Cold War

   The Cold War was the term coined by American columnist Walter Lippmann in 1947 to describe the deterioration of relations between the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist Western democracies, principally the United States, Great Britain, and their allies. It effectively dominated world politics until its end in 1989 and 1990 and had an enormous impact on the domestic affairs of all participants.
   The growing conflict between the former Allied powers developed as differences about the nature of the postwar settlement, centered initially on Poland and Germany, became increasingly viewed as a struggle between rival ideologies. These ideological differences, evident since the Russian Revolution of 1917, had been papered over while the two sides made common cause against Nazi Germany and Japan during World War II. Although relations were generally amicable during the war and agreements were reached at the various wartime conferences, most notably Yalta and Potsdam, there was always an element of fear and suspicion on both sides. While Soviet fears were heightened due to delays in opening a Second Front against the Nazi armies, Western alarm rose when Soviet armies proceeded to establish left-wing regimes wherever they pushed back the German forces in Eastern Europe. With the end of the war and sudden cutting of Lend-Lease, such issues as the reparation payments and the economic future of Germany became vital.
   The situation in Europe deteriorated rapidly. Speaking in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946 former British prime minister Winston Churchill warned that an “iron curtain” had descended in Europe from “Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic.” Alarmed too by the apparent failure of the Soviets to honor agreements made at Yalta concerning Poland and by the rise of left-wing parties in France, Italy, and more especially Greece where civil war erupted, President Harry S. Truman presented a vision of a world divided between the forces of democracy and dictatorship when he announced the Truman Doctrine in March 1947. Influenced by George F. Kennan’s view of irreconcilable differences between East and West, Truman accepted the principles of containment. These principles were extended with the Marshall Plan in 1947, and following the imposition of a communist government in Czechoslovakia and the Berlin blockade in 1948, they were also furthered with the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. In 1950, the National Security Council Report 68 called for massive rearmament to meet the Soviet challenge.
   Apprehension about the communist threat escalated rapidly in 1949 with the testing of the Soviet atomic bomb and the “fall” of China to the communist forces of Mao Zedong the same year. These communist successes inspired a crisis at home as the political opponents of the Democratic administration leveled charges of failure and even betrayal against the government. The hunt for communist sympathizers within began with the investigations of the House Un- American Activities Committee but reached its height during the Korean War with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign to find communist supporters and spies in the State Department and other branches of government.
   Although McCarthyism came to an end in 1954, the Cold War continued unabated under the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, even though Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 brought a change of leadership to the Soviet Union. In 1955, the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact was formed to meet the challenge posed by NATO forces in Western Europe with the rearmament of the German Federal Republic, and in 1956 Soviet troops crushed an uprising in Hungary. In 1961, Berlin was divided by the erection of the Berlin Wall to prevent the exodus of Germans from the east.
   The 1950s and 1960s were marked by an arms race as each side tried to match and outdo the other’s military capacity. During the 1950s, the Third World increasingly also became the focus of Cold War rivalries as both sides tried to gain influence and control of rich natural resources like oil. Tensions between the East and the West did not decline significantly until the 1980s, but it was the breakup of the Soviet Union that finally led President George H. W. Bush to meet with Premier Gorbachev and officially declare the Cold War over in 1989.
   See also Acheson, Dean Gooderham; Clay, Lucius Dubignon; Vandenberg, Arthur Hendrick.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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