Why did the United States commit itself to containing communism between 1945 and 1960? 

The United States committed itself to containing communism between 1945 and 1960 because this represented a pragmatic middle course between ignoring Soviet influence in the world and fighting it directly. This was the policy best adapted to US strategic, economic, and ideological interests after the Second World War.

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The United States committed itself to containing communism immediately after WWI because it appeared as though communism was spreading rapidly. The Soviet Union showed no signs of leaving Eastern Europe. There were reports of oppression against religious groups and nationalists in Eastern Europe. The United States regarded the Soviet regime...

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The United States committed itself to containing communism immediately after WWI because it appeared as though communism was spreading rapidly. The Soviet Union showed no signs of leaving Eastern Europe. There were reports of oppression against religious groups and nationalists in Eastern Europe. The United States regarded the Soviet regime as being undemocratic and the polar opposite of the American way of life—it was important to ensure that the Soviet Union did not spread further into Europe and leave the United States to one day fight the regime on its own. The United States indirectly opposed Soviet influence by siding with rightist candidates in postwar elections in Italy and France. The United States also funneled money to anticommunists in Greece.

The United States also was fearful of Soviet nuclear capabilities. Stalin did not trust the United States after the US ended the war with Japan with the aid of two atomic weapons. US military planners thought that the Soviet Union was too backward to develop a bomb before 1970; when US spy planes found radioactive isotopes over Soviet airspace, it touched off a search for communist spies inside of American political and military institutions. In order to appear strong against communists, American politicians put more emphasis on defense spending and containment as well as oppressing communist sympathizers at home.

The United States also had additional worries about the spread of communism after Mao's takeover of China. Even though the regime of Chiang Kai-shek was ineffective and corrupt, people were shocked when Mao's revolution took hold in China. There was additional shock when communists in North Korea invaded South Korea. Harry Truman was accused of being soft on communism as the press, led by Time's Henry Luce, stated that the United States "lost China." In order to ensure no further losses, presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy toughened their stance against anything that looked like communist aggression. It was believed that all communists were being directed by the Kremlin, when in reality, many of these communist takeovers were really anti-imperialist movements that used funding from China and the Soviet Union.

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The United States of America committed itself to a policy of containing communism in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War because this was the most pragmatic way of pursuing its strategic, economic, and ideological goals. In 1945, the US was still finding its way as the major power of the Western hemisphere. It would not have been realistic to try to fight another war with the Soviet Union immediately after the Axis powers had been defeated at such high cost and given that the Soviet Union had already initiated its nuclear program in 1943.

On the other hand, it would clearly have been detrimental to US global interests to pursue a policy of isolationism and allow communism to spread unchecked. Even if the Soviet Union has been content to exercise power only over Eastern Bloc countries, this could still have caused serious disruption to US supply chains, particularly in the case of oil. However, the Soviet Union was seeking to extend the influence of communism into Western Europe, as well as into South and Central America, quite apart from its aggressive policy in Asia. This meant that containment was necessary simply to preserve the balance of power. The United States acted in alliance with Western European countries in this policy of containment, one of the first significant moves being the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949.

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Communism was the official ideology of the Soviet Union. As the USSR and the United States were locked in a bitter rivalry throughout the Cold War, it's not surprising that successive administrations tried to contain the spread of its governing ideology. Communism in both theory and practice was implacably hostile to the United States and its institutions. The USA was the world's largest economy, a capitalist economy no less, and therefore epitomized everything that Communism was fighting against. The further this ideology spread throughout the world, the more hostile the international environment would become for American strategic and economic interests.

As both the United States and the Soviet Union were nuclear powers, direct confrontation was unthinkable. So successive American governments adopted the strategy of containment to deal with the Communist threat. In practice, this meant that the United States would not actively try to wrest back Eastern Europe from Soviet dominance and control as this could well lead to nuclear conflict. Instead, the spread of Communism beyond the Soviet sphere of influence would be held back by a number of other, more sophisticated measures. These included the provision of substantial economic and military aid to Western countries at serious risk of Communist subversion, such as France and Italy. In the developing world, the United States also backed a variety of dictatorships and resistance movements to crush the merest hint of Communist insurrection. American involvement in South Vietnam is a paradigm example of this approach.

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There are at least two ways to answer this question. 

First, we can look at why the United States thought communism was an evil influence in the world.  The basic reason for this is that communism is a system in which people’s liberties count for little or nothing.  Communism as a system inherently believes in depriving people of economic liberty.  The government controls the economy and people are not free own much property or to do as they wish with what property they are allowed to own.  Communism as practiced also had little respect for human rights.  There was no right to freedom of religion and certainly no right to freedom of speech or the press, for example.  For these reasons, Americans saw communism as a menace to freedom.

Second, we can look at why Americans thought that communism might expand and would need to be contained.  This is largely because the Soviet Union grabbed for all of Eastern Europe after WWII.  Stalin wanted buffer states between the USSR and the West and therefore took control of all of Eastern Europe. When combined with the fact that communist ideology calls for communism to take over the world, these actions on Stalin’s part seemed like proof that communism was going to try to spread.  Therefore, it needed to be contained. 

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