Textbook Chapter Notes:

America Past and Present


A.P. U.S. History Notes

CHAPTER 28 The Onset of the Cold War
Harry Truman liked Stalin when they first met at Potsdam in 1945, but within a short
time, relations between Truman and Stalin and between the United States and the Soviet
Union turned bitter.
The Cold War developed gradually when the United States and Russia failed to resolve
three crucial issues--control of postwar Europe, economic aid, and, most important,
nuclear disarmament.
A. The Division of Europe
In 1945, Russian troops occupied eastern Europe and American troops occupied
western Europe. The Soviet Union, concerned about national security, was
determined to establish regimes in eastern Europe that would be friendly or
subservient. The United States did not appreciate Russia's concern and insisted
on national self-determination through free elections throughout Europe. The
result was that Stalin converted eastern Europe into a system of satellite nations
through harsh and brutal means.
B. Withholding Economic Aid
World War II devastated Russia, and some Americans saw that ruin as an
advantage because the Soviet Union would need U.S. aid. As mutual suspicion
grew, however, the United States refused to extend aid to Russia and abruptly
ended Lend-Lease, thus losing leverage in shaping Soviet policy.
C. The Atomic Dilemma
The most crucial postwar question concerned the atomic bomb. When the
Russians discovered that the United States and England were working secretly
on the bomb, Stalin ordered his scientists to start work on the same weapon.
Thus, the nuclear arms race began in 1943, before the war ended.
After the war, the United States proposed a gradual elimination of all nuclear
weapons, but the plan (the Baruch Plan) was so gradual that it would have
preserved the U.S. atomic monopoly for years. The Soviet Union, with a larger
conventional army than America, proposed the immediate abolition of all atomic
The United States, hoping to take England's place as the supreme arbiter of world
affairs, decided to deal with the Soviet Union from a position of strength. The resulting
policy was called "containment."
A. The Truman Doctrine
The first application of the containment doctrine came in 1947, when Truman
asked Congress to supply funds to keep Greece and Turkey within the western
sphere of influence. The Truman Doctrine marked an informal declaration of
cold war against the Soviet Union.
B. The Marshall Plan
The United States also acted to prevent the spread of Communist influence in
war-torn western Europe. In 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall proposed
an economic aid package to enable Europe to reconstruct her industries. Russia
refused this aid because it had political conditions, but the Marshall Plan,
adopted by Congress in 1948, did foster prosperity in western Europe that in
turn stimulated the American economy.
C. The Western Military Alliance
The third and final step in the first phase of the containment policy was the
formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance
that included the United States, Canada and most of western Europe. The Senate
approved the treaty in 1949, and soon after, U.S. troops were stationed in Europe.
NATO was an overreaction to the Soviet danger and simply intensified
Russia's fear of the Western powers.
D. The Berlin Blockade
The Russians responded to containment by cutting off access to Berlin in June
1948. Truman refused to withdraw the American troops stationed there, and
instead ordered an airlift to supply the city. After Truman's unexpected
reelection in 1948, the Russians retreated and ended their blockade in 1949. The
crisis, which took the world to the edge of war, ended with an American
political victory, but served to illustrate the division of Europe between the two
superpowers. This division soon spread beyond the European scene.
The United States and Russia began arming themselves to the teeth in the late 1940s,
and they finally divided Asia as they had divided Europe.
A. The Military Dimension
The United States improved its security after World War II. The 1947 National
Security Act established the Department of Defense to unify the armed forces,
the Central Intelligence Agency to coordinate intelligence-gathering activities,
and the National Security Council to advise the president on security matters.
For the most part, the United States put most of its growing defense budget into
building up the air force. After Russia developed an atomic bomb, the United
States began work on a hydrogen bomb. The Truman administration was
determined to win the Cold War regardless of cost.
B. The Cold War in Asia
In 1945 both Russia and America occupied large areas of Asia. The United
States moved quickly to consolidate its hold over Japan and the Pacific Islands
that were once ruled by Japan. China, however, lay between the American and
Russian spheres of influence and was torn between pro-Western Chiang
Kai-shek and Communist Mao Tse-tung. When Mao won and China entered the
Soviet orbit, the Truman administration, attacked by Republicans for losing
China, refused to recognize Communist China and began building up Japan.
C. The Korean War
The Cold War turned hot in June, 1950 when Communist forces from North
Korea, with Russian approval and Chinese support, invaded South Korea, part of
the American sphere of influence. Whether Russia ordered the invasion is
unknown, but Truman believed it had. He made the defense of South Korea a
United Nations effort, but the brunt of the fighting was borne by Americans.
When North Korean forces were routed, Truman decided to unify Korea by
