand enormous communes and in which the nation's steel production would be increased through the efforts of workers who would erect blast furnaces in their backyards. Mao also announced a campaign to "let a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thoughts contend." This seemed encouragement to Chinese to write or say anything, even if it was critical of their government. Both policies proved catastrophic. The Great Leap Forward resulted in a famine that killed twenty million in 19601961. Intellectuals and journalists who took seriously Mao's invitation to let flowers bloom quickly found themselves branded as "poisonous weeds" by an orchestrated "anti-rightist" campaign. Mao grew increasingly dictatorial and unpredictable.

He also seemed to withdraw from the battlements of the Cold War. He continued to support revolution around the world, and he was helpful in particular to the North Vietnamese in their war with the United States after 1965. China, not the contemptibly revisionist Soviet Union, would summon what Mao called "the mighty revolutionary storm" in the Third World. But Mao had never been greatly interested in affairs beyond China's borders, or he was circumspect about China's ability to control them. He did not leave China for the last twenty years of his life. It is too much to say that he mellowed, but he nevertheless came to understand that the world was changing. Seeking to offset the emerging détente between the United States and the Soviet Union, Mao invited President Richard Nixon to China. The two men met on 17 February 1972, shaking hands in front of a thicket of cameras in Mao's study. Mao apologized for his slurred speech and waved away Nixon's compliments. The policy implications of the visit were left to men other than Mao to sort out. Still, Mao enabled the meeting to take place, and he, along with Nixon, could take credit for initiating the first improvement in Sino-American relations since the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

Like other cold warriors, Mao Zedong, who died on 9 September 1976, left a mixed legacy. He was one of those responsible for introducing ideology into the realm of foreign policy, for defining opponents as enemies, for menacing others with his rhetoric, for maintaining large military forces and authorizing construction of an atomic bomb. Yet like the others, in the end Mao granted pragmatism primacy over ideology in foreign affairs. That he regarded the Americans as imperialists would not stand in the way of cultivating them if that proved necessary to preserve China's security and well-being in an increasingly complicated world.


By the time Mao Zedong died in the year of the U.S. bicentennial, it was clear that the Cold War had changed significantly. The Soviet Union, under Khrushchev and his successors, had thrown aside the cult of Joseph Stalin and had proved willing to consider limiting its nuclear arsenal if the United States would reciprocate.

The man who won the American presidency in 1980 and again in 1984 was instinctively suspicious of this effort for conciliation. Ronald Reagan was born (6 February 1911) and raised in small towns in Illinois. His memoir begins: "If I'd gotten the job I wanted at Montgomery Ward, I suppose I would never have left Illinois." Later in life Reagan recalled not small-town parochialism and racism, nor his father's alcoholic rages, but a life of summer days, lifeguarding at Lowell Park in Dixon, having fun at Eureka College, and after college taking a job in Des Moines in which he broadcast Chicago Cubs baseball games as if he were watching them, while in fact reconstructing them from a running telegraphic account sent from the field. He went to Hollywood in 1937 with a six-month contract from Warner Brothers studio. He became a star in B movies and took leadership of the Screen Actors Guild. He did not leave the United States during World War II, though he later claimed to have done so, even asserting that he had filmed Nazi concentration camps for the army. In fact, Reagan made war movies at home.

By the early 1950s Reagan was convinced that communists had infiltrated Hollywood and the Actors Guild, and he so told the FBI. His career in film was waning. But in 1954 the General Electric Company asked Reagan to host a weekly dramatic show on television. To promote the show Reagan went around the country talking with workers at GE plants about life in Hollywood and about the virtues of private enterprise. In 1960 Reagan switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, and in 1966 he surprised nearly everyone by beating the two-term Democratic incumbent for the California governorship.

Reagan served two terms as governor, a tenure marked by incendiary rhetoric. He insisted that people who accepted government welfare were chiselers or cheats, and he threatened a "bloodbath" if students in Berkeley kept taking to the streets to protest against Vietnam War. Reagan's stature grew. In 1976 he challenged the Republican president, Gerald Ford, and nearly gained the nomination by attacking Secretary of State Kissinger's policy of détente. When Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter, Reagan was established as the Republican frontrunner in 1980. He thrashed Carter in that election, returning to themes that had made him famous: the venality of big government, the horrors of communism, and the unique ability of Americans to overcome all their problems and secure a luminous future.

Reagan's Cold War was a product of his experience in Middle America, in Hollywood, and on the circuit for GE; his chief source of information about the Soviet Union was Reader's Digest. He was not much interested in foreign countries. Like Mao he traveled abroad only reluctantly. Still Reagan knew what he did not like. The Soviet Union was an "evil empire," and its agents, he said at his first presidential press conference, "reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat," in order to foment "world revolution." The Berlin Wall should be ripped down, free elections should be held throughout eastern Europe, and the Soviet government should stop violating the human rights of its citizens. The Vietnam War had been "a noble cause." ("We should declare war on Vietnam," Reagan had said in October 1965. "We could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas.") Revolutions, or even experiments in socialism, were the result of Soviet imperialism.

Reagan brought to office a set of convictions rather than a foreign policy. He delegated to his advisers the task of turning his dreams and fears into directives. This might have worked if everyone agreed on how to do a thing, but as Reagan's men and women often disagreed among themselves, the result was frequently chaos.

Again and again Reagan displayed an alarming ignorance of his own nation's foreign policy. He misstated the name given by the CIA to the Soviets' largest long-range missile, and when his error was pointed out to him he accused the Soviets of changing the name in order to fool the West. He mistook defensive weapons for offensive ones, failed to understand the strategic difference between placing missiles in silos or putting them on mobile carriers, and claimed that neither bombers nor submarines carried nuclear weapons. He prepared for his 1986 summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to be held in Reykjavik, Iceland, by reading the Tom Clancy thriller Red Storm Rising because, he said, much of it was set in Iceland. Briefings of the president had to be short and snappy, reducible to a few small note cards or film clips. These were by definition devoid of detail or ambiguity, which tended to reinforce Reagan's black-or-white view of the world.

Yet the president was not altogether without assets as a foreign policymaker. He commanded the world's strongest economy. He put it into recession early in his first term, and ran up an enormous national debt thereafter, but the Gross Domestic Product nevertheless increased through the 1980s. Possessed of a sense of humor and an actor's charm, Reagan was liked even by those who disagreed with him. And despite his caustic characterizations of the Soviets and his resolve to build American military power until his enemies cried uncle, Reagan feared a nuclear holocaust and was determined to find a way to prevent it. Back in 1979 Reagan had visited the headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. At the end of his tour Reagan asked the base commander what the United States could do if the Russians launched a missile at an American city. NORAD could track the missile, the commander replied, but could do nothing to stop it.

Reagan was astonished. "We have spent all that money and have all that equipment, and there is nothing we can do to prevent a nuclear missile from hitting us," he said. To Reagan it seemed that, armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction, the United States and the Soviet Union had come to the brink of Armageddon.

There might be a way out. The loophole was a system of lasers or rockets, deployed in space, that could destroy or knock off course any missile launched by Russia at the United States. Proposed by Reagan at the end of a defense budget speech to the nation on 23 March 1983, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), popularly known as "Star Wars," soon after became the centerpiece of the administration's strategic planning. To Reagan it was a matter of logic and simple humanity: if you can prevent something as awful as a nuclear warhead from striking your nation, it would be irresponsible not to do so. But the Soviets reacted strongly against SDI. What Reagan had not said, they pointed outand they assumed he realized itwas that a U.S. monopoly on missile defense would tempt the Americans to launch a first strike against them, secure in the knowledge that the Russians could not effectively retaliate. They were also concerned about a new arms race. The Americans would have to spend billions to develop SDI technology, while the Russians would be forced to increase their offensive capabilities in the hope of defeating the American shield. (The possibility of bankrupting the feeble Soviet economy had occurred to Reagan, though the strategic hazards of missile defense perhaps had not.) In any case, the Soviets said, meaningful arms negotiations could not take place between the powers so long as SDI remained on the table.

Reagan was disinclined to grant the Soviets any sympathy; moreover, he had found arms control distasteful. The Soviets continued, in his judgment, to stir up trouble around the globe: in the Middle East, Africa, and in Latin America, of special concern because of its proximity to the United States. When Reagan took office in 1981 the hot spot in Latin America was Nicaragua. Convinced that the Sandinista government was not only Marxist but a hemispheric agent of world communism, Reagan sought ways to unseat it. At the urging of William Casey, the director of the CIA, Reagan authorized the creation of an anti-Sandinista army, dubbed the contras, that would train in Honduras and harass the Sandinistas across the border. The contras were constituted mostly of members of Somoza's National Guard; at their peak they numbered about 7,500.

U.S. aid to the contras, and its related efforts to overthrow the Sandinistas, proved impossible to hide. In April 1984 the Wall Street Journal revealed that the CIA had mined Sandino harbor, hoping to discourage Nicaragua's trade. Congress now put its foot down, refusing to allow further funding of the anti-Sandinista war. Reagan branded the Sandinista government "a Communist reign of terror," and insisted that the United States had a moral right to overthrow it. The contras were "freedom fighters" similar to the American Founders. The administration would find alternative sources of funding for its sunshine patriots.

The Israel is refused to help, but the Saudis and the sultan of Brunei agreed to back the contras financially. Then National Security Council aide Oliver North, in the company of Casey and national security adviser Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane, had what North called "a neat idea." The fundamentalist Islamic government of Iran desperately wanted weapons to continue its war against Iraq. Despite its antipathy for the United States it was willing to buy U.S. arms and might out of gratitude intervene to secure the release of several American hostages then being held in Lebanon. North saw another benefit from selling arms to Iran: the money paid by the Iranians for the weapons might then be diverted to the contras. It would work as long as it was kept secret.

Word of the arms for hostages deal leaked out of the Middle East in November 1986. The contra connection was then uncovered as well. Congressional investigators wanted to know what role the president had played in the arms for hostages scheme and the diversion of monies to the contras, but either because he was stonewalling or because he genuinely could not remember what he had authorized and when, Reagan was unhelpful. He denied that he had known about the attempted swap, but documents indicated otherwise, and Reagan confessed, almost: "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it's not." He continued to deny that he had known about the diversion of funds to the contras. Senator William Cohen, a member of the congressional group that investigated Iran-Contra, participated in two interviews with Reagan and concluded, "with Ronald Reagan, no one is there."

The Iran-Contra affair and the nuclear freeze movement undoubtedly made him more tractable in negotiations with the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev, who emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union, declared his intention to reform the Soviet economy and pursue greater flexibility in foreign affairs, especially to move forward with arms control. At first suspicious that Gorbachev's offer to negotiate a meaningful arms agreement was a ploy to weaken U.S. vigilance, Reagan came ultimately to accept Gorbachev's sincerity, but he would not fully grasp the opportunity provided by Gorbachev's policy.

The obstacle to a full-scale nuclear rollback was SDI. At summits with Gorbachev in 1985, 1986, and 1988, Reagan continued to insist that defense against a nuclear attack could not be wrong, especially if Armageddon loomed. When Gorbachev pointed out that a missile shield would enable the United States to launch a first strike with impunity, Reagan, who was amazed that anyone would think the United States capable of such a thing, offered to share SDI technology with the Soviets. Gorbachev thought this unlikely. He urged Reagan to agree to confine SDI to the laboratory for ten years; Reagan refused. Still, Gorbachev wanted arms reduction enough that he was willing to make cuts in the Soviet arsenal even in the absence of an agreement on SDI. The result was the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) treaty of 8 December 1987, by which the Americans and Russians agreed to eliminate all intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe. But Reagan's commitment to SDI slowed the progress of further arms negotiations.

Gorbachev then unmade the Cold War. He ended the bloody Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, released Soviet control of the eastern European satellites and the Baltic states, allowed the destruction of the Berlin Wall, wrenched the Soviet economy off its rusty statist moorings, began opening Soviet archives to scholars, and traveled the world, creating about himself an international cult far more Reaganesque than Stalinist. He brought change so quickly and with such verve that Reagan and his successors mistrusted it. George H. W. Bush, who followed Reagan to the presidency in 1989, reacted so slowly to Gorbachev's revolution that critics charged him with being "nostalgic for the Cold War." Bush finally got it and embraced what he called "the new world order," which meant that the United States would now call the shots. Meanwhile Ronald Reagan returned to California, firm in the belief that his policies had brought about the end of the Cold War but not fully understanding how. He was the last cold warrior. The Alzheimer's disease that dissolved his memory made for a sad yet fitting metaphor: a dark era had passed, and there was a world to be remade.


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Brands, H. W., Jr. Cold Warriors: Eisenhower's Generation and the American Foreign Policy. New York, 1988.

Brinkley, Douglas. Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years, 19531971. New Haven, Conn., 1992.

Cannon, Lou. President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. New York, 1991.

Chace, James. Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World. New York, 1998.

Clark, Suzanne. Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West. Carbondale, Ill., 2000. The subtitle suggests how much the field of Cold War studies has changed since the early 1990s.

Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. New York, 1991.

Fitz Gerald, Frances. Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War. New York, 2000.

Goncharov, Sergei N., John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai. Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War. Stanford, Calif., 1993.

Hunt, Michael H. The Genesis of Chinese Communist Foreign Policy. New York, 1996.

Isaacson, Walter, and Evan Thomas. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made: Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, McCloy. New York, 1986.

Khrushchev, Nikita. Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament. Translated and edited by Strobe Talbott. Boston, 1974.

Mastny, Vojtech. Russia's Road to the Cold War. New York, 1979.

McLellan, David S. Dean Acheson: The State Department Years. New York, 1976.

Raack, R. C. Stalin's Drive to the West, 19381945: The Origins of the Cold War. Stanford, Calif., 1995.

Radzinsky, Edvard. Stalin. New York, 1996.

Reagan, Ronald. An American Life. New York, 1990.

Schmertz, Eric J., Natalie Datlof, and Alexej Ugrinsky, eds. President Reagan and the World. Westport, Conn., 1997.

Schram, Stuart. Mao Tse-tung. New York, 1966.

Spence, Jonathan. Mao Zedong. New York, 1999.

Tucker, Robert C. Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 19281941. New York, 1990.

Wills, Garry. Reagan's America: Innocents at Home. Garden City, N.Y., 1987.

Zubok, Vladislav, and Constantine Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev. Cambridge, Mass., 1996.

See also Cold War Evolution and Interpretations; Cold War Origins; Cold War Termination; Presidential Advisers; Presidential Power; Summit Conferences .


The United States and Soviet Union were undisputed superpowers after 1945, but the bipolarity of the postwar system did not make all other nations onlookers in the Cold War. Konrad Adenauer, formerly mayor of Cologne, became chancellor of West Germany in 1949. He wished to restore the strength, pride, and importance of Germany (even if only the western part of it) by emphasizing the culture and commerce of the Rhine, and especially by establishing a closer relationship with France, which he thought a far healthier role model for Germany than were the nations of central or eastern Europe. He was instrumental in creating the European Coal and Steel Community, the joint French-German authority for the mining of coal and the production of steel. Adenauer also exploited the Korean War to good effect for Germany. He put it about that West Germans were worried about a Soviet attack on their territory or at least that East German police might now probe the border between the Germanys. Given these worrisome possibilities it would be best, Adenauer indicated, for the Allies to end their occupation of Germany and to permit the arming of some West German troops. In this Adenauer ultimately got his way.

Adenauer, who died in 1967 at the age of ninety-one, was a cold warrior as surely as Joseph Stalin and Dean Acheson were. Adenauer accepted the premises of the conflict and believed in its necessity, he was ideologically sympathetic to the West and staunchly opposed to communism, and he never shrank from the prospect of military action to deter, defeat, or at least delay a Soviet attack on western Europeone that would begin, inevitably, in West Germany. At the same time, Adenauer looked back to a time before the Cold War began, grasping the older and deeper forces that had shaped German political culture and European politics since the early nineteenth century. Because of this, Adenauer's principal goals preceded and transcended the Cold War: he sought the creation of a stable and economically viable Germany (or part of Germany), the end of Germany's pariah status, the attachment of Germany to the largely democratic and capitalist West, and, following on all of these, the return of Germany to its prewar position as a regional power. In his efforts to achieve these goals Adenauer found the Cold War useful. He reminded the British, the French, and above all the Americans that a strong and friendly West Germany was vital to their security. Soviet behavior in eastern Europe and Korea seemed to confirm his fears. At the end of his life he could take satisfaction in what he had done for the Cold War, and what the Cold War had done for him.

Cold War (1945–91)

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Cold War (1945–91) CausesExternal CourseDomestic CourseChanging Interpretations
Cold War (1945–91): Causes The Grand Alliance of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union was the indirect creation of Adolf Hitler. Only such a challenge as Nazi Germany could bring together the world's leading capitalist democracy, the world's greatest colonial empire, and the world's major Communist state. Relations between the Anglo‐Americans and the Russians, moreover, had been marked by ideological clash and distrust since the Bolshevik Revolution. The Western powers had intervened in the Russian civil war against the Bolsheviks, and the United States had refused to recognize the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1933. Prewar diplomacy, particularly Western appeasement of Hitler and rejection of collective security with the Soviet Union, followed by the Nazi‐Soviet Pact in August 1939, led each side to be wary of the other's intentions and motives.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set forth two parallel strategies for postwar peace. The first was the continuation of the Grand Alliance. Best symbolized by the United Nations, this path sought continued cooperation with the Soviet Union, great power control over different spheres of influence, and incorporation of socialist economies into a world trade system. The other strategy was based on American power, the “open door,” policy, and unilateral planning. It was best represented by the development of the atomic bomb, which Roosevelt refused to share with the Russians. Though Roosevelt wished for continued cooperation with the Soviets, he was also willing to hedge his bets and keep his options open. Underlying both approaches was Roosevelt's tactic of delaying the major decisions on boundaries, governments, occupation policies, and reparations and reconstruction aid until the end of the war, when American power would be at its height. With his characteristic optimism, Roosevelt believed that time would allow the conflicts in these approaches to be worked out.

The Yalta Conference in February 1945 appeared to expose the problems and contradictions of Roosevelt's two‐track approach. The Allies clashed over the composition of Poland's government, and could not reach firm agreements on the crucial questions of the occupation of Germany and postwar reparations and loans. Roosevelt, believing any truly representative government in Warsaw would be anti‐Soviet, accepted a vague compromise that allowed the Soviet‐imposed government to maintain control without technically violating the agreement. Four zones of occupation were established for Germany, and $10 billion was adopted as a working figure for German reparations to the Soviet Union, with the details to be settled later. Still, Roosevelt saw the common desire to prevent a resurgence of German power, along with Soviet needs for postwar reconstruction, to be firm roads to continued cooperation among the Big Three (the United States, the United Kingdom, and the USSR). He believed that concessions to Soviet security concerns in Eastern Europe were necessary in the short run until the West could demonstrate its good faith through American economic aid and guarantees against German remilitarization. Once Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was persuaded that the West did not intend to allow Germany again to threaten Europe's peace, and that it would assist the Soviet Union in its recovery, Moscow would no longer need to dominate its neighbors. The Soviet Union would find its security protected within the collective arrangements of the United Nations Security Council.

Roosevelt's hopes of resolving the contradictions of his policy died with him on 12 April 1945. The new president, Harry S. Truman, was by all accounts unaware of Roosevelt's plans, generally uninformed about foreign policy and military matters, and therefore initially reliant upon a set of advisers that included Ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and Truman's choice for secretary of state, James Brynes. This group tended to take a harder line toward the Soviet Union than had Roosevelt. Truman believed in cooperation, but he thought it should be on American terms. He stated that he did not expect to get his way every time, but he did believe “we should be able to get eighty‐five percent.” In his first meeting with the Soviet foreign minister, V. M. Molotov, in late April 1945, Truman used blunt language in accusing the Soviets of failing to carry out their promise of establishing a democratic government in Poland. In July, when Truman learned of the successful testing of the atomic bomb, he wrote privately that he now had an “ace in the hole,” which he could use to end the war in the Pacific and in negotiations with the Soviets. The unilateral approach was winning out over cooperation and negotiation.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did indeed add to Soviet distrust of the United States, but Soviet leaders in the Kremlin continued in 1945 to seek cooperation with the West. The reasons for this were compelling. The devastation of the Soviet Union by the Germans was unprecedented. Over 20 million Soviet citizens died during the war, and over 1,700 cities, 70,000 villages, and 31,000 factories were destroyed. To ensure more secure borders, rebuild, and prevent a future resurgence of German strength seemed to demand continued good relations with the United States. Only Washington could ensure Soviet security through its occupation policies and provide funds for reconstruction. Cooperation, for Stalin, was a means to ensure the Soviet sphere of influence, control Germany, and secure vital economic aid.

Yet, from Washington's perspective Soviet actions in Eastern Europe more and more came to be seen not as necessary steps for security but as aggressive actions that threatened American plans for postwar peace and prosperity. From the outset of World War II, officials in the Roosevelt administration were determined that the United States would seize its “second chance” (the first chance had been lost after World War I) to shape the postwar world in such a way as to promote American interests and peace. It was an article of faith for advocates of American internationalism that the United States had an obligation to accept responsibility for postwar leadership and to see to it that the world adopted American ideas of self‐determination, free trade, arms limitations, and collective security. These were not only good for the United States but beneficial to all nations. With isolationism discredited, the objective was to maintain the principles of the Grand Alliance as set out in the Atlantic Charter. The United States had fought the war in part to protect self‐determination and open trade.

It was therefore necessary to combat spheres of influence and closed trading systems. No one nation or group of powers could be allowed to establish a competing system to the one the U.S. government envisioned for the world. Truman and his advisers believed that political and economic freedoms were interrelated and necessary for American prosperity and international peace. Any restrictions of trade or exclusive economic spheres would lead to a repetition of the 1930s. As Truman declared in 1947, “peace, freedom, and world trade” were inseparable; “the grave lessons of the past have proved it.” Limiting a Soviet sphere of influence was perceived as necessary to postwar peace. This understanding led to great fears among American officials that if they did not respond to Soviet actions, the United States would find itself once again in a world of trade blocs and international competition. To compel the Soviets to accept American interpretations of agreements, the Truman administration denounced Soviet behavior in Poland, Romania, and elsewhere, threatened action over Soviet involvement in Iran, and held up economic assistance until the Soviets demonstrated their willingness to cooperate on American terms. Truman, believing he had either the power to force Soviet compliance or the ability to achieve American goals without the Kremlin's cooperation, was convinced by the end of 1945 that it was time to “stop babying the Soviets.” “Unless Russia is faced with an iron fist and strong language,” he said, “another war is in the making.”

The arrival of George F. Kennan's Long Telegram from Moscow in February 1946 served to provide coherence to the developing hard line against the Soviets. Kennan argued that the Soviet Union was motivated by a combination of traditional Russian desires to expand and by Marxist ideology that taught there could be no cooperation with capitalist states. There was therefore no room for compromise and negotiation. The Soviets would take advantage of all sincere efforts at peace and only honor agreements when it was expedient to their goals. He portrayed Stalin as acting on a coherent design, rather than as a man responding to events in the interests of his nation. The obvious conclusion for Kennan—and the one drawn by the Truman administration—was that the Soviets had no legitimate grievances. There was thus no need to try to understand and meet Soviet concerns. Rather, a policy of opposition and the containment of Soviet power was necessary.

A few weeks later in Fulton, Missouri, former British prime minister Winston S. Churchill delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech sounding the call for an Anglo‐American alliance against the Soviets, whom he said had established a dictatorial regime behind an “iron curtain” from “Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic.” Problems seemed to be multiplying around the world, and from the White House it appeared that more often than not the source of the difficulties was the Soviet Union. In Asia, revolutionary nationalist movements, often headed by Communists, were fighting against the restoration of Europe's colonial empires, while civil war between the Nationalists and Communists resumed in China. In Europe, economic recovery was slow, food and other essential goods short, and Communist parties, particularly in France and Italy, were gaining ground. Truman's advisers warned him that time was running short. The Soviet strategy, they argued, was to weaken the position of the United States in Europe and Asia to create confusion and collapse. The threat was not necessarily a military one, but a political and economic challenge.

Other apparent challenges appeared in Turkey and Iran. In 1946, the Soviets pushed for access to the strategic Dardanelles Straits while simultaneously delaying the removal of troops from Iran's northern provinces.

The event that spurred Truman to action was the British government's announcement in February 1947 that it was pulling out of Greece. It could no longer afford to finance the Greek royalist forces in their civil war against a Communist‐led rebellion. Rather than viewing the war as a civil conflict revolving around Greek issues, American policymakers incorrectly interpreted it as a Soviet effort. Secretary of State Dean Acheson told congressional leaders that the “Soviet Union was playing one of the greatest gambles in history at minimal cost” in an effort to expand into the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The United States alone could stop this. In March 1947, the president announced the Truman Doctrine. It “must be the policy of the United States,” Truman declared, “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures.” This was followed in June by the Marshall Plan (1948–52), a pledge of economic assistance to Europe to stimulate recovery and trade.

By 1947, U.S. policy was predicated on the containment of the Soviet Union. In its efforts to establish a postwar order based upon American institutions and ideals, the Truman administration came to see the Soviet Union as a threat to U.S. interests. In the late 1940s, containment and anticommunism were globalized to include Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Competing security and economic demand in Europe shattered the Grand Alliance and brought about the Cold War.
[See also Russia, U.S. Military Involvement in, 1917–20; Russia, U.S. Military Involvement in, 1921–95.]


