Cold War Prior to World War II  Term Paper

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Cold War

Prior to World War II, American foreign policy had been predicted upon isolationism. Afterward, determined to avoid the mistakes of the pre-war period, American leaders embarked upon an unprecedented era of worldwide commitments. This included entry into a number of alliances with foreign nations, interventions in foreign conflicts (either covertly or overtly) and an unlimited commitment to maintain the nation's military readiness. In doing so, they irrevocably changed this nation forever.

For most Americans, the effect of the Cold War was that any illusions that being separated from Europe by an ocean provided safety was shattered. The United States had chosen to end World War II in the Pacific by use of two atomic bombs. At the same time atomic energy was being harnesses for use in weapons, both the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) were developing rocket-propelled systems that could carry these weapons for long distances. This arms race dominated not only both governments but Americans as well, who were encouraged to build bomb shelters, and store food and water. Children were taught to hide under their school desks in event of a nuclear attack, but most children realized that a school desk could not protect them from an atomic bomb. While people often decried the kind of expense it took to maintain and constantly upgrade our military readiness, most Americans believed that only by maintaining nuclear superiority could we avoid a war that might well kill major chunks of both country's populations (White, 2000). This fear of nuclear war persists to this day. We saw pictures of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and now we see potentially unstable governments, such as North Korea, claiming nuclear capability, and we know that it is possible now to build a portable atomic bomb, something fairly easily used by terrorists.


The world heard the term 'cold war' for the first time in 1947, used to describe the rapidly crumbling ability of the United States and the U.S.S.R. To see themselves as allies (Roberts, 2000).

The term 'cold war' first came into currency in 1947. It was used to denote a sharp and unexpected deterioration in postwar relations between the Soviet Union and the United States (Roberts, 2000). The alliance between these two countries began to decay shortly before the end of World War II. At various conferences (Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam), the United States, Great Britain and the U.S.S.R. made plans to work together to maintain the peace that would come with the end of the war (Roberts, 2000). However, it soon became apparent that ideological differences between the U.S. And the U.S.S.R. would make such a continued alliance difficult (Roberts, 2000).

Some historians blame the U.S.S.R. For the breakdown, pointing to Stalin's deep suspicion and resulting repression within his country and desire to expand his sphere of influence (White, 2000). The Soviets, in turned, pointed to what they considered American economic imperialism. They also felt that Americans had been in some ways untrustworthy toward the end of World War II (White, 2000). Later, some scholars blamed neither and both at the same time, citing misperceptions of each other (White, 2000). Another contributing factor was that both the U.S.S.R. And the United States had taken rigid ideological stances, and neither felt they could afford any flexibility (White, 2000). Parts of each view probably contain valid points.

Many in the United States believed that the Soviets' actions after World War II amounted to empire-building. Officials in the United States believed that the U.S.S.R. wanted to export their communism to the countries surrounding them. Meanwhile the United States viewed any spread of communism as a threat to democracy. One of the agreements between the three major powers at the end of World War II was that the Eastern European countries would be allowed to use popular elections to form their governments, but believed that Stalin intended to prevent that from happening (White, 2000). The Soviets' stated desire to create a "sphere of influence was not acceptable to post-war United States.

Popular political thought at the time emphasized the necessity of containing Soviet expansion at the same time the United States was hoping to establish pro-American, democratic and capitalist governments wherever possible themselves (White, 2000). In addition, the U.S.S.R. viewed our use of atomic bombs to end the war with Japan not as a way to prevent the loss of more American soldiers' lives but as a way to warn the U.S.S.R. Of our superior might. They saw it as an intimidation tactic (White, 2000). The more the U.S.S.R. bristled at what they viewed as American successes, the more suspicious American politicians became, and soon the two countries were locked into a pattern of deteriorating relationships and escalating development of war materiel. Moscow became more determined to exert its influence over Eastern Europe, which America and its allies viewed as unacceptably aggressive (Roberts, 2000). Eventually, the American government would put forth a variety of models of possible crises with the U.S.S.R., and each model included the use of nuclear weapons at some point (Nash, 1994).

In 1947, the U.S.S.R. still held out some hope that the U.S. And they might work out some kind of accommodation when Winston Churchill made a now-famous speech, where he stated,

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in the Soviet sphere and all are subject ... not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and increasing measure of control from Moscow." (Roberts, 2000).

By itself this was not too alarming, as Churchill no longer had any official role in British government. However, President Truman was on the stage with him that day, and his presence strongly implied American agreement with Churchill's sentiments. The U.S.S.R. interpreted this speech as Western policy (Roberts, 2000). In addition, in July of 1947, at a meeting among the major powers, the British, French and Americans agreed that all Europe need to be involved in the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe, including Eastern Europe. The U.S.S.R. saw this as intolerable interference in their sphere of influence (Roberts, 2000).

In April of 1949, the formation of formal alliances began with the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) (Roberts, 2000). In August of 1949, the U.S.S.R. tested its first atomic bomb. The lines had been drawn, and neither side would back away. America, convinced that the U.S.S.R. wanted to dominate not only its own defined sphere of influence but other countries, including the United States as well, began to worry about how many "card-carrying Communists" lived within U.S. borders. This was followed by a concern about "fellow travelers," Communist sympathizers who might not have formally joined the Communist Party.

In the early 1950's, Senator Joseph McCarthy became quite concerned -- some would say obsessed, even -- with ferreting out Communists in all branches of the government but also in influential business such as the film industry. He dragged people in front of his senate subcommittee and forced them to name others they believed might be Communist. While McCarthy was eventually censured and his committee disbanded, because of the Cold War, concerns about communism persisted. It affected the Civil Rights movement and even the women's liberation movement, because many believed that leaders of that movement had been influenced by Communists (Schrecker, 2994).

By 1961 the arms race between the United States and the U.S.S.R. was at a fever pitch, and President Kennedy worked to reduce our dependence on nuclear armaments and broaden our military base so…

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