force, despite Chinese warnings. When China did enter the war, American
troops were pushed back into South Korea, and the war became a stalemate.
The most significant result of the war was the massive American rearmament it
brought about. America was now ready to stop Soviet expansion, anywhere in
the world, by force of arms.
The Cold War made it difficult for Truman to continue the economic policies of the
New Deal and led to fears of Communist subversion. The Republicans used these fears
to revive their party.
A. Truman's Troubles
Surrounded by ineffective cronies and prone to stubborn self-righteousness,
Truman faced an apathetic public, inflation, and labor unrest as he attempted to
extend New Deal reforms. His increasing unpopularity allowed the Republicans
to win a majority of Congress in the 1946 elections.
B. Truman Vindicated
By 1948, it seemed impossible that Truman could be reelected. The Republican
candidate, Thomas Dewey, took victory for granted while southern Democrats
and northern liberals deserted Truman. Nevertheless, the president was reelected
by the old Roosevelt coalition, who resented Republican policies like the
Taft-Hartley Act, perceived as anti-union, and who still felt grateful for the New
Deal. The Republicans had not made foreign policy an issue in the election, but
now looked for ways to challenge Truman's handling of the Cold War.
C. The Loyalty Issue
Not for the first time in their history, the American people feared that the nation
was being attacked from within. A few sensational spy cases and Truman's own
overheated rhetoric gave some credence to irrational fears. The Truman
administration itself tried to calm the public by violating civil rights in a campaign
against "subversives," but the Democrats were generally blamed for
"losing" China to Communism and for Russia's development of a hydrogen
D. McCarthyism in Action
In 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin, exploited the fear
of Communism within the government. Using the technique of the multiple lie,
by making so many accusations that the innocent never had an opportunity to
respond, McCarthy frightened the Senate, bedeviled the Administration, and
even attacked the Army. His rough treatment of privileged bureaucrats attracted
wide support, most especially from midwest Republicans and Irish, Italian and
Polish workers.
E. The Republicans in Power
The Republican party won the presidency in 1952 by nominating the
enormously popular Dwight Eisenhower, who promised to end the Korean War.
Once elected, Eisenhower settled for a stalemate in Korea. Rather than face
McCarthy head-on, Eisenhower waited for the senator to make a fool of himself,
which he did by trying to prove that the United States Army was a hotbed of
Eisenhower, supremely self-confident and in firm control of his administration, decided
to relax tensions with Russia as much as politically possible. He feared both the
crushing debt imposed by defense spending and the real possibility of atomic warfare.
A. Entanglement in Indochina
Eisenhower rejected proposals to give France active military aid in her struggle
to retain Indochina as a colony, but when the forces under Ho Chi Minh, a
Communist, defeated the French, Eisenhower prevented an election almost
certain to result in the establishment of Ho's government over the entire nation.
Eisenhower preferred a divided Vietnam, with the southern part under a puppet
government dependant upon the United States.
B. Containing China
Eisenhower adopted a tough line against China, not to provoke her, but to prove
to the Chinese leaders that they could not rely on Russia in a pinch. The strategy
worked, but the benefits of the rift between China and Russia were not
immediately realized.
C. Turmoil in the Middle East
In 1956, the Egyptian leader Gamal Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Despite
Eisenhower's objections, France and England then invaded Egypt. Eisenhower
applied pressure on both allies and forced them to withdraw their troops before
the Russians could take advantage of the situation. America became a trusted
nation in the region and was invited by Lebanon to send troops to maintain order
there in 1958.
D. Covert Actions
Eisenhower used the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to achieve objectives
that he did not want to make public. In Iran, the CIA restored the shah to power;
in Guatemala, the CIA ousted a leftist government; in Cuba, the Agency tried to
kill Castro.
E. Waging Peace
Eisenhower worried about the destructive potential of hydrogen bombs and
long-range missiles. From 1953 to 1956 he made several offers to the Soviet
Union to reduce tensions. Both sides agreed to stop nuclear testing in the
atmosphere, but the rise of Nikita Khrushchev led to renewed confrontation.
When Eisenhower handled Khrushchev's threat to Berlin with firm moderation,
the two leaders agreed to a summit in May 1960. Unfortunately, an American
spy plane was shot down over Russia just before the meeting, which was then
In his last speech as president, Eisenhower warned that traditional democratic
values were increasingly threatened by the growth of a military-industrial
complex. Americans generally ignored his warning.
By the early 1950s, the American people realized that the peace and tranquility
they had expected after their victory in World War II was not about to happen.
They faced instead a seemingly endless cold war with the Soviet Union.
Disappointed with the breakup of the Paris summit, Eisenhower made one last attempt
to moderate the Cold War when he warned Americans of the unwarranted influence of a
growing military-industrial complex.


Updated October 23, 2008