John Lewis Gaddis , The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947, 1972.
Daniel Yergin , Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State, 1977.
Thomas Paterson , On Every Front: The Making of the Cold War, 1979.
Fraser Harbutt , The Iron Curtain: Churchill, American and the Origins of the Cold War, 1986.
Michael Hogan , The Marshall Plan, 1987.
Melvyn Leffler , A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War, 1992.
Lloyd Gardner , Spheres of Influence, 1993.
Carolyn Eisenberg , Drawing the Line: The American Decision to Divide Germany, 1944–49, 1996.

David F. Schmitz

Cold War (1945–91): External Course The most famous image to emerge from the Yalta Conference in 1945 is a picture of Winston S. Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Josef Stalin seated outdoors, wearing their overcoats, Churchill with his trademark cigar and Stalin with his marshal's cap. The three look pleased, almost jovial. The war in Europe had turned decisively against Nazi Germany and the Allied leaders knew that victory was near.

When the Allied leaders next met, in July 1945, Roosevelt had died, replaced by his vice president, Harry S. Truman. A man of scant foreign policy experience, Truman arrived at the Potsdam Conference, near Berlin, with the knowledge that an atomic bomb had been successfully detonated in New Mexico. He was hopeful about a future U.S.‐Soviet detente, but the relationship was marked by suspicion and distrust on both sides. At some point before 1947, it deteriorated to the point where the two superpowers became locked in a global struggle that stopped short of direct armed conflict.

The Role of Nuclear Weapons.

By 1949, both countries possessed nuclear weapons. There has been much debate over the exact role of these weapons in the Cold War. Many historians argue that the only reason the Cold War never became “hot” was that the fear of nuclear annihilation effectively deterred each side from directly attacking the other. Others disagree, pointing to the fact that the Cold War had already reached a fever pitch before the Soviets had nuclear weapons, and that until the widespread development of hydrogen bombs in the 1950s, atomic weapons were only slightly more deadly than the most concentrated conventional attacks.

Without question, nuclear weapons were an integral aspect of the Cold War, and it is impossible to understand the history of the conflict without an appreciation for how large the threat of these weapons loomed, not just over Washington and Moscow but throughout the world. The rapid growth of nuclear arsenals altered the nature of international relations and made both nuclear superpowers far more wary of military confrontation with one another than they might otherwise have been.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, both sides made strenuous efforts to establish a modus vivendi. A period of detente continued until 1979, when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan contributed to renewed American military spending and to the election of President Ronald Reagan, who pursued what is sometimes known as the “second Cold War.” This lasted from 1979 to 1986, when Reagan and the reform‐minded Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, came to an agreement in Iceland. The final years, between 1986 and 1991, saw the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union. Its collapse in December 1991 marked the end of a Cold War that had all but sputtered out in the previous five years.

Phase One: 1945–46.

After Potsdam, the United States and the Soviet Union approached each other warily. Throughout the fall of 1945, the two countries shifted attention from the European and Asian wars that had consumed them for the past five years. As they did so, they found that their visions for a post–Cold War world differed, most noticeably in Poland and occupied Germany. The United States envisioned a world dominated by democracy and free market economics, while the USSR saw that vision as a thinly veiled strategy to dominate the Soviet Union. By the end of 1946, the level of antagonism between the two nations had risen precipitously. Each viewed the other as the primary foreign policy threat, and both governments mobilized resources and planned strategy with one goal in mind: maximizing their own influence and minimizing that of the other.

Phase Two: 1947–62.

The second phase was the most intensive of the Cold War, and the most dangerous. During this period, the United States and the Soviet Union constructed formidable nuclear arsenals and enormous conventional forces, and at several points the two countries nearly came to blows.

In 1947, the U.S. government reorganized. The National Security Act created a unified Department of Defense, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and a National Security Council. These would be the primary bureaucracies for American policy in the Cold War. Responding to a Communist insurgency in Greece and to Stalin's pressure on Turkey to allow Soviet military access to the straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, Truman requested Congress to authorize a $400 million aid program. In order to mobilize isolationists in the Republican Congress, the Democratic president heightened the rhetorical stakes, painting the Cold War as a contest between “free institutions and representative government” and those who were forcibly ruled by “the will of the minority.” The struggle between the two sides in the Cold War was more than military, strategic, or economic; it was also profoundly ideological, with each side presenting the other as the embodiment of evil.

The Truman Doctrine was followed by an announcement of European aid by Secretary of State George C. Marshall, in June 1947. The twin policies of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan led to billions in economic and military aid to Western Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. With American assistance, the Greek military defeated the insurgents, and the Christian Democrats in Italy defeated the powerful Communist‐Socialist alliance in the elections of 1948.

At the same time, tension over Germany grew. Unable to agree on a partition of Germany, both Soviet and U.S. troops remained in Berlin, and in an attempt to force the Americans out, the Soviets blockaded Berlin in the summer of 1948. Rather than backing down, the United States orchestrated the Berlin airlift of supplies to Berlin, which lasted nearly a year until Stalin realized that his blockade had failed in its aims.

The year 1949 saw three developments that deepened the conflict. In April, a Western military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), was created, and it bound the United States to the defense of Western Europe. In September, the Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear weapon; and in October, the Communist forces of Mao Zedong defeated the last remnant of the Nationalist Army and took power in China. In response to these events, the National Security Council in Washington drew up a plan in early 1950 known as NSC 68, which called for a massive buildup of American conventional and nuclear forces and an aggressive military response to Communist expansionism throughout the world.

When war erupted between North and South Korea in June 1950, Truman and his advisers barely hesitated before acting on NSC 68 and sending U.S. troops to bolster South Korea. By late fall, more than 1 million Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River in North Korea and entered the Korean War against American, South Korean, and other United Nations troops. The war turned into a stalemate that lasted until an armistice in 1953 that returned Korea essentially to its pre‐1950 dividing line.

The inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower as president in January 1953 and the death of Josef Stalin that March shifted the dynamic of the Cold War somewhat. Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, initiated the “New Look” strategy, which called for a greater reliance on nuclear weapons to deter China and the Soviet Union. Dulles enunciated a doctrine of massive retaliation that called for a severe American response to any Soviet aggression and violence, and the “New Look” also drew the United States more closely into Third World politics. The Soviets, now led by Nikita Khrushchev, moved away from the depredations of Stalinism, but in foreign policy they remained dedicated to global competition with the United States.

The Cold War in Europe settled into an uneasy armed truce, with NATO troops stationed in West Germany and Warsaw Pact and Soviet forces stationed throughout Eastern Europe. In 1956, the Soviets invaded Hungary rather than allow the Hungarians to move out of the Soviet orbit. Berlin remained divided and contested, and in 1961, the East Germans erected a wall to prevent their citizens from fleeing to West Berlin.

The other arena for the Cold War during the 1950s was the Third World, where nationalist movements in countries such as Guatemala, Iran, and the Philippines were often allied with or led by Communist groups. The United States and the Soviet Union began to compete by proxy in the Third World, and the U.S. government utilized the CIA as well as various forms of covert operations in order to remove certain Third World governments and support others. Third World countries reacted by rejecting the impetus to choose sides in the Cold War. At Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, dozens of Third World governments gathered and resolved on staying out of the Cold War. This resolve culminated with the creation of the Non‐Aligned movement in 1961.

During the 1950s, the Soviets and the Americans created a new generation of nuclear weapons—hydrogen bombs—which magnified exponentially the potential damage of nuclear war. In the late 1950s, the Soviets launched the first of the reconnaissance satellites, Sputnik, while the United States developed U‐2 spy planes. Both innovations soon led to aerial reconnaissance, allowing Cold War adversaries to gain a clearer picture of the military strength of the other.

But in 1960, U.S. reconnaissance did not prevent the CIA and the American military from overestimating the strength of the Soviet military. During the presidential election of 1960, John F. Kennedy criticized the Eisenhower administration for allowing an alleged “missile gap” to develop with the Soviet Union, even though in reality the United States was ahead of the Soviets in missiles, in particular, intercontinental missile development. On his inauguration as president, Kennedy promised that the United States would not fall behind the Soviet Union in military strength.

Kennedy and Khrushchev held a summit in Vienna in June 1961, but it did not go well. Kennedy felt bullied, and Khrushchev felt that Kennedy was a weak man surrounded by hawkish advisers. At the same time, Khrushchev knew that the only missile gap was on the Soviet side, and he intended to redress that imbalance. In the summer of 1962, Khrushchev decided to station nuclear missiles in Cuba, where the anti‐American Fidel Castro had recently come to power and thwarted a CIA‐sponsored invasion by Cuban exiles. An American U‐2 overflight of Cuba detected these missiles, and that discovery set off what has since become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

For thirteen days in October 1962, Kennedy and Khrushchev played a deadly game of “chicken,” each threatening to escalate the crisis to the brink of nuclear war. After a tense standoff, Khrushchev decided to withdraw the weapons from Cuba in return for a pledge from Kennedy that the United States would not invade the island. Though the crisis was a victory for Kennedy, it signaled to both the United States and the Soviet Union that the cost of direct confrontation in an era of nuclear weapons was greater than any potential gain. In 1963, the two countries agreed on a Limited Test Ban Treaty, which marked the first step toward normalization of relations.

Phase Three: 1963–79.

After 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union entered the period that came to be known as detente. Ideological passions gradually dissipated in favor of a more pragmatic approach to international politics. The United States turned its attention to the Vietnam War, and until 1973, it remained mired there. The civil war in Vietnam was part of the Cold War insofar as it was the logical outgrowth of American policies of containment and rollback, but with its military attention locked on Vietnam and beset by severe domestic unrest, the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson focused less on Moscow. President Richard M. Nixon, while disengaging from Vietnam, worked assiduously to establish a diplomatic rapport with the Soviets, aided in that task by his chief foreign policy official, Henry Kissinger.

The Soviets until the very end of this period focused on their bitter rivalry with Mao's China; after Khrushchev's ouster in 1964, the Soviet leadership turned inward to attend to the many domestic problems that plagued the Soviet Union. Soviet rulers such as Alexei Kosygin and Leonid Brezhnev warily embraced the notion of detente, although like the Americans they continued to expend considerable energies trying to win various Third World states to their side.

The year 1972 was the apogee of detente. Nixon and Kissinger orchestrated a stunning and secretive rapprochement with Communist China. For their part, the Chinese had sought improved relations with the Americans in order to gain advantage over the Soviets. In February, Nixon traveled to the Forbidden City in Beijing and met with Mao and Chou En‐Lai. Then, in June, Nixon and Kissinger met with Brezhnev and Soviet military officials in Moscow. The result was the first of the SALT Treaties (an acronym for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks), which pledged the United States and the USSR to limit the deployment of antiballistic missiles and set restrictions on offensive nuclear missiles as well. SALT I was followed in 1974 by SALT II, which went even further in specifying numbers of warheads each side could possess.

President Jimmy Carter came into office in 1977 with SALT II unratified, and he announced that his administration would make human rights a central concern. Carter had great success brokering a Middle East peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the Camp David Accords (1979). However, though relations with the Soviets and the Chinese were civil, the spirit of detente began to dissipate. In December 1979, Brezhnev ordered Soviet troops to invade Afghanistan to support a tottering pro‐Moscow regime. The U.S. Embassy in Teheran, Iran, had been seized a month earlier by Islamic militant students allied with the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the American hostages were held until the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in January 1980. The dual effects of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to a significant increase in U.S. military spending in Carter's last year, to the election of Reagan, and to the end of detente.

Phase Four: 1980–86.

Reagan arrived in office determined to restore American pride and power. He and his advisers believed that both the realpolitik of Kissinger and the weakness of Carter had sacrificed America's ideological and strategic advantage in the Cold War. Calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” Reagan embarked on a huge military buildup that ranged from new aircraft carrier groups to research for a space missile defense system known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (or “Star Wars”). The most visible manifestation of Reagan's renewed Cold War fervor was the support given to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, who were fighting a guerrilla war against the Communist Sandinista government.

The Soviets attempted to match Reagan's military spending. But the war in Afghanistan deteriorated, and Moscow discovered that the ailing industry and economy of the Soviet Union simply could not keep pace with the Americans. In 1985, a young, dynamic Mikhail Gorbachev became premier, and he instituted a series of domestic reforms known as glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring the economy).

At first, the Reagan administration saw these initiatives as a ruse. They were not. Meeting with Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, Reagan made what was for him a leap of faith, agreeing to both the INF Treaty (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) and the START Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction, the stepchild of SALT II). At Reykjavik, the Cold War began to thaw.

Phase Five: 1987–91.

Few could have predicted how quickly the ice would melt. Although glasnost was designed to save and strengthen the Soviet Union, it helped cause the Soviet system to collapse. The economy was in shambles, and the pressures of war in Afghanistan and deep structural reform were simply more than the system could bear. In 1989, taking their cue from Moscow, people throughout the Eastern bloc demanded change. In Poland, Hungary, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia, Communist regimes fell and were replaced by interim governments dedicated to democracy and the free market. At the same time, in the Soviet Union itself, the Baltic states declared their independence, and Gorbachev significantly refused to authorize the use of the military to force either Eastern European or the Baltics back into the Soviet fold.

The end came in 1991. In August, Gorbachev survived a coup attempt by hard‐liners opposed to any further reforms, but he survived largely because the newly elected Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, rallied army units and crowds to oppose the coup in Moscow. Gorbachev returned, but only for a brief time, before the Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation declared their independence. In December 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the defunct Soviet Union.


The end of the Cold War came as a surprise to Moscow, Washington, and to the world. Almost no one had thought that the conflict would end so suddenly with one side collapsing internally. Both the Americans and the Western Europeans were unprepared for the rapid demise of Soviet military and economic power, and in the years after 1991, the major players in the Cold War tried to find a new strategic template that would organize their foreign policy. With the possible exception of China, that template proved elusive in the 1990s.

Like the Westphalian system in 1648 after the Thirty Year's War, and that of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars, the Cold War was as much an international system following a major war as it was a struggle between two nuclear superpowers. It was a system that dominated all aspects of world politics between 1945 and 1991, and one that both exacerbated conflict in the Third World and prevented armed nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.
[See also Arms Control and Disarmament; China, U.S. Military Involvement in; Deterrence; Iran, U.S. Military Involvement in; Nicaragua, U.S. Military Involvement in; Russia, U.S. Military Involvement in, 1921–95.]


Walter Lafeber , America, Russia, and the Cold War, first publ. 1972; 7th ed. 1993.
John Lewis Gaddis , Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy, 1982.
McGeorge Bundy , Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years, 1988.
Gabriel Kolko , Confronting the Third World: United States Foreign Policy, 1945–1990, 1988.
Walter Laqueur , Europe in Our Time: A History, 1945–1992, 1992.
Martin Walker , The Cold War: A History, 1993.
Vladislav Zubok and and Constantine Pleshakov , Inside the Kremlim's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev, 1996.
Aleksandr Fursenko and and Timothy Naftali , “One Hell of a Gamble”: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958–1964, 1997.

Zachary Karabell

Cold War (1945–91): Domestic Course It was no accident that nine days after Harry S. Truman asked Congress to enact a massive aid program to fight communism in Turkey and Greece—the Truman Doctrine—he issued Executive Order 9835 creating the Federal Employee Loyalty Program with a mandate to purge America's own government of any hint of political deviance. With these two actions in March 1947, the president put into place the twin pillars of foreign and domestic policy that would determine the structure of American political discourse for the ensuing four decades. Just as Truman made it virtually impossible for any American political leader to question fighting the “Red menace” wherever it threatened—this, after all, was a battle between freedom and slavery, atheistic communism and God‐fearing democracy—he also made deeply suspect any American politician who appeared overcritical of the nation's social and economic fabric, or who advocated reforms, such as national health insurance, that could be characterized as “socialistic.” No one, on either the foreign policy or the domestic front, could afford to be accused of being “soft on communism.” It was the ultimate political anathema, hence the boundary line of permissible political debate.

The implications of this new hegemony of anticommunism became crystal clear during 1947 and 1948, well before the vaunted rise of “McCarthyism” in the early 1950s. The chilling effect on cultural freedom became manifest when in 1947 the House Committee on Un‐American Activities (known popularly by the acronym HUAC) sought to blacklist any actors, playwrights, or producers who refused to “name names” and list Communists or “fellow travelers” they might have met in the course of their work or political activities. The HUAC's technique was insidious. Under the guise of inquiring about a Hollywood personality's own beliefs, the committee insisted that its witnesses list all other people who might have attended a meeting of a “subversive” group in the 1930s or 1940s. The only recourse for someone who wished to avoid betraying friends who could or could not have entertained a sympathy for socialism was to “take the Fifth” Amendment and refuse to answer—at which point, of course, “taking the Fifth” became synonymous with being a traitor, hence someone who could not be employed lest the contagion of disloyalty spread.

The exact same process occurred in electoral politics during the 1948 presidential election when President Truman denounced Henry Wallace—his main opponent on the left, and the former vice president—for his “Communist” sympathies. Wallace had urged a softer stance toward Russia and a bolder commitment to social welfare measures at home. It did not take other politicians long to learn from that exchange the degree to which one could be excluded from the political dialogue simply by being accused of sympathy toward communism. When Senator Joseph McCarthy turned that mode of debate into a political art form in the 1950s with his insistence that the State Department (and other agencies) was infested with Communists, he was simply carrying to its extreme a pattern already imbedded in the political process.

One major result of the politics of anticommunism, therefore, was to shrink the political spectrum in the United States. In Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Scandinavia, there were political parties on the left that advocated social democratic policies such as universal health insurance, generous maternity leaves, and high unemployment benefits. Yet precisely because these political groups identified themselves with some socialist ideas, they had no counterparts in America, where expressing even toleration for such ideas was verboten. American politics thus became a dialogue between the Center and the Right, rather than the Left and the Right. Everything began with the premise of anticommunism and a faith in the virtues of capitalism as an engine of positive change. Incremental reforms in the status quo could be considered—for example, a hike in the minimum wage or in Social Security benefits—but anything more radical never made it to the negotiating table.

This shrunken political spectrum limited substantially the tactics and mobilization strategies of civil rights and labor groups. FBI agents questioned African Americans who boldly criticized the U.S. government, and interrogated whites who fraternized with such radicals. In the thirties and early forties, an alliance had begun to develop between civil rights groups and more “progressive” or radical unions such as the electrical and auto workers. Now, civil rights groups retreated to a more legalistic strategy of challenging segregation in the courts and seeking incremental reforms through modest congressional legislation—at least until the 1960s. Labor, in turn, moved away from pushing for a model of shared management/labor control toward “business unionism,” in which unions traded a share in decision making for higher wages and benefits. At the same time, organized labor purged its ranks of any Communist or Left‐leaning leadership in 1948 and 1949. Much of labor's success in organizing industrial unions—autos, rubber, the electrical industry—came from the energies of left‐of‐center activists. Now, these voices were stilled.

A similar insistence on conformity affected American family life and sexual norms during the postwar era. World War II had generated significant social changes. Millions of women, most of them married, had entered the labor force and found they enjoyed their work outside the home. Now, with the return of peace, government and civic leaders, magazine publishers and advertisers joined in a crusade to urge women back to a life of “normality” as housewives and mothers. The three‐ and four‐child suburban family became a new standard of “success” for women, with a life of segregated sexual spheres a domestic version, in the historian Elaine Tyler May's words, of the “containment” policy practiced by America toward world communism. Traditional roles for women became America's answer to the free love, antifamily, collectivist social policies of the Soviet Union. Not surprisingly, Vice President Richard M. Nixon used such traditional roles as his trump card in the famous “kitchen debate” he held with Nikita Khrushchev in 1958 to celebrate America's superiority in competition with the Soviet Union.

Similarly, gay and lesbian Americans experienced a substantial increase of official and unofficial pressure to conform to heterosexual norms. During the war, increased travel, military experience, and access to more anonymous environments had made it possible for some homosexuals openly to express their sexual preference. The politics of anticommunism, on the other hand, now placed a premium on conformity to traditional masculine and feminine roles. Denunciations of “pinko queers” went hand‐in‐hand with efforts to purge the federal bureaucracy of anyone suspected of deviance, whether political or personal. Any affirmation of civil liberties or civil rights had to take place within a framework of pledging loyalty to all the ingredients of 100 percent Americanism, including total support of heterosexuality.

In the context of this narrowed political and cultural spectrum, an enormous amount of ferment continued to develop. The musical rebellion of rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues signaled a growing restlessness among the young; so too did the plays of Tennessee Williams, the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, the novels of Jack Kerouac, and the rising religious commitment of young people who felt called to something more than another tract house in a suburban community. But ironically, it was still the Cold War—and the fear of losing it—that prompted the most obvious social changes of the 1950s. The Interstate Highway system emerged primarily as a means of facilitating mobilization and response to a military threat; the National Defense Education Act, with its cutting‐edge role in providing government support for scholars in graduate school, responded to the terror Americans experienced after the Russians were the first to conquer space with Sputnik; and the civil rights gains of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 were at least in part a response to America's embarrassment in the face of Russia's Cold War propaganda accusing the United States of being hypocritical in its defense of freedom.

Yet, appropriately, it was the civil rights movement that provided the wedge for finally undermining the dominance of Cold War cultural politics. Based on the simple and patriotic claim to equal treatment for blacks and whites under the law, the civil rights movement insisted on dramatic change. Armed with the powerful religious appeal of the Judeo‐Christian tradition, Martin Luther King, Jr., and his colleagues mobilized millions to criticize the status quo. The ethical call to join in the quest for a better America galvanized all the other groups in America seeking a way of expressing their frustration with the doctrines of conformity and false pride in the status quo—women, Chicanos, gays, students, Vietnam antiwar activists. It may have been only a small segment of each group of critics who seized public attention; but the attention they secured focused the entire nation on a different perspective toward the values, behaviors, and political norms that had reigned unchallenged for the preceding two decades.

The Cold War remained central to American society and politics all the way through the 1980s. Arguably, it remains central today, even though the actual conflict has ended. But after the successful challenge of the civil rights movement in the early and mid‐1960s, the ubiquitous hold of Cold War culture and politics was broken, providing at least the opportunity for a different kind of individual and group expression of dissent.
[See also Culture, War, and the Military; Civil‐Military Relations: Civilian Control of the Military; McCarran Internal Security Act (1950); military‐industrial complex; Nuclear Protest Movements; Nuclear Weapons, Popular Images of; Propaganda and Public Relations, Government; Society and War; Surveillance, Domestic.]


David M. Oshinsky , A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy, 1983;
Elaine Tyler May , Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War, 1988;
Richard M. Fried , Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective, 1990;
Thomas Byrne Edsall and and Mary D. Edsall , Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, 1991;
Kevin P. Phillips , Boiling Point: Republicans, Democrats, and the Decline of Middle‐Class Prosperity, 1993;
Charles M. Payne , I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, 1995;
David Halberstam , The Children, 1998;
Robert Dallek , Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961–1973, 1998; and William H. Chafe , Unfinished Journey: America since 1945, 4th ed., 1999.

William H. Chafe

Cold War (1945–91): Changing Interpretations The Cold War generated two often indistinct battles: the first being the actual struggle between the West and Communism; the second being the continuing battles among historians, political scientists, and journalists—not to mention laymen—as to the origins and nature of, as well as the blame for, the Cold War. At the core of debates has been the contention that one side, either the Soviet Union or the United States (depending on one's interpretation), was primarily responsible for beginning the Cold War and the havoc it wreaked. The debates first focused on the origins of the Cold War, but the stakes were soon raised. Scholars would also blame the responsible party for the arms race and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as apportioning an overriding share of the blame for a series of local wars around the world.

Since scholars immediately after World War II did not have access to top‐secret documents from American and Soviet policymakers, almost all Western writers took as their cue Winston S. Churchill's famous declaration in 1946 that the Soviet Union had dropped an “iron curtain” over Eastern Europe, and that the West needed to do everything in its power to prevent further loss of liberty. To almost all American commentators at the time—with the noticeable exception of the journalist Walter Lippmann—the United States had no choice but to challenge this new enemy; after fighting the Nazis, the United States then had to take on the Soviet Union, now compared to the Nazis by the common use of the terms Red fascism and increasingly totalitarianism.

Scholars who argued from this perspective came to be known as the “orthodox” (or “traditional”) school and generally viewed U.S. actions as being virtuous and sincere. George F. Kennan, in his Long Telegram to the State Department and later writing as “Mr. X” in his article The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in Foreign Affairs (July 1947), remains the classic formulator of this argument. He noted that Soviet actions were inexorably expansionist, antidemocratic, and posed a very real threat to the United States and its allies. The United States therefore needed to adopt a policy of “containment” toward the Soviet Union. Kennan expanded upon this argument in his American Diplomacy (1951). To Kennan and other traditionalists, the United States was facing a new type of enemy and had to adapt accordingly. Hans Morgenthau, Jr., continued this form of interpretation in his classic In Defense of the National Interest: A Critical Examination of American Foreign Policy (1951). Herbert Feis's Roosevelt‐Churchill‐Stalin (1957) remains the best summary of this position, with its unapologetic championing of the West and its hysterical condemnation of Soviet premier Josef Stalin.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., is another renowned historian who worked within this framework. His influential essay The Origins of the Cold War” (Foreign Affairs, October 1967) built on Kennan's and Morganthau's apportioning of blame, and further, argued that the Cold War emanated not only from Soviet imperialism but from Stalin's paranoid psychological profile. To Schlesinger, Stalin's adherence to Communist doctrine and his alleged mental illness combined to make the Soviet state both imperialistic and unstable. Unlike other members of this school of thought, Schlesinger acknowledged that the United States had global economic interests and was not always sensitive to the needs of peoples in the Third World. Yet he was at pains to note that the United States had almost single‐handedly ensured economic and political freedoms throughout the postwar world. In sum, the orthodox perspective viewed the United States as innocent of any political nefariousness and simply acting at the invitation of beleaguered nations. An updated version of this interpretation is Geir Lundestad's “Moralism, Presentism, Exceptionalism, Provincialism, and Other Extravagances in American Writings on the Early Cold War Years” in Diplomatic History (Fall 1989).

