Origins of the Cold War
"There are two great peoples on the earth today who, starting from different points, seem to advance toward the same goal: these are the Russians and the Anglo-Americans. Both have grown larger in obscurity [relatively unnoticed by the rest of the world]; and while men's regards were occupied elsewhere, they have suddenly taken their place in the first rank of nations, and the world has learned of their birth and of their greatness almost at the same time." French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) made this statement, quoted in his book Democracy in America, in the 1830s. Over a century later, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (also known as the Soviet Union or the U.S.S.R.; a country made up of fifteen republics, the largest of which was Russia, that in 1991 became independent states) had risen to the status of superpowers, extremely powerful nations that dominated world politics. Eventually, the two countries were involved in what became known as the Cold War.
The Cold War was a period of mutual fear and dis-trust, brought about by the differing ideologies, or set of beliefs, of these two nations. The Cold War did not begin on a precise date, and it was not a shooting war, at least not directly between the two superpowers—the United States of America and the Soviet Union. As a result, the actual start of the Cold War is...
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The United States and the Soviet Union had emerged from World War II (1939–45) as superpowers. The two countries had different political and economic philosophies, and each believed its own governmental system was superior to the other. The United States, with its multiparty democratic form of government, valued an open, free society: American citizens elected their government leaders and were guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. The U.S. capitalist economic system allowed private ownership of property and businesses. Prices, production, and distribution of goods were determined by competitive markets, with minimal government involvement. U.S. leaders believed that all countries would benefit from following democratic, capitalist principles.
The Soviet Union had a completely different form of government than did the United States. A single political party, the Communist Party, controlled most aspects of Soviet society. Top members of the party selected government leaders from among their own ranks. The government directed all economic production; private ownership of property and businesses was not allowed. In theory, all the goods produced and any accumulated wealth were to be shared equally by all citizens. Whereas the United States was protected from invasion by two oceans, the Soviet Union had been plagued by land invasions...
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Germany and Berlin
On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allies in Reims, France, bringing an end to World War II (1939–45) in Europe. The "Big Four" allies were the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Allies are alliances of countries in military opposition to another group of nations. Immediately upon Germany's surrender, an Allied plan that divided Germany into four zones became effective. Each zone was occupied by troops from one of the Big Four countries; each country appointed a military governor to oversee its zone. Within a few years, the democratic U.S., British, and French zones were collectively referred to as West Germany. The communist Soviet zone became known as East Germany.
Although Germany's capital, Berlin, was located well within the Soviet zone, the four Allies divided the capital city into four sectors, in the same way as they had divided the whole of Germany. The same four Allied powers each occupied a sector of Berlin. The U.S., British, and French sectors soon became known as West Berlin. The Soviet-occupied sector was called East Berlin. Road, rail, water, and air routes running from West Germany through and over East Germany to Berlin made trade possible. The three Western powers identified specific trade and supply routes from West Germany into Berlin and expected the Soviets to grant free access to Berlin through these corridors....
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Dawning of the Nuclear Age
On Monday, July 16, 1945, at exactly 5:29:45 A.M. Mountain War Time, the world's first successful detonation, or explosion, of an atomic bomb occurred. Referred to by scientists as "the gadget" or "the thing," it exploded with the force of 21,000 tons (19,047 metric tons) of TNT (a commonly used high explosive). A flash of light brighter than people had ever witnessed before illuminated the landscape of the test site near Alamogordo, New Mexico, in an area called Jornada del Muerto (commonly translated as Journey of the Dead). The code name for the test was "Trinity."
As noted on the Los Alamos National Laboratory Web site, General Leslie R. Groves (1896–1970), the U.S. Army officer in charge, later recalled, "As we approached the final minute the quiet grew more intense. As I lay there in the final seconds, I thought only what I would do if the countdown got to zero and nothing happened." Later, General Thomas Farrell, deputy to Groves, wrote that the "whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined. Seconds after the explosion came first the air blast pressing hard against the people, to be followed almost...
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"Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?" This was the question members of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) asked each American who was brought before them. The HUAC, reaching its peak of power between 1947 and 1953, was at the center of the Red Scare, a period in U.S. history when Americans felt highly threatened by communism. Communism is a system of government in which a single political party controls almost all aspects of society. A communist system eliminates private ownership of property and business. Goods produced and accumulated wealth are in theory shared relatively equally by all. Under communism, people are not guaranteed individual liberties. In communist countries religious practices are not allowed.
Americans feared communists would gain strength in their country and might eventually take over. "Reds under the beds" and "better dead than Red" were common catchphrases. (The term "Red" was used to refer to communists and communist sympathizers.) Americans became obsessed with the fear of communism and looked with suspicion on subversive, or revolutionary, groups within the United States. The HUAC was established to investigate and root out any communist influences within the country. In this atmosphere of suspicion and fear, "McCarthyism"—unfounded accusations of disloyalty to the U.S. government—was strong...
