Table of contents
- The Beginning of the Cold War
- The Effect on America
The Cold War had far-reaching consequences, with numerous ramifications that often go underappreciated. It gave rise to an array of spy movies, great novels, and independence movements, among other things. One profound realization stemming from the Cold War was the understanding that the greatest threat to humanity lay within ourselves. It transformed people's perceptions of the world and our role as human beings. As Nobel laureate William Faulkner emphasized in his acceptance speech, we found ourselves trapped in a pervasive and universal fear, sustained for so long that it had become almost bearable. The Cold War eradicated the problems of the spirit, leaving only one question lingering: when would the threat of annihilation strike?
The Beginning of the Cold War
Post World War II, the United States and the USSR emerged as the two dominant nations. The United States held significant superiority, mainly due to possessing atomic weapons, while the USSR had suffered heavy losses, led by Joseph Stalin. Yet, concerns persisted for the United States. They sought a strong free-market-oriented Europe and, to some extent, Asia, crucial as potential markets for manufactured goods and other products. Meanwhile, the Soviets were immediately concerned about the threat of German invasion. Germany's historical lessons had taught them that invading Russia was unwise. Consequently, after World War II, the USSR encouraged the establishment of pro-communist governments in Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland, facilitated by their military occupation. The intention was to create a buffer zone against potential German aggression. Nevertheless, the United States saw the expansion of communism as a significant threat, as it could have major negative effects on the global industrial goods market. To counter this, the US implemented the policy of containment, introduced through diplomat George F. Kennan's "Long Telegram." This policy allowed communism to remain where it was but prevented its spread. This, in turn, led to the United States engaging in wars in Korea and Vietnam. The primary objectives of containment were to prevent further Soviet expansion, expose deception, and ultimately bring about the collapse of the Soviet system.
When Harry Truman assumed the presidency in 1945 following Franklin Roosevelt's death, he supported the policy of containment. The first test of this policy emerged in Greece and Turkey in 1947, strategically important regions due to their proximity to the oil-rich Middle East. Truman announced the Truman Doctrine, pledging support to freedom-loving nations threatened by communism. The US sent $400 million in aid to Greece and Turkey, marking the beginning of the Cold War. The Truman Doctrine shaped America's worldview, with the US portrayed as the champion of freedom and democracy, and communism viewed as tyrannical. This stance led to extensive American support for anti-communist regimes worldwide, even if they were undemocratic. Moreover, it resulted in the creation of key institutions such as the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Atomic Energy Commission, which operated independently from government oversight and democratic elections. The policy of containment and the Truman Doctrine laid the groundwork for a significant military buildup and an arms race, both becoming prominent features of the Cold War.
The Effect on America
Although military aspects played a major role in the Cold War, the Marshall Plan, introduced by George Marshall in 1947, was a pivotal moment. Addressing economic chaos in Europe that bolstered support for communism in countries like France and Italy, the plan aimed to combat instability and prevent the spread of communism. It proved highly successful, as Europe's industries surpassed pre-war production levels by 1950, and the continent embarked on its path towards a capitalist mass consumer society. Additionally, Japan, though not officially part of the Marshall Plan, rebuilt itself under General Douglas MacArthur's guidance, adopting a new constitution that granted women voting rights and renounced war in favor of US protection. This allowed Japan to focus on industries and grow positively.
During this period, Germany faced its first Berlin crisis. Split into East and West, Berlin was entirely in the East but also divided within itself. West Berlin depended on shipments of goods from West Germany through East Germany. In 1948, Stalin cut off the roads to West Berlin, triggering the famous 11-month airlift by the Americans, ultimately leading to the lifting of the blockade. In 1949, Germany was officially divided into East and West, and the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb. NATO was established, and the Chinese revolution resulted in a communist victory. By the end of 1950, the contours of the Cold War had taken shape: a dichotomy between the West and the East, representing capitalist freedom and communist totalitarianism, respectively.
The US government depicted the Cold War as an epic struggle between freedom and tyranny, fostering substantial political consensus among both Democrats and Republicans, particularly regarding military buildup. However, critics like Walter Lippmann warned that framing foreign policy in such ideological terms might lead the United States to align with the wrong side in various conflicts, particularly as former colonies sought independence. Nonetheless, the interventions were seen as crucial to halt the spread of communism, a fear shared by many. The fear of communism also impacted internal policies, preventing Truman from expanding the social policies of the New Deal. For instance, his "Fair Deal" program, which aimed to increase the minimum wage, extend national health insurance, and improve public housing, social security, and educational aid, faced opposition from the American Medical Association, which labeled it as "socialized" medicine. Nevertheless, the Cold War prompted the government to invest in social security, education, scientific research, technology, and infrastructure, including the creation of the interstate system, which had a hidden purpose of facilitating evacuations in case of nuclear conflict.
Espionage played a significant role in the swift development of nuclear weapons by the Soviets. Notably, physicist and spy Klaus Fuchs leaked valuable information from the Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union, and Julius Rosenberg sold secrets that ultimately led to his and his wife's demise. These events contributed to American paranoia and the widespread fear of communist infiltration. This fear led to the implementation of the loyalty review system in 1947, wherein government employees were required to prove their patriotism if accused of disloyalty. This eventually culminated in the Red Scare, propelling leaders like Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin to power with false claims of having a list of over 200 communists within the State Department.
The fear of communism allowed the government to exert control, as people believed that the government's protection was necessary to prevent communist takeover. The Cold War profoundly shaped America, solidifying its leadership on the world stage and fostering the growth of a powerful and expensive national state. However, it also redefined the notion of freedom and safety for the people.
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