The orthodox interpretation remained the dominant mode of historical thought until the 1960s—and it continues in various forms to this day. Beginning in 1959, though, an alternative approach appeared when William Appleman Williams published The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. This work challenged a number of long‐held assumptions made by the orthodox interpretation and American Cold War policies in general. Williams's work became an instant classic (or a notorious act of disloyalty, depending upon one's politics). Williams argued here and later in revised editions of the book that Americans had been far from innocent actors upon the world stage and in fact had always been an empire‐building people, even as they fiercely denied it. So incendiary was this charge that Williams was accused of disloyalty and even treasonous behavior by those who saw U.S. actions in the Cold War as just. However, Williams's work deeply influenced others, and within ten years' time it generated an entire school of historical thought known as revisionism—one that sought to reexamine all aspects of American foreign relations, but was especially concerned with defining the nature of the Cold War.

One of the intriguing qualities of Williams's work was his use of lengthy quotes from American policymakers to support his interpretation. To Williams, these statements were the documented proof that these people were far more honest when they spoke among themselves about an “American Empire” than in the explanations of policy to the public. Leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman and their advisers were therefore seen as far‐sighted and lacking any naïveté in considering American foreign policy objectives. According to Williams and many of his followers, these policymakers shared an overriding desire to maintain capitalism at home; in order to ensure this goal, they advocated the “open door” policy abroad, which would therefore increase access to foreign markets for American business and agriculture. This in turn would create a healthy economic climate at home and the propagation of American power abroad.

Williams's overall argument gained currency throughout the 1960s as a new group of historians sought to explain the roots of American foreign policy, especially as it related to the origins of American involvement in the Vietnam War. Though a school of thought invariably contains differences between individual scholars, one of the most intriguing claims of the revisionist school is that the classic definition is mistaken in claiming that the Cold War began after World War II. Historians in such works as N. Gordon Levin's Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution (1968), Walter LaFeber's America, Russia, and the Cold War (1972), and David Foglesong's America's Secret War Against Bolshevism: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917–1920 (1995), point to the century‐old conflicts between the two powers, and especially to the conflict after the Bolshevik triumph in the 1917 Russian Revolution. It was the domestic policy of the United States—visceral anticommunism dating from the early twentieth century—that helped shape American Cold War policy as much as any foreign event.

Other revisionists have pointed out provocative Soviet actions such as installing puppet regimes in Eastern Europe. Yet Gar Alperovitz in his influential Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (1965) places much of the blame on the Cold War on President Truman's calculated use of the atomic bomb. Alperovitz's updated version, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (1995) extends his argument, while Michael Hogan's edited collection, Hiroshima in History and Memory (1996), finds problems with his analysis. According to Alperovitz, the bomb was unnecessary in defeating Japan, and was intended instead as a provocative signal to the Soviets that the United States would use such a weapon to fashion a postwar world accessible to American interests. A more moderate revisionist view of this position was put forth by Lloyd Gardner. His Architects of Illusion (1970) offered a slight modification of Williams's and Alperovitz's insistent critique of U.S. foreign policy, but still found America's overarching belief in economic expansion the key to understanding America's hostile view of the Soviet Union. An even harsher indictment of U.S. foreign policy appealed in Joyce and Gabriel Kolko's The Limits of Power: The World and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1945–1954 (1972), in which the United States's Cold War policy was seen as both reflexively anti‐Communist and counterrevolutionary. Any form of challenge to the American form of politics or economics was controlled by either covert or military means.

Not surprisingly, each new historical interpretation of the Cold War begat another—one that built on the earlier findings even as it contradicted them. For an early but still cogent breakdown of these historical camps, see Warren Kimball , The Cold War Warmed Over, American Historical Review (October 1974
). An example of this process at work is John Lewis Gaddis's The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947 (1972). It was immediately hailed as ushering in a new interpretative approach, postrevisionism, which claimed to synthesize a variety of interpretations. Gaddis's work did not simply blame the Americans or the Soviets for their postwar actions; it also mentioned the economic motives of the West in regard to Eastern Europe. But the tenor of Gaddis's argument was clear: the Soviets were definitively more responsible for the origins of the Cold War, through their aggressive and antidemocratic policies in Eastern Europe. Interestingly, Gaddis's position seems to have become more antagonistic over time; his essay, “The Tragedy of Cold War History” (in Diplomatic History [Winter 1993]), is a not too subtle attack on Williams and the revisionist school in general for refusing wholly to indict Soviet policy. Gaddis's “post‐revisionist synthesis” remains highly contentious, as indicated by the caustic critique of it in Bruce Cumings 's Revising Postrevisionism, Diplomatic History (Fall 1993)

The battles over the origins of the Cold War continue; but they are not as fierce, given the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Selective releases from Soviet archives have, however, continued to fuel debates. Many of these documents have been translated and can be found in the volumes of the Cold War International History Project. For a survey of differing interpretations, see Melvin Leffler and David Painter's edited collection, Origins of the Cold War: An International History (1994
). Further, Melvin Leffler 's A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War (1992),
is an important work, for it built on Gaddis's ideas but changed the focus of the debate from issues of imperialism and morality to a more searching critique of U.S. notions of national security. Howard Jones and Randall Woods believe that some kind of national security synthesis is now possible, given the United States's ability to fuse the insights of both the orthodox and revisionist interpretations. However, other historians such as Emily Rosenberg, Anders Stephanson, and Barton Bernstein continue to disagree. For an exchange on these views, see Origins of the Cold War in Europe and the Near East, and the successive commentaries in Diplomatic History (Spring 1993). Finally, Michael Hogan's edited collection, The End of the Cold War: Its Meaning and Implications (1996
), summarizes a variety of viewpoints now that the Cold War is history.

Jonathan Nashel

Cold War

views updated May 21 2018


The term Cold War refers to the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States that lasted from roughly 1945 to 1990. The term predates the Cold War itself, but it was first widely popularized after World War II by the journalist Walter Lippmann in his commentaries in The New York Herald Tribune.

Two features of the Cold War distinguished it from other periods in modern history: (1) a fundamental clash of ideologies (Marxism-Leninism versus liberal democracy); and (2) a highly stratified global power structure in which the United States and the Soviet Union were regarded as "superpowers" that were preeminent overand in a separate class fromall other countries.

the stalin era

During the first eight years after World War II, the Cold War on the Soviet side was identified with the personality of Josef Stalin. Many historians have singled out Stalin as the individual most responsible for the onset of the Cold War. Even before the Cold War began, Stalin launched a massive program of espionage in the West, seeking to plant spies and sympathizers in the upper levels of Western governments. Although almost all documents about this program are still sealed in the Russian archives, materials released in the 1990s reveal that in the United States alone, at least 498 individuals actively worked as spies or couriers for Soviet intelligence agencies in the 1930s and early 1940s.

In the closing months of World War II, when the Soviet Union gained increasing dominance over Nazi Germany, Stalin relied on Soviet troops to occupy vast swathes of territory in East-Central Europe. The establishment of Soviet military hegemony in the eastern half of Europe, and the sweeping political changes that followed, were perhaps the single most important precipitant of the Cold War.

The extreme repression that Stalin practiced at home, and the pervasive suspicion and intolerance that he displayed toward his colleagues and aides, carried over into his policy vis-à-vis the West. Stalin's unchallenged dictatorial authority within the Soviet Union gave him enormous leeway to formulate Soviet foreign policy as he saw fit. The huge losses inflicted by Germany on the Soviet Union after Adolf Hitler abandoned the Nazi-Soviet pact and attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941a pact that Stalin had upheld even after he received numerous intelligence warnings that a German attack was imminentmade Stalin all the more unwilling to trust or seek a genuine compromise with Western countries after World War II. Having been humiliated once, he was determined not to let down his guard again.

Stalin's mistrustful outlook was evident not only in his relations with Western leaders, but also in his dealings with fellow communists. During the civil war in China after World War II, Stalin kept his distance from the Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong. Although the Soviet Union provided crucial support for the Chinese Communists during the climactic phase of the civil war in 1949, Stalin never felt particularly close to Mao either then or afterward. In the period before the Korean War in June 1950, Stalin did his best to outflank Mao, giving the Chinese leader little choice but to go along with the decision to start the war.

Despite Stalin's wariness of Mao, the Chinese communists deeply admired the Soviet Union and sought to forge a close alliance with Moscow. From February 1950, when the two countries signed a mutual security treaty, until Stalin's death in March 1953, the Soviet Union and China cooperated on a wide range of issues, including military operations during the Korean War. On the rare occasions when the two countries diverged in their views, China deferred to the Soviet Union.

In Eastern Europe, Stalin also tended to be distrustful of indigenous communist leaders, and he gave them only the most tenuous leeway. At Stalin's behest, the communist parties in Eastern Europe gradually solidified their hold through the determined use of what the Hungarian communist party leader Mátyás Rákosi called "salami tactics." By the spring of 1948, "People's Democracies" were in place throughout the region, ready to embark on Stalinist policies of social transformation.

Stalin's unwillingness to tolerate dissent was especially clear in his policy vis-à-vis Yugoslavia, which had been one of the staunchest postwar allies of the Soviet Union. In June 1948, Soviet leaders publicly denounced Yugoslavia and expelled it from the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau), set up in 1947 to unite European communist parties under Moscow's leadership. The Soviet-Yugoslav rift, which had developed behind the scenes for several months and had finally reached the breaking point in March 1948, appears to have stemmed from both substantive disagreements and political maneuvering. The chief problem was that Stalin had declined to give the Yugoslav leader, Josip Broz Tito, any leeway in diverging from Soviet preferences in the Balkans and in policy toward the West. When Tito demurred, Stalin sought an abject capitulation from Yugoslavia as an example to the other East European countries of the unwavering obedience that was expected.

In the end, however, Stalin's approach was highly counterproductive. Neither economic pressure nor military threats were sufficient to compel Tito to back down, and efforts to provoke a high-level coup against Tito failed when the Yugoslav leader liquidated his pro-Soviet rivals within the Yugoslav Communist Party. A military operation against Yugoslavia would have been logistically difficult (traversing mountains with an army that was already overstretched in Europe), but one of Stalin's top aides, Nikita Khrushchev, later said he was "absolutely sure that if the Soviet Union had had a common border with Yugoslavia, Stalin would have intervened militarily." Plans for a full-scale military operation were indeed prepared, but the vigorous U.S. military response to North Korea's incursion into South Korea in June 1950 helped dispel any lingering notion Stalin may have had of sending troops into Yugoslavia.

The Soviet Union thus was forced to accept a breach in its East European sphere and the strategic loss of Yugoslavia vis-à-vis the Balkans and the Adriatic Sea. Most important of all, the split with Yugoslavia raised concern about the effects elsewhere in the region if "Titoism" were allowed to spread. To preclude further such challenges to Soviet control, Stalin instructed the East European states to carry out new purges and show trials to remove any officials who might have hoped to seek greater independence. Although the process took a particularly violent form in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary, the anti-Titoist campaign exacted a heavy toll all over the Soviet bloc.

Despite the loss of Yugoslavia, Soviet influence in East-Central Europe came under no further threat during Stalin's last years. From 1947 through the early 1950s, the East-Central European states embarked on crash industrialization and collectivization programs, causing vast social upheaval yet also leading to rapid short-term economic growth. Stalin relied on the presence of Soviet troops, a tightly woven network of security forces, the wholesale penetration of the East European governments and armies by Soviet agents, the use of mass purges and political terror, and the unifying threat of renewed German militarism to ensure that regimes loyal to Moscow remained in power. By the early 1950s, Stalin had established a degree of control over East-Central Europe to which his successors could only aspire.

The Soviet leader had thus achieved two remarkable feats in the first several years after World War II: He had solidified a Communist bloc in Europe, and he had established a firm Sino-Soviet alliance, which proved crucial during the Korean War. These twin accomplishments marked the high point of the Cold War for the Soviet Union.

changes after stalin

Soon after Stalin's death in 1953, his successors began moving away from some of the cardinal precepts of Stalin's policies. In the spring of 1953, Soviet foreign policy underwent a number of significant changes, which cumulatively might have led to a far-reaching abatement of the Cold War, including a settlement in Germany. As it turned out, no such settlement proved feasible. In the early summer of 1953, uprisings in East Germany, which were quelled by the Soviet Army and the latest twists in the post-Stalin succession struggle in Moscow, notably the arrest and denunciation of the former secret police chief, Lavrenti Beria, induced Soviet leaders to slow down the pace of change both at home and abroad. Although the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to a ceasefire in the Korean War in July 1953, the prospects for radical change in Europe never panned out.

Despite the continued standoff, Stalin's death did permit the intensity of the Cold War to diminish. The period from mid-1953 through the fall of 1956 was a time of great fluidity in international politics. The United States and the Soviet Union achieved a settlement with regard to Indochina at the Geneva Conference in July 1954 and signed the Austrian State Treaty in May 1955, bringing an end to a decade-long military occupation of Austria. The Soviet Union also mended its relationship with Yugoslavia, an effort that culminated in Nikita Khrushchev's visit to Yugoslavia in May 1955. U.S.-Soviet relations improved considerably during this period; this was symbolized by a meeting in Geneva between Khrushchev and President Dwight Eisenhower in July 1955 that prompted both sides to build on the "spirit of Geneva."

Within the Soviet Union as well, considerable leeway for reform emerged, offering hope that Soviet ideology might evolve in a more benign direction. At the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956, Khrushchev launched a "de-Stalinization" campaign by delivering a "secret speech" in which he not only denounced many of the crimes and excesses committed by Stalin, but also promised to adopt policies that would move away from Stalinism both at home and abroad.

The condemnation of Stalin stirred a good deal of social ferment and political dissent throughout the Soviet bloc, particularly in Poland and Hungary, where social and political unrest grew rapidly in the summer of 1956. Although the Soviet-Polish crisis was resolved peacefully, Soviet troops intervened in Hungary to overthrow the revolutionary government of Imre Nagy and to crush all popular resistance. The fighting in Hungary resulted in the deaths of some 2,502 Hungarians and 720 Soviet troops as well as serious injuries to 19,226 Hungarians and 1,540 Soviet soldiers. Within days, however, the Soviet forces had crushed the last pockets of resistance and had installed a pro-Soviet government under János Kádár to set about "normalizing" the country.

By reestablishing military control over Hungary and by exposingmore dramatically than the suppression of the East German uprising in June 1953 hadthe emptiness of the "roll-back" and "liberation" rhetoric in the West, the Soviet invasion in November 1956 stemmed any further loss of Soviet power in East-Central Europe. Shortly after the invasion, Khrushchev acknowledged that U.S.-Soviet relations were likely to deteriorate for a considerable time, but he said he was more than ready to accept this tradeoff in order to "prove to the West that [the Soviet Union is] strong and resolute" while "the West is weak and divided."

U.S. officials, for their part, were even more aware than they had been during the East German uprising of the limits on their options in Eastern Europe. Senior members of the Eisenhower administration conceded that the most they could do in the future was "to encourage peaceful evolutionary changes" in the region, and they warned that the United States must avoid conveying the impression "either directly or by implication that American military help will be forthcoming" to anti-Communist forces. Any lingering U.S. hopes of directly challenging Moscow's sphere of influence in East-Central Europe thus effectively ended.

the khrushchev interlude: east-west crises and the sino-soviet rift

The Soviet invasion of Hungary coincided with another East-West crisisa crisis over Suez, which began in July 1956 when President Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal Company. The French, British, and U.S. governments tried to persuade (and then coerce) Nasser to reverse his decision, but their efforts proved of no avail. In late October 1956, Israeli forces moved into Suez in an operation that was broadly coordinated with Britain and France. The following day, French and British forces joined the Israeli incursions. Soviet leaders mistakenly assumed that the United States would support its British and French allies. The Soviet decision to intervene in Hungary was based in part on this erroneous assumption, and it also was facilitated by the perception that a military crackdown would incur less international criticism if it occurred while much of the world's attention was distracted by events in the Middle East.

As it turned out, the Eisenhower administration sided against the British and French and helped compel the foreign troops to pull out of Egypt. The U.S. and Soviet governments experienced considerable friction during the crisis (especially when Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin made veiled nuclear threats against the French and British), but their stances were largely compatible. The U.S. decision to oppose the French and British proved to be a turning point for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), formed in 1949 to help cement ties between Western Europe and the United States against the common Soviet threat. Although NATO continued to be a robust military-political organization all through the Cold War, the French and British governments knew after the Suez crisis that they could not automatically count on U.S. support during crises even when the Soviet Union was directly involved.

In these various ways, the events of OctoberNovember 1956 reinforced Cold War alignments on the Soviet side (by halting any further loss of Soviet control in East-Central Europe) but loosened them somewhat on the Western side, as fissures within NATO gradually emerged. The Warsaw Pactthe Soviet-led alliance with the East European countries that was set up in mid-1955was still largely a paper organization and remained so until the early 1960s, but the invasion of Hungary kept the alliance intact. In the West, by contrast, relations within NATO were more strained than before as a result of the Suez crisis.

A number of other East-West crises erupted in the late 1950s, notably the Quemoy-Matsu offshore islands dispute between communist China and the United States in 1958 and the periodic Berlin crises from 1958 through 1962. Serious though these events were, they were soon over-shadowed by a schism within the communist world. The Soviet Union and China, which had been staunch allies during the Stalin era, came into bitter conflict less than a decade after Stalin's death. The split between the two communist powers, stemming in part from genuine policy and ideological differences and in part from a personal clash between Khrushchev and Mao, developed behind the scenes in the late 1950s. The dispute intensified in June 1959 when the Soviet Union abruptly terminated its secret nuclear weapons cooperation agreement with China. Khrushchev's highly publicized visit to the United States in September 1959 further antagonized the Chinese, and a last-ditch meeting between Khrushchev and Mao in Beijing right after Khrushchev's tour of the United States failed to resolve the differences between the two sides. From then on, Sino-Soviet relations steadily deteriorated. The Soviet Union and China vied with one another for the backing of foreign Communist parties, including those long affiliated with Moscow.

The spillover from the Sino-Soviet conflict into East-Central Europe was evident almost immediately. In late 1960 and early 1961 the Albanian leader, Enver Hoxha, openly aligned his country

with China, a decision that caused alarm in Moscow. The loss of Albania marked the second time since 1945 that the Soviet sphere of influence in East-Central Europe had been breached. Even worse from Moscow's perspective, Soviet leaders soon discovered that China was secretly attempting to induce other East-Central European countries to follow Albania's lead. China's efforts bore little fruit in the end, but Soviet leaders obviously could not be sure of that at the time. The very fact that China sought to foment discord within the Soviet bloc was enough to spark consternation in Moscow.

The emergence of the Sino-Soviet split, the attempts by China to lure away one or more of the East-Central European countries, the competition by Moscow and Beijing for influence among nonruling Communist parties, and the assistance given by China to the Communist governments in North Vietnam and North Korea complicated the bipolar nature of the Cold War, but did not fundamentally change it. International politics continued to revolve mainly around an intense conflict between two broad groups: (1) the Soviet Union and other Communist countries, and (2) the United States and its NATO and East Asian allies. The fissures within these two camps, salient as they may have been, did not eliminate or even diminish the confrontation between the Communist East and the democratic West. Individual countries within each bloc acquired greater leverage and room for maneuver, but the U.S.-Soviet divide was still the primary basis for world politics.

the early 1960s: a lull in the cold war

The intensity of the Cold War escalated in the early 1960s with the arrival of a new U.S. administration headed by John F. Kennedy that was determined to resolve two volatile issues in East-West relations: the status of Cuba, which had aligned itself with the Soviet Union after Communist insurgents led by Fidel Castro seized power in 1959; and the status of Berlin. These issues gave rise to a succession of crises in the early 1960s, beginning with the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and continuing through the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. At the Bay of Pigs, a U.S.-sponsored invading force of Cuban exiles was soundly rebuffed, and Castro remained in power. But the Kennedy administration continued to pursue a number of top-secret programs to destabilize the Castro government and get rid of the Cuban leader.

Khrushchev, for his part, sought to force matters on Berlin. The showdown that ensued in the late summer and fall of 1961 nearly brought U.S. and Soviet military forces into direct conflict. In late October 1961, Soviet leaders mistakenly assumed that U.S. tanks deployed at Checkpoint Charlie (the main border point along the Berlin divide) were preparing to move into East Berlin, and they sent ten Soviet tanks to counter the incursion. Although Khrushchev and Kennedy managed to defuse the crisis by privately agreeing that the Soviet forces would be withdrawn first, the status of Berlin remained a sore point.

The confrontation over Berlin was followed a year later by the Cuban missile crisis. In the late spring of 1962, Soviet leaders approved plans for a secret deployment of medium-range nuclear missiles in Cuba. In the summer and early fall of 1962, the Soviet General Staff oversaw a secret operation to install dozens of missiles and support equipment in Cuba, to deploy some 42,000 Soviet combat forces to the island to protect the missiles, and to send nuclear warheads to Cuba for storage and possible deployment. Operation Anadyr proceeded smoothly until mid-October 1962, when U.S. intelligence analysts reported to Kennedy that an American U-2 reconnaissance flight had detected Soviet missile sites under construction in Cuba. Based on this disclosure, Kennedy made a dramatic speech on October 22 revealing the presence of the missiles and demanding that they be removed.

In a dramatic standoff over the next several days, officials on both sides feared that war would ensue, possibly leading to a devastating nuclear exchange. This fear, as much as anything else, spurred both Kennedy and Khrushchev to do their utmost to find a peaceful way out. As the crisis neared its breaking point, the two sides arrived at a settlement that provided for the withdrawal of all Soviet medium-range missiles from Cuba and a pledge by the United States that it would not invade Cuba. In addition, Kennedy secretly promised that U.S. Jupiter missiles based in Turkey would be removed within "four to five months." This secret offer was not publicly disclosed until many years later, but the agreement that was made public in late October 1962 sparked enormous relief around the world.

The dangers of the Cuban missile crisis prompted efforts by both sides to ensure that future crises would not come as close to a nuclear war. Communications between Kennedy and Khrushchev during the crisis had been extremely difficult at times and had posed the risk of misunderstandings that might have proven fatal. To help alleviate this problem, the two countries signed the Hot Line Agreement in June 1963, which marked the first successful attempt by the two countries to achieve a bilateral document that would reduce the danger of an unintended nuclear war.

The joint memorandum establishing the Hot Line was symbolic of a wider improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations that began soon after the Cuban missile crisis was resolved. Although neither side intended to make any radical changes in its policies, both leaders looked for areas of agreement that might be feasible in the near term. One consequence of this new flexibility was the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) in August 1963, an agreement that Kennedy had strongly promoted in his June 1963 speech. Negotiations on the test ban had dragged on since the 1950s, but in the new climate of 1963 a number of stumbling blocks were resolved. The resulting agreement permitted the two countries to continue testing nuclear weapons underground, but it prohibited explosions in the atmosphere, underwater, and in outer space.

the rise and fall of dÉtente

This burst of activity in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis reduced the intensity of the Cold War, but the two core features of the Cold Warthe fundamental ideological conflict between liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism, and the military preeminence of the two superpowerswere left intact through the early to mid-1980s. So long as the conditions underlying the bipolar confrontation remained in place, the Cold War continued both in Europe and elsewhere.

A number of important developments complicated the situation at the same time. The sharp deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations in the 1960s, culminating in border clashes in 1969, intensified the earlier disarray within the communist world and paved the way for a momentous rapprochement between the United States and China in the 1970s. The situation within the communist world also was complicated by the rise of what became known as "Eurocommunism" in the 1970s. In several West European countries, notably Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, communist parties either had long been or were becoming politically influential. In the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, several of these parties (the French party was a notable exception) sought to distance themselves from Moscow. This latest fissure within the world communist movement eroded Soviet influence in Western Europe and significantly altered the complexion of West European politics.

The Cold War was also affectedthough not drasticallyby the rise of East-West détente. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union significantly improved, leading to the conclusion of strategic arms control accords and bilateral trade agreements. The U.S.-Soviet détente was accompanied by a related but separate Soviet-West European détente, spurred on by the Ostpolitik of West Germany. A series of multilateral and bilateral agreements regarding Berlin and Germany in the early 1970s, and the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975, symbolized the spirit of the new European détente. Even after the U.S.-Soviet détente began to fray in the mid-to late 1970s, the Soviet-West European rapprochement stayed largely on track.