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Espionage in the Cold War
"Espionage is a very serious matter for some, a deadly se-rious business. It violates international law and normal codes of civilized conduct, and yet it is virtually universal [everywhere] because it is considered a matter of vital national importance to states [countries]. Espionage generates its own rules." This is how Soviet affairs expert and former U.S. State Department official Raymond L. Garthoff describes the espionage game in his book A Journey through the Cold War.
Espionage, or more simply, spying, is the gathering and analyzing of information about enemies or potential enemies. The acquired information is called intelligence. Hence, agencies that gather such information are called intelligence-gathering agencies. Counterintelligence or counterespionage involves protecting a country and its agencies from spy activities carried out by enemies. The counterintelligence departments of intelligence agencies are always on the lookout for moles. Moles are double agents who betray the agency they work for. Quietly they funnel top-secret information to the enemy. For example, if an agent employed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was also secretly stealing U.S. military documents and passing them to Soviet intelligence agents, he or she would be considered a mole.
Spying is considered one of the oldest professions, dating to...
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A Worldwide Cold War
"You have to take chances for peace just as you musttake chances for war.… If you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost." As noted in Ronald E. Powaski's Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917–1991, these are the words of John Foster Dulles (1888–1959), secretary of state for President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61). During the Cold War, Dulles orchestrated a strategy known as "brinkmanship." Brinkmanship is the practice of forcing a confrontation in order to achieve a desired out-come; in the Cold War, brinkmanship meant using nuclear weapons as a deterrent to communist expansion around the world. Communism is a system of government in which a single political party controls almost all aspects of society. All property is owned by the government, which controls all industrial production; wealth is, in theory, shared equally by all. Religious practices are not tolerated under communist governments.
Dulles was a hard-line anticommunist; he viewed the Soviet Union, China, and other communist governments as enemies of democracy, government run by citizens who are represented by elected officials. Dulles asserted that President Harry S. Truman's (1884–1972; served 1945–53) containment policy had been too reactionary, meaning that Truman only reacted to communist threats and never went on the offensive. Containment...
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"We will bury you!" Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) shouted these dramatic words in a speech in Moscow in 1956. His language struck fear in many U.S. citizens and contributed to Cold War paranoia. However, the line was misinterpreted; the statement referred to a Russian phrase meaning "We will outlast you and attend your funeral [or burial]." Khrushchev himself later complained about the negative reaction: "I once said, 'We will bury you,' and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you." But the damage had been done, and the line has been quoted out of context for years and years.
Four years later, at a United Nations meeting on September 20, 1960, the Soviet leader lashed out again. (The United Nations is an international organization, composed of most of the nations of the world, created to preserve world peace and security.) After British prime minister Harold Macmillan (1894–1986) made a speech that was critical of the Soviet Union, the red-faced Soviet leader angrily responded by taking off his shoe and banging it on the table and waving it at Macmillan.
These two images of Khrushchev are among the more memorable moments of the Cold War, a forty-five-year rivalry between the two world superpowers, the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist democracy of...
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Cuban Missile Crisis
In November 1960, U.S. senator John F. Kennedy (1917– 1963) of Massachusetts defeated Vice President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) in the presidential election. Kennedy was taking on a difficult job: U.S. relations with the Soviet Union were declining, and the world seemed to be proceeding deeper into crisis and conflict. A prime example of this was displayed on the evening of October 22, 1962, when Kennedy addressed the nation via television. The president had undisputable evidence that Soviet-built nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States and many Latin American countries were in place in Cuba, 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the U.S. shoreline.
As noted in the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, in his televised address, Kennedy said, "Should these offensive military preparations continue … further action will be justified. I have directed the Armed Forces to prepare for any eventualities [possible action].… It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.… No one can foresee precisely what course it [the retaliation] will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred." In the following decades, especially during the...
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Mutual Assured Destruction
Andrey Sakharov (1921–1989), father of the Soviet Union's first true hydrogen bomb, witnessed the test of that bomb on November 22, 1955. He was distressed by what he saw and disturbed by the results of his work. As noted on the Public Broadcasting Service's Race for the Superbomb Web site, Sakharov wrote, "When you see all of this yourself, something in you changes. When you see the burned birds who are withering on the scorched steppe [land], when you see how the shock wave blows away buildings like houses of cards, when you feel the reek [smoke] of splintered bricks, when you sense melted glass, you immediately think of times of war … All of this triggers an irrational yet very strong emotional impact."
Between 1945 and 1991, the Cold War dominated global affairs. The Cold War was a war of ideological differences between the United States and the Soviet Union, the countries that emerged as superpowers after World War II (1939–45). The Cold War came about because of differences in political, economic, and cultural systems, but ultimately what defined the Cold War was nuclear weapons. By the late 1960s, both superpowers had spent and were continuing to spend billions of dollars every day to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. Neither country wanted to use these weapons, but both wanted the dubious security of knowing they could annihilate the other side if...
