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Cold War History

Cold War History

  • Timeline of the Cold War
  • American Communist Party
  • Atomic Bomb
  • Ba'ath Party
  • Berlin Airlift
  • Berlin Wall
  • Bay of Pigs
  • Cambodia and Laos
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • Chemical Warfare
  • Chinese Communist Party
  • Cultural Revolution
  • Comintern
  • Congo Crisis
  • Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Dien Bien Phu
  • Détente
  • Domino Theory
  • Eisenhower Doctrine
  • Egyptian Revolution
  • Eugene Dennis Case
  • European Economic Community
  • European Unity
  • Federal Republic of Germany
  • Gang of Four
  • German Democratic Republic
  • Great Leap Forward
  • Grenada
  • Gulf of Tonkin
  • Guerrilla Warfare
  • Hallstein Doctrine
  • Ho Chi Minh Trail
  • Hollywood Ten
  • House of Un-American Activities
  • Hungarian Uprising
  • Iraqi Revolution
  • Korea
  • Korean War
  • Kuomintang
  • Long March
  • My Lai
  • Marshall Plan
  • Military Coup in Chile
  • McCarthyism
  • National Liberation Front
  • New Jewel Movement
  • Nicaragua
  • North Atlantic Treaty (NATO)
  • Nuclear Arms Race
  • October War
  • Operation Rolling Thunder
  • Ostpolitik
  • Palestine Liberation Organization
  • Perestroika
  • Prague Spring
  • Red Guards
  • Red Spy Queen
  • Rosenberg Case
  • Sadat Initiative
  • Sandinista National Liberation Front
  • Solidarnosc
  • Soviet Communist Party
  • Schuman Plan
  • Six-Day War
  • Strategic Hamlet Programme
  • Suez Canal
  • Tet Offensive
  • Truman Doctrine
  • U-2 Crisis
  • Vietnam Protest Movement
  • Vietnam Revolutionary League
  • Vietnam War
  • Warsaw Pact
  • Zionism
  • Dean Acheson
  • Konrad Adenauer
  • Salvador Allende
  • Yuri Andropov
  • Yasir Arafat
  • Jacobo Arbenz
  • Shlomo Argov
  • Clement Attlee
  • Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr
  • Tracy Barnes
  • Fulgencio Batista
  • Menachem Begin
  • Ahmed Ben Bella
  • Eduard Benes
  • David Ben-Gurion
  • Lavrenti Beria
  • Folke Bernadotte
  • Ernest Bevin
  • Lin Biao
  • Istvan Bibo
  • Georges Bidault
  • Maurice Bishop
  • Richard Bissell
  • Leon Blum
  • Houari Boumedienne
  • Willy Brandt
  • Leonid Brezhnev
  • Nikolai Bulganin
  • George H. W. Bush
  • James F. Byrnes
  • James Callaghan
  • Luis Carrero Blanco
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Fidel Castro
  • Konstantin Chernenko
  • Jacques Chirac
  • Winston Churchill
  • Bernard Coard
  • Richard Stafford Cripps
  • Charles De Gaulle
  • Moshe Dayan
  • Georgi Dimitrov
  • Bo Dai
  • Zhu De
  • Seftan Delmer
  • Ngo Dinh Diem
  • Milovan Djilas
  • Alexander Dubcek
  • Allen Dulles
  • John Foster Dulles
  • Anthony Eden
  • Dwight Eisenhower
  • Zhou Enlai
  • Laurent Fabius
  • Faisal II
  • Farouk I
  • Ferenc Farkas
  • Joseph Fischer
  • Desmond FitzGerald
  • Michael Foot
  • Gerald Ford
  • Francisco Franco
  • William Fulbright
  • Eric Gairy
  • William Gallacher
  • Erno Gero
  • Vo Nguyen Giap
  • Edward Gierek
  • Valery Giscard d'Estaing
  • Miklos Gimes
  • Barry Goldwater
  • Wladyslaw Gomulka
  • Felipe Gonzalez
  • Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Klement Gottwald
  • Andrei Gromyko
  • Che Guevara
  • Walter Hallstein
  • Dag Hammarskjold
  • Isser Harel
  • W. Averell Harriman
  • Denis Healey
  • Edward Heath
  • Alec Douglas-Home
  • Erich Honecker
  • Enver Hoxha
  • Gustav Husak
  • Saddam Hussein
  • Kim Il-Sung
  • Wojciech Jaruzelski
  • Roy Jenkins
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Janos Kadar
  • Chiang Kai-Shek
  • Gyula Keleman
  • George Kennan
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Robert Kennedy
  • Anna Kethly
  • Henry Kissinger
  • Nikita Khrushchev
  • Helmut Kohl
  • Alexsei Kosygin
  • Bela Kovacs
  • Bruno Kreisky
  • Aleksander Kwasniewski
  • Edward Lansdale
  • Geza Lodonczy
  • Patrice Lumumba
  • George Lukacs
  • Douglas MacArthur
  • Pal Maleter
  • George Marshall
  • Jan Masaryk
  • Joseph McCarthy
  • Patrick McCarran
  • Harold Macmillan
  • Gregory Malenkov
  • André Marty
  • John McCone
  • Golda Meir
  • Pierre Mendes-France
  • Stanislaw Mikolajczyk
  • Anastas Mikoyan
  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Joseph Mindszenty
  • Francois Mitterrand
  • Sese Seko Mobutu
  • Guy Mollet
  • Vyacheslav Molotov
  • Jean Monnet
  • David Morales
  • Aldo Moro
  • Frenc Nagy
  • Imre Nagy
  • Gamal Abdel Nasser
  • Mohammed Neguib
  • Richard Nixon
  • Antonin Novotny
  • Leopold Okulicki
  • Daniel Ortega
  • Olof Palme
  • Shimon Peres
  • David Atlee Phillips
  • Augusto Pinochet
  • John Platts-Mills
  • D. N. Pritt
  • Yitzhak Rabin
  • Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz
  • Laszlo Rajk
  • Matyas Rakosi
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Syngman Rhee
  • Walt Rostow
  • Dean Rusk
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Anwar Sadat
  • Nuri es-Said
  • Andrey Sakharov
  • Antonio Salazar
  • Augusto Sandino
  • Jean Paul Sartre
  • Robert Schuman
  • Ted Shackley
  • Liu Shaoqi
  • Rudolf Slansky
  • Anastasio Somoza
  • Joseph Stalin
  • Henry L. Stimson
  • Adlai Stevenson
  • Ludvik Svoboda
  • Istvan Szabo
  • Attila Szigethy
  • Zolton Tildy
  • Josip Tito
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Nguyen Van Thieu
  • Le Duc Tho
  • Rafael Trujillo
  • Harry S. Truman
  • Moise Tshombe
  • Jiang Qing
  • Walter Ulbricht
  • Kurt Waldheim
  • Lech Walesa
  • Henry Wallace
  • Chaim Weizmann
  • William Westmoreland
  • Charles Willoughby
  • Harold Wilson
  • Sun Yat-sen
  • Mao Zedong
  • Konni Zilliacus

