Cold War
Mrs. Saunders
United Nations
In 1945, the Allies founded the United Nations as an
international organization to promote world peace and
progress. The United Nations replaced the League of
Nations as a means for the world’s nations to try to
prevent future global wars. The United States
immediately joined the United Nations.
After World War II the American
people believed the United
States had an important role to
play in maintaining the peace.
This belief contrasted sharply
with the American feeling after
World War I, when the United
States refused to join the
League of Nations.
American forces
occupied Japan after its
surrender in August
1945. Under American
direction, Japan soon
adopted a democratic
form of government,
resumed selfgovernment (governed
itself), and became a
strong ally (friend) of
the United States.
At the end of World War II, Europe lay in ruins.
Soviet forces occupied most of Eastern and
Central Europe and the eastern portion of
Germany. American, British, and French forces
occupied West Germany.
The Allies partitioned (divided) Germany into
East and West Germany. In a few years West
Germany became democratic and resumed selfgovernment. East Germany remained under the
domination of the Soviet Union and adopted a
communist instead of a democratic government.
Cold War
Soon after World War II ended, the Cold War
began. The Cold War was an uneasy peace after
World War II, marked by a fierce rivalry between the
United States and the Soviet Union. One might call
the Cold War a war of words between the United
States and the Soviet Union, which lasted from the
end of World War II until the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991.
The Cold War set the framework for global politics
for forty-five years after the end of World War II. It
also influenced American domestic politics (issues
inside the U.S.), the conduct of foreign affairs, and
the role of the American government in the
economy after 1945.
Cold War
The Cold War was basically a competition between
two very different ways of organizing government,
society, and the nation’s economy.
The United States and the Soviet Union possessed
very different fundamental values. The American-led
western nations believed in democracy, individual
freedom, and a free market economic system based
on private ownership of property.
In contrast, the Soviet Union and its allies believed in a
totalitarian government (dictatorship) ruled by the
communist party and a communist (socialist) ` or
command economic system. Socialism is an
economic system in which the government owns and
controls the means of production.
Cold War
Soon after World War II, the United States
adopted the anti-communist policy of
containment. Containment was the postWorld War II American foreign policy that
sought to check the expansion of the Soviet
Union and communism through diplomatic,
economic, and military means.
In short, under the containment policy the
United States tried to contain or restrict
communism to those countries of the world
where it already existed.
Truman Doctrine
After the Soviet Union had spread communism to the
nations of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II,
President Harry S. Truman announced the Truman
The Truman Doctrine was President Truman’s
promise that the United States would defend free
peoples from subversion (overthrow of the
government) or outside pressure. Thereby, the
Truman Doctrine set precedent that the “containment
of communism” would serve as the basic principle
of American foreign policy throughout the Cold
Under containment, the United States would not try to
roll back communism, but rather keep communism
from spreading and to resist communist aggression
(attacks) into other countries.
Marshall Plan
The Truman administration followed the announcement of the
Truman Doctrine with the Marshall Plan.
The Marshall Plan was a massive American financial aid
program announced in 1947 to help European nations recover
economically from World War II. Yet, its purpose was not only
to rebuild European economies, but also to prevent the spread
of communism.
To place military force behind the containment policy the United
States and its allies formed the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization, commonly known as NATO. NATO acted as a
defensive military alliance between the United States and
Western European countries to prevent a Soviet invasion of
Western Europe.
Since the creation of NATO in 1949, it has served as an
alliance of the United States, a group of European nations, and
Canada to provide mutual aid in the event of armed attack.
Communism spread to Asia in 1949 when Chinese
communist forces under Mao Zedong overthrew
the anti-communist government of Chiang Kaishek. Mao forced Chaing to flee China for the
island of Formosa, where Chiang set up the
government of Taiwan.
The communist takeover of China increased
American fears of communist domination of most
of the world.
In addition, before 1949 ended, the Soviet Union
exploded its first atomic bomb.
The fear of communism and the threat of nuclear
war affected American life throughout the Cold
War. The trials of both Alger Hiss and the
Rosenbergs caused many Americans to fear that
communist spies held important positions in the
federal government.
Hiss was accused of
passing secret documents
to the Soviets during the
late 1930s. Although Hiss
claimed his innocence he
was convicted of perjury
(lying under oath), and
many Americans believed
he was guilty of treason.
In 1950 the United States
learned that a spy ring had
sent atomic secrets to the
Soviets, which had allowed
them to develop an atomic
bomb so quickly.
This information led to the arrest of Julius
and Ethel Rosenberg, who had worked on
the United States’ atomic project. In 1951,
after a long and widely publicized trial, a jury
found the Rosenbergs guilty of espionage
(spying). The United States government
executed the Rosenbergs in 1953.