The growing fissures within the Eastern bloc and the rise of East-West détente introduced important new elements to the global scene, but they did not fundamentally change the nature of the Cold War or the structure of the international system. Even when détente was at its height, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Cold War politics intruded into far-flung regions of the globe. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, which brought an end to the "Prague Spring," demonstrated the limits of what could be changed in East-Central Europe. Soviet leaders were not about to tolerate a major disruption of the Warsaw Pact or to accept far-reaching political changes that would undercut the stability of the Communist bloc. Similarly, the Vietnam War, which embroiled hundreds of thousands of American troops from 1965 through 1975, is incomprehensible except in a Cold War context.

In the 1970s as well, many events were driven by the Cold War. U.S.-Soviet wrangling in the Middle East in October 1973, and even more the confrontations over Angola in 19751976 and Ethiopia in 19771978, were among the consequences. Soviet gains in the Third World in the 1970s, coming on the heels of the American defeat in Vietnam, were depicted by Soviet leaders as a "shift in the correlation of forces" that would increasingly favor Moscow. Many American officials and commentators voiced pessimism about the erosion of U.S. influence and the declining capacity of the United States to contain Soviet power.

In the late 1970s, U.S.-Soviet relations took a sharp turn for the worse. This trend was the product of a number of events, including human rights violations in the Soviet Union, domestic political maneuvering in the United States, tensions over Soviet gains in the Horn of Africa, NATO's decision in December 1979 to station new nuclear missiles in Western Europe to offset the Soviet Union's recent deployments of SS-20 missiles, and above all the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Day 1979. Acrimonious exchanges between the two sides intensified.

the endgame

The collapse of the U.S.-Soviet détente in the late 1970s left no doubt about the staying power of the Cold War. One of the reasons that Ronald Reagan won the U.S. presidency in 1980 is that he was perceived as a stronger leader at a time of heightened U.S.-Soviet antagonism. Although the renewed tensions of the early 1980s did not spark a crisis as intense as those in the early 1950s and early 1960s, the hostility between the two sides was acute, and the rhetoric became inflammatory enough to spark a brief war scare in 1983.

Even before Reagan was elected, the outbreak of a political and economic crisis in Poland in the summer of 1980, giving rise to the independent trade union known as "Solidarity," created a potential flashpoint in U.S.-Soviet relations. The relentless demand of Soviet leaders that the Polish authorities crush Solidarity and all other "anti-socialist" elements, demonstrated once again the limits of what could be changed in Eastern Europe. Under continued pressure, the Polish leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, successfully imposed martial law in Poland in December 1981, arresting thousands of Solidarity activists and banning the organization. Jaruzelski's "internal solution" precluded any test of Moscow's restraint and helped prevent any further disruption in Soviet-East European relations over the next several years.

Even if the Polish crisis had never arisen, East-West tensions over numerous other matters would have increased sharply in the early 1980s. Recriminations about the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe, and the rise of antinuclear movements in Western Europe and the United States, dominated East-West relations in the early 1980s. The deployment of NATO's missiles on schedule in late 1983 and 1984 helped defuse popular opposition in the West to the INF, but the episode highlighted the growing role of public opinion and mass movements in Cold War politics.

Much the same was true about the effect of antinuclear sentiment on the Reagan administration's programs to modernize U.S. strategic nuclear forces and its subsequent plans to pursue the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). These efforts, and the rhetoric that surrounded them, sparked dismay not only among Western antinuclear activists, but also in Moscow. For a brief while, Soviet leaders even worried that the Reagan administration might be considering a surprise nuclear strike. In the United States, however, public pressure and the rise of a nuclear freeze movement induced the Reagan administration to reconsider its earlier aversion to nuclear arms control. Although political uncertainty in Moscow in the first half of the 1980s made it difficult to resume arms control talks or to diminish bilateral tensions, the Reagan administration was far more intent on pursuing arms control by the mid-1980s than it had been earlier.

This change of heart in Washington, while important, was almost inconsequential compared to the extraordinary developments in Moscow in the latter half of the 1980s. The rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1985 was soon followed by broad political reforms and a gradual reassessment of the basic premises of Soviet foreign policy. Over time, the new thinking in Soviet foreign policy became more radical. The test of Gorbachev's approach came in 1989, when peaceful transformations in Poland and Hungary brought noncommunist rulers to power. Gorbachev not only tolerated, but actively encouraged this development. The orthodox communist regimes in East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania did their best to stave off the tide of reform, but a series of upheavals in OctoberDecember 1989 brought the downfall of the four orthodox regimes.

The remarkable series of events following Gorbachev's ascendance, culminating in the largely peaceful revolutions of 1989, marked the true end of the Cold War. Soviet military power was still enormous in 1989, and in that sense the Soviet Union was still a superpower alongside the United States. However, Gorbachev and his aides did away with the other condition that was needed to sustain the Cold War: the ideological divide. By reassessing, recasting, and ultimately abandoning the core precepts of Marxism-Leninism, Gorbachev and his aides enabled changes to occur in Europe that eviscerated the Cold War structure. The Soviet leader's decision to accept and even facilitate the peaceful transformation of Eastern Europe undid Stalin's pernicious legacy.

See also: arms control; china, relations with; cuban missile crisis; dÉtente; khrushchev, nikita sergeyevich; korean war; stalin, josef vissarionovich; united states, relations with


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Gaddis, John Lewis. (1982). Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Haynes, John Earl Haynes, and Klehr, Harvey. (1999). Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hogan, Michael J. (1998). A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Holloway, David. (1994). Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 19391956. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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Leffler, Melvyn P. (1992). A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Naimark, Norman, and Gibianskii, Leonid, eds. (1997). The Establishment of Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Schmidt, Gustáv, ed. (2001). A History of NATO: The First Fifty Years, 3 vols. New York: Palgrave.

Stokes, Gale. (1993). The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. New York: Oxford University Press.

Taubman, William C. (2003). Khrushchev: The Man and His Era. New York: Norton.

Thornton, Richard C. (2001). The Nixon-Kissinger Years: Reshaping America's Foreign Policy, rev. ed. St. Paul: Paragon House.

Mark Kramer

Cold War

views updated May 18 2018

Cold War


The science fiction film Strange Invaders (Michael Laughlin, 1983), which trades in acid-tinged nostalgia, opens with a caption that describes the 1950s as an era in which "the only things we had to worry about were the Communists and rock 'n' roll." The joke, of course, is that these multipronged threats still managed to turn a decade otherwise characterized by increasing affluence, technological and social progress, and an absence of world war into a time of deep-seated fear, doubt, and paranoia.

The word "worry" recurs often in the context of this period in cinema—a less extreme emotion than the commingled joy and terror of World War II, when Hollywood wore the fixed grin of James Cagney's (1899–1986) Yankee Doodle Dandy or Errol Flynn's (1909–1959) battlefield heroes, but the anxieties of the 1950s were longer lasting, with broader and stranger effects. The jolly nuclear awareness training films (Duck and Cover) and ghastly novelty songs ("If Jin'ral McArthur Drops a Atomic Bomb") exhumed in the documentary The Atomic Cafe (Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty, 1982) are freakish in their obviousness. The pervasiveness of the Cold War, with its "atomic cocktail" of political and apocalyptic anxieties, is evident from almost every film made in Hollywood between 1948 and 1962.


An endless parade of alien invaders and mutants, often radioactive, frequently from a "red" planet, embodies the stereotypes of the Communist enemy: emotionless, brutal, godless, logical collectives, hungry for our planet's resources (and women). The pettiness of this approach can be gauged from The Thing from Another World (1951), in which Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), the (American) scientist who argues for cultural and scientific exchange rather than prompt military action when faced with a vampiric humanoid vegetable from outer space, is given a beard and a fur hat to make him look Russian. Less obvious is a futile grumble about McCarthyism, equivalent to flashing the finger unnoticed in the class photograph, that underlies a boom in westerns in which mobs persecute innocent men. Silver Lode (Allan Dwan, 1954) gives the chief accuser (Dan Duryea) of the upright sheriff (John Payne) the character name "McCarty"' but includes several takes in which the actors say "McCarthy" by mistake. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) and A Man Alone (Ray Milland, 1955) simply cast Ward Bond (1903–1960), a vocal pillar of the pro-blacklist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, as a bullying lynch mob leader whose scripted "string 'em up" dialogue sounds much like Bond's offscreen anti-Communist remarks.

For America and the Soviet Union, Cold War was the natural condition of the twentieth century. Throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, both superpowers defined themselves, and incidentally justified their military budgets, by invoking the threat of the other, not merely as a geographic enemy or competitor but as an embodiment of an utterly antithetical way of life. American persecution of its homegrown (or immigrant) Communists got into high gear with the Palmer Raids of 1919 and became a long-lasting national pastime in the 1920s as J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972) solidified his power base in what would become the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Throughout the New Deal and World War II, Hoover and others maintained a policy of demonizing American dissent by suggesting that all Communists were agents of an unfriendly foreign power. Until Hitler's invasion of Russia, America saw Nazi Germany as less of a threat than its fellow "dictator nation," the Soviet Union. World War II put the US-Soviet conflict on hold, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) and Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) led their countries in an alliance against fascism. An irony of the blacklist era is that screenwriters later upbraided as Soviet dupes or puppets were in fact guilty of working on embarrassingly fervent exercises in sadistic, propagandist Americanism. Raoul Walsh's Objective, Burma! (1945), cowritten by future blacklistees Alvah Bessie (1904–1985) and Lester Cole (1904–1985), indulges in racist depictions of the Japanese as subhuman creatures, and is far more extreme than even 1950s representations of evil Communists as sexually degenerate gangsters (the film incidentally rewrote the history of the Burma campaign to credit Americans with Allied victories primarily won by the British).

More frequently cited during the hearings into Communist influence in Hollywood were the comparatively few American films made to celebrate Russia's contribution to the war effort: Mission to Moscow (1943) by Michael Curtiz (1888–1962), The North Star (1943) by Lewis Milestone (1895–1980), Song of Russia (1943) by Gregory Ratoff (1893–1960), and Days of Glory (1944) by Jacques Tourneur (1904–1977). There were certainly many more Hollywood celebrations of the British cause (Mrs. Miniver, 1942) or the French Resistance (Casablanca, 1942), and Jack Warner (1916–1995) would make the futile excuse to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that Mission to Moscow had been made at the express request of President Roosevelt, a political figure scarcely less demonized by McCarthyites than Stalin. The wartime alliance between America and Russia, often characterized as a personal accord between Roosevelt and Stalin, was so brief that there was no time to commit fully to celebratory films. None of the pro-Soviet films of 1943 and 1944 achieved anything like the commercial or critical success of comparable pro-British or pro–Free French films (Mrs. Miniver and Casablanca both won Best Picture Oscars®). The dominant Hollywood depiction of the Soviet Union was in the caricature killjoys seduced by silk stockings in Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch, 1939), promoted as "the picture that kids the commissars." When the mood changed, it was a simple matter to backpedal by snipping out shots that included Russians in the international array of Allies depicted in a musical like Hollywood Canteen (1944). The North Star was reedited for postwar release as Armored Attack, with heroic Russians played down; there were even hints that the former Nazi villains were equally likely to be aligned with Stalinism. As late as The Whip Hand (William Cameron Menzies, 1951), Nazis were being turned into Communists: in this case, literally, since a film (The Man I Found) about a surviving Hitler playing with germ warfare was reworked to make an ex-Nazi mad scientist into a fervent tool of Communist forces.

The Cold War properly began in the late 1940s, with a freeze in relations between East and West fueled by paranoia, to an extent justified, on both sides. The lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not lost on Moscow, was that the United States not only had the atom bomb but was also prepared to drop it, while half of Europe turned out to have been saved not for democracy but as a buffer of "satellite states" almost as oppressed as they had been under Hitler. Though it lasted at least until the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the peak of the Cold War is usually reckoned from Winston Churchill's (1874–1965) "Iron Curtain" speech in 1948 to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. This was an eventful period: nuclear buildup in both camps, with a procession of A- and H-bomb tests by both superpowers; an actual skirmish between the sides in Korea, later replayed on a larger scale in Vietnam; Communist insurgencies against old colonial powers Britain and France in Malaya and Indonesia; the "loss" of China to Communism, which created an equally fractious relationship between Red China and the Soviet Union; the extensive persecution of comparatively few American Communists and far more merely left-leaning or liberal Americans, many of whom had been associated with the New Deal or had spoken for the Russian ally during the war; and the beginnings of the space race, sparked by Russia's initial triumphs in launching Sputnik and putting a cosmonaut in orbit—all this, and a wave of juvenile delinquency fanned by rock and roll, horror comics, and hot rods.


In Hollywood, the wave of anti-Communist investigation that was later termed "McCarthyism" actually began in 1947, three years before Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908–1957) embarked on his personal crusade (eventually becoming chair of the Subcommittee on Investigations in the US Senate). The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had convened before the war to investigate allegations of Communist influence in the movie industry but suspended its activities for the duration of the war. In 1947 Chairman J. Parnell Thomas (1895–1970), replacing the late Martin Dies, interrogated the "unfriendly" witnesses who became known as the Hollywood Ten. For refusing to answer questions that would have involved implicating others, the Ten were convicted of "contempt of Congress" and mostly served short prison sentences before emerging to face unemployability. The Ten would have been Eleven, but Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956)—whose latest work, significantly, was a play about Galileo—pretended not to understand English well enough to answer questions in his first session, then fled the country. After years of appeals, two of the Hollywood Ten, Lester Cole and Ring Lardner Jr. (1915–2000), arrived in Danbury Prison to serve their terms, only to find Congressman Thomas, convicted in the interim of embezzling from the federal purse, among their fellow inmates.

The Hollywood Communists suffered for slipping "subversive" dialogue into scripts: the line "hare and share alike, that's democracy" in Edward Dmytryk's (1908–1999) Tender Comrade (1943) tipped off Ginger Rogers's (1911–1995) mother that the writer Dalton Trumbo (1905–1976) was a Red. Yet it is hard to detect traces of anything that might count as Communist or even socialist propaganda in any of the films, good or bad, made by the Ten. The Ten were mostly talented journeymen: Cole, writer of The Invisible Man Returns (1939), which has a miners' strike subplot; Lardner, who later wrote M*A*S*H (1970); Trumbo, who wrote AGuy Named Joe (1943) and Spartacus (1960); Dmytryk, director of Captive Wild Woman (1943) and Murder, My Sweet (1944); John Howard Lawson (1895–1977), writer of Terror in a Texas Town (1958); Herbert Biberman (1900–1971), director of Meet Nero Wolfe (1936), writer of King of Chinatown (1939); Adrian Scott (1912–1973), producer of Murder, My Sweet and Crossfire (1947); Alvah Bessie, writer of Northern Pursuit (1943) and Hotel Berlin (1945); Albert Maltz, writer of This Gun for Hire (1942) and The Man in Half Moon Street (1944); and Samuel Ornitz (1890–1957), writer of Hit Parade of 1937 (1937) and Little Orphan Annie (1939).

Other "unfriendlies," former or current radicals eventually blacklisted, included actors Gale Sondergaard (1899–1985), John Garfield (1913–1952), Kim Hunter (1922–2002), Zero Mostel (1915–1977), and Lionel Stander (1909–1994), writers Dashiell Hammett (1894–1961) (who went stubbornly to jail), Carl Foreman (1914–1984), and Walter Bernstein (b. 1919) (who dealt with the period in his autobiographical script The Front, 1976), and directors Joseph Losey (1909–1984), Jules Dassin (b. 1911), and Cy Endfield (1914–1995). Most of these had, at one time or another, been "card-carrying" Communists, that is, members of the American Communist Party (CPUSA). Some directors (Losey, Endfield) went to Europe and eventually became successful there; some writers used pseudonyms or fronts until it was safe to be credited again. Many endured long periods of forced inactivity. Abraham Polonsky (1910–1999) did not direct between Force of Evil (1948) and Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), managing only one further feature in the remaining thirty years of his life. On the strength of his debut feature, it seems obvious that without the blacklist he would have had a career at least on a level with Edward Dmytryk (who eventually named names) and possibly on a level with Elia Kazan (1909–2003) (who famously became a "friendly"). Actors, of course, were hardest hit of all: some (Sam Wanamaker [1919–1993]) became refugees, but others cracked and informed (Lee J. Cobb [1911–1976], Sterling Hayden [1916–1986], Lloyd Bridges [1913–1998]) to resume their careers.

Under Thomas, HUAC obsessively alleged that "Red writers" insidiously worked the Party Line into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals or Fox thrillers, polluting the minds of American audiences. Investigations failed to turn up any concrete incidences of subversion beyond Lionel Stander whistling "Internationale" while waiting for an elevator in No Time to Marry (1938). Subtly, the thrust of the crusade changed: as in later investigations into the civil services, universities, and other spheres, including dentistry and the US mail, the purpose of the Hollywood hearings was to render unemployed and unemployable anyone who was or had been a Communist or "fellow traveler." Liberals like John Huston (1906–1987) or Kirk Douglas (b. 1916) survived only through canniness—a combination of undoubted box office track record, token anti-Red statements (or films), and an independent streak that would lead to work outside the troubled studio system (other federal committees were breaking up monopolies on exhibition and production), eventually becoming free of the powers who could actually draw up and enforce blacklists.

There was, of course, no formal blacklist. It operated on threat and innuendo, with a complex system of extortion, blackmail, and intimidation, even including approved methods for getting off the list through strategic self-abasement (cooperation with the FBI) or actual bribery. Initially, the blacklisted were names compiled by HUAC for their hearings, but the work was taken up enthusiastically by the American Legion and a private firm called American Business Consultants, who "exposed" subversives in their publications (Firing Line, Counterattack, Red Channels). If studios continued to hire those named, the studios would become the victims of organized boycott campaigns. In television, pressure was brought not on the broadcast companies but on the sponsors who underwrote their programs. Mistakes were made—actress Martha Scott (1914–2003) was confused with singer Hazel Scott (1920–1981) and was blacklisted.

Studio heads, their power eroded by other factors (television, antitrust legislation, impatient heirs), embraced the blacklist as a "bolting the stable door after the horse has gone" measure. Few of the men who had founded the studio system in the 1920s were in office by the end of the decade, but they tended to be eased into extraordinarily monied retirement, whereas a great many of their former employees were ostracized, persecuted, denied their professions, and forced into poverty.

b. Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, 4 September 1908, d. 1 July 1999

When his film Cornered (1945) was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1951 as an instance of the director (and producer Adrian Scott, another of the Hollywood Ten) sneaking Communist propaganda into an entertainment thriller, Edward Dmytryk listed all the objections that his comrades had raised to the film. "This is the thing," he said, "which actually got me out of the Party."

The only one of the Ten to work primarily as a director, Dmytryk had served a long Hollywood apprenticeship, beginning with B pictures like Television Spy (1939), The Devil Commands (1941), Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941), Captive Wild Woman (1943), and The Falcon Strikes Back (1943). Then, as now, the B movie "quickies" were sometimes made by young directors with ambition, and a solidly made, imaginatively shot cheap horror film or series thriller might lead to healthier budgets and more challenging projects. At RKO, Dmytryk was awarded some plums: the Ginger Rogers wartime comedy drama Tender Comrade (1943), scripted by another of the Hollywood Ten, Dalton Trumbo; and the Raymond Chandler thriller Murder, My Sweet (1944). The film noir style, just then becoming popular, could obviously be turned to social issues—which prompted Dmytryk to have Dick Powell track Nazi war criminals in Cornered and to expose Robert Ryan as an anti-Semitic murderer in Crossfire (1947).

Unique among the Ten, Dmytryk served his jail sentence for contempt of Congress, then cooperated with the Committee and resumed his career as a director. Among the penitent activities required of him was cooperating with journalist Richard English on a 1951 Saturday Evening Post article, "What Makes a Hollywood Communist?" In it, he claimed "I believed that I was being forced to sacrifice my family and my career in defense of the Communist Party, from which I had long been separated and which I had grown to dislike and distrust." In his testimony, he cited the invasion of South Korea and the trials of State Department officials presumed to be Soviet spies as the reasons for his change of mind and stated "I don't say all members of the Communist Party are guilty of treason, but I think a party that encourages them to act in this capacity is treasonable."

In the 1950s and beyond, Dmytryk made a few solid films, often concerned with issues of leadership, oppression and rebellion: The Caine Mutiny (1954), Broken Lance (1954), and Warlock (1959). Sadly, his credit was more often found on dull, troubled, conventional soap material like the first version of The End of the Affair (1955), Raintree County (1957), or The Carpetbaggers (1964), and his career petered out with stodgy international genre films like Shalako (1968) and Bluebeard (1972), starring Richard Burton.


Tender Comrade (1943), Murder, My Sweet (1944), Crossfire (1947), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Broken Lance (1954), Warlock (1959)


Dmytryk, Edward. It's a Hell of a Life but Not a Bad Living. New York: Time Books, 1978.

Kim Newman


Anthony Mann's (1907–1967) Strategic Air Command (1955) opens with Dutch Holland (James Stewart), a professional baseball player, being approached by his former commanding officer and asked to reenlist in the peacetime air force. "Where's the fire?" asks Dutch, who has done "his share" in two wars, seconded by a 1950s wife (June Allyson) who wants him at their home in the suburbs, not off on some far-flung base. But the thrust of the film is that it is Dutch's duty to get back in harness and maintain the peace against the ever-present (if rarely specified) Russian threat. The fetishist treatment of weapons of mass destruction, central to Stanley Kubrick's

(1928–1999) Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), begins here. Mann's camera ogles the lines and curves of the B-47 that Stewart (a real-life bomber pilot) gets to fly (with the new family of nuclear weapons, a B-47 with a crew of three carries the destructive power of the entire B-29 forces used in World War II). Dutch's eventual commitment to the Strategic Air Command seems to suggest that his plane is sexier than the starched, maternal Allyson.

At first, Hollywood reacted to the Cold War much like Dutch, when he was asked to stop playing ball and start practicing bomb runs. After years of turning out war propaganda, a policy the movies embraced before the government (e.g., Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Anatole Litvak, 1939), the studios felt they had done their "share" and believed that audiences wanted Technicolor musical escapism or film noir romantic agonies rather than more gray, grim, depressing privation-leads-to-victory stories. If anything, Hollywood needed to mop up after World War II, tracking down Nazi war criminals who might be infiltrating America (The Stranger, Orson Welles, 1946) or reflecting on the situations of returning veterans who found their homeland not quite the paradise they thought they were fighting for. A wave of films, many made by people who would soon be facing HUAC, dealt with heroic black, Jewish, or even Nisei soldiers suffering from bigotry or racial assault, including murder: Crossfire (Edward Dmytryk, 1947), Gentleman's Agreement (Elia Kazan, 1947), Home of the Brave (Mark Robson, 1949), and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) by John Sturges (1911–1993). A decade before Strategic Air Command, Dana Andrews found his war record suited him for no peacetime employment and rendered him as obsolete as the fields of junked bombers in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) by William Wyler (1902–1981). Within a few years, films like this (another Oscar® winner) would be seen as either suspect or anti-American.

The studios made anti-Nazi films from genuine conviction (in the case of Warner Bros.) and a patriotic urge to aid a national war effort; they made anti-Communist films at first because they were afraid not to. When HUAC resumed its hearings, Hollywood put into production a run of low-budget anti-Red quickies. A few odd films—My Son John (Leo McCarey, 1952) and Big Jim McLain (Edward Ludwig, 1952)—are sincere in their anti-Communism, if so bizarre in approach as to undermine their overt message. In the former, John (Robert Walker), a fey intellectual who drifts into Red circles, is so smothered by his mother (Helen Hayes) and literally Bible-bashed by his super-patriot father (Dean Jagger) that he seems as much a victim of all-American parentage as Jim Stark (James Dean) of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) or Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) of Psycho (1960). Jim McLain, an avatar of producer John Wayne (1907–1979), is a rare instance of blacklister as two-fisted action hero, an investigator out to round up a Red ring in Hawaii. The film's conclusion is that too many enemies of freedom are protected by the Fifth Amendment and that the Constitution ought to be changed—a proposal not even Joseph McCarthy dared to make.

These are films Hollywood needed to produce, but audiences were not that interested in seeing them then, and even social historians find them hard to see (let alone sit through) now. Some tackled the "problem" of making anti-Red propaganda by making the same old movies, but with notionally Communist villains. The espionage aspect of Pickup on South Street (1953) by Samuel Fuller (1912–1997) is so thin that the film could be redubbed for release in France (where there was a respectable, active Communist Party) with the bad guys turned into drug smugglers. Smooth Van Zandt (James Mason), "importer-exporter of government secrets" in North by Northwest (1959) by Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980), is an epicene mastermind exactly like the traitor-for-an-unspecified-cause of The 39Steps (1935). Other pictures, far more disposable, traded in trenchcoated sleaze and avant-la-lettre camp, and could as easily be coded attacks on homosexuality (a persistent theme), devil worship, big-time crime, seedpods from space, or child abuse rings: The Iron Curtain (William Wellman, 1948), The Red Menace (R. G. Springsteen, 1949), I Married a Communist (Robert Stevenson, 1949), I Was a Communist for the FBI (Gordon Douglas, 1951), Red Planet Mars (Harry Horner, 1952), and Invasion USA (Alfred E. Green, 1952).

b. Montrose, Colorado, 9 December 1905, d. 10 September 1976

Dalton Trumbo had what might be considered the usual background for a studio writer in the 1930s and 1940s: a spell as a journalist, employment as a script reader for Warner Bros., critical success as an author (with the perhaps ill-timed antiwar novel Johnny Got His Gun, 1939), a "good war record" of patriotic movies (A Guy Named Joe, 1943; Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, 1944), a spell in the Pacific Theater as war correspondent, and a position as chairman of "Writers for Roosevelt." He was a founding member and sometime director of the Screen Writers Guild and a somewhat fractious sometime Communist (the CPUSA insisted that Trumbo's thirty-page memo on its failings in Hollywood be ignored and burned).