52a. The Cold War Erupts

Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt, and Premier Stalin meet at Yalta to discuss post-war Europe. It was at both the Yalta and Dumbarton Oaks conferences that the framework for the United Nations was devised.

In 1945, one major war ended and another began.

The Cold War lasted about 45 years. There were no direct military campaigns between the two main antagonists, the United States and the Soviet Union. Yet billions of dollars and millions of lives were lost in the fight.

The United States became the leader of the free-market capitalist world. America and its allies struggled to keep the communist, totalitarian Soviet Union from expanding into Europe, Asia, and Africa. Theaters as remote as Korea and Vietnam, Cuba and Grenada, Afghanistan and Angola, became battlegrounds between the two ideologies. One postwar pattern quickly became clear. The United States would not retreat into its former isolationist stance as long as there was a Cold War to wage.

Winston Churchill's 1946 speech to Westminster University in Missouri contained the first reference to the communism of Eastern Europe as an "iron curtain."

The long-term causes of the Cold War are clear. Western democracies had always been hostile to the idea of a communist state. The United States had refused recognition to the USSR for 16 years after the Bolshevik takeover. Domestic fears of communism erupted in a Red Scare in America in the early Twenties. American business leaders had long feared the consequences of a politically driven workers' organization. World War II provided short-term causes as well.

