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What was the "containment" policy and its impact on American life?

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Containment was the primary foreign policy of the United States after the end of World War II in 1945. Its goal was to contain Communism without another global conflict during the Cold War (1945-1991).

The United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) were allied against the Axis in World War II. After the terrible destructiveness of that war, they were the only great powers, or superpowers, on the planet. In the postwar era of 1945-47, the USSR established Communist states throughout Eastern Europe. This led Prime Minister Winston Churchill to give his "iron curtain" speech in Missouri.

The Truman Doctrine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Marshall Plan were all a part of containment policy. The Truman Doctrine (1947) promised economic and military aid to both Turkey and Greece. Washington believed both were vulnerable to Communist expansionism. NATO, founded in 1949, was formed as a military alliance against Moscow. America, Canada, and numerous Western European countries joined together in NATO. An attack on any one of those nations was to be considered as an attack on them all. The Marshall Plan (1948-1951) was established to provide economic assistance to Western Europe. Their economies were shattered by the war, and they needed assistance. By assisting these nations, Washington sought to strengthen the bulwark against Communist expansion in Europe.

The rationale behind containment was laid out in an article in Foreign Affairs by George Kennan in 1947. Kennan, a diplomat, called for “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies” in the hope that Communism would eventually collapse.

America wanted to avoid World War III with the USSR by following this strategy. There were smaller wars, however. The Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1965-1973) both stemmed from the desire to stop Communist expansionism.

There were some serious flaws with the containment policy. First, it underestimated the importance of nationalism in places like Vietnam. Second, America supported some dictatorial regimes who professed to be anti-Communist. And finally, Washington overthrew some governments it thought might become Communist.

The USSR collapsed in 1991, so containment lost its justification. But some legacies of containment remain. For instance, NATO is still in existence.

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