The Cold War:
Capitalism (the U.S.) vs. Communism (Soviet Union & China)
Following WWII, it became very evident right away that the two new super powers that emerged from the war, the United States and Russia, would be at odds against one another based on two totally different viewpoints how nations should be governed and people treated. The threat of nuclear war remained in the backed of the minds of Americans. Smaller nations across the globe began to reject the old colonial ideas of the century before. With new nations wanting independence, the U.S. and Russia attempted to influence these nations in order to gain more allies in their goals of spreading capitalism and communism.
In April of 1945, Harry S. Truman became the president of the U.S. Truman was about as much of the opposite of what Roosevelt was as he could be. He wasn't a from a rich family, he had never gone to college, he served in WWI, and grew up on a farm in western Missouri. He lacked Roosevelt's charm, brilliance, and creativity. Truman was short tempered, often profane (used bad language), dismissive, and known to be hostile toward the press. He was a plain spoken man that spoke what was on his mind. He was a common man that became president during an uncommon time. His personality would clash with Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, which would lead to problems.
Origins of the Cold War
The Cold War emerged because the two most powerful nations in the world were polar opposites in thought and life. America's commitment to capitalism, political self-determination, and religious freedom conflicted with the Soviet Union's preference for controlling its people and its neighbors. The Soviet Union believed in ideological conformity (everyone on must believe the same thing). After WWII, literally days after the war ended, the Soviet Union drew what Winston Churchill called, "an iron curtain," so that no one knew what was going on behind it. This meant the Soviets were not open about what they were doing or developing, nonetheless what their plans were.
In 1946, Joseph Stalin announced that peace was impossible with superiority of the communist system while there was capitalist development in the world, essentially threatening that war was inevitable between the U.S. and the Soviets. The U.S. turned the man who knew more about the Soviets than any other American at the time, for advice. George F. Kennan was considered an expert on the Soviet Union, he had even been working at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Kennan wrote the longest telegram in State Department history (5,000 words) detailed Russian history, what was most important to Soviet society, and Stalin's "neurotic view of world affairs." He explained that the entire Soviet government is based on a type of communism that believes communism and capitalism can not coexist. Keenan said that the best way to defeat the Soviets would be through patient, persistent and first "strategic" efforts to contain Soviet expansion. Kennan's idea of the containment of communism became the policy of Truman and presidents after him. Containment means allowing communism to exist where it already did, but to try and keep it from expanding to other nations.
The Truman Doctrine
In 1947, Truman announced his Truman Doctrine, in which he illustrated that the U.S. needed to ensure through economic and sometimes military support those nations that were in danger of communist revolution. Truman said that if countries like Greece which were currently in a civil war between free forces and communist forces, fell to the communists, it would be like a domino falling and lead to another country falling to communism. The domino theory said that communism must be contained or the dominos will start falling and other nations will fall under communist control. This policy was followed by the U.S. for forty years.
In 1947 many European nations were still in ruins from the destruction of WWII. People were jobless, homeless, and starving. Communist parties were emerging in these nations with promises to fix the problems the people faced. Secretary of State George C. Marshall said that the U.S. should give financial and technical assistance to rescue Europe. If those devastated European nations saw the U.S. trying to help them, but not control them, they would be likely to accept the American free market (capitalist) system and reject communism. The Marshall Plan provided $13 billion in relief to sixteen European nations. Soviet Russia countered it by taking control of Eastern European countries that bordered the Soviet Union and not allowing them to accept assistance from the U.S. The result was that Western Europe's industrial production and economy soared while Eastern Europe slipped into mass poverty. The Marshall Plan was the most successful peacetime diplomatic policy in American history.
As they had agreed upon during the war, the U.S. and Britain gained control of western Germany, and the Soviets got eastern Germany. Truman had hoped that maybe the two sections would be able to stay unified and eventually become a productive country again, but the Soviets would have none of that. The result was Germany was cut in half with the U.S. and Britain controlling what became known as West Germany, and the Soviets controlling what became known as East Germany. Berlin became a hot spot when the Soviets instructed East German guards to no longer allow U.S. and British forces to use East German roads to supply the U.S. and British controlled West Berlin. Stalin hoped that the U.S. would get frustrated and give up West Berlin to the Soviets. Truman decided to test his containment theory and refused to let West Berlin fall into Soviet hands. In October of 1948, U.S. and British air forces flew 7,000 tons of food, fuel, medicine, coal, and other supplies into West Berlin each day. What became known as the Berlin Airlift went on for eleven months, until the embarrassed Soviets lifted their blockade in May of 1949. The situation in Berlin lead the western European nations to create an organization that would bind them together. Called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it included 12 nations and was the largest defensive alliance in the world. It declared that any attack on any of the nations would be an attack against all of the nations. This alliance ended any chance that America would ever be an isolationist nation again.