There was hostility on the Soviet side as well. Twenty million Russian citizens perished during World War II. Stalin was enraged that the Americans and British had waited so long to open a front in France. This would have relieved pressure on the Soviet Union from the attacking Germans. Further, The United States terminated Lend-Lease aid to the Soviet Union before the war was complete. Finally, the Soviet Union believed in communism.

Stalin made promises during the war about the freedom of eastern Europe on which he blatantly reneged. At the Yalta Conference , the USSR pledged to enter the war against Japan no later than three months after the conclusion of the European war. In return, the United States awarded the Soviets territorial concessions from Japan and special rights in Chinese Manchuria.

When the Soviet Union entered the war between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States no longer needed their aid, but Stalin was there to collect on Western promises. All these factors contributed to a climate of mistrust that heightened tensions at the outbreak of the Cold War.

For most of the second half of the 20th century, the USSR and the United States were engaged in a Cold War of economic and diplomatic struggles. The communist bloc, as it appeared in 1950, included countries to the west and southeast of the Soviet Union.

At Potsdam, the Allies agreed on the postwar outcome for Nazi Germany. After territorial adjustments, Germany was divided into four occupation zones with the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union each administering one. Germany was to be democratized and de-Nazified. Once the Nazi leaders were arrested and war crimes trials began, a date would be agreed upon for the election of a new German government and the withdrawal of Allied troops.

This process was executed in the zones held by the western Allies. In the eastern Soviet occupation zone, a puppet communist regime was elected. There was no promise of repatriation with the west. Soon such governments, aided by the Soviet Red Army came to power all across eastern Europe. Stalin was determined to create a buffer zone to prevent any future invasion of the Russian heartland.

Winston Churchill remarked in 1946 that an "iron curtain had descended across the continent."

History of The Cold War: Origin, Reasons and Other Details

The term “Cold War” had an American origin and was used for the first time by Bernard Baruch who observed thus on 16 April 1947.

“Let us not be deceived today. We are in the midst of a Cold War.”

The term was picked up by Walter Lippmann who through his book on the Cold War popularised it. After that, the term Cold War was used to describe the relations between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers after the World War 11. Cold War has been defined by R.K. Garthoff as “the conflict between the Communist Powers and the rest of the world waged by means short of overt major war.”

Image Source: i.ytimg.com/vi/y9HjvHZfCUI/maxresdefault.jpg

Prof Young Hum Kim writes, “Though the term Cold War defies precise definition, it may be described as the international environment characterised by persistent tensions and conflicts between the free world and the Communist camp in general and between the United States and the Soviet Union in particular.

This new war of cold realities in international politics has been waged in every conceivable field of international life, especially in national defence, economic growth, diplomacy and ideology.”

Cold War was not a state of armed struggle but a state in which the rivals while maintaining their peace-time diplomatic relations continued their hostility. They used all means other than war to weaken each other. The Cold War was an ideological war or a propaganda war or a diplomatic war. It was neither a condition of war nor a condition of peace. It was a state of uneasy peace. R. Bamet calls it “hot peace.” Kennedy describes it as “hard and bitter peace.”

2. Its origin:

There is a difference of views regarding the origin of Cold War. One view is that its beginning can be traced back to the time of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 when the Communists openly declared their intention to control and dominate the world. Some writers find the genesis of the Cold War in the period of the Grand Alliance of World War II.

Although the Western Powers and the Soviet Union cooperated during the War, there were sharp differences among them particularly over the treatment of anti-Nazi resistance forces in Poland and Yugoslavia, the establishment of the Second Front, coordination of military strategy and post-War reconstruction.

Still another view is that the Cold War actually crystallized only in 1947 when the Soviet Union and the Western Powers intensified and formalised the differences in the interpretation of the provisions of the Yalta and Potsdam Agreements. The delay in opening the Second Front, the secrecy over the atom bomb and refusal to invite the Polish provisional Government to San-Francisco made Russia suspicious of Anglo-American designs.

Likewise, the Western Powers were agitated over the occupation of considerable portions of territory in the Far East by Russia by declaring war against Japan at the last moment. Prof Young Hum Kim writes, “At the war’s end, the basic incompatibility between Soviet Communism and Western democracy in terms of ideology and security took a new turn towards higher intensity as Stalin reverted from the policy of war-time expediency (alliance with the West) to the policy of pre-War orthodoxy (hard lined dogmatism)”.

