Cold War (1945–91)

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How did Presidents Truman and Eisenhower's approaches to the global communist threat differ?

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The policies of these two presidents are often contrasted with one another, but they were not that different in practice.

Eisenhower came to office promising to roll back communism rather than simply containing it in the way that Truman had aimed to do.  This was a very stark contrast in the stated goals of the two administrations.  However, very little difference existed in practice.  Eisenhower did not go to war to try to destroy communism anywhere that it already existed.  He did not even, for example, take any serious action to support the Hungarian uprising against the Soviets in 1956.

The other major difference between the two, in rhetoric at least, was the Eisenhower administration's reliance on nuclear weapons.  Eisenhower worried about the cost of maintaining a large conventional force to project power around the world.  Therefore, he came to office saying that his strategy would be one of "massive retaliation" in which he would use nuclear weapons to retaliate against any communist aggression.  However, this policy was clearly untenable since there was no practical way to use nuclear weapons, for example, against the rising communist threat in Vietnam.

Thus, the two administrations had very different rhetorical approaches to the Cold War but did not end up acting all that differently in practice.

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