As the most successful and prolific of the Hollywood Ten, Trumbo's credits were the most scrutinized for the taint of propaganda—which HUAC claimed to find in Tender Comrade (1943), a film about the wartime housing shortage in which the heroines' apartment sharing was deemed suspiciously collectivist, alerting star Ginger Rogers's mother (a prominent "friendly" witness) to Trumbo's hidden agenda. After serving his ten-month jail term for contempt of Congress, Trumbo was blacklisted in the industry but continued to write under pseudonyms. In 1956 the Academy Award® for Best Motion Picture Story went to Robert Rich for The Brave One; Rich did not collect the Oscar® because he was merely a front for Trumbo. At the time, the King Brothers, the film's producers, hotly denied the rumor that Trumbo was the author, but the truth was generally known; in 1975 the Academy presented the statuette to the correct recipient.

Though Trumbo's fronted or pseudonymous credits still have not all been confirmed, he was active throughout his internal exile, often on interesting low-budget films like Joseph L. Lewis's Gun Crazy (1949) and Terror in a Texas Town (1958). Oddly, he worked on Otto Preminger's decidedly hawkish Cold War allegory The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955) in which Gary Cooper's pioneer of aviation warfare claims "one day, half the world will be in ruins through bombing from the air; I want this country to be in the other half." Trumbo always credited Kirk Douglas—producer-star of Spartacus (1960)—with breaking the blacklist by giving him credit, though there seems to have been a race between Douglas and Preminger, who had Trumbo working on Exodus (1960), as to who would name him first.

When he came out of the cold, Trumbo worked less often, mixing expensive tosh like The Sandpiper (1965) and Hawaii (1966) with more interesting, smaller projects like Lonely Are the Brave (1962). He directed and wrote a 1971 film of Johnny Got His Gun, better timed for the anti-Vietnam mood but awkward where the book was precise, and he had a final "big" credit on Papillon (1973).


Tender Comrade (1943), Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (1944), Gun Crazy (1949), Spartacus (1960), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Johnny Got His Gun (1971)


Cook, Bruce. Dalton Trumbo. New York: Scribners, 1977.

Hanson, Peter. Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood Rebel: A Critical Survey and Filmography. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.

Trumbo, Dalton. Johnny Got His Gun. Lippincott, 1939.

Kim Newman

With the Communist screenwriters, directors, and actors blacklisted, there was a real problem in making films about Communism. Those, like Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg (b. 1914), who had recanted former beliefs, "named names," or espoused the anti-Communist cause were still conflicted enough to want to avoid making films like My Son John. Kazan and Schulberg's On the Waterfront (1954) can be read as a personal validation: longshoreman Terry Molloy (Marlon Brando) is convinced by an investigator for a government committee that turning informer

is sometimes the only honorable American course of action, even if it means being stigmatized in his community ("a pigeon for a pigeon," sobs a child as he tosses the murdered corpse of one of Terry's beloved pet birds at him). But On the Waterfront is about apolitical racketeering, and there is no suggestion that corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) has any Red affiliations. Those with long memories might recall that American Communists had devoted careers in labor activism to rooting out villains like Johnny, and that blacklisted director Jules Dassin had cast Cobb as a similar crook in the proletarian-themed truck-driving drama Thieves' Highway (1949).

This left the anti-Red films to no-name directors who took what they were given and knew no more about Communism than the average maker of two-week westerns knew about Indians. The Hollywood Red was liable to be a shifty-looking foreign character actor with beady eyes, a heavy accent, a grubby wardrobe, and a closeted but evident perverse sexuality (Thomas Gomez in I Married a Communist). In this, he was hard to differentiate from the gangsters, psychopaths, and general troublemakers who appeared in everyday crime films like The Big Heat (1953) by Fritz Lang (1890–1976) or The Big Combo (1955) by Joseph H. Lewis (1907–2000). It is easy to rate the anti-Red cycle as a subgenre of a larger 1950s trend for films in which individuals find themselves targeted by vast, all-powerful conspiracies, which seem to be impossible to escape and are even inextricably intertwined with the power structure of normal society. Whether the villians are outlaws backed by corrupt politicians or the railroads in westerns, alien invaders in science fiction, adults in juvenile delinquency dramas (and even children's films like Roy Rowland's The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, 1953), or all-powerful crime cartels in gangster films, the menace feels the same; it could as easily represent an Americanism characterized by blacklisting and persecution as an external enemy intent on subverting and wrecking the capitalist way of life.

Some of the most memorable, effective films of the Cold War are open to interpretations from opposite ends of the political spectrum. High Noon (1952) by Fred Zinnemann (1907–1997), scripted by soon-to-be-blacklisted Carl Foreman and starring Motion Picture Alliance mainstay Gary Cooper (1901–1961), follows Sheriff Will Kane's attempts to rally the townsfolk against the outlaw coming in on the noon train to kill him and resume a reign of terror. Liberals can read this as an indictment of McCarthyism, with the disgusted and excluded hero finally tossing his badge of authority (a tin star) in the dirt and walking away (a gesture that especially angered John Wayne). But Will Kane could as easily represent Senator McCarthy's self-image: a lone voice against subversives whom the complacent, docile populace would rather ignore. Similarly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) by Don Siegel (1912–1991) features a town taken over by aliens who fit some of the Communist stereotypes (emotionless, subtle, single-minded) but who also act a lot like all-American blacklisters (small-town conformists, forming a lynch mob, pressuring folks to come over to their side).

The ultimate expression of this free-form paranoia is Kiss Me Deadly (1955) by Robert Aldrich (1918–1983), a deconstruction of Mickey Spillane's (b. 1918) anti-Red novel, in which "the mysterious they" who will do anything to possess "the great whatsit" could be anyone—Russian spies, American (or, worse, naturalized American) organized crime, bizarre sexual perverts, eternally duplicitous females, even mythological beings like Medusa and Cerberus. Aldrich's nebulous menace only serves to highlight his ambiguous hero, Spillane's Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), whose brutality, sadism, paranoia, and misogyny are faithfully transplanted from the page, with an added gloss of illiteracy, philistinism, car and pin-up fetishism ("va-va-voom!"), glowering humor-lessness, and "little boy lost" infantilism, making him a caricature of Cold Warrior masculinity. The film ends with Pandora's Box, containing fissionable material, opened and a mushroom cloud rising over southern California.


In 1953 a reporter from Life magazine—who presumably believed Wellman's The Iron Curtain to be an accurate depiction of life in the Soviet Union—saw Serebristaya pyl (Silver Dust) by Abram Room (1894–1976) and labeled it "Red propaganda" and a libel on the United States. One of comparatively few Soviet Cold War films, it features an enterprising American researcher who wishes to test his radioactive dust on human guinea pigs, while a scheming big businessman and an ex-Nazi compete for control of the weapon. In the end, the capitalist's hired guns kill the scientist; incidental features that represent the typical American life include a false arrest, a lynch mob, and the kicking of a black maid. Though ostensibly more committed than Hollywood to the peddling of "government propaganda," Soviet cinema was rarely so blatant in its specific anti-Americanism.

On the whole, the most active film industries outside America in the 1950s were still too concerned with World War II to pay real attention to the current conflict. Whereas Hollywood made films about the Korean War (Fixed Bayonets, 1951; Men in War, 1957; and Pork Chop Hill, 1959), Britain and the Soviet Union—even France, Italy, Poland, and Japan—were more likely to dwell on the 1939–1945 conflict. War films of the 1950s from these countries perhaps evince a subtle nostalgia for the certainties of the previous decade as opposed to the intricacies of the Cold War. However, an increasing realism, ambiguity, and violence, even in the simplest re-creations of wartime exploits, certainly had added relevance in the years of Suez, the Hungarian uprising, economic miracles, and the "Fortunate Dragon" incident (whereby the crew of a Japanese fishing boat died after exposure to fallout from a bomb test).

Outside the United States, Cold War themes were often treated allegorically or satirically—as in the British The Mouse That Roared (1959) or the Japanese Gojira (1954, later released in America in a reworked version as Godzilla King of Monsters, 1956), which reflect deeply mixed feelings about the use of atomic weapons. By the end of the 1950s, there was no longer a "Hollywood" in the previously accepted sense of the term; the political-cultural tenor of popular cinema began to be shaped by East Coast sensibilities emerging from the young television industry and even by a growing internationalism, whereby American movies might easily be made in England or Italy and would necessarily incorporate aspects of their locations' native cinemas and sensibilities.


Ian Fleming's (1908–1964) early James Bond novels, published in the 1950s, often pit the British superspy against SMERSH, a division ("Death to Spies") of Soviet intelligence. When Bond (Sean Connery) emerged in film, from Dr. No (1962) on, SMERSH was downplayed in favor of SPECTRE, a fantastical, apolitical criminal organization along the lines of those once run by Dr. Mabuse or Fu Manchu. In the novel From Russia with Love, plans are laid against Bond by SMERSH, but in the 1964 film, the Soviets subcontract the job to SPECTRE. Though theoretically a Cold Warrior, Bond has in later films as often allied with Russians as clashed with them. Even the title From Russia with Love suggests a thaw in relations.

In the Kennedy-Krushchev period, when the Cold War chess game (a recurrent image) seemed to become more deadly over missiles in Cuba (and Turkey), popular culture was inclined to take a more cynical, callous attitude to the superpower face-off. The key film is The Manchurian Candidate (1962) by John Frankenheimer (1930–2002), scripted by George Axelrod (1922–2003) from Richard Condon's (1915–1996) novel, which caricatures McCarthy as the know-nothing Senator John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory), who picks the easy-to-remember number (57) of Communists he claims to have identified in the State Department off a ketchup bottle, and partners him with a monstrous wife (Angela Lansbury) who wants him swept into the White House with "powers which will make martial law look like anarchy." This indictment of the blacklist mind-set coexists with plot developments that suggest McCarthy was not paranoid enough. The Iselins are actually Communist tools out to undermine America (the inspiration is the suggestion that McCarthy could not have hurt the United States more if he were a paid Soviet agent); Mrs. Iselin has collaborated with the transformation of her own son, Raymond (Laurence Harvey), through brainwashing by Sino-Soviet villains into a zombie assassin.

The Manchurian Candidate is as much sick comedy as thriller, signified by the splattering of blood and brains over a poster of Stalin during a demonstration of Raymond's killing abilities. It has a certain "plague on both your houses" tone, far more vicious in its attack than Peter Ustinov's (1921–2004) across-the-curtain romantic comedy Romanoff and Juliet (1961), and it is as much remembered for its prescience in the matter of presidential assassination and conspiracy theory as its acute dissection of the paranoia of both West and East. A stark, black-and-white nightmare, with stylish bursts of martial arts action and walking political cartoons, its zero-degree cool bled into the highly colored cynicism of the Bond films. These wallow in luxury and voluptuousness, brush off murders with flip remarks ("shocking!"), and routinely climax with an intricate world-threatening scheme, foiled by individual heroism and the prompt arrival of an Anglo-American assault team to overwhelm the diabolical mastermind's secret base. These tactics failed in the real world at the Bay of Pigs, an operation badly fumbled by Bond fan Kennedy, just as the Cuban missile crisis led to closer scrutiny of the mechanics of the balance of terror.

Dr. Strangelove, like Sidney Lumet's (b. 1924) more serious Fail-Safe (1964), is a brink-of-doom thriller, a possible prequel to all those "life-in-the-radioactive-ruins" quickies of the 1950s (Five, 1951; The Day the World Ended, 1956; The World, the Flesh and the Devil, 1959). Here, the world is not imperiled by aggressive ideologies but by neuroses—a US Air Force general (Sterling Hayden), driven by impotence to rail against the Communist threat to his "precious bodily fluids," and a Soviet regime that invests in a cheap Doomsday Machine because the people are clamoring for washing machines. In a way, Kubrick's film—a satire adapted from a dead-straight novel, Red Alert (1958) by Peter George (1924–1966)—is a sigh of relief that the world has come through Korea and Cuba without self-annihilation, but it is also an awful warning and a declaration that a third world war cannot be won. Invasion USA (1952) is the only American atomic war film to suggest that after nuclear attack, the Communist enemy would attempt to occupy the United States like stereotypical conquerors. Later films (including the Yugoslav Rat, 1960) blame both sides equally, with war as likely to result from accident or a failure of diplomacy. The ultimate message of The War Game (1967) by Peter Watkins (b. 1935) is that governments should not be trusted with nuclear weapons, while Ladybug Ladybug (Frank Perry, 1963)—echoing an outstanding Twilight Zone episode, "The Shelter"—goes so far as to suggest that civil preparedness contributes to a breakdown of society, as shelter-owners arm themselves not against the military enemy but their own neighbors.

The 1960s saw many fantastical Bondian superspies (the Flint and Matt Helm adventures), Strangelovian satires (The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!, Norman Jewison, 1966; The President's Analyst, Theodore J. Flicker, 1967), and "realistic" espionage dramas (The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Martin Ritt, 1965; The Ipcress File, Sidney J. Furie, 1965) riffing on the Cold War. Taking their cue from The Manchurian Candidate, all these films tend to suggest that "our side" is as bad (or, less often, good) as "their side"—the mission of the Spy Who Came In from the Cold is to discredit a clever and idealistic Jewish East German counterintelligence agent to save a former Nazi working as a double agent for the West—and, eventually, that the power elites of both sides are so dependent on the Cold War to retain their positions that they have become interchangeable.

As in so much later twentieth-century history, events suggest George Orwell's (1903–1950) novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), in which a permanent state of hostilities is an excuse for the real war, waged by rulers against the populace. From the mid-1960s, popular culture shifted from worrying about the Communists to that other deadly prong of the 1950s, rock and roll (representing youth, rebellion, and even unrestrained capitalist consumerism)—but was unsure whether to worry or celebrate. With Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), and Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968) offering counterarguments to increasingly uncomfortable Americanist crusades like John Wayne's The Green Berets (1968), battle lines were drawn for new wars, between young and old, powerful and powerless, black and white, hip and square. Old-style patriotism would resurge in the Reagan years (1980–1988), but even the red-bashing Rambo is by no means simplistic, as he grapples with masculinity, the legacy of Vietnam, and America's self-image. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, few victory parades were held in America. The movies were not there—round-the-clock news footage had told the story so quickly that it was stale by the time a film (e.g., Frankenheimer's The Fourth War, 1990) could be made.

SEE ALSO Censorship;Ideology;War Films;World War II


Belfrage, Cedric. The American Inquisition, 1945–1960: A Profile of the "McCarthy Era." New York: Thunder's Mouth, 1989.

Bernstein, Walter. Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Biskind, Peter. Seeing Is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties. New York: Pantheon, 1983.

Boyer, Paul. By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age. New York: Pantheon, 1985.

Ceplair, Larry, and Steven Englund. The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930–1960. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

Cole, Lester. Hollywood Red. Palo Alto, CA: Ramparts Press, 1981.

Henriksen, Margot A. Dr. Strangelove's America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Kahn, Gordon. Hollywood on Trial: The Story of the Ten Who Were Indicted. New York: Boni and Gaer, 1948.

Kazan, Elia. Elia Kazan: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1988.

McGilligan, Patrick, and Paul Buhle, eds. Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Miller, Arthur. Timebends: A Life. New York: Grove Press, 1987.

Navasky, Victor S. Naming Names. New York: Viking Press, 1980.

Smith, Julian. Looking Away: Hollywood and Vietnam. New York: Scribners, 1975.

Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies!: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Vol. 1, 1950–1957. Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland, 1982.

——. Keep Watching the Skies!: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties, Vol. 2, 1958–1962. Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland, 1986.

Kim Newman

Cold War

views updated May 18 2018


SPRING, 1962–1969

THE "NEW COLD WAR," 1980–1985

The Cold War is the name for the overarching rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union that came to define the epoch from the end of World War II in 1945 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. At its center—part cause, part effect—was the postwar division of Europe and especially of Germany, whose unification in 1989–1990 was a decisive moment in the endgame of the Cold War. But the Cold War extended far beyond Europe to become a global competition between the superpowers, as well as communist China, involving a nuclear arms race that teetered, at times, on the brink of devastating war.


The term Cold War was popularized by the American columnist Walter Lippmann in his book of that title published in 1947. But in October 1945 the British author George Orwell, pondering the implications of the new atomic bomb, had already predicted an epoch in which a great power could be at once "unconquerable and in a permanent state of 'cold war' with its neighbours" (pp. 9–10). The term, in fact, has a long lineage, having been used to characterize Hitler's war of nerves against France in the 1930s and the international arms race before World War I. It was even used by the medieval Castilian writer Don Juan Manuel, who wrote: "War that is very strong and very hot ends either with death or peace, whereas cold war neither brings peace nor gives honour to one who makes it" (quoted in Halliday, p. 5).

The other term that entered common usage in the 1940s was superpowers, coined in 1944 by the American political scientist William T. R. Fox to denote countries with "great power plus great mobility of power" (p. 21). At this time Fox identified three such superpowers—the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain. Although Britain was an important factor in the early Cold War, its rapid imperial and economic decline soon exposed the fact that there were only two real superpowers in the postwar world. Their competition gave the Cold War its essential bipolar dynamic.


For a generation the field of Cold War historiography was dominated by American authors. Early writings were predominantly sympathetic to the policy of the U.S. government, blaming the Cold War largely on Soviet territorial expansionism and portraying American policy as reactive. Although differing on the relative importance of ideology as against power politics in Soviet thinking, this so-called orthodox school held sway in the 1950s and early 1960s. Its exemplars included the scholar and policymaker Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. During the 1960s, however, a "revisionist" critique gained momentum, fed by contemporary political debate about the Vietnam War and by the firstfruits of American archives. Historians such as William Appleman Williams argued that an American policy of economic expansion bore a large measure of responsibility for the Cold War. Anxious to promote an "open door" for its trade, finance, and ideas, the United States, they argued, had been trying to redesign the world in its own image, to create an informal American empire.

In the 1980s historians such as John L. Gaddis sketched out a "postrevisionist" view. Although taking elements from both previous approaches, including recognition of the assertive nature of American policy, this interpretation tended to be a more nuanced, archivally based restatement of traditionalism. Another leading postrevisionist, the Norwegian scholar Geir Lundestad, developed the argument that if Cold War Western Europe was part of an American empire, this was "empire by invitation"—sought, even welcomed, by the Europeans.

Lundestad also exemplified another trend in Cold War historiography during the 1980s—the entry of non-American, Western scholars into the debate as European archives were opened. Following Lundestad's lead, they showed that the British, French, and even West Germans were not mere objects of U.S. and Soviet foreign policies but had their own agenda and sometimes set the pace and tone of Cold War policy. This was an "international" approach to the Cold War.

The 1990s saw a "postcommunist" turn in the historiography, with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the selective opening of its archives. The former East German party files became accessible for the whole period from 1945 to 1991; Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic made available important new material on key Cold War crises. Although this new documentation is patchy, particularly for Russia, it has shed important light on the "other side" of the Cold War, and scholars are still absorbing the implications.


Not merely the interpretation of the Cold War but its periodization depends a good deal on one's overall approach. Revisionists, for instance, were often inclined to date it back to 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution and the United States' entry into the European war. As such, the Cold War was a struggle of revolution versus counterrevolution. On the other hand, the two powers had little to do with each other after the end of the Russian civil war and the United States' retreat from European commitments.

What really brought them into contact was their alliance of wartime necessity against Hitler and especially the presence from 1945 of U.S. and Soviet troops in the heart of defeated Germany. With the two powers now face to face and forced to work together on postwar peacemaking, their fundamental ideological differences really began to matter. Each still wanted cooperation, but on its own terms, and events in 1945 showed just how far the other side would go.

The biggest problem was what to do about Germany itself, occupied by America, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union as prelude, it was assumed, to creating an independent, denazified German state. However, the Allies could not agree on the terms for a peace treaty. Having lost perhaps twenty-eight million in the war, the Soviets were naturally determined to keep Germany down. The Americans, remote from Europe and suffering only three hundred thousand dead, were more interested in rebuilding the German economy as a motor for European recovery.

The defeat of Hitler's Reich also left the Red Army in control of large areas of Eastern Europe. Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) understood the Yalta Conference of February 1945 to signify that he was being given a free hand in "his" part of Europe, just as he left the British and Americans predominant in the West. But they expected that he would conform to the "open door," democratic values for which they proclaimed the war had been fought. The imposition of Communist-dominated governments in Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania in 1945 was therefore a deep shock. Stalin, in turn, regarded Western protests as a breach of promise and as sinister evidence that his erstwhile allies posed a threat to basic Soviet interests.

The year 1945 was not just the end of the Second World War; it also marked the beginning of the nuclear age. In August 1945 the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan to end the Asian war. Stalin's response was to galvanize the Soviets' own atomic project, giving it top priority for manpower and resources. Revisionist historians sometimes argued that if Washington had been more willing to share atomic secrets with Moscow, this might have reduced Cold War friction. But even a leader less paranoid than Stalin would not have rested easy as long as atomic weapons remained an American monopoly. Nuclear rivalry exacerbated the underlying mistrust.

During 1945, the new American president, Harry S. Truman, agreed to the governments of Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania on essentially Stalin's terms, with the addition of a few token noncommunists. But his suspicion of Soviet conduct deepened during 1946, not only in Europe but also in places such as Iran, Turkey, and Korea. Winston Churchill, the wartime British prime minister, helped conceptualize the new worldview with his speech at Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March 1946 warning of an "Iron Curtain" coming down across Europe. On both sides, memories of the previous war were pervasive. The Americans and British saw events as a possible replay of the 1930s, with aggression escalating into another world war if the response was appeasement; the Soviets feared another surprise attack from the West, akin to 1941, and Stalin played on this to justify renewed repression at home.


The crucial year was 1947. The British, in economic crisis, informed Washington that they could no longer provide financial aid to Turkey and Greece, where the communists were gaining ground in a brutal civil war. Calling on Congress to pick up the tab, Truman spoke of a world divided between "democracy" and "totalitarianism," and committed the United States to supporting "free peoples" everywhere. The Truman Doctrine of 12 March 1947 ideologized the Cold War.

The second big American initiative that year was the Marshall Plan. With Western European recovery faltering because of a grave shortage of dollars, the U.S. secretary of state George C. Marshall spoke out at Harvard University on 5 June. Marshall promised that if the Europeans drew up a joint recovery program, the United States would provide financial assistance. Marshall's offer did not in principle exclude the Soviets, who turned up at the ensuing conference at Paris in July with a hundred-strong delegation. But when Stalin discovered that the aid would not be unconditional, as in the war, and that the Americans saw it as a lever for opening up nationalist economies, he recalled his delegation and warned satellite countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia that participation would be regarded as a hostile act against the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan went ahead for Western Europe alone, while much of Eastern Europe became an exploited Soviet colony. In many ways July 1947 was the moment when the Iron Curtain really came down.

The divide became political as well. May 1947 saw new coalition governments formed in France, Italy, and Belgium, without the communists. Over the next year, union movements across Western Europe split into communist and noncommunist groupings. Meanwhile, Eastern European states were Stalinized, with only Moscow loyalists left in power, and command economies were rapidly imposed.

With the great powers deadlocked over its future, Germany remained essentially a barter economy in which the main medium of exchange was cigarettes. The country was potentially the engine of European economic recovery, and the British and Americans decided they must start to revive their zones of Germany without Soviet agreement. After the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in February 1948, the French—hitherto more fearful of the Germans than of the Russians—also fell into line. Faced with a new currency in western Germany, Stalin tried to intimidate the West by imposing a blockade of Berlin in June 1948. To his surprise, the Americans and British responded with an airlift that kept the city supplied through the winter until he conceded defeat in May 1949.

By this time the Western allies had agreed on the basis of a new western German state. The Federal Republic of Germany came into existence in May 1949, even though the Allied occupation continued. The Berlin crisis also accelerated talks about transatlantic cooperation. The North Atlantic Treaty, signed in April 1949, was an unprecedented American peacetime commitment to the security of Europe and a sign of how far the world had moved since 1945.


Later in 1949, however, the initiative again shifted away from the West. In August the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, based on information transmitted by Soviet agents about the device tested by the Americans in 1945. And in October the Chinese communists, victors of the long and savage civil war, proclaimed the new People's Republic of China.

In Stalin's eyes these two events signaled a shift in the "correlation of forces." They emboldened him to approve the bid by his North Korean allies to bring the whole of their country under communist control. The Korean War, which broke out in June 1950, had a dramatic effect on Europe. The Atlantic allies, fearful that it presaged a similar offensive in Western Europe, galvanized their own rearmament and turned the treaty into a proper military alliance (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—NATO), with its own command structure under American leadership. Despite strong opposition in Congress, the United States committed four new combat divisions to European defense, in return demanding that the Europeans accept the rearmament of West Germany.