The view of some scholars is that the first signal for the development of Cold War was given by Winston Churchill in his Fulton speech in which he observed, “If the Western democracies stand together in strict adherence to the principle of United Nations Charter, their influence for furthering those principles will be immense and no one is likely to molest them. If, however, they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all important years are allowed to slip away, then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all”.

3. Reasons for Cold War:

Many reasons have been given for the Cold War. Though the Soviet Union and the Western Powers cooperated with each other during the World War II, there did not develop a spirit of real cooperation among them. Towards the end of the war, tension increased tremendously. The opposite stands taken by the Soviet Union and the Western Powers on various matters failed to arouse a spirit of cooperation and friendship.

The actions of both the parties showed that mutual distrust existed among them. Another cause of the Cold War was the existence of ideological differences between the Soviet Union and Western democracies. The Western Powers considered the Soviet Union a greater enemy than Hitler and Mussolini. They followed a policy of appeasement towards Hitler and Mussolini because they felt that Communism was a greater danger than Fascism and Nazism.

Narrow national interests after the end of the World War II also contributed to the Cold War. In spite of protests from the Western Powers, the Soviet Union continued her plans to increase her influence in Eastern Europe. After consolidating her position there, she started penetrating into the Middle East which was resented by the Western Powers.

4. Its beginning:

The view of Possony is that “the Cold War began while the hot war was still raging.” Even before the end of the World War II, the Soviet Union imposed Communist regimes in the East European countries of Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary and Yugoslavia.

After putting Eastern Europe behind the iron curtain, the Soviet Union turned her attention towards Western Europe. She also put pressure on Turkey and Iran to get concessions. She engineered a Communist revolution against Greece and expanded her influence in Italy.

These moves of the Soviet Union were viewed with great concern by the Western countries. When Britain expressed her inability to check Soviet expansion, the United States took up the responsibility of containing the onward march of Communism.

The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were the steps to save the European Continent from further Communist influence. The Soviet Union also initiated the Molotov Plan and established the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance. These moves and counter-moves constituted the beginning of the Cold War.

5. Truman Doctrine:

On 12 March 1947, President Truman addressed a joint session of the American Congress and enunciated what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine. Truman asked the Congress to sanction 400 million Dollars by June 1948 to help Greece and Turkey. In May 1947, the American Congress authorised aid to Greece and Turkey.

It was found in 1950 that American policy had completely changed the state of affairs in Greece and Turkey. The guerillas were completely eliminated from the Greek soil and peace was restored. The same was the case in Turkey. The danger from Communism was successfully checked by American action.

6. The Marshall Plan (1947):

The Marshall Plan was an extension of the principle underlying the Truman Doctrine. It dealt with Europe in general and not with any particular state or states as was the case with the Truman Doctrine. It was essentially an economic plan. It represented an elaborate programme which was to last for four years. It showed an anxiety on the part of the United States to avert the economic crisis which was apprehended as a result of the World War II.

It also underlined American determination to fight against Communism. The situation in France and Italy was a source of great anxiety to the United States. The Communist parties of France and Italy were gaining in strength. It was felt that in order to put a check on Communist influence, the United States must come to their help.

The Marshall Plan was welcomed in the United States as it was directed against the Soviet Union. By the time the programme was completed, its object was achieved and the danger from Communism was successfully met.

The Soviet Union and the Communist and non-Communist countries of Eastern Europe were invited to accept the Marshall Plan but the offer was rejected. It was contended that under the cover of the Plan, the United States aimed at creating an economic empire by taking advantage of the conditions in Europe. The negative attitude of the Soviet Union towards the Plan led to the continuance of the struggle between Eastern and Western Europe.

7. Brussels Treaty (1948):

The Marshall Plan stiffened the Cold War between Eastern and Western Europe instead of bringing about a rapprochement between the two. The Soviet Union had already branded the Truman Doctrine as imperialistic. In order to check Russian supremacy and influence, Britain, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, etc. signed the Treaty of Brussels in March 1948. The signatories to the treaty expressed their complete reliance on the Charter of the United Nations and pledged mutual military, economic and political cooperation. This treaty played a vital role in strengthening the unity and security of the Western countries.

8. NATO (1949):

The North Atlantic Treaty was signed on 4 April 1949 by the United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom. Greece and Turkey became its members in February 1952. West Germany joined it m May 1955. The NATO was a defensive organisation.

