Historical Context

The Dawn of the Atomic Age
In August 1945, in an effort to end World War II quickly and decisively, the United States dropped atomic bombs, also known as A-bombs, on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The immediate explosive and long-term destructive forces were unlike anything that humanity had ever seen. These two events, which led to the rapid surrender of Japan and the end of World War II, also served to usher in the atomic age and the threat of further atomic war. During World War II, many countries had been working on their own atomic bombs. After the decimation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, several countries rushed to complete these bombs. In 1946, the United States, the world’s top superpower, again set an example when it began a series of peacetime atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the western chain of the Marshall Islands, in the central Pacific Ocean. In 1949, the Soviet Union, the other major superpower at the time, tested its first atomic weapon, proving to the United States that it, too, had atomic capabilities. By this point, the Soviet Union and the United States, which were allies at the end of World War II, had already been on unstable terms for several years.

The Soviet–U.S. Rift
In February 1945, as Nazi Germany was getting ready to fall to the Allied powers, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin— the leaders, respectively, of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union—had an historic meeting at Yalta, a Russian city. Here, they discussed how Europe should be divided after the war. Stalin wanted to impose communist governments in Poland and Germany and wanted Germany, its biggest foe, disbanded as a nation. Churchill and Roosevelt feared the spread of communism, however, and wanted to maintain Germany’s status as a nation. They negotiated a compromise, but Stalin did not abide by the agreement. Following the war, Stalin capitalized on the weakness of many Eastern European countries, using the Soviet Union’s military prowess to quickly place communist governments in much of Eastern Europe. On March 12, 1947, President Truman decided, in a declaration now known as the Truman Doctrine, to actively stop the spread of communism to other nations. He immediately petitioned Congress for funds to assist countries like Greece and Turkey, which were in danger of being overthrown by Soviet-backed militant groups. The decision to fight communism, which became part of U.S. foreign policy for decades, helped create a rift between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Cold War Deepens
This rift grew in 1949 with the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance among the United States, Canada, and...

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