Reorganizing the Military
In 1947, Congress passed the National Security Act which created the Department of Defense to oversee the three military branches of the army, navy, and air force. It also created the National Security Council, an advisory group of the government's top specialists in international relations. It also created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to gather global intelligence. The CIA would be America's covert undercover info gathering agency scattered throughout the world.
As the U.S. was helping to form new alliances, it was also helping to create new nations. The country known as Palestine included what was considered the Holy Land by the Jews and Christians throughout the war. During the rise of Nazism, millions of Jews migrated to Palestine to hopefully someday create their own nation. In late 1947, the United Nations voted to divide Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. The Palestinians viewed their land as their ancestral home and holy land as well. The Palestinians saw this action as an act of war. In 1948, the Arab League made up of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt, invaded Israel, beginning an almost constant state of war until the United Nations stepped in and helped Israel. Violence would erupt in the area for decades to come.
Back in the U.S.
After WWII the government knew that millions of soldiers would be returning from the war and many of them may not be able to find jobs quickly. Government programs started by FDR were expanded, such as social security which included unemployment insurance for those unemployed. It also created the GI Bill of Rights which the government spend $13 billion on military veterans for education, vocational training, medical treatment, and loans for building houses and starting new businesses.
In 1947, as an answer to fighting communism, which many believed was favored by labor union members, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Labor Act. This allowed employers to campaign against efforts to form unions and outlawed unions from coercing workers to join or refusing to negotiate their union problems. It also required leaders to take a "loyalty oath" that declared they were not members of the communist party and banned strikes by federal employees.
On July 26, 1948, President Truman used an executive order to ban racial discrimination in the federal government, including in the military. With the stroke of a pen the president desegregated the U.S. military. This made the military the most integrated organization in the country.
The military was not the only arena that was dismantling segregation. In April of 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers roster included the first African-American to play major league baseball. Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born 1919 in a Georgia sharecropper's cabin, the grandson of slaves. Six month's later his father left home and never returned. His mother moved the family to Pasadena, California where Robinson became a star athlete on any team that he played on. He was the first UCLA athlete in the school's history to letter in four sports. After a short stint in the army, Robinson began playing baseball in the all black negro league, where he caught the attention of major league scouts. He was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers for $600 a month and went to become one of the greatest players to ever play baseball. Other black players began getting signed by major league teams and major league baseball became integrated.
Truman and the Fair Deal
In 1948 at the State of the Union address to the nation, Truman rolled out his Fair Deal plan which would build upon the efforts of the New Deal to help all Americans. He wanted to ensure the civil rights of all Americans. He added proposals to increase federal aid to eduction, expanded unemployment and retirement benefits, a national healthcare system, brought more electricity to rural people, and increase the minimum wage. Proposing a plan was one thing, getting it through Congress was another.
When Truman was nominated by the Democratic Party for president, many Democrats in the South were appalled that during his acceptance speech he endorsed civil rights. The Southern Democrats, called Dixiecrats, rejected Truman's ideas and Truman himself, they formed their own wing of the party called the States' Rights Democratic Party, and nominated known racist and South Carolina senator, Strom Thurmond. Truman eventually won the 1948 presidential election by a small margin of votes.
The Cold War Heats Up
In 1949, China was locked in a civil war that pitted the pro-American Nationalist Chinese forces under Chiang Kai-shek and the communist revolutionary leader trying to overthrow Chiang's government, Mao Zedong. Mao's communist forces eventually forces the Chinese nationalists from China to an island near Formosa they named Taiwan. There really wasn't much Truman could have done to prevent the change aside from a massive military operation, which he wanted to avoid. A large domino had just fallen in the communist drive for expansion.