After the signing of the Brussels Treaty and particularly when the conflict between Eastern and Western Europe over the German problem assumed serious proportions, the United States decided to establish a Mutual Military Assistance Organisation with the Western countries and the NATO was the result.

The NATO was intended to strengthen the morale of Western Europe. The association of the United States with the other NATO Powers was bound to halt Soviet expansion Westwards. As the stand taken by the United States was definite and clear, the Soviet leaders were not prepared to take any risk in Western Europe. The result was that the Communists made no territorial gains in Europe or the Atlantic area after April 1949.

9. Germany:

After the World War II, there was a conflict of interests between Eastern and Western blocs over Germany. The defeat of Germany and her occupation by the Soviet Union and the Western Powers gave rise to complications in the field of European and international politics. The United States, Russia Britain and France partitioned Germany among themselves into four zones. In January 1947, British and American zones were unified.

The French zone was also merged into it in the same year. The three zones came to be known as West Germany. East Germany came into existence under Russian control. As a result of the Cold War, Germany became the centre of dispute between Eastern and Western blocs and that continued for years.

When the Soviet Union proceeded to collect reparations from Eastern Germany, disputes and tension began to develop between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers. In 1948, the Western Powers introduced currency reforms in West Germany. In reply to that, the Soviet Union blockaded the city of Berlin by closing down all her entrances. However, the Western Powers managed to supply the necessary foodstuffs to the citizens of Berlin by airlift from June 1948 to September 1949.

The representatives of the Western Powers met in Bonn and drafted the Bonn Constitution. The Federal Republic of West Germany was born and elections were held in 1949. The Soviet Union proclaimed the German Democratic Republic in East Germany under her control. West Germany joined the Anglo-American bloc and East Germany joined the Soviet bloc. Tension between the two blocs continued over the question of Germany.

10. China:

The United States refused to recognise the new Communist Government of China set up in 1949, and continued to recognise the Nationalist Government of Formosa under Chiang Kai-shek. The result was that the Nationalist Government of Formosa continued to be a permanent member of the Security Council till October 1971 when there was reconciliation between Communist China and the United States. If the United States backed Formosa, the Soviet Union backed Communist China and the cold war continued.

11. Korea:

By 1949, the territorial limits of the cold war in Europe were more or less established. By 1950, the theatre of the cold war shifted from Europe to East Asia. Under the impact of the cold war, Korea was divided into North Korea and South Korea. In North Korea, a Communist government supported by the Soviet Union was set up. In South Korea, an American-sponsored Government was set up. On 25 June 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea.

The Security Council declared North Korea as the aggressor and authorised the creation of command under the Flag of the United Nations to repel the aggressor. The Korean War was virtually a conflict between the Soviet bloc and the Western bloc. If North Korea was fighting with Soviet weapons and Chinese troops, the United States was fighting on behalf of South Korea under the Flag of the United Nations. The result was that the Cold War was turned into a hot war. After the death of Stalin in 1953, an armistice was signed on 27 July 1953.

12. Anzus Pact (1951):

When the Communist success in China and the Korea war creased an atmosphere of uneasiness in the Pacific region, the United States signed a treaty with Australia and New Zealand in 1951 known as the Anzus Pact. It was to remain in force for an indefinite period. This Pacific security system was an endeavour of the Western Powers to meet the Communist challenge.

After the fall of Japan in 1945, Britain and China occupied Southern and Northern parts of Indo- China respectively. France regained her lost hold over the whole of Indo-China in 1946. The Vietminh refused to acknowledge the authority of France. Supported by Communist China, the Vietminh attacked the Red River Valley in 1949. As Communist China helped the Vietminh, the United States helped France with money and arms. The Soviet Union also helped the Vietminh.

The result was that a clash between the Soviet Union and the United States became almost inevitable. The fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 brought the final collapse of France in Indo-China. At the Geneva Conference in July 1954, Vietnam was partitioned between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. In spite of the Geneva Settlement, there was no peace in Vietnam.