The French were deeply alarmed at the revival of German military power. For nearly four years the allies explored the idea of a European Defense Community in which German forces would simply be part of a multinational army. After this proposal was rejected in the French Assembly in August 1954, the allies eventually agreed to admit a rearmed West Germany into NATO. Its forces would not have an independent existence, and the government also renounced atomic, biological, and chemical weapons.

The Soviets also viewed the revival of West German power with grave suspicion. In the spring of 1952 Stalin proposed new talks leading to a Germany that would be united, rearmed but neutral. When the West rejected this as a spoiling tactic, the Soviets sealed off their part of Germany from the west. Having argued in 1952–1953 about whether East Germany was an asset or a liability now that they had looted most of its assets, the Soviet leaders were panicked by the riots across the country in June 1953. In a marked change of policy, they started to build up the East German regime. When West Germany joined NATO in May 1955, the Soviets countered by drawing their satellites, including East Germany, into their own military system, known in the West as the Warsaw Pact.

Only a few European countries stayed aloof from the two rival alliances. Switzerland and Sweden maintained their traditional neutrality. In Austria, the four occupying powers withdrew in May 1955, under a treaty that left the country united, independent, and nonaligned. And Yugoslavia's leader Josip Broz Tito had successfully broken away from Moscow's orbit to develop a looser communist economy with aid from the West. But these were rare exceptions. Ten years after the end of Hitler's Reich, most of Europe had been divided into two armed camps.


Stalin's death in March 1953 heralded a thaw. The new collective leadership was anxious to reduce tension with the West, and it negotiated an armistice in the deadlocked Korean War. The two sides also looked for advantageous ground on which to stage a "summit" conference—a term popularized by Churchill—and eventually met at Geneva in July 1955.

But the occasion was largely symbolic. Despite growing concern about the nuclear threat now that both sides were developing hydrogen bombs, the arms race was spiraling out of control. Britain had joined the nuclear "club" in 1952; France followed in 1960. In November 1953 the first battlefield nuclear weapons were introduced into West Germany, presaging the "nuclearization" of war at the tactical as well as the strategic level. In November 1956 the brutal Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolt marked a return to confrontational politics.

This was not, however, the acute tension of the early 1950s. Under the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), the slogan was "peaceful coexistence," which meant an intensified competition by all means short of war. Khrushchev was anxious to reduce the arms burden on his own economy. Like the Americans, his aim was to cut down conventional forces and rely more heavily on the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons. The successful launching of Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite, in October 1957 suggested that the Soviets were ahead in the development of long-range missiles. Hitherto the Soviets had no long-range aircraft to deliver their nuclear bombs against the United States; now, it seemed to panicky Americans, they could hit Washington within thirty minutes. On the back of this technological triumph, Khrushchev boasted that the Soviet Union would outstrip U.S. per capita output within fifteen years.

Khrushchev exploited his advantage by trying to force an agreement about Berlin, still occupied by the four wartime allies and as such the only point where East Germans could escape to the West. After a series of crises from November 1958, Khrushchev decided to stop the hemorrhage of young talent by blocking off the Soviet zone of the city. Barricades and barbed wire on 13 August 1961 quickly became a twelve-foot-high concrete wall, flanked by minefields, watchtowers, and searchlights. Despite West German anger, the West accepted the fait accompli: a divided Germany seemed an acceptable price for a more stable Europe. But the Berlin Wall cost the Soviets dear in propaganda terms. To those who did not grasp what was at stake between "the free world and the Communist world," President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) declared, "Let them come to Berlin."

SPRING, 1962–1969

East Germany was a Soviet showpiece in the Cold War. Another, more recent, was Cuba. After Fidel Castro (b. 1926) and his guerrillas seized power from a corrupt Americanized regime in 1959, they became increasingly dependent on Soviet aid as they turned the country into a socialist state. Cuba was only ninety miles from America, and Kennedy did his best to overthrow the Castro government. In the autumn of 1962 Khrushchev responded by introducing medium-range nuclear missiles into Cuba. He tried to do so secretly, but American spy planes detected the buildup and Kennedy went public on 22 October, announcing a blockade of the island. After an increasingly frenzied week of negotiation, Khrushchev, aware that the U.S. nuclear arsenal was far superior to his own, backed down and pulled out the missiles. This massive humiliation, played out on the world stage, was a major factor in his enforced resignation in 1964.

But Kennedy's advantage was short-lived. He was assassinated in November 1963, having already laid the groundwork for America's own nemesis—Vietnam. After the French pulled out of this divided country in 1954, the United States propped up the anticommunist regime in the south with massive amounts of aid, and in 1960 the North embarked on a massive guerrilla war. Kennedy, seeing Vietnam as a Cold War test case of American virility, began to introduce "military advisors." Although the Soviets were not anxious to escalate the conflict, the increasingly radical government of China, now bitterly at odds with Russia, provided aid to the North, and Moscow had to follow suit or lose face in the communist world. With South Vietnam in danger of collapse in 1965, Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973), committed combat troops and started massive bombing of North Vietnam. But his escalation failed to end the conflict and also caused immense popular protest in America and across the world.

The growing anti-American feeling in Western Europe was reflected at the top of the Western alliance. Critical of what he saw as excessive American domination, the French president Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) withdrew his country from NATO's integrated command system in 1966.

But the 1960s also brought another reminder of the nature of Soviet rule. Reformers in Czechoslovakia under Alexander Dubček (1921–1992) promoted democratic change in what became known as the "Prague Spring." Eventually Warsaw Pact troops reimposed Soviet control in August 1968—another military success that was also a propaganda disaster. The 1960s ended with both sides in the Cold War having lost the moral and ideological high ground.


Johnson's successor, Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994), sought to break the Cold War deadlock, which was now pulling down America's once all-powerful economy. The first goal of Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) was to extricate America from Vietnam without loss of face. Part of that strategy was to bomb the North Vietnamese even more heavily than Johnson had. But Nixon also managed to detatch North Vietnam from its communist patrons, through pathbreaking visits to Beijing (February 1972) and Moscow (May 1972)—the first time an American president had visited either communist capital. At Moscow he also concluded the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) in an effort to slow the arms race. This started a flurry of superpower summits with the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982) that marked the heyday of détente (French for "relaxation of tension"). It reflected the fact that both sides were now roughly equal in nuclear arsenals and that each could see real benefits from a reduction of the arms race.

Détente had a European dimension as well. In 1970–1972 the new Social Democrat–led government in West Germany under Willy Brandt negotiated a series of treaties with its eastern neighbors. These included de facto recognition of the East German government (to permit divided families to pay visits across the border). And in July 1975 thirty-five nations concluded the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe with some pathbreaking agreements. Thirty years after the war, the Western countries effectively accepted Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. But in return the Soviet bloc committed itself to honoring basic freedoms of speech, information, and travel. This would prove a time bomb ticking away beneath the edifice of communist rule.

In January 1973, as part of détente, a Vietnam peace agreement was initialed in Paris. Although American troops pulled out, Nixon hoped to maintain the South Vietnamese regime through massive economic aid and the threat of U.S. airpower. But as scandal engulfed his administration in 1973–1974, Congress cut back military appropriations, and in April 1975 South Vietnam was overrun.

It was not until 1977, with the presidency of Jimmy Carter, that détente resumed momentum with renewed negotiations on arms limitation. The SALT II treaty was initialed at a Carter-Brezhnev summit in Vienna in June 1979. By this time, however, Carter was becoming seriously alarmed at the expansion of Soviet influence, particularly in Africa, and the opening of full diplomatic relations with China in January 1979 was intended in part as a warning to Moscow.

But what really ended détente was the crisis in Afghanistan. Factional and tribal feuds in this Soviet client state escalated into civil war during 1979. At Christmas, the Red Army was sent in to restore order, only to be sucked into a brutal eightyear guerrilla war that became Moscow's equivalent of America's Vietnam. In response Carter withdrew the SALT II treaty from Senate ratification, banned many economic and cultural contacts with the Soviets, and called on American athletes to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

THE "NEW COLD WAR," 1980–1985

The freeze deepened in 1981 with the crisis in Poland, whose fierce anti-Russian nationalism had been fueled by the country's fervent Roman Catholicism. In October 1978 Karol Wojtyła (1920–2005), the archbishop of Kraków, was elected Pope John Paul II, becoming a rallying point for opposition to communist rule. Equally important was the burgeoning free union movement, led by Lech Wałȩsa (b. 1943), which adopted the collective name "Solidarity." In December 1981 the Polish government, under intense pressure from Moscow, imposed martial law and rounded up Solidarity's leaders.

For Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), Poland was yet more evidence of the need to confront what he famously called "an evil empire." Reagan presided over a zealously anticommunist administration, determined to restore American power. His presidency saw a new arms buildup and a vigorous campaign against communist-backed movements in Central America.

But the president was not a straightforward cold warrior. He genuinely believed that nuclear deterrence—mutually assured destruction, or MAD—was an abomination and hoped to replace offensive missiles with comprehensive antimissile defense systems. In March 1983 he gave his backing to the so-called Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), nicknamed "Star Wars," but the prospect of a new, high-tech twist to the arms race seriously alarmed the Soviets. SDI also upset Reagan's European allies, who feared being left outside America's strategic umbrella.

Western Europe was even more upset by the introduction of new theater nuclear missiles. This deployment had been agreed to back in 1979, as a counter to updated Soviet SS-20 missiles. But when NATO's cruise and Pershing missiles were deployed, they provoked mass protests and sit-ins across Western Europe. The early 1980s saw the worst NATO crisis of the whole Cold War. It was only because of firm conservative governments in Britain and West Germany that the deployments went ahead. In the mid-1980s NATO seemed the more brittle of the two alliance blocs.


Appearances were deceptive, however. The Soviet Union was in a state of zero growth, and the arms race with the United States was consuming perhaps one-sixth of GDP. The root problem was the command economy, ruled by a central but ineffectual plan, administered by a vast bureaucracy, and riddled with corruption. During the 1970s and 1980s the Western economies had painfully transcended the era of "heavy metal"—the so-called rustbelt industries such as coal, steel, and automobiles—to develop new service economies and begin the computer-driven information technology revolution. But the Soviet economy was starved of consumer goods, and its few computers were mostly pirated from America. As the West entered the information age, the Soviets were still locked in the industrial age.

In April 1985 leadership passed to a new generation. Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931) was energetic, bright, and university trained. His predecessors had been shaped by the era of Stalinism and World War II, which engendered paranoid concepts of stability and security. By contrast, Gorbachev had seen the West and was influenced by concepts of social democracy developed in West Germany and Scandinavia. The key, in his view, to a radical restructuring (perestroika) of the Soviet system was to reduce the arms burden on the economy. Gorbachev seized the initiative in what was nothing less than a diplomatic revolution.

Geneva in November 1985 started a new flurry of superpower summits, at which Gorbachev made most of the concessions. The meeting in Washington in December 1987 agreed to remove all intermediate-range nuclear forces, including the SS-20, cruise, and Pershing missiles that had caused such trouble a few years earlier. It was also the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their missile stocks, instead of merely slowing their expansion. Gorbachev also agreed to a regime of on-site inspections—a novel development for the secretive Soviets and evidence of his new philosophy of openness and transparency (glasnost).

Meanwhile, Gorbachev was encouraging reform across the Soviet bloc, anxious to replace the gerontocratic leaderships with younger reformers who would mobilize domestic support for change. But this message had been heard before, in 1956 for instance, and then the Kremlin sent in the tanks when reform got out of hand. Only slowly did Gorbachev's rhetoric that "unity does not mean uniformity" inspire confidence, validated by actions such as the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988–1989. Of critical importance in promoting reform across Eastern Europe was the nucleus of opposition groups whose existence had been guaranteed by the Helsinki agreement of 1975.

The two countries in the vanguard of reform were Poland and Hungary. The Polish Communist government conceded free elections in June 1989, and these resulted in a Solidarity-led coalition government. In Hungary, reformers within the Communist Party took control, rehabilitating the leaders of the 1956 revolt, and symbolically opened the country's border with Austria. This offered an unprecedented loophole for East Germans, thousands of whom fled west and then claimed their right to West German citizenship.

Faced with another hemorrhage of young talent, a new reformist Politburo in East Germany bowed to mounting popular unrest and announced travel concessions on 9 November 1989. This was intended as a limited, regularized program, but thousands flocked to the border crossing in Berlin and the massively outnumbered guards let them through. Over the next few days two or three million East Germans went to and fro across the Berlin Wall. The Iron Curtain had fallen, and the East German regime lasted only a few more weeks.

By the end of November, mass rallies and strikes had toppled Communist rule in Czechoslovakia in what became known as the "Velvet Revolution." Only in Romania did the end of the brutal regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu (1918–1989) involve significant bloodshed, with the dictator and his wife summarily executed on Christmas Day.

Few had anticipated that the end of the Soviet bloc would be so quick and relatively peaceful. Gorbachev's refusal to use force, in marked contrast to his predecessors, was of decisive importance. But so was the communications revolution. News of the upheavals in Poland and Hungary were relayed around the bloc by West German TV and radio, emboldening protestors even in Ceauşescu's police state. The revolutions of 1989 marked the triumph of communication as much as the failure of communism.

Gorbachev's reformism had unleashed a whirlwind that was now beyond his control. As West Germany moved rapidly to absorb East Germany, leading to formal unification in October 1990, the Soviet Union itself fell apart. Gorbachev's attempt to introduce elements of a market economy led to roaring inflation. New powers for the Soviet republics and the legitimation of noncommunist parties made politics less easy to control. And the erosion of the union led to a backlash in Russia, the largest republic and bankroller of the rest, where Gorbachev's rival Boris Yeltsin was firmly in control. After hard-liners tried an unsuccessful coup in August 1991, Gorbachev's remaining power ebbed fast. On Christmas Day 1991, the red flag was lowered on the Kremlin flagpole as the Soviet Union ceased to exist.


Stated simply, the Cold War ended in 1989–1991 when most of the world's communist regimes collapsed, Germany was reunited, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist. In that sense, the West and especially the United States won the Cold War. This was certainly the verdict of many American conservatives.

But other factors mattered as well. Leaders, for instance, were crucial, particularly in the Soviet Union: the Cold War grew out of Stalin's paranoid sense of insecurity; conversely, Gorbachev's belief that security was not a zero-sum game helped bring it to an end.

The Cold War was also a phase in social history. It was made possible by the development of mass media, particularly television and film, and their use by governments to shape public ideology in the Soviet Union and the United States. The explosion of new electronic media under looser official control ushered in a new historical era. Equally important in the Soviet bloc was the growth of an educated middle class, which made Stalinism increasingly difficult to maintain.

At the time, the Cold War seemed an all-encom-passing phenomenon, particularly to Americans. Yet much associated with the Cold War has outlived it. The People's Republic of China—the world's most populous country and a coming power of the twenty-first century—is still a communist state, albeit in modified form. Final verdicts on Marxism-Leninism will depend heavily on how China evolves. And although the Cold War and the atomic bomb came of age together in 1945, the problem of nuclear weapons has survived the Soviet collapse. Evaluating the Cold War and its legacies will preoccupy historians for decades to come.

See alsoArms Control; Berlin Wall; Eastern Bloc; Gorbachev, Mikhail; Korean War; Marshall Plan; NATO; 1989; Solidarity; Soviet Union; Sputnik; Warsaw Pact.


Primary Sources

Cold War International History Project. Its Web site features translated primary source material from former communist states and numerous research papers based upon it. Available at

Hanhimäki, Jussi M., and Odd Arne Westad, eds. The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts. Oxford, U.K., 2003. An excellent reader, richly documented and thoughtfully analyzed.

Orwell, George. The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus . Vol. 4. London, 1968.

Secondary Sources

Crockatt, Richard. The Fifty Years War: The United States and the Soviet Union in World Politics, 1941–1991. London, 1995. A good overview.

Fox, William T. R. The Super-Powers: The United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. New York, 1944.

Gaddis, John. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford, U.K., 1997. An early synthesis of the period 1945–1962, drawing on communist sources.

Halliday, Fred. The Making of the Second World War. 2nd ed. London, 1986.

Reynolds, David. One World Divisible: A Global History since 1945. New York, 2000. Sets the Cold War within larger global patterns.

Westad, Odd Arne, ed. Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations, and Theory. London, 2000. A stimulating set of essays.

David Reynolds

Cold War (1950–1972)

views updated May 23 2018

Cold War (19501972)


The Cold War, a contest between antithetical ideologies, democratic capitalism and Soviet socialism, emerged shortly after World War II and dominated global politics for the latter half of the twentieth century. Its origins, however, go back to the late nineteenth century when the United States decried Russia's colonial claims on the Manchurian region of China. In the early twentieth century, opposition stiffened further over Russia's brutal pogroms against its Jewish citizens. The Bolshevik cooptation of the peasant revolution against the Russian Czar in 1917, and their subsequent creation of the Soviet state, heightened mutual suspicion and opened the gulf between Russia and the West. World War II brought a temporary reprieve in animosities, but tensions reemerged over questions concerning the postwar world. President Harry Truman, successor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, launched the first blow in the Cold War by insisting that Russia honor its prewar commitment to self-determination under the Atlantic Charter, and permit a democratic government in Poland. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin steadfastly refused any concession, and the Polish issue became the first beachhead in Cold War politics. The Polish crisis alarmed American leaders who interpreted it as confirmation that Russia intended to carry the Bolshevik revolution westward.

The thaw caused great anxiety in the United States as it turned to the Pacific theater and planned the settlement of Germany. Each situation loomed ominously with the prospect of an entrenched Soviet presence clouding negotiations. These fears compelled Truman to end the Japanese campaign as swiftly as possible. The administration made the decision to deploy the world's first atomic bomb with both the unyielding Japanese and intransigent Russians in mind.

Once the Japanese surrendered in the summer of 1945, the Cold War began in earnest. In almost rapid succession, the threat of Communist infiltration troubled Truman. The war left many nations, particularly those in the Third World, vulnerable to Communist influence. Additionally, a few countries, most notably China, erupted in civil war between Capitalist and Communist factions at the close of World War II. The loss of China's vast natural resources, unlimited commercial potential, and immense population concerned American policymakers, who had supported the ultra-nationalist Chiang Kai Shek from the conflict's inception. To Truman's dismay, Communist leader Mao Tse Tung's made significant strides in battles as early as 1946 and gained the upper hand permanently, forcing Chiang off the mainland to the neighboring island of Taiwan, in 1949.

Simultaneous to the Chinese civil war were political fluctuations in the Middle East. The Soviet schemes on making Iran, Turkey, and Greece strategic footholds in the Mediterranean compelled Truman to take a tough stance. In 1946, America funneled well over $600 million in appropriations to democratic forces battling the Communist led and funded National Liberation Front in Greece for control in the upcoming national elections. While in Iran and Turkey, Truman met Soviet incursions through the newly formed United Nations and with the threat of American military reprisal.

George F. Kennan, charge d'affaires in Russia, provided a rationalization for the events of 1946 in his alarm driven 8000 word dispatch from Moscow on the Soviet postwar intentions. Providing the first part in what became the intellectual mooring of the Cold War, his long telegram depicted Russia as irretrievably expansionist and guided by messianic ideology that the United States to resist. Truman read the events in the Mediterranean through Kennan's lens and assumed it justified a spirited response, even though Truman had made no official declaration of a "cold war" to this point. Stalin and Churchill had already made their Cold War declarations early in 1946, ruman rendered his own salvo in March 1947.

The Truman Doctrine argued that the world's future was split between totalitarianism and democracy. To preserve the American way of life, they would have to respond to Communist-inspired uprisings anywhere in the world. Funding the democratic forces in Greece was the first manifestation of this task; next, Truman requested a larger economic stimulus program for Western Europe that might rescue them from Communist subversion. His request became the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan, which the administration intended to supplement with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank created at the Bretton Woods Conference of 1944. Next, Truman created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a vast military alliance premised upon multilateral response to Communist attack. The Marshall Plan and NATO gave Truman the tools for fighting the Cold War and promoting democratic capitalism in the Third World.

At home, Truman's anticommunist rhetoric energized a Republican Party resurgence. Midterm elections of 1946 ushered a new class of hawkish congressmen, the most notable were Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and

California Congressman Richard M. Nixon, who defined themselves as Cold War activists. Republicans accused the Democratic Party with compromising America's postwar ambitions, giving Russia advantage in Western Europe. The capture of Russian spy of Klaus Fuchs in Great Britain, and then American counterparts Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, convicted for selling atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, along with the Alger Hiss case, validated Republican claims for many. Further proof came with the Soviet detonation of a nuclear device in 1949, and victory of Mao Tse Tung in China.

George Kennan again proved a useful guide for Truman with his Foreign Affairs article published July 1947 under the pseudonym Mister X. In the X Article, titled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," Kennan warned that Russia operated on a mechanistic and fanatical faith that America had to meet wherever possible. The Soviet system, he advised, suffered from internal contradictions that would destroy it from within if given exposure. Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, interpreted Kennan's argument as "containment" and constructed the domestic tools for its execution. That July, Truman presented Congress with the National Security Act, which restructured the military establishment creating the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, and the CIA. Soon thereafter, he created loyalty policies aimed at rooting out Communists in the government.

The preemptory steps were not enough to meet the myriad strategic and political crises of the Cold War; therefore the administration attempted to streamline America's response even more with the creation of National Security Council Memorandum (NSC) 68. As the top-secret blueprint for fighting the Cold War, NSC 68 called for a massive increase in military appropriations, the creation of the enormously more powerful hydrogen bomb, and levying taxes on the American public to pay for the program. Congress was reluctant to appropriate the sums of money needed for the Cold War, so Truman needed a dramatic event to shake them from their parochialism. That event came when North Korea, a Communist nation, crossed 38th parallel and invaded its democratic counterpart South Korea on June 24, 1950.

The Korean conflict proved to be a double-edged sword for Truman; it provided him the public mandate to institutionalize the Cold War, but it also laid the seeds for the political undoing of the Democratic Party. The battle itself swung unevenly, with the North Koreans at first advancing southward, and then United Nations forces led by General Douglass MacArthur recapturing ground. The turning point in the conflict occurred when a "volunteer" force from China crossed the river separating Korea and China, and sent MacArthur's forces into retreat. The Chinese attack threatened war, but Truman decided to quell to situation for the sake of American lives and global peace. His decision placed him at odds with MacArthur, which resulted in a war of words that ended with Truman unceremoniously removing the general from his command.

The Korean War, however, justified NSC 68 and a stronger stance in East Asia. Aside from the decision to support the South Koreans financially and militarily, Truman used it as a vehicle for funding the French colonial

war against the Vietnamese. Additionally, he created a military alliance for East Asia, the Australia, New Zealand, and United States (ANZUS) pact, and began rearming Germany as a buffer to Soviet advances west.

Domestic politics could not escape the gravitational pull of the Cold War, and its questions particularly burdened the presidential election of 1952. Red-baiters in the Republican Party, most notably Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, created such a relentless and fantastic attack on Truman's handling that it implicated the entire Democratic Party. The Republican candidate, Dwight Eisenhower (referred to as Ike), stayed above the fray, and allowed his reputation as the great general of World War II's European theater to win him the White House. Eisenhower took a pragmatic approach to the Cold War, and established the tradition that would remain in place until its end.

The death of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin in March 1953 cast a shroud of uncertainty over Eisenhower's first year as president. Undeterred, however, he began defusing the anxious economy and international policies that dominated Truman's administration, with his "New Look" program. The New Look consisted of nuclear deterrence, designated by what his secretary of state John Foster Dulles called brinksmanship, massive relation, nation building in the Third World, the diffusion of American culture internationally, and a heavy investment in technological innovation. Eisenhower detested wasteful spending and thought a combination of brinksmanship, technological innovation, and massive retaliation would streamline the military, yet preserve the nation's ability to respond quickly to crisis. Eisenhower gauged success in the Cold War effort broadly, thereby making the household washing machine as important in the Cold War arsenal as the B-52. In 1959, this correlation sparked the famous "kitchen debate" between Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the American National Exhibition in Moscow over which political economy promoted the better home life. As Eisenhower eschewed Truman's containment program for a policy of rolling back Communist expansion, reducing the size of conventional forces meant that the administration had to rely on the CIA to keep order in the Third World through counterintelligence and espionage.

International crises in Iran, Guatemala, and off the coast of mainland China tested Eisenhower's New Look early in his administration. Nationalist leaders in Iran and Guatemala assumed power in an attempt to redress grave social and economic inequalities in their countries, forcing the United States to respond. Although the Cold War implications were not necessarily apparent, America gained access to one of the world's largest oil depository by returning the Shah of Iran to power, and defeating the Arbenz regime guaranteed American businesses open access to the resources of Guatemala. The marriage of

Cold War politics and market concerns became a signature attribute of the New Look.

The Tachen Straits crisis presented a different problem. In 1954, mainland China began shelling two of the islands that neighbored Chiang Kai-Shek's Taiwan, Matsu and Quemoy with the threat that it was the start of a full-scale invasion to repatriate it citizens. To the surprise of the entire world, Eisenhower threatened the use of nuclear weapons to defend Taiwan unless China stopped the bombardment. Frightened by the possibility of nuclear calamity, neighboring countries India and Pakistan pressured China to desist, and the Tachen Straits crisis came to an uneasy end. The conflict, however, was a coarse example of brinksmanship and a precursor to America's deepening involvement in East Asia under the auspices of the "domino theory" of foreign policy. The image of Asian democracies, falling like dominos in rapid succession to nationalist or Communist infiltration, justified a greater presence in conflict between France and Vietnam.

