The Cold War and the Nuclear Age
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Winning the peace can be more difficult than winning the war, as both the United States and the Soviet Union learned in the decade following V-E Day (Victory- Europe). “We may not get 100 percent of what we want in the postwar world, but I think we can get 85 percent,” President Harry Truman optimistically told his advisers. Yet the United States was not the only victor, and more importantly not the only superpower, to arise from the ashes. The Soviet Union had lost more than 20 million of its people, compared with American losses of less than half a million. The Soviet resolve to maintain a security zone in eastern Europe after the war clashed with American expectations, as well as with the wishes of most eastern Europeans. Some historians contend that the Cold War began with the initial American decision to keep the atomic bomb a secret from its Soviet ally, stirring Stalin’s suspicions. Others cite the influence of people like diplomat George Kennan, who saw no end to Soviet ambition and gave advice that helped to crystallize the policy called containment. Still other historians cite the actions of the Russian army, which made the Soviet Union thoroughly unpopular in the zones where the USSR hoped to maintain a sphere of influence. Whatever its causes, discord between the two most powerful members of the former Grand Alliance created a Cold War that lasted more than forty years. With the Truman Doctrine of 1947, the United States adopted the role of “global policeman.” With the Marshall Plan of 1948, the United States adopted the role of economic caretaker of Europe. Both actions originated as attempts to stop the perceived communist threat to world peace and stability. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the Truman administration approved a policy drafted by the National Security Council (NSC), NSC-68. This policy drastically expanded American defense expenditures, placed the nation on a permanent war footing, and created what President Eisenhower later dubbed “the military-industrial complex.” Two of the most important effects of the Cold War for the United States were the “Red Scare” at home and the nuclear arms race. Unable to understand why the United States could not better control the outcomes of World War II, many Americans readily believed critics who charged that traitors in government were responsible. Senator Joseph McCarthy was not the first to make these claims, but he became the most famous. McCarthy’s subcommittee in the Senate publicly interrogated citizens on their loyalty, as did the Un-American Activities Committee of the House of Representatives. These congressional initiatives coincided with the prosecution of suspected communists under a new federal loyalty program created by Truman in 1947. Between 1947 and 1952, 6.6 million federal employees were investigated for disloyalty. Thousands of people lost their jobs and sometimes their freedom as a result of tenuous connections to leftist causes or ideas. The nuclear buildup went into full swing when the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon in 1949. The United States immediately began construction of the more powerful hydrogen bomb, and scientists who opposed the arms race, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father” of the atom bomb, were run out of government on grounds of disloyalty. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the U.S. government gradually developed a policy of nuclear deterrence—backed up by immense lethal arsenals—which later developed into MAD, or mutual assured destruction. The potential for nuclear annihilation contrasted bizarrely with a booming economy and with the happy families portrayed on television in the 1950s. Some Americans wondered what to believe: that life was wonderful, or that the world might be destroyed the next day. Ironically, both things could be true. [[Insert Icon here]] QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUT
Why was there a Cold War?...
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