The United States did everything in her power to help South Vietnam against North Vietnam which was supported by Communist China and the Soviet Union. In spite of strong action by the United States, there was no end of the war. Negotiations started in Paris in 1968 but without any settlement. The forces of North Vietnam made headway against South Vietnam in the beginning of 1972 and the United States intensified the bombing of North Vietnam. Mines were spread in the harbours and rivers of South Vietnam.

On many occasions, negotiations were started for peace but without any result. North Vietnam backed by the Soviet Union continued to fight till the fall of South Vietnam in April 1975. Thus the Cold War was fought in Indo-China between the Soviet Union and the United States and the Soviet Union was the victor.

14. SEATO:

Like the NATO, the SEATO (1954) was born out of Communist fear. Its object was to put a stop to the further spread of Communist influence in South-East Asia. The United States was not happy over the establishment of a Communist regime on the mainland of China in 1949. She was also not happy over the events in Indo-China where French power was being liquidated. The decisions taken in Geneva in 1954 were not to her liking.

Hence the SEATO was set up by the United States, in collaboration with Britain, France, Australia, Thailand, The Philippines and Pakistan, to stop the further infiltration of Communist influence in that area. The signatories to the treaty agreed to consider enemy attack upon any one of them as an attack upon all of them and to cooperate with one another against the enemy In the long run, the SEATO failed in its objectives and had to be wound up but it served its purpose for the time being.

15. The Baghdad Pact:

Another centre of the Cold War between the Eastern and Western blocs was the Middle East. Some of the countries of that region were associated with the Soviet Union and some with the American bloc. The Baghdad Pact was an attempt by the Western Powers to form an anti-Soviet bloc in the Middle East. This Pact was signed in 1955 between Turkey and Iraq. Later on, Britain, Pakistan and Iran joined it.

The United States guaranteed the territorial integrity of the Baghdad Pact countries. She joined the Baghdad Pact in the economic sphere in May 1956 and in the military sphere in 1958 to combat international Communism. When Iraq withdrew from the Pact in March 1959, it was renamed Central Treaty Organisation.

16. The Warsaw Pact (1955):

The Soviet Union was alarmed at the aggressive attitude of the Western Powers when the NATO was formed, but for a few years she was not able to set up a rival organisation. She strongly protested against the entry of West Germany into NATO.

On 4 May 1955, the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Albania and East Germany signed the Warsaw Pact. The signatory states agreed to resist the attacks of the imperialists and capitalist states upon any member state. The Warsaw Pact, in its essential features, was a carbon copy of the NATO. Its only object was to meet the challenge from the NATO Powers. Between 1955 and 1958, West Asia became the centre of the Cold War. This fact is proved by the signing of the Baghdad Pact with a view to exclude the Soviet Union from that region.

17. Austria (1955):

No treaty had been concluded with Austria in spite of the lapse of many years after the ending of the World War in 1945. That was due to the differences between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers over the terms of the peace treaty.

However, at the Summit Conference of July 1955, the Austrian Peace Treaty was signed and Presidents Eisenhower and Bulganin exchanged assurances that neither of them will start a nuclear war. Both of them undertook not to seek political or economic union of Austria with Germany, directly or indirectly Austria was not to join the NATO and remain neutral.

Friedman writes, “The Austrian Peace Treaty is the first major international treaty on which the four erstwhile allies have been able to agree after years of an unbroken record of dissension and tension, sometimes threatening to lead to the brink of war.” On the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, both the Super Powers stood on the same side and thus a major crisis was averted.

18. Eisenhower Doctrine (1957):

The United States proclaimed the Eisenhower Doctrine on 5 March 1957 by which the Truman Doctrine was extended to the Middle East. Its object was to check the possibility of Communist aggression, direct or indirect, in that region. The United States was to give military assistance and protect any state whose territorial integrity and political independence was threatened.

19. Hungary:

There was a revolt in Hungary in 1956 and the Soviet Union sent her troops to suppress it. The Soviet action was condemned by the countries belonging to the American bloc. A demand was made that the Soviet Union must withdraw her troops but she refused.

20. Germany:

There was a tussle between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers in 1956 over the issue of elections in Berlin. As the Social Democratic party won the elections by defeating the Communist party, the Soviet Union abrogated that election by applying her veto power. That led to tension between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers.

In November 1958, Khrushchev stated that the imperialists wanted to make Germany a chronic problem and were disturbing the peace of East Germany, Poland and other socialist states. He warned that any march towards East Germany would lead to disastrous consequences.