American fears of communism in the early fifties advanced
the political career of Republican Senator Joseph
McCarthy of Wisconsin. Senator McCarthy played on
American fears of communism by recklessly accusing
many American governmental officials and citizens of
being communists. He based these charges on flimsy
(very weak) evidence or no evidence at all. In 1954 the
Army-McCarthy hearings were televised. These Senate
hearings investigated alleged communist influence in the
United States army.
When the army’s attorney stood up to McCarthy at
these hearings, McCarthy showed himself to be a liar
and bully rather than a heroic defender of American
democracy. The Senate then censured Senator
McCarthy (condemned his behavior), and he quickly
lost his influence.
Nevertheless, McCarthy’s rapid rise to power led to
the coining of the term McCarthyism, or the making
of false accusations based on rumor or guilt by
association and unfairly accusing others of disloyalty
and subversion (threatening to overthrow the
A major test for the containment policy came in 1950 when
communist North Koreans invaded non-communist South
Korea. American military forces led a counterattack that
drove deep into North Korea itself. Communist Chinese
forces then came into the war on the side of North Korea, and
the war threatened to widen.
In 1952 former World War II hero
Dwight D. Eisenhower won the
presidential election, after he
had promised to go to Korea. In
1953 the Korean War ended in
stalemate with South Korea free
of communist occupation.
Because the United States had
prevented South Korea from
falling under communist control,
the nation’s confidence in the
containment policy increased.
As part of containment, President Eisenhower
adopted a policy of “massive retaliation” to
deter (prevent, discourage) any nuclear attack
by the Soviets. Massive retaliation was the
Eisenhower administration’s threat of swift, allout military action against a nation committing
aggression (attack).
Later presidents backed
away from this policy,
although the United States
refused to promise it would
not make a first strike
nuclear attack.
At the end of the 1950s
and in the early 1960s,
the Cold War focused on
In 1959 Fidel Castro led
a communist revolution
that took over Cuba.
Many Cubans fled to
Florida to escape
communist rule.
President Eisenhower encouraged the
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to
develop a secret plan to overthrow Castro.
The CIA is a federal agency that coordinates
the spy activities of the United States
The CIA decided to train and equip a group
of anti-communist Cuban exiles, who were
living in the United States. With United
States assistance this force would land at
the Bay of Pigs on the Cuban coast and
lead the Cuban people in an uprising against
Bay of Pigs
When President John F.
Kennedy entered office in
1961, he approved the
CIA’s plans to go ahead
with the Bay of Pigs
The Bay of Pigs invasion
proved a complete disaster.
The expected popular uprising
against Castro never
happened. Within two days,
Castro’s army had captured or
killed most of the Americansupported invaders.
Cuban Missile Crisis
In 1962 an even more
serious Cold War crisis
occurred in Cuba, when
President Kennedy learned
the Soviet Union had
placed nuclear missiles
there. American spy-plane
photographs showed these
missile sites to President
After six days of discussion with his advisers,
President Kennedy appeared on television to tell
the American public about the Soviet missiles. He
announced that the United States was blockading
Cuba. American naval vessels would stop all
approaching ships and search them for weapons.
Cuban Missile Crisis
In addition, Kennedy ordered the Soviets to
remove their missiles from Cuba or he would
take further steps. For several days the
world was on the brink (edge) of nuclear
war. Eventually the Soviets “blinked,” as
President Kennedy worked out a private
agreement with Nikita Khrushchev, the
leader of the Soviet Union. The Soviets
agreed to withdraw their missiles from Cuba,
and in exchange the United States would
remove its outdated missiles from Turkey.
Cuban Missile Crisis
Nevertheless, the Cuban Missile Crisis heightened the threat of
nuclear war. In fact, the Soviet Union matched the United
States in nuclear weaponry in the 1950s. For the remainder of
the Cold War the threat of nuclear conflict that would destroy
both countries was ever-present.
During the 1950s and 1960s, American schools regularly held
drills to train children regarding what to do in case of a nuclear
The federal government
encouraged American citizens
to build bomb shelters in their
own basements. However, by
the mid-sixties Vietnam
replaced the threat of nuclear
war as the chief concern of
America’s containment policy.
Cold War
When President John F. Kennedy became president in
1961, he pledged in his inaugural address that the United
States would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any
hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order
to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” In the
same address, Kennedy also said, “Ask not what your
country can do for you, ask what you can do for your
Cold War
During the Cold War era, millions of Americans served in
the military, defending freedom in wars and conflicts that
were not always popular. Many were killed or wounded.
Their service was often at great personal and family
sacrifice, yet American military personnel did their duty.