Vietnam became a crisis for the United States at the Geneva Conference of 1954, when it was learned the French were on the verge of collapse in the region, signified by their surrender at Dienbienphu. To preserve democracy in Southeast Asia, the United States urged the division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel on the promise the country would have open elections within two years. In an attempt to thwart a potential Communist takeover in the upcoming elections, America installed Ngo Dinh Diem as South Vietnam's prime minister. Additionally, Eisenhower created a regional defense apparatus, the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO), modeled after NATO, to protect the new nation as it bloomed into an independent state. Diem was an archconservative with autocratic tendencies who soon declared South Vietnam an independent state and cancelled the scheduled national elections. The United States supplemented Diem with vast amounts of capital, goods, machinery, weaponry, and advisors to train his soldiers. This effort marked the nation-building phase of the Cold War. The decision to build a nation as a response to what was essentially a civil war, committed the United States to the success and failure of South Vietnam, and would have dire consequences for America's place in the Cold War.

The Middle East became bothersome for Eisenhower in the later years of his administration, forcing him to make his own Cold War declaration in 1957. Egyptian president, Gamal Nassar created the Baghdad Pact, a military alliance between Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey in 1955 with the belief they could exploit the Cold War division for the benefit of Arab and Muslim nations. As part of his "middle road" strategy, Nassar opened relations with communist nations, Czechoslovakia and China, which soured America's attitude toward Egypt and compelled Dulles to cancel funds for the Aswan hydroelectric dam. Nassar responded by nationalizing the Suez Canal and assuming control of the oil traveling into the Mediterranean from the East. The situation escalated when Israel attacked Egypt over disputed territory, and Great Britain and France took that as an opening to seize the Suez Canal. The conflict placed the world oil trade and Middle Eastern stability in jeopardy, and forced Eisenhower to pressure the European nations to relinquish control of the canal. Although resolved, the specter of Soviet influence in the oil-bearing region forced Eisenhower to take a stronger stand in the Middle East. The concern culminated in the "Eisenhower Doctrine," which held that the United States defend any Middle Eastern nation against communism. Eisenhower invoked the doctrine only twice, in the Jordanian uprising that spring and Lebanon in 1958, but it set precedence for future presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter.

By the end of his term as president, Eisenhower faced ironic opposition. His administration privileged modernization, and ended under the suspicion of technological backwardness. Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and began America's reach for the heavens. The Russian launch of Sputnik, the unmanned satellite in late 1957, and the downing of the American U2 surveillance plane in 1960, demanded a greater investment in science and technology. John F. Kennedy drew upon this anxiety when he argued that America lagged behind the Soviet Union in missile production. The Missile Gap critique helped Kennedy capture the White House, but it also placed unrealistic burdens on the way he and his successor Lyndon B. Johnson conducted the Cold War.

In the 1960s, the Vietnam conflict pervaded America's Cold War politics. The decade began with President Kennedy suffering profound Cold War failures, the failed attempted overthrow of Cuba's Communist leader Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs, the CIA-sponsored assassination of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the construction of the Berlin Wall. Needing to silence critics, Kennedy decided to take a more rigid stand against the Communists in South Vietnam. With Diem's popularity at a nadir due to his oppressive policies, Kennedy signed off on a plan to depose him. During the junta, however, the operatives assassinated Diem, foreshadowing Kennedy's own murder three weeks later.

When Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency, he inherited the burden of not losing the Cold War in Vietnam. Weighted by fluctuations in the civil rights movement and burgeoning antiwar sentiment, Johnson accelerated both nation building in South Vietnam and military resistance to Communists. The entire conflict, and to some degree American prestige, came crashing to the ground in 1968 when Communist forces launched a massive attack against American and South Vietnamese forces in the major cities. Although the siege only had temporary success, it had a leveling effect on domestic sentiment. Cold War arguments carried less significance and the trouble became finding a way out. That responsibility fell to Richard Nixon who inherited the Vietnam and the Cold War in 1969.

In the midst of the conflict, Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, began to redefine the Cold War into a mutual understanding of the boundaries between the U.S. and Russia. He coupled this with the Nixon Doctrine, which held that America would relinquish some of its military commitments. Breaking precedent, Nixon went to China and began arms reduction talks, or détente, with the Russians. To counter his critics, Nixon coupled détente with a brinkmanship-like tactic he called the "mad man theory." According to this strategy, American allies would warn Third World nationalists that Nixon was insane and willing to use nuclear weapons to end disputes. The crazy man tactic had little to no effect on its intended audience, North Vietnam, or any of the other Cold War dissidents. Nixon's Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I), begun in 1969 and concluded May 1972, between the United States and Brezhnev regime exemplified the spirit his doctrine. While SALT I failed to reduce the creation and stockpiling of new, more destructive weapons, it was a progressive gesture toward an international dialogue on nuclear weapons.

Buoyed by the apparent success of détente and the belief that China could help end the war in Vietnam, Nixon went into the presidential election of 1972 confident in his Cold War program. Indeed, twenty-five years had shifted the Cold War from security concerns, to a contest of development, to Nixon's program of limited contact, and ended the 1960s with the possibility of an uneasy coexistence between Soviet socialism and democratic capitalism. Many questions were still unanswered regarding the conflict in Vietnam, rising nationalism in the Middle East, the global economy, domestic dissent, and nuclear control. These issues would dominate the last seventeen years of the Cold War.



Gaddis, John Lewis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford University Press, 1998.

La Feber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War. McGraw-Hill Humanities, 2001.

McDougall, Walter. The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Race. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

McMahon, Rober. The Cold War on the Periphery. New York, Columbia University Press, 1994.

Wagnleitner, Reinhold. Cocacolonization and the Cold War. Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.


Frank Costigliola, "Unceasing Penetration": Gender, Pathology, and Emotion in George Kennan's Formation of the Cold War." Journal of American History 83 (March, 1997): 13091939.


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Cold War (19451950), The Start of the Atomic Age
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Cold War (1945–1950), the Start of the Atomic Age

views updated Jun 11 2018

Cold War (19451950), the Start of the Atomic Age


The Cold War was an ideological, political, economic, and military conflict between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), which began in the aftermath of World War II and ended in 1989. From the outset, the Cold War was inextricably linked with the development of the atomic bomb and its use as a military deterrent.

Roots of the Cold War. The enmity between the United States and Russia, the largest of the fifteen republics that ultimately constituted the U.S.S.R., stemmed from a long history of mutual distrust. Opposing plans concerning the political and economic future of post-World War II Europe and disputes concerning the development and control of atomic weapons intensified the conflict. The seeds of antagonism date back to 1917. That year, the United States dispatched a contingent of soldiers to assist European allies in overthrowing Russia's new communist regime, which had come to power during the Russian Revolution. Despite the operation's failure, the U.S. government continued to deny the new Soviet Union diplomatic recognition until 1933. After a brief period of cooperation, Russian leaders' suspicions toward America began anew at the dawn of World War II. They considered Western nations' initial refusal to oppose Nazi Germany and Japan with arms part of a capitalist scheme to destroy the U.S.S.R. Americans, on the other hand, assumed that the brutal regime of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (18791953) was only slightly better than that of Germany's leader Adolph Hitler (18891945).

During World War II, Stalin's doubts about the sincerity of American vows to support the Soviet war effort intensified. Soon after the beginning of the war in 1939,

the Soviet Union bore the brunt of military action, attempting to fend off a massive German invasion. Although American President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945) promised the Soviet leader substantial economic aid, the United States managed to provide relatively few supplies. More important, Roosevelt assured Stalin in 1942 that American troops would relieve some of the military pressure on Russia by establishing a second front in Western Europe. However, logistical and production problems postponed an allied invasion for several years. When allied forces finally landed on Europe's shores on June 6, 1944, Roosevelt had reneged on his promise three times. This delay burdened post-World War II U.S.-Soviet relations considerably.

Even before Germany's surrender on May 9, 1945, additional disputes arose over the future of liberated Europe. The United States envisioned democratic and freely elected societies based on the right of self-determination and free trade. By contrast, the Soviet Union sought territorial expansion and spheres of influence that would guarantee the country's national security. Accordingly, during and after the war, Stalin insisted on establishing Eastern European governments supportive of the Soviet Union. He considered countries such as Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania part of an essential buffer zone to prevent future attacks on the territory of the U.S.S.R. However, this demand was the exact opposite of President Roosevelt's vision of self-determination. These disagreements were aggravated by the U.S. government's decision to provide economic aid with the stipulation that Stalin revoke his adamant stance on the territorial question.

Beginning of the Atomic Age. The atomic bomb became the final divisive issue, contributing to the ultimate breakdown of U.S.-Soviet relations. In late 1938, German physicists had discovered that uranium atoms undergo fission when bombarded by neutrons. They found that this fission triggered a self-sustaining atomic reaction that could release enormous amounts of energy. Their discovery had significant potential for the development of a powerful new weapon. In 1939, a group of European émigré scientists in the United States verified the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction. The group's leader, Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard (18981964), worried that Nazi Germany might use this knowledge to develop an atomic bomb. In August 1939, Szillard asked famous physicist Albert Einstein (18791955) to sign a warning letter to President Roosevelt to convince him of the necessity to forestall German scientists. But only in early 1942 did the U.S. government finally launch an official research project to develop the new weapon.

In what the United States Army code-named Manhattan Engineer District (later dubbed Manhattan Project) scientific director J. Robert Oppenheimer (19041967) assembled a team of American and British scientists and engineers who developed two weapon designs. One relied on the rare Uranium-235. The other, more complicated, design used man-made Plutonium-239, which was produced in nuclear reactors that University of Chicago physicist Enrico Fermi (19011954) had invented in 1942. By 1944, three large reactors produced uranium and plutonium for the first American bombs. On July 16, 1945, Manhattan Project scientists tested the Plutonium weapon near Alamogordo, New Mexico, setting off the world's first nuclear explosion.

The decision by President Roosevelt's successor Harry S. Truman (18841972) to use atomic bombs in the military conflict with Japan proved the destructive power of nuclear weapons to the world. On August 6, 1945, a B-29 aircraft dropped a Uranium bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, obliterating the city and instantly killing 100,000 civilians. Three days later, a Plutonium bomb killed another 30,000 Japanese citizens at Nagasaki. On August 14, 1945, Japan finally surrendered. Thus, the last chapter of World War II marked the beginning of the atomic age.

The nuclear attack on Japan and the secrecy that surrounded the development of the bomb increased the tensions between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Neither President Roosevelt nor Truman was willing to share information on the bomb with the Soviets. American scientists' appeals to inform Stalin of the new research were ignored. Rather, President Truman sought to use his country's atomic monopoly as leverage in the worsening conflict. Soviet scientists had already learned of the Manhattan Project during World War II through espionage, however, and were now coordinating their own research project on nuclear weapons. They used detailed plans that Soviet spies had supplied them. German-born physicist Klaus Fuchs (19111988) in particular provided crucial intelligence that facilitated the acquisition of the atomic bomb by the Soviet Union. As early as 1941, when working on Great Britain's nuclear program, Fuchs began to relay classified information to Russia. Later working on the Manhattan Project, he provided Soviet scientists with facts on virtually every aspect of the project's research. When the U.S.S.R. finally tested its own atom bomb on August 29, 1949, Stalin's scientists detonated a near-perfect replica of the American Plutonium weapon.

During the period between the first nuclear explosion in New Mexico and the end of America's atomic monopoly, a series of divisive events and decisions gradually established the fronts of the Cold War. The year 1946 saw increasingly belligerent language on both sides. Joseph Stalin proclaimed in early February that a new war was inevitable as long as capitalism existed. That same month, Moscow-based foreign-service officer George Kennan suggested in a secret telegram to Washington that the Soviet Union sought to expand its influence and planned to defeat its Western rivals. He argued that only long-term attentive containment of these expansive tendencies would avert disaster. Echoing Kennan's concerns in March, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (18741965) warned of an "iron curtain," with which the U.S.S.R. would shackle Eastern Europe. Churchill also argued that the West needed to resist Communist expansion. Later that year, the Soviet Union provoked a major crisis when it continued to occupy Iran despite an agreement with Great Britain to leave the country after six months of post-war occupation. Threatened with military confrontation, Soviet troops eventually withdrew, but the Iran crisis further strained U.S.-Soviet relations.

The debate on the international control of atomic energy clearly reflected the increasing animosity between the two nations. The final U.S. plan that the administration's representative Bernard Baruch (18701965) presented to the United Nations on June 14, 1946, proposed to create an international agency that would supervise the mining of uranium and the manufacture of plutonium. Baruch's scheme encouraged nations to conduct research on the atom's peaceful use, but insisted on the American atomic monopoly. The Soviet Union rejected the plan. When U.S. scientists conducted a new series of nuclear weapon tests at the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific in the summer of 1946, Stalin denounced it as proof of America's insincerity about international control.

In 1947, President Truman demonstrated that the Cold War already dominated American foreign policy. Early that year, concerns increased that Greece and Turkey might soon come under communist domination. In what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, the American president asked Congress on March 12, 1947, to authorize economic and military aid for the two nations to prevent a communist take-over. According to Truman, this was a litmus test of the willingness of the United States to stop the spread of communism everywhere in the world. Couching the conflict in ideological and moral terms, Truman proclaimed that people would have to choose between the alternatives of communist tyranny and democratic freedom. After Truman's impassioned speech, the requested aid package passed Congress easily. The Truman Doctrine prompted most Americans to view the conflict with the U.S.S.R. as a primarily ideological struggle between binary opposites of good and evil.

United States national security policy during the Truman administration revolved, however, around more than ideology. In the eyes of Washington's policy makers, American predominance depended on power, which they defined as the control of resources, industrial infrastructure, and strategic superiority. The National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), created by the National Security Act of 1947, used the same criteria when assessing potential Communist threats and American vital interests. The NSC served as a crucial strategic planning body for security policy. The CIA continued the espionage work of the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS). In 1950, a planning document drafted by the NSC, NSC-68, predicted an indefinite period of conflict with the Soviet Union, calling for a vast American military buildup. In the ensuing years, NSC-68 became the basis for American Cold War strategy.

Ideological premises and geostrategic security concerns were inextricably linked with American economic interests. Becoming one the most important initiatives of the early Cold War, the Marshall Plan of 1947 served these economic interests and finalized the division of the world into two hostile camps. Drawn up by secretary of state George Marshall (18801959), the plan launched a massive economic aid package for the reconstruction of Western Europe. Healthy capitalist economies, Marshall argued, would provide American companies with new markets and could help weld European nations into an effective bulwark against Communism.

Although the United States invited the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries to apply for economic aid as well, negotiations soon demonstrated that Stalin would never accept the American plan. In fact, the Marshall Plan would not only allow the United States to control the distribution of aid, but would also give them access to the Soviet Union's economic records. Predictably, Stalin withdrew from the negotiations and countered the American economic aid project with the Molotov Plan, a series of bilateral trade agreements with Eastern European countries. The Soviet plan transformed these countries into a Communist counter alliance against the West.

In another confrontation, Stalin attempted to force the United States, Great Britain, and France to revoke their decision to unify their three occupation zones in Germany. On July 23, 1948, the Soviet dictator initiated a year-long blockade of all supplies to the city of Berlin in the Russian zone. The United States responded with a well-organized air lift, which supplied the encircled city for almost one year. In the end, the air lift forced Stalin to give up the blockade. By that time, however, the Soviet Union already dominated Eastern Europe. In February, 1948, Czech and Slovak communists had toppled Czechoslovakia's democratic government and established a pro-Soviet Communist regime, adding the country to the Soviet bloc. In Hungary, Stalin also had imposed Communist rule. When the western part of Germany constituted itself as the Federal Republic of Germany in spring of 1949, the U.S.S.R. initiated the permanent division of the country by establishing the German Democratic Republic in the former Russian occupation zone. On April 4, 1949, the United States, Canada, and ten Western European nations had reacted to Soviet hostilities forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance designed to protect its members against a potential Soviet attack.

Thus, by 1950, the framework of the Cold War was firmly in place, prompting both sides to enhance their military capabilities, in particular their nuclear arsenal. By the beginning of the new decade, the United States had amassed three hundred nuclear weapons. However, since the American administration had learned in early September, 1949, that the Soviet Union had successfully tested an atomic bomb, American policy makers considered that the strategic superiority of the United States might be in jeopardy. As a result, President Truman ordered American scientists to develop a weapon that was even more powerful: the hydrogen bomb. By the mid-1950s, both nations had developed and tested this new weapon, marking the beginning of a new round of Cold War confrontations.



Carlisle, Rodney P., with Joan M. Zenzen. Supplying the Nuclear Arsenal: American Production Reactors, 19421992. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Gaddis, John L. The United States and the Origins of the Cold War. rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Herken, Gregg. Cardinal Choices: Presidential Science Advising from the Atom Bomb to SDI. rev. and exp. ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 2000.

Holloway, David. Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 19391954. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1994.

Leffler, Melvyn P. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.

Roleff, Tamara. ed. The Atom Bomb. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2000.


Berlin Airlift
CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency)
National Security Act (1947)
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
NSC (National Security Council)
Nuclear Reactors
OSS (United States Office of Strategic Services)
Truman Administration (19451953), United States National Security Policy
United States, Intelligence and Security

Cold War

views updated Jun 08 2018


COLD WAR. In December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union, signaling the end not only of communist rule in that country but also of the Cold War. Just a few years earlier, no one could have imagined the dramatic changes that were to occur in the world from 1989 to 1991. While the Cold War in the 1980s was not at its coldest point ever, it was still going strong. Yet, through the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, the Cold War came to an end and a new era in world history began.

The Cold War remained an ominous cloud over the world from the end of World War II to the early 1990s. Although every country in the world experienced different events and issues during this time, few escaped the influence of the Cold War. Historians may disagree as to exactly when the Cold War began, who should be blamed for its start, and why it lasted so long, but they all accept that it started soon after World War II and left an indelible imprint on the world.

Roots of the Conflict

The Cold War began when the World War II alliance between the United States, Soviet Union, and Great Britain fell apart in the face of misunderstandings, mistrust, and at times, deliberate actions. To begin to understand the collapse of this wartime partnership, one must recognize that the alliance had been anything but natural. Prior to 1941, the United States and other Western powers looked upon the Soviet Union with tremendous mistrust, and the feelings were mutual. This animosity originated with the communist seizure of power in Russia in 1917 and the resulting disagreements between the Western powers—including the United States, Great Britain, and France—and the new regime. For example, when Russia signed a peace treaty with Germany in 1918, ending its involvement in World War I as an ally of the Western powers, tensions were raised with these countries. Soon thereafter, the intervention of these same allies in support of noncommunist forces during the Russian civil war poisoned the Russians' view of the West.

Relations did not improve much before the start of World War II. Communist leader Vladimir Lenin changed the name of Russia to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (or Soviet Union) in the early 1920s and began the process of consolidating communist control, which continued after 1925 under Joseph Stalin, but the United States refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Soviet government until 1933. Even after this recognition, relations did not improve substantially as the world drifted toward a new war. As the Western powers and the Soviet Union attempted to deal with the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany, they struggled without success to find a common policy. The result was that each country looked out for its own interests, and in August 1939 the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Germany. In the pact, both countries pledged their neutrality in wars the other might wage and agreed to divide Poland between them. This pact and the conquest of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939 shocked and angered the Western powers.

These feelings of mistrust did not ease until June 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in violation of their nonaggression pact. With the Soviet Union now clearly in need of assistance against the seemingly unstoppable Nazi machine, an uneasy alliance developed. The United States, although still not officially in the war, immediately began to send aid to the Soviet Union. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and the United States entered the war, the alliance took a fuller form. For the next three and a half years, the Western powers and the Soviet Union put aside most of their differences to wage war against their common foe.

While the war encouraged greater cooperation, the differences between the two sides never went away. Although they shared a common goal, cooperation remained limited, and generally speaking, the two sides fought separate wars. The Russians suffered the most as they fought the Germans on the Eastern Front, while the British, Americans, and other allies battled the Axis powers in North Africa, Italy, and eventually western Europe. After Germany collapsed in May 1945 and Japan surrendered in September, the one truly unifying feature for the alliance, a common enemy, ended. Very quickly in 1945, the limited level of cooperation that had been reached in the war fell victim to mutual incriminations, mistrust, and differing views of what constituted world security.

The beginning of the collapse of the Grand Alliance could already be seen before the final bombs dropped on Germany and Japan. At meetings in 1943 and 1944, the Allied powers sought agreements concerning the structure of the postwar world. The United States, which had emerged as the dominant Western power in the war, championed an international system built on democratic principles and the capitalist economic system. The Soviet Union saw these ideas as the antithes is of communism and desired more than anything to maintain its security by creating a buffer zone between itself and a potentially resurgent Germany. The result was the development of a bipolar world divided between those nations that generally supported the United States and its policies and those countries that supported the Soviet Union. Ultimately this bipolar world would grow more complex as nations like China, France, India, and others asserted a degree of independence from either so-called superpower.

Many of the problems in the immediate postwar years resulted from different interpretations of agreements reached during the war itself. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 the Allied powers agreed to the establishment of the United Nations, the temporary division and occupation of Germany, and basic policies involving eastern European countries. All of these decisions precipitated disagreements between the United States and Soviet Union after the war. The structure of voting in the United Nations ensured contention; no plan was established describing how Germany would eventually be reunited, and the question of what constituted free elections in the eastern European countries was left undefined. Not surprisingly, the mistrust that preceded World War II quickly resurfaced.

Postwar Years

In 1945 and 1946, disagreements between the Western powers and the Soviet Union arose over many issues, including the end of U.S. Lend-Lease aid, elections in eastern European countries, and the withdrawal of Allied forces from Iran. Whatever the disagreement, each side perceived the other as acting in a threatening manner. Simply put, neither side could overcome the mistrust that had already existed for almost thirty years. For example,

Soviet leaders did allow elections in the eastern European countries that from their perspective met the promises in the Yalta accords. The United States and other Western powers did not agree with this assessment, since they believed elections that involved a limited number of candidates and generally guaranteed communist dominance were patently undemocratic. While Western leaders assumed the communists were simply trying to expand their power, the Soviet Union saw control over the eastern European countries as essential in providing a buffer zone against a future German resurgence.

Although there were efforts to maintain a semblance of cooperation until 1947, U.S. President Harry S. Truman's initiation of the Truman Doctrine in March of that year clearly marked the end of the alliance. In many ways, the Truman Doctrine marked the formal acceptance of the strategy that would dominate U.S. thinking throughout the Cold War—containment. First articulated by George F. Kennan in 1946, the strategy called for the United States to contain communism within its current areas of control. The continuity of the strategy of containment can be seen in following examples where the United States actively tried to stop the spread of communism: the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Grenada Invasion in 1983. While there were other national security issues that the United States had to deal with in the second half of the twentieth century, the idea of containing communism was never too far removed.

The passage of the Truman Doctrine, the development of the Marshall Plan in 1948, and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 formed the foundation for U.S. efforts in waging the Cold War. Besides representing the broad theme of containing the spread of communism, the Truman Doctrine specifically called for aid to Greece and Turkey to combat communist influences. The United States established the Marshall Plan to provide funds for rebuilding western Europe after the devastation of World War II. American leaders saw a rebuilt Europe as a bulwark against communism as well as a valuable trading partner. The creation of NATO grew out of concerns that only through collective security could Western countries resist Soviet expansion.

The Soviet Union followed similar paths in cementing its control of eastern European countries by taking steps to integrate their economies with its own. It also provided limited funds and supplies to groups attempting to facilitate the rise of communism in different areas of the world, such as China, North Korea, and Vietnam. Furthermore, it created the Warsaw Pact in 1955 to counter NATO. From the Soviet perspective, these actions were needed not only to preserve communism at home but also to reduce the danger of enemies arising on its borders.

The acceleration of the divisions between the United States and the Soviet Union in the late 1940s led to several crises and at times open confrontations. One of the legacies of the Yalta Conference was the division of Germany and Berlin into four occupation zones with France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union controlling one zone each. The French, British, and Americans gradually consolidated their zones into West Germany and West Berlin, while the Soviet Union established a separate East Germany. The location of West Berlin in the center of East Germany sparked several crises including the Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948, the Berlin Airlift to circumvent it over the next year, and finally the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 to completely separate West Berlin from East Germany.

After the 1948–1949 Berlin crisis came to an end, other events occurred pointing to the growing dangers of the Cold War. The Soviet test of an atomic bomb and the triumph of communism in China in the fall of 1949 seemed to indicate that the Soviet Union was indeed winning the Cold War. Even more important, especially in terms of the American military, the Korean War began in June 1950 when communist forces from North Korea attacked South Korea. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the United States and almost fifty other countries intervened to save South Korea. For three years the war raged, costing the lives of several million Korean and Chinese as well as almost 37,000 Americans.

1950s and 1960s

During this period there was not much improvement in relations, as little common ground could be found to begin discussions. Even worse, the 1950s witnessed the acceleration of the arms race as the superpowers introduced new delivery and weapons systems—intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and long-range bombers—that both countries would rely upon throughout the Cold War. By the end of the decade, both countries were quickly obtaining the capability of destroying each other.