He handed over notes to Western Powers asking them to withdraw from West Berlin within six months. The reply of West Germany was that if the Soviet Union renounced unilaterally her international treaties, political tension would increase and the Soviet Union would be held responsible for violating international law. The Western Powers showed their determination to defend their rights.

During 1959, there were negotiations between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers regarding the unification of Germany. In September 1959, Khrushchev met Eisenhower at Camp David and agreed to resume talks on the Berlin question at the proposed Summit Conference to be held in May 1960 in Paris.

On 25 April 1960, Khrushchev warned the Western Powers that if they did not sign a peace treaty with East Germany, their right of access to West Berlin would cease and the Soviet Union would conclude a separate peace treaty with East Germany. He also declared that as the city of Berlin was situated within East Germany, the latter would have complete control over the whole of Berlin.

The Western Powers protested and maintained that their right over West Berlin was not due to any concession from the Soviet Union but was based on their conquest of Germany. They also contended that the Soviet Union could not revoke unilaterally all the treaties regarding Germany and Berlin. When Khrushchev met President Kennedy in Vienna in June 1961, he declared that the Camp David formula was dead.

A serious situation was created in Germany as a result of the influx of refugees from East Germany to West Germany in large numbers. On 13 August 1961, East Germany sealed her border between East Berlin and West Berlin and 25-mile long Berlin Wall was erected between two Berlins. There was great tension. After lengthy negotiations, the pass system was introduced between the two cities in September 1963.

There was another crisis in 1969 when the West German government decided to hold Presidential elections on 5 March 1969 in West Berlin. East Germany protested and reimposed restrictions on land routes to prevent the members of the Electoral College from reaching West Berlin. The West German Government managed to send the members of the Electoral College and other officials to West Berlin by air. President Nixon threatened action if the Soviet Union resisted and the result was that the Soviet Union kept quiet.

In September 1971, the Soviet Union, the United States, France and Britain signed the Berlin Accord. In November 1972, the Basic Treaty was signed between East Germany and West Germany. In September 1973, both East and West Germany became members of the United Nations and thus the Cold War ended in Germany.

21. Cuban Crisis (1962):

The Cold War was at its height at the time of the Cuban crisis in 1962. The Soviet Union sent military equipment to Cuba along with a larger number of technicians and other military personnel. The United States opposed the Soviet move and declared her intention to use all possible means to end the Soviet presence in Cuba. There was every danger of a war between the Soviet Union and the United States.

However, U Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations, prevailed upon the United States to suspend the blockade of Cuba and asked Khrushchev to halt shipments to Cuba and also withdraw the offensive weapons from Cuba. The Soviet Union agreed to dismantle the Cuban missile sites and transport the missiles back to the Soviet Union. It was in this way that a great catastrophe was avoided.

22. The Congo:

In the Congo, Soviet activity was of the most Cold War kind. The sending of vehicles, aircrafts, transport aircrafts, provisions and equipment in the summer 1960 was an act of intervention. Khrushchev sent a telegram to Kasavubu and Lumumba in July 1960 in which he declared that “if the hand of the aggressor is raised against the Congo, then the Soviet Union declares that the necessity will arise of taking more effective measures”. The Soviet Union continued to help the Congo in order to balance her influence against that of the Western Powers.

23. Détente:

After the Berlin crisis and the Cuban crisis, the stage was set for a thaw in the Cold War. It was realised by both sides that any nuclear war between them would lead to mutual destruction. That realisation pointed to the necessity of peaceful coexistence.

The result was the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on 5 August 1963 between the Soviet Union, the United States and Britain. It provided for a limited ban on nuclear tests in the atmosphere including outer space or under water. A Hot Line Agreement was signed between the Super Powers.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968 between the Soviet Union and the United States. On 25 May 1972, two agreements were signed in Moscow by President Nixon and Communist Party Chief Brezhnev. Those agreements were the Treaty on Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile System and the Interim Agreement on certain measures with respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. Brezhnev visited Washington in June 1973. He signed with President Nixon an agreement by which they committed their countries to negotiate before the end of the next year a treaty calling for the reduction of nuclear weapons.