The Virginia Department of Education’s Standards of
Learning guide for social studies says, “A strong military
was the key to America’s victory over the Soviet Union
in the Cold War.” It argues that “as a result of the
service of the American military, the United States and
American ideals of democracy and freedom ultimately
prevailed in the Cold War struggle with Soviet
Cold War
The Cold War made foreign policy a major
issue in every presidential election between
1948 and 1992.
The heavy military expenditures throughout
the Cold War benefited Virginia’s economy
proportionately more than that of any other
state. National defense spending especially
helped the economy of Hampton Roads,
home to several large naval and air bases,
and Northern Virginia, home to the Pentagon
and numerous private companies that
contract with the military.
After World War II, Vietnamese nationalists in the
French colony of Indochina fought for independence
from France. The leader of this Vietnamese
independence movement was a communist named Ho
Chi Minh. Because of Ho Chi Minh’s communist
beliefs, the United States supported France’s attempt to
keep Indochina as a colony after the war.
involvement in
Vietnam reflected
the Cold War policy
of containment of
After Ho Chi Minh’s forces defeated the French
army, France withdrew from Indochina and
Vietnam was divided into communist North
Vietnam and non-communist South Vietnam.
Reunification elections, scheduled for the midfifties, were cancelled because the Eisenhower
administration feared Ho Chi Minh would win and
all of Vietnam would become communist.
Beginning in the 1950s and continuing into the
early 1960s, the communist government of North
Vietnam attempted to install through force a
communist government in South Vietnam.
The Vietcong were southern revolutionaries who
formed the National Liberation Front and fought for
the reunification of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh’s
rule. To counter North Vietnam’s efforts in the
south, the Eisenhower administration sent
massive amounts of economic and military aid to
the South Vietnamese government.
The American military buildup in Vietnam began under
President John Kennedy. The Kennedy administration
increased the number of American military personnel in South
Vietnam from 1,500 to 16,000.
President Kennedy, a World War II veteran, was assassinated
in 1963 in Dallas, Texas. This event shook the nation’s
confidence and began a period of internal strife (conflict within
America) and divisiveness, especially spurred by divisions over
U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded Kennedy as
president. In 1965 President Johnson greatly escalated
(increased) the American military buildup in Vietnam from about
20,000 troops to almost 200,000 at year’s end. The scale of
combat in Vietnam grew larger over the course of the 1960s
and by 1968 there were 540,000 American soldiers in Vietnam.
Although American military forces repeatedly
defeated the North Vietnamese forces in the field,
they could not force an end to the war on favorable
terms by fighting a limited war. The term “limited
war” referred to the American government’s
decision to avoid any military action, which might
widen the war to include the Soviet Union or
communist China on North Vietnam’s side.
While the United States was following the policy of
containment in South Vietnam, it also wanted to
avoid either a nuclear conflict or a third world war.
By 1968 the American people became bitterly
divided on the issue of American involvement in
Vietnam. While many Americans supported the
American military and the Johnson administration’s
conduct of the war, many other Americans opposed
the war. Active opposition to American involvement
in Vietnam mounted (increased), especially on
college campuses.
After President Johnson
declined to seek re-election, the
Republican candidate Richard
M. Nixon won the 1968
presidential election. President
Nixon was elected on a pledge
to bring the war to an honorable
end. He instituted (started) a
policy of “Vietnamization”.
“Vietnamization” was the Nixon administration’s
policy of building up South Vietnamese forces
while gradually withdrawing American troops.
Under “Vietnamization” President Nixon withdrew
American troops and replaced them with South
Vietnamese forces, while simultaneously (at the
same time) maintaining (continuing) American
military aid to the South Vietnamese government.
Ultimately (eventually),
“Vietnamization” failed, when
South Vietnamese troops
proved unable to resist
invasion by the Soviet-supplied
North Vietnamese Army.
In addition, the Watergate scandal forced President Nixon
to resign from office in 1974. The Watergate scandal was
the public exposure of a burglary and its cover-up by the
Nixon administration that eventually led to Nixon’s
resignation in 1974.
In 1975, while Gerald Ford was serving as president, both
North and South Vietnam were merged under communist
Unlike veterans of World
War II, who returned to a
grateful and supportive
nation, Vietnam veterans
returned often to face
indifference or outright
hostility from some
Americans who opposed
the war. It was not until
several years after the end
of the war that the wounds
of the war began to heal in
America, and Vietnam
veterans were recognized
and honored for their
service and sacrifices.
Nixon and China
While the Vietnam War was raging (going on) in
Southeast Asia, the Nixon administration added a new
wrinkle to the containment policy.
By 1972 President Nixon and his Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger recognized that instead of being
strong allies the communist nations of China and the
Soviet Union had become rivals for territory and
diplomatic influence.
In the 1970s Nixon tried to exploit (take advantage of)
this split in the communist world. By negotiating with
each side, Nixon and Kissinger hoped to play the two
communist giants off against each other.
