• What led the United States to build its military forces after winning a successful war?
  • Were the Soviets afraid of Americans as much as Americans were afraid of them?
  • Would the recommendations contained in these documents be appropriate responses to national security threats since the end of the Cold War (for example, al-Qaeda)?

Expert Answers

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First, one should note that the United States did not single-handedly succeed in winning a war. Instead, World War II was won by the Allied forces who were aligned against the Axis powers. A crucial factor in the victory was the participation of the Soviet Union after Hitler's unsuccessful invasion. The opening of an Eastern Front weakened Hitler and was a major factor in his eventual downfall.

Although the United States emerged from the war in a powerful position, it still was involved in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and not entirely secure in its victory. The development of the nuclear bomb and long range missiles meant that the Atlantic Ocean no longer protected the United States to the east and Pearl Harbor demonstrated insecurity to the west. The launch of Sputnik, shortly after the end of World War II, heightened this insecurity.

From the point of view of the Soviet Union and many other countries, the United States was and has remained the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons against a civilian population. Moreover, despite a temporary alliance, the United States was firmly committed to overthrowing communism in the Soviet Union which was legitimately concerned that the United States and NATO had hostile intentions towards it.

Security documents that plan responses to major power wars really are not relevant to dealing with terrorism, which is a different sort of strategic threat.

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After World War II, the U.S. was convinced that it had to build up its military forces to combat the growing threat from the Soviet Union. Even during the end of World War II, the Soviets had stopped their attack on Warsaw, Poland, which was then controlled by Nazis, to defeat anti-Communist forces in Poland. The U.S. had detonated two atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August of 1945 in an attempt, some historians believe, to frighten Soviets at the beginning of the Cold War. Therefore, the origins of the Cold War lie within the end of World War II. According to historian David Trowbridge, author of U.S. History, Volume 2, "both nations came to view the other as aggressive and committed to global domination by the early 1950s." Therefore, there is research that suggests that the Soviets were just as afraid of American aggression, in part resulting from the detonation of the atomic bombs, as Americans were afraid of Soviets. 

I'm not sure which documents you are referring to in the question, but the American Cold War policy was guided by documents such as NSC-68, written in 1950 by the National Security Council. This document stated that the Soviets wanted “to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.” NSC-68 established an aggressive approach to fighting communism. These types of approaches would likely not be successful in fighting current or recent threats, such as al-Queda, because terrorist groups are not a conventional enemy. It is therefore difficult to know how to oppose their expansion. 

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