In June-July 1974, President Nixon visited the Soviet Union and agreed with Brezhnev to limit underground testing for five years. In November 1974, President Ford (successor of President Nixon) and Brezhnev met at Vladivostok and a US-Soviet agreement on guidelines for 10-year “cap on the arms race” was reached. The 35-Nation Summit Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe opened on 30 July 1975 at Helsinki and concluded on 1 August 1975. It was attended by President Ford, Brezhnev, Prime Minister Wilson and others.

The Treaty on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms signed in 1972 between the United States and the Soviet Union lapsed in October 1977 but both sides tried to preserve its main provisions. The Ford administration made little efforts for negotiations on a new agreement. However, after prolonged negotiations, a treaty was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union in Vienna on 18 June 1979 on the limitation of strategic offensive arms. This treaty is popularly known as SALT-II.

It is true that President Carter signed the SALT-II treaty but he began to have doubts about it even before he returned to Washington. The United States discovered the presence of a Soviet brigade in Cuba and demanded its withdrawal but the Soviet Union refused to oblige.

In 1979, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the United States made a bid to secure base facilities in Kenya, Somalia and Oman to protect American interests in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf region. The NATO decided to deploy American-made cruise missiles and advance medium-range Pershing II missiles in Western Europe from 1983.

When such was the situation, Soviet armed intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 aggravated the situation. The American Government arranged secret supply of arms to Afghan rebels to pressurise the Soviet Union to negotiate but that did not happen.

When the United States intervened in El Salvador, the Soviet Union and her allies supplied arms to insurgents and also gave them training. President Reagan projected the issue of El Salvador as an international confrontation between the West and the Soviet Union.

There are certain differences between the old and new cold wars. Unlike the cold war of 1950’s, the alliance partners are not actively involved in the new cold war. China, Japan and even Western European countries are lukewarm in their support and the war persists mainly between the two Super Powers.

In the old cold war, nuclear armaments build-up was not an issue and the main stress was on quantitative build-up of conventional arms. In the new cold war, there is a nuclear arms race between the two Super Powers and they are trying to achieve greater sophistication in conventional, weaponry. The new cold war is more threatening than the old cold war.

However, efforts are being made to stop the nuclear arms race. Talks on the limitation of missiles began in Geneva on 1 December 1981. The Soviets walked out in 1982 but the talks were resumed in 1985. There was a two-day summit at Geneva on 19 and 20 November 1985 between President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev.

In a joint statement issued after the end of negotiations, the two leaders acknowledged that there were differences between them on vital issues but they affirmed that any confrontation between the two countries would have catastrophic consequences.

They emphasized the importance of preventing any war between them. They agreed to accelerate nuclear arms control negotiations and to meet again “in the near future”. Gorbachev accepted an invitation from President Reagan to visit the United States and President Reagan agreed to visit the Soviet Union.

A summit meeting was held at Reykjavik on 12 and 13 October 1986. However, the negotiations broke down over the US refusal to yield on its Star War research. On 8 December 1987 the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty for the destruction of Europe- based missiles was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union. For the United States, the treaty meant scrapping of Pershing missiles stationed in West Germany and Tomahawk cruise missiles in Britain, West Germany, Italy and Belgium. The Soviet Union was to eliminate Silo-based SS-4 rockets, SS-20. SS-22 and SS-23 missiles. On 1 June 1988, that treaty was ratified in Moscow by President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev.

On 14 April 1988, Pakistan and Afghanistan formally signed a US and Soviet Union guaranteed Accord at Geneva by which the Soviet Union agreed to pull out all Soviet troops from Afghanistan within a maximum period of nine months from 15 May 1988. Half of those troops were to be withdrawn by 15 August 1988. This Accord was the result of the pressure exercised by the Soviet Union on Afghanistan and the United States on Pakistan.

In August 1988, South Africa, Angola and Cuba announced a cease-fire as agreed upon during the negotiations in Geneva. This was the result of Moscow’s pressure on Angola and Cuba and that of Washington on South Africa. In the same month, Iran and Iraq ended the war which was going on for many years.

A Recap of History Day at Fordham

On Monday, February 10, 2020, Fordham’s History Department hosted its annual History Day celebration. The event brought together some fascinating research from Fordham undergraduate and graduate students and Fordham faculty. The day’s keynote speaker was Prof. Amanda Armstrong. Below is just a snippet of the fascinating work and images