The late 1950s and early 1960s revealed the growing complexity of the Cold War as well as the dangers of a confrontation. In the mid to late 1950s, the United States became involved in two separate disputes between Communist China and Taiwan over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. While the crises did not lead to a war, the countries went to the brink before pulling back. A more dangerous situation arose when the Soviet Union began constructing nuclear missile sites in Cuba in the summer of 1962, precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world closer to a nuclear war than ever before. For a week at the end of October, the world waited for an end to the crisis. Fortunately, the two countries did reach an agreement ending the standoff.

The decade after the Cuban Missile Crisis witnessed the Cold War expanding into new areas. While the United States continued to try to contain the Soviet Union in Europe and also to beat the Russians to the moon, the main concern of the 1960s and early 1970s was the Vietnam War. Since 1945, the United States had kept a careful eye on events in Vietnam. Although opposed to colonization, the United States found it necessary to aid France in Vietnam in order to preserve French support in the Cold War. The collapse of French efforts in 1954 led to more direct American involvement in preserving a noncommunist government in what became South Vietnam. Starting in 1965, the United States began a major military commitment that lasted until 1973. In the name of containing communism, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam.

While the United States struggled with the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union experienced its own share of problems. In 1964, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev lost a power struggle in the Kremlin with Leonid Brezhnev, a hard-liner in the Communist Party, and was forced into retirement. Under Brezhnev's leadership in the late 1960s, the Soviet Union expanded its military arsenal, experienced open hostilities with China, and cracked down on opposition to communism in eastern Europe by intervening militarily in Czechoslovakia. The dynamics of the Cold War had definitely changed by 1970, as neither superpower could any longer afford to focus its attention solely on the other.


The changes in the world in the late 1960s actually facilitated a thaw in the Cold War. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had begun to realize the futility of their ongoing feud and the need to work toward a better relationship. In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon took important steps by making historic visits to both China and the Soviet Union. These visits led to improved American relations with both countries and the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. While these treaties had only a limited impact, they signaled a thaw in the Cold War known as détente. Further more, there were increased efforts at cooperation in the form of cultural exchanges and economic transactions. Unfortunately these improvements proved relatively short-lived as tensions increased again in the late 1970s.

Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union reached new lows after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Responding to this action, the United States led a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and withdrew its support for a new arms-control treaty. Additionally, after being elected in 1980, Ronald Reagan initiated a massive military buildup and showed a greater willingness to confront communism. Calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire," he provided aid to anti-communist forces in Latin America and ordered the invasion of Grenada in 1983 to prevent the establishment of a communist government there.

As the United States became more assertive in the 1980s, the Soviet Union entered a period of decline. Its invasion of Afghanistan proved a debacle as Soviet forces struggled there until 1988 without success. Their difficulties in Afghanistan paled in comparison to other problems the Soviet leadership faced. By the early 1980s, Brezhnev was old and ineffective and the country was nearly bankrupt. After his death in 1982, the Soviet Union struggled until 1985 to find a new leader who could help the country out of its economic doldrums. It seemed to find that leader in Mikhail Gorbachev, who was younger than previous Soviet leaders, independent of the hard-liners in the Communist Party, and willing to seek reform. However, no one, including Gorbachev, realized how bad the situation was. In essence the Soviet Union was dying from inefficiency and corruption. Although Gorbachev set out to modernize and reform the Soviet Union without abandoning the basic tenets of communism, he actually unleashed the forces of change that ultimately would lead to his downfall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the realm of foreign policy, Gorbachev recognized that the Soviet Union could no longer afford the arms race. With this in mind he initiated talks with the United States, where he found a surprisingly receptive president. Despite his rhetoric, Reagan was horrified by the prospects of a nuclear war. Even before Gorbachev made his initiatives, Reagan was already thinking along similar lines. Although difficult negotiations had to occur, the two leaders reached a significant agreement in 1987 eliminating all intermediate-range nuclear missiles. This agreement led to more talks between Gorbachev and Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, that reduced tensions even further.

While making efforts to improve relations with the United States, Gorbachev also encouraged internal reforms in Soviet society and in eastern Europe. As he struggled to reform communism at home, Gorbachev made clear to the eastern European countries that they could also make changes without fear of Soviet intervention. Little did he know that this freedom would spark the revolutions of 1989 that saw the overthrow of communist regimes throughout eastern Europe and the rise of opponents in the Soviet Union who wanted even more reform than he could deliver. After an abortive coup by communist hard-liners in August 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union into separate states, Gorbachev resigned in December, effectively ending both communist rule in Russia and the Cold War.

The end of the Cold War represented a dramatic turn in the world's history. For almost fifty years, the two superpowers and their various allies waged an undeclared war. Although historians will continue to debate different issues related to the Cold War, all would agree that few events in the world between 1945 and 1991 can be completely understood outside its context.


Ambrose, Stephen E., and Douglas Brinkley. Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938. 8th rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Cohen, Warren I. The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations: America in the Age of Soviet Power, 1945–1991. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Fischer, Beth A. The Reagan Reversal: Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.

Gaddis, John L. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Judge, Edward H., and John W. Langdon. A Hard and Bitter Peace: A Global History of the Cold War. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1996.

LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945–2000. 9th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Leffler, Melvyn P. A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War. Stanford University Press, 1992.

———. "The Cold War: What Do 'We Now Know'?" American Historical Review 104 (1999): 501–524.

Levering, Ralph, et al. Debating the Origins of the Cold War: American and Russian Perspectives. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

Whitfield, Stephen. The Culture of the Cold War. 2ded. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

David L.Snead

See alsoArms Race and Disarmament ; Russia, Relations with ; andvol. 9:American Diplomacy .

Cold War

views updated May 23 2018


Never reaching a direct military conflict, the Cold War was a 45-year rivalry between the Western powers, led by the United States, and the Soviet Union. Beginning after World War II (19391945) and lasting until 1990, this worldwide conflict grew from the ideological differences between communism and capitalist democracy.

The United States and the Soviet Union shared a mutual distrust that existed years before the onset of the Cold War. After a century-long friendship, the United States and Russia competed over the economic development of Manchuria in the 1890s. Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the competition turned into an ideological rivalry that pitted U.S. capitalist democracy against Russian Communism. Although the United States and Russia became allies against the Axis nations (Germany, Italy, and Japan) in 1941 during World War II, friction arose within their alliance. Throughout the war the Soviets disagreed with the United States and Great Britain over military strategies and postwar plans for Germany.

After two German invasions into Russia and nearly 25 million Soviet casualties, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (18791953) was determined to use his Red Army to control Poland and to keep Germany from ever regaining its strength. In the United States, President Harry S. Truman (19451953) was determined to ensure an open, capitalist, international economy starting with the rebuilding of Europe's economic infrastructure, which included West Germany. After the war, the United States and other Western powers saw the expansion of the Soviet Union as a threat, while the Soviets feared that the powerful Western capitalist nations would overthrow their Communist regime. The Cold War began.

Following World War II, Europe was devastated and in a severe economic crisis. Between 1945 and 1947, the Soviets seized power over much of Eastern Europe with the might of its Red Army and supported communist and Soviet-friendly regimes throughout the region. Alarmed by the rise of communism in Europe and wanting to contain its spread, the United States initiated a European recovery program known as the Marshall Plan, which helped restore war-ravaged Western Europe's economic growth. Wary of capitalist intrusion, the Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations strongly opposed the American plan.

Fearing the threat of a revived Germany, the Soviet Union restricted access into West Berlin (which it was overseeing in the post-war period) in 1948 by setting up road, train, and canal blockades into the city, but the United States flew supplies into Berlin until the blockades were removed in the following year. When the United States denied the Soviet Union war reparations in the form of West German factories, the Soviets secured East Germany as a communist state. Great Britain's Winston Churchill criticized Moscow for barricading the new Soviet Empire with an "iron curtain."

The Western bloc developed a policy of containment, which was aimed at containing the Soviet-backed states within their current borders and preventing any further spread of communism. U.S. officials sought to strengthen their alliance with other nations and increase military defense spending. When the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb in August 1949, President Truman ordered U.S. engineers to develop a hydrogen bomb. Also in 1949, the United States joined 11 other nations to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). To counterbalance NATO, the Communist bloc formed the Warsaw Treaty Organization military pact, or the Warsaw Pact, in 1955.

The Cold War spread into Asia in 1950, the year the Soviet Union negotiated an alliance with China, and Communist North Korean forces attacked South Korea, starting the Korean War (19501953). Communist China supported guerrillas in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. In response, the United States helped establish the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and provided neutral Asian nations tremendous military support, though guerrilla warfare persisted.

After Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, a relaxation in Soviet policy led to optimism for cooperation between the Soviet Union and the West. A permanent ban on nuclear weapons seemed likely. The launching of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, however, demonstrated the Soviet Union's technological capabilities, spurring a new race in space exploration and missile production. Both Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev (19581964) and U.S. officials threatened "massive retaliation" for any aggression on the other's part. Meanwhile, the Cold War struggle continued in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Vying for the allegiance of these neutral Third World regions, the two superpowers each provided military and financial aid to support often brutal regimes.

In 1961 the East German government built the Berlin Wall to prevent the emigration of East Germans to the West. In 1962 American intelligence discovered Soviet missile bases in Cuba, where a Communist allegiance had formed in 1959, following Fidel Castro's revolution. When President John F. Kennedy (19611963) sent U.S. ships to intercept Soviet vessels carrying rockets to Cuba, Khrushchev ordered a retreat. After this incident, known as the Cuban Missile Crisisone of the few direct confrontations to take place during the Cold Warthe United States and the Soviet Union both made careful efforts to avoid nuclear war and subsequently agreed to ban nuclear testing.

Meanwhile, the two superpowers had begun to weaken. In Europe, France considered withdrawing its presence from NATO, while Romania departed from its allegiance with the Soviet Union. In 1968 a Czechoslovakian reform movement was terminated by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev (19771982). The once friendly Soviet and Chinese troops began to battle one another along their common border, and heavy military expenditures damaged the Soviet economy. American involvement in the Vietnam War (19641975) was a controversial example of Western determination to achieve the goals of the containment policy, as the United States went to long efforts to assist the South Vietnamese government in resistance against the aggressive communist North.

In the early 1970s U.S. President Richard Nixon (19691974) signed the SALT I treaty with Soviet President Brezhnev to reduce the need for spending on strategic weapons, and an agreement was made to strengthen American and Soviet economic bonds. Shortly afterward, however, tensions resurfaced when political clashes erupted in the Middle East, Angola, and Chile, and the two superpowers rivaled for influence.

American President Ronald Reagan (19811989) heightened Cold War antagonism in the early 1980s by calling the Soviet Union the "evil empire," increasing military spending, intensifying the nuclear arms race, and imposing economic sanctions to protest Brezhnev's recent crackdown on Poland. Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated until tensions were the worst they had been since the height of the Cold War in the late 1940s.

Tensions began to ease in 1985 after Mikhail Gorbachev (19881981) took control in Moscow. Aware that the Soviet economy was failing, he made major reforms that called for economic restructuring, openness, and democracy within Communist bloc countries. Gorbachev meant his reforms to be a slow and mild effort. In fact, his policies resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, the disintegration of Soviet military forces, and nuclear disarmament. The United States accepted military arms and economic agreements. In 1989 Gorbachev declared that the postwar period had ended, and Washington officials concurred that the world had outgrown Cold War policies.

By 1990 Gorbachev's reform policies and a Soviet economic collapse led to the overthrow of communist governments in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. The downfall of the Soviet Union officially ended the Cold War.

See also: Korean War, Marshall Plan, Space Race, World War II


Foner, Eric and John A. Garraty, eds. The Readers Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.

Issacs, Jeremy. Cold War: An Illustrated History, 19451991. New York: Little Brown & Company, 1998.

Kort, Michael. The Cold War. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994.

Lafeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War 19451996 (America in Crisis). New York: McGraw Hill College, 1996.

The Cold War, 19451991. Detroit: The Gale Group, 1993.

Winston Churchill, Iron Curtain Speech, 1946">

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winston churchill, iron curtain speech, 1946

Cold War

views updated Jun 11 2018

Cold War

Struggle between the Western democracies and the Eastern Communist nations was probably inevitable from the first shot fired in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Guided by one of the essential tenets of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' Communist doctrine—"Capitalism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction"—Eastern nations believed in the eventual worldwide triumph of Communism and were motivated to help speed the day. The nations of the West, on the other hand, long regarded Communism (and those governments espousing it) as a threat striking at the very heart of the capitalist economies that formed the basis of many Western democracies. The differences between these two ideological standpoints produced a state of disharmony that broke into open, if limited, warfare twice (in Korea and Vietnam), but remained for the most part a muted conflict—a "cold" war.

Historians disagree about the exact point at which the Cold War began. Some date it from Winston Churchill's 1946 speech, given in Fulton, Missouri, in which he declared that an "iron curtain" had come down in Europe, dividing the Soviet-occupied countries from those allied with the West. Others argue that the "long twilight struggle," as President Kennedy described it, began in 1947 with the Truman Doctrine—a declaration that the United States would act decisively to prevent the further spread of Communism in Europe. There are even those scholars who believe that the Cold War began when the ink dried on the documents containing the Japanese surrender to the Allies in 1945.

If there is a lack of consensus regarding the cold war's beginning, virtual unanimity exists about its end. In 1991, the Soviet Communist Party was dissolved, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics reverted to what it had once been—a collection of separate slavic nations, the largest being Russia. Although China, the world's most populous country, remained a Communist state, as did North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam, it is generally believed that when Soviet Communism died, so did the Cold War.

During the approximately 45 year struggle, the opposing nations battled on many levels: economic, political, scientific, diplomatic—and through popular culture. Indeed, there is not an aspect of American popular culture that was unaffected by the Cold War. The principal media involved included film, both commercial and governmental, television, fiction, and to a lesser extent, theater.

While the government eventually found more subtle ways to communicate anti-Communist messages to the American public, in the early years of the Cold War the U.S. government contributed directly to popular culture by producing a number of "documentaries." These documentaries, produced mostly during the 1950s, alerted citizens to the dangers of Communism. Some, like The Bell (1950), took a positive, pro-American outlook, using the Liberty Bell as a symbol behind which people from all walks of American life could rally. Most of these films—such as Communist Blueprint for Conquest (1955), The Communist Weapon of Allure (1956), and Communist Target: Youth (1962), which included an introduction by then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy—were strongly negative in tone and made Communism the object of their censure. The most memorable of these propaganda films, however, was not made in the traditional documentary mode, but rather like an episode of The Twilight Zone, a television program that would not appear for another four years. In Red Nightmare (1955), narrator Jack Webb (of Dragnet fame) presents a typical small-town American family, then shows what their lives would be like if the Communists took over America. Religion is forbidden, education becomes indoctrination, and love of family is made subordinate to party loyalty. When the head of the household (played by Jack Kelly) protests, he is sentenced to be shot. Just as the firing squad is taking aim, he wakes up, back in his beloved America, free from his horrible "red nightmare." As the movie ends, the narrator reminds us that it could happen in America, if citizens ever relaxed their vigilance. Distributed free of charge to civic groups, Scout troops, churches, and schools, the films were even broadcast by local television stations.

The government also distributed films on a related subject: civil defense. Although the United States had never experienced aerial attack, serious discussions of the possibility started early in the Cold War, especially in 1949 when the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. In response to the perceived military threat, America's leaders greatly increased military budgets, and designed a civil defense program to reassure average citizens that nuclear war could be survived. While most government experts privately shared the view that no man-made structure could withstand a nuclear blast, and that an all-out nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union would produce American casualties numbering in the tens of millions, they also agreed that if the public knew the actual dangers, a panic, or worse, an outbreak of "Better Red than dead" defeatism would threaten the country. Thus, to preserve public morale, the underlying theme of the civil defense program became the illusion of safety. The program conveyed its messages of optimism through pamphlets, posters, and films with titles like Survival under Atomic Attack, Operation Cue, The Atom Strikes, and You Can Beat the A-Bomb. At least one civil defense film was intended primarily for schools. Entitled Duck and Cover, it featured an animated character named Bert the Turtle. Bert taught children that, in case of atomic attack, all they had to do to protect themselves was crouch down and cover their heads. The patent absurdity of this "defense" against a nuclear blast would be illustrated decades later, in the 1982 satirical documentary The Atomic Cafe, and in a 1997 episode of the "adult" television cartoon show South Park.

Hollywood films also reflected, and helped to create, the culture of the Cold War. Studios eagerly produced anti-Communist films in the 1950s—partly as a reflection of the temper of the times, but also because filmmakers themselves had come under investigation by Washington's Red-raiders. During World War II, several Hollywood studios had made pro-Soviet films, such as Mission to Moscow (1943) and Song of Russia (1944), and these films had been made with both the permission and encouragement of the U.S. government, which wanted to maintain good relations with its Soviet ally. By the 1950s however, the House Un-American Activities Committee (known as the HUAC) came to regard the studios with suspicion. Mindful of the influence that motion pictures can have upon the citizenry, and fearful that the persuasive powers of film might be used to advance the cause of Communism, the HUAC and Senator Joseph McCarthy put the film industry in the thick of the anti-Communist investigations. The atmosphere produced in the industry by these investigations may explain the production of such blatantly anti-Red films as I Married a Communist (1950), I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951), My Son John (1952), Big Jim McLain (1952), and Invasion U.S.A. (1952).

But by the 1960s, Hollywood's way of dealing with the "Red Menace" changed. Because the heat from Washington had largely abated, and because the propaganda films had not been profitable ventures, Hollywood's depictions of the Cold War began to diversify. Some of the 1960s films dealt with nuclear brinkmanship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Fail-Safe (1964), based on a popular novel, posits a technical glitch that accidentally sends a flight of American nuclear bombers on its way to a pre-assigned target: Moscow. The computer has sent its "war" message to the bombers, and they cannot be recalled. The basic premise of Fail-Safe was brilliantly but viciously satirized by Stanley Kubrick in his 1964 film Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It is a thoroughly "black" comedy, as any film that attempts to find humor in nuclear war must be. Another "cold war" film released the same year was Seven Days in May, which involves a plot by the U.S. military to take over the government after the President negotiates an unpopular arms-reduction treaty with the Soviets.

A separate course for cold war cinema was charted in 1962, with the release of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No. The success of the film, along with the even larger grosses earned by its successors From Russia with Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964)—with many others to follow—created a "spy craze" in American popular culture that lasted into the next decade. The "Bond" influence was seen in other films, both serious (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold ; The Quiller Memorandum ; The Ipcress File) and satirical (Our Man Flint ; The Silencers ; Murderer's Row), as well as television programs (I Spy ;Secret Agent ; The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and even men's toiletries ("007" brand cologne; "Hai Karate" aftershave).

As U.S.-Soviet relations improved, the Cold War gradually thawed during the 1970s. The temperature dropped again in 1980, however, with the election of conservative Ronald Reagan to the White House. In his first term, at least, Reagan was frequently given to tough talk about the Communists. In one speech, he referred to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." On another occasion, just prior to a radio address, Reagan obliged a request for a sound check by saying, "This is the President speaking. I have just outlawed Russia. Bombing begins in five minutes."

In accordance with the Reagan Administration's bellicose attitude toward the Communist world, a new wave of anti-Communist cinema came in the 1980s. Red Dawn (1984) portrayed a Soviet occupation of the United States and focused on the activities of a band of American teenagers waging guerrilla warfare against the invaders. Rocky IV (1985) pitted Sylvester Stallone's gutsy pugilist against the seemingly unbeatable Drago, the best fighting machine that the Soviet state could produce. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) sent another popular Stallone character to rescue American POWs still held in Vietnam (and also to kill Communists by the score). The 1984 film Missing in Action (along with two sequels) returned Chuck Norris to Vietnam on a series of missions similar to Rambo's. Invasion U.S.A. (1985) featured Norris against a small army of Soviet infiltrators sent to disrupt American society. Rambo III (1988) saw Stallone's character battling the evil Russians in Afghanistan. Top Gun (1986) starred Tom Cruise and extolled the skill and bravery of the Navy's fighter pilots (who even got to shoot down a few Russians in a skirmish near the film's end).

Throughout the Cold War, other forms of entertainment also showed an awareness of some of the issues involved in the East-West struggle. Theater was not one of the hotbeds of social activism during the Cold War, at least until the Vietnam War became a burning issue. But one notable exception to this observation is Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible. Nominally concerned with the Salem witch trials of 1692, the play is based on events and characters from the actual trials, but few watching the performance at the time could have any doubt that the play was a commentary on the anti-Communist hysteria gripping the nation. Miller has since been very clear that he intended The Crucible as a condemnation of the McCarthy "witch hunts" in which so many reputations, careers, and even lives were destroyed, often without any evidence to support the accusations made.

Miller did face some hostility from the Right over this play, as he had for some of his earlier dramas. Political tensions in the United States affected many Left-wing writers in the 1950s. Once a writer had been branded "subversive" by the HUAC, Senator McCarthy, or some other "authority," many bookstores would not put his or her books on the shelves. Blacklisting limited the works of writers like Dalton Trumbo, Ring Lardner, Jr., Howard Fast, and Dashiell Hammett to a few bookstores dedicated to the writings of the Left.

This did not mean that the Cold War could not be portrayed in novels. Many books were written about the era while it happened, and they were often very successful—as long as they had the "right" viewpoint. The Ugly American (1958) by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick critiqued American diplomacy in Asia, and is believed to have given John F. Kennedy the idea for what would become the Peace Corps. Richard Condon's novel The Manchurian Candidate (1958) posited that U.S. soldiers captured during the Korean War could be so thoroughly "brainwashed" by the Chinese as to become human robots upon their return home, awaiting only the right signal to carry out the nefarious missions for which they had been programmed. This novel of political paranoia was later made into a successful film by director John Frankenheimer.

As with film, cold war fiction changed as America entered the 1960s. The early part of the decade featured a number of novels about nuclear brinkmanship. Fail-Safe (1962) and Seven Days in May (1962) were both written in this period and were soon made into films. Other novels dealing with the possibilities of nuclear war included Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon (1959) and William Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz (1959). The novels The 480 by Eugene Burdick (1964), Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (1959), Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel (1965), and The Man by Irving Wallace (1964) explored similar kinds of domestic cold war political tensions found at the heart of Seven Days in May.

Although these kinds of political novels continued to appear in the second half of the 1960s, they were far outnumbered by the same genre that had come to dominate the movie screens by that time: the spy story. Although Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, died in 1964, the literary trend he started continued long after his passing. Several of Fleming's countrymen wrote spy fiction that was popular in the United States, including John Le Carré, who wrote the bestseller, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963). Another British writer, Elleston Trevor, used the pen name Adam Hall to write a series of suspenseful cold war novels featuring a secret agent known only as Quiller, including The Ninth Directive (1966) and The Striker Portfolio (1969). Many American authors also used the Cold War as a background for tales of suspense and adventure, including Donald Hamilton, who wrote a series of paperback novels featuring "the American James Bond," a U.S. government assassin named Matt Helm. Some of the many titles in this well-written series include The Ambushers (1963) and The Menacers (1968). Former CIA man David Atlee Phillips wrote a number of novels under the pseudonym Philip Atlee, all of them featuring secret agent Joe Gall, who saved the nation from the Reds in such titles as The Green Wound Contract (1963) and The Trembling Earth Contract (1969). Even Mickey Spillane, best known for his "tough guy" private eye novels featuring Mike Hammer, began to write spy novels with Day of the Guns (1964), which introduced secret agent Tiger Mann.

Television also played its role in the Cold War, through both entertainment programming and news specials. In the 1950s, a number of suspense shows with anti-Communist themes debuted, including Foreign Intrigue, Passport to Danger, I Led Three Lives, The Man Called X, Soldiers of Fortune, and Behind Closed Doors, but few of these shows captured audience interest. In the 1960s, television also participated in the "spy craze." In addition to "serious" espionage shows, 1960s television offered spoofs of the genre, including Get Smart (with Don Adams as an inept secret agent) and The Wild, Wild West (a Bondian satire set in the Old West).

While local television stations made good use of government-produced short films, both those with anti-Communist themes and those concerned with civil defense, national television stations produced their own documentaries about the dangers posed by world Communism. Call to Freedom focused on the history of Austria, to show how that country was able to free itself from partial Soviet occupation following World War II. Nightmare in Red was a history of the Soviet Union that suggested that Czarist rule was better than the oppression, tyranny, and drudgery of life in the modern Soviet state. Television also showed the cartoon series The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, with its "villains" the bumbling spies Boris Badinov and Natasha Fatale.

Television provided the American public with one of the clearest views into the HUAC's investigations. Many of Senator Joseph McCarthy's committee's hearings were televised live. At first, the coverage proved to be excellent publicity for McCarthy and his Red-baiting activities. But eventually McCarthy's bullying, demagoguery, and carelessness with facts caught up with him. When attorney Joseph Welch asked McCarthy, live on camera, "Have you no decency, sir? Have you no decency at all?" millions of Americans found themselves pondering the same question about the Senator from Wisconsin—and television made it possible.

—Justin Gustainis

Further Reading:

Barson, Michael. "Better Dead Than Red": A Nostalgic Look at the Golden Years of Russiaphobia, Red-baiting, and Other Commie Madness. New York, Hyperion, 1992.

Henriksen, Margot A. Dr. Strangelove's America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997.

MacDonald, J. Fred. Television and the Red Menace: The Video Road to Vietnam. New York, Praeger, 1985.

Whitfield, Stephen J. The Culture of the Cold War. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

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