Also during this time, the U.S. received more bad news when it learned the Soviets had finally created an atomic bomb. In January of 1950, Truman was so concerned about the Soviets having a bomb that he asked the security council to assess America's changing role in the cold war world. The Security Council submitted a top secret document called, National Security Council - 68, or NSC-68. It stated that more was needed to contain communism. It nearly tripled the military budget and hinted toward more military type of responses to containment. The U.S. would follow NSC-68 as a policy document for twenty years.
The Korean War
After WWII, the Soviets were allowed to have governmental control of North Korea, which it created the communist government called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Americans controlled South Korea and formed the Republic of Korea. On June 24, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. Backed by the Soviets and Communist China, the North Korean People's Army soon had South Korean forces quickly retreating south. Interestingly, President Truman did not seek a declaration of war from Congress because he believed a debate would take too long and the answer would come too late. Therefore he went through the United Nations, which would not require Congressional support. The UN Security Council agreed that North Korea should be stopped. Truman ordered U.S. forces under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur to South Korea. Truman labeled the war a "police action" in order to get around having to answer for going to war without a declaration.
The Korean War began badly for American and South Korean forces. Driven nearly to the Sea of Japan, MacArthur ordered a bold plan that would land U.S. troops behind North Korean forces at Inchon, which was 150 miles from their current position. The landing and battle at Inchon, forced the North Koreans to retreat back up the Korean peninsula toward North Korea. MacArthur's forces drove the North Koreans back above the 38th parallel into North Korea, but instead of stopping there, he kept going. This went further than containment, it was now an American and South Korean invasion of North Korea. Truman wanted to MacArthur to pull back to the border between the two Korea's but MacArthur was insistent on advancing. MacArthur said he could end the war by Christmas, but instead he ran into a catastrophe when Chinese forces decided they could no longer stand by as Americans came knocking on their door. This caused the Americans to have to conduct a hasty retreat. At the Chosin Reservoir, the First Marine Division became surrounded by four Chinese divisions. The nights were -40 degrees and many men froze to death. After weeks of being trapped, the marines were able to break out and retreat southward. MacArthur's forces forced back across the 38th parallel and Chinese captured the South Korean capital of Seoul.
By 1951, Truman began talks of a cease fire and return to the old borders North and South Korea, but his job was made difficult because his top general, MacArthur was undermining him. When Truman got word that MacArthur was defying his ordering, he fired the general and replaced him with Gen. Matthew B. Ridgeway, a general that understood and agreed with Truman's plan in Korea. In July of 1951, peace talks were had at Panmunjom, where Chinese and North Korean officials negotiated with American and South Korean officials off and on for almost two years. Truman retired as president and Dwight D. Eisenhower was the new president. A cease fire remained, but neither side finished the meeting. Things went back to the way they had been before the war, the 38th parallel divided the two Koreas. The war had cost 33,000 dead Americans and over 100,000 wounded or missing. One thing the Korean War did do was show Americans that the communists did have an agenda to spread communism throughout the world.
Another Red Scare
The Korean War created another Red Scare in the U.S. People became afraid that communists were infiltrating American society. The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was tasked with keeping an eye on potential communist threats within the U.S. In 1947, Truman signed an executive order that required federal government workers to undergo a background investigation to ensure they were not Communists or even associated with them. HUAC launched an investigation in 1947 after it had received reports that Hollywood was crawling with Communists, ten members of the film industry were required to speak in front of HUAC and all ten refused to say anything arguing that it was a violation of their first amendment rights. All ten were given prison sentences for contempt and blacklisted from Hollywood. This began a witch hunt launched by HUAC, which inspired blacklisted playwright, Arthur Miller, to write The Crucible which compared the Salem witch hunts to the Communist witch hunts.
The most famous Communist witch hunter of the era was senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy accused the government of being infested with Communists, who he claimed, he had the names of. His stunt got him the publicity he desired, at first he mostly singled out Democrats as suspected Communists. People were worked into a frenzy and began suspecting others as being friends of the Communist Party. Known as McCarthyism, the systematic accusations of members of opposing parties as being members of the Communist Party without any real proof that the accusation was true. McCarthyism caused hysteria because merely being accused of being a Communist could ruin ones career. His self caused mass hysteria never rooted out a single confirmed Communist. Eventually the outrageousness of McCarthy's accusations led to him being barred from speaking in Congress.