In 1972 President Nixon began to establish formal
diplomatic relations with communist China and met
with Mao Zedong in the Chinese capital of Beijing.
Nixon and the USSR
Later that same year (1972) he traveled to
Moscow to meet with Leonid Brezhnev, the
leader of the Soviet Union. Nixon and
Brezhnev signed a treaty under which the two
superpowers agreed to limit the production of
nuclear weapons. This treaty grew out of the
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT).
The SALT talks were the Soviet-American
discussions begun in 1969 to establish limits
on the number of strategic nuclear weapons
held by both sides. Although the SALT Treaty
contained many loopholes, it was a crucial first
step toward ending the nuclear arms race
between the United States and the Soviet
Collapse of the USSR
Both internal and external pressures in the 1980s caused the
collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Ronald Reagan, a Republican, became president of the
United States in 1981. During his first term, President
Reagan tried to assert (state strongly) American power in
many places throughout the world.
Reagan challenged the moral legitimacy of the Soviet Union
by publicly calling the Soviet Union “an evil empire.” Under
Reagan’s leadership, the United States launched a massive
military buildup, and tension with the Soviet Union increased.
President Reagan would not consider arms reductions until
he was convinced that the United States was at least equal
to the Soviet Union in military power. He also proceeded
with plans to deploy (place) new nuclear missiles in Western
Collapse of the USSR
This renewal of the arms race forced the Soviet Union to
increase its military budget in order to compete with the
United States. The need to increase military spending was
a serious problem for the Soviet leadership, because the
state-controlled Soviet economy suffered from gross
(extreme) inefficiency after nearly seventy years of
communist rule.
Mikhail Gorbachev, who became the leader of the Soviet
Union in 1985, immediately adopted new policies in an
attempt to revive the Soviet economy and reform the Soviet
system. Gorbachev’s first effort was to introduce glasnost
(Russian word for “openness”) to Soviet life. Gorbachev
allowed open criticism of the Soviet government and even
took some steps toward freedom of the press. Glasnost
then was Gorbachev’s policy of encouraging freedom of
expression in the Soviet Union.
Collapse of the USSR
In 1987 Gorbachev outlined his plans for perestroika, a
restructuring of Soviet society. He called for less
government control of the economy, the introduction of
some private enterprise, and steps toward establishing
democracy. While economic restructuring lay at the heart
of perestroika, Gorbachev even said the Soviet people
needed “to teach and to learn democracy.”
Gorbachev’s new policies raised high expectations among
millions of well-educated Russians for both immediate
improvement in their standard of living and increased
freedom in Soviet society. The fast-paced reforms, which
occurred as the Soviet Union moved quickly toward a
market economy, placed even greater internal pressure on
the communist system. In addition, the Gorbachev
government faced rising nationalism within the Soviet
republics (equal to American states), which made up the
Soviet Union.
Collapse of the USSR
External pressures on the Soviet government came from its
eastern European communist satellites, which were also
experiencing a rising feeling of nationalism. A satellite is a
nation that is formally independent but dominated by
another power.
As the Cold War developed after World War II, most of the
nations of Eastern Europe became satellites of the Soviet
Union. These Russian satellites included Poland, East
Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and
The Solidarity labor movement created great unrest in
Poland during the 1980s.
By the late eighties, East German citizens held mass
protests to show their desire for new leadership. President
Ronald Reagan added to the external pressures on the
Soviet Union by traveling to the Berlin Wall and saying,
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Collapse of the USSR
The Berlin Wall, which divided communist East
Berlin from democratic West Berlin, was the bestknown symbol of the Cold War. The East German
government had built the Berlin Wall in 1961 as a
means to keep its citizens from escaping to the
West. But by late 1989 the communist
government of East Germany was so unstable that
East German citizens began to tear down whole
sections of the Berlin Wall without interference by
government officials. In late 1990 Germany was
formally reunified under the democratic leadership
of West Germany. Communist governments
quickly fell from power in the Soviet Union’s other
Eastern European satellites.
Collapse of the USSR
In 1991 the Soviet Union fell apart. The Soviet Union was
made up of fifteen republics, which included an enormous
variety of cultures, languages, and ethnic groups.
As the Gorbachev government introduced democratic
reforms, the republics began to push for additional change.
The three Baltic republics – Estonia, Latvia, and
Lithuania – even declared their independence from the
Soviet Union, and other republics soon followed their
By year’s end, Gorbachev agreed to dismantle (take apart)
the entire Communist system, including the 15-million
member Communist Party, which once controlled nearly
every aspect (part) of Soviet society.
On Christmas Day 1991, Gorbachev resigned and declared
the Soviet Union had ended. The Cold War was over!

Cold War