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An Unsettled World
Communism was a central theme during the 1960 presidential election between the Democratic candidate, U.S. senator John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) of Massachusetts, and the Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994). Since the late 1940s, Nixon had a strong record of fighting the threat of communism in the United States. Communism is a system of government in which a single political party—the Communist Party—selects government leaders and controls nearly all other aspects of society. Private ownership of property is prohibited, and the government directs all economic production. The goods produced and the accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all.
During the presidential campaign, Kennedy took a tough stance against communism to match Nixon's record, and he ended up winning in a very close race. When Kennedy took office in January 1961, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) released two U.S. Air Force officers being held by the Soviets. The officers had been shot down the previous July while flying in Soviet airspace on a reconnaissancemission. Kennedy recognized Khrushchev's act as a goodwill gesture and responded by removing importation restrictions on certain Soviet food and offering to increase scientific and cultural exchanges between the two countries.
Despite this hopeful...
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Home Front Turmoil: The 1960s
The 1960s decade was a period of severe Cold War tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. The technological capabilities of both countries dramatically increased. Nuclear weapons stockpiles grew, and spy satellites, or constructed orbiting objects, circled Earth. Both the Soviet and the U.S. government spent vast amounts on defense to keep up with or go ahead of the other. By 1960, military-industrial complexes—the partnership of military, defense, and industry—had brought economic growth to America and a good living to a small population of workers in the Soviet Union. But the new decade would bring turbulent times to the superpowers.
For American citizens and many other people around the world, the United States represented freedom and hope: The U.S. government was democratic and designed to protect the people's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet the United States regularly contradicted these principles by its treatment of African Americans. And although freedom of speech was a keystone of the democratic system, the country's reaction to Vietnam War (1954–75) protesters suggested that this freedom was not entirely guaranteed. Race riots over the inequalities that African Americans endured broke out in large U.S. cities and throughout the South. White Americans joined with blacks in marches and demonstrations. The Soviets...
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Détente: A Lessening of Tensions
From 1969 through 1975, the United States and the Soviet Union, the world's two superpowers, established policies promoting détente between them. Détente, French for "lessening of tensions," marked a relaxing of tensions between the rival nations, exemplified by increased diplomatic, commercial, and cultural contact. Western and Eastern European countries also experienced a détente and better cooperation during this period. The Cold War entered a new phase during détente. Consistent contact and communication between the United States and the Soviet Union was perhaps the greatest single achievement of détente. The détente period is also significant because it marked the beginning of improved relations between the United States and China. Recognizing that China and the United States could become allies pushed the Soviets toward détente. These positive changes were bright spots in U.S. foreign affairs at a time when the United States seemed all but consumed by the challenge of extricating itself from the Vietnam War (1954–75).
The first treaty of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I), signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in May 1972, lessened the threat of nuclear war by bringing the arms race under control. The treaty represented the core of détente. The negotiations that led up to SALT I continued after it was signed and established a direct...
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A Freeze in Relations
"The reality is that we must find peace through strength.A freeze [on nuclear weapon development] would reward the Soviet Union for its enormous and unparalleled military buildup. I urge you to [not] … ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire … and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil." U.S. president Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89) spoke these words on March 8, 1983, in Orlando, Florida, at the National Association of Evangelicals Convention. His statement reflected a return to the tough Cold War talk of the 1950s and increasing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Cold War was primarily a battle of social/political theories and goals: communism versus democracy and capitalism. The Soviet Union adopted communism as its system of government in 1917. In a communist society, a single political party, the Communist Party, controls nearly all aspects of people's lives. In a communist economy, private ownership of property and business is not allowed; instead the government controls business and production so that goods produced and wealth accumulated can be shared relatively equally by all. The United States has a democratic system of government; this means the people govern themselves, through elected representatives. Multiple political parties represent...
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End of the Cold War
On December 25, 1991, U.S. president George Bush (1924–; served 1989–1993) proclaimed the end of the Cold War, calling the occasion a "victory for democracy and freedom." Bush credited Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) for his "intellect, vision, and courage" in ending the rivalry and seeking much-needed economic and political reforms as the Soviet Union's empire dwindled. Gorbachev had attempted to reform the Communist Party and create a limited democracy in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but his efforts caused a much more dramatic change: the collapse of communism. Communism is a system of government in which a single party, the Communist Party, controls almost all aspects of society. In a communist economy, private ownership of property and businesses is not allowed. Instead, the government controls business and production so that goods produced and wealth accumulated can be shared equally by all.
The struggling Soviet economy
U.S. president Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89) was inaugurated for his second term of office in January 1985. Soon after, on March 10, Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko (1911–1985) died. The Soviet leadership had changed hands a number of times during the previous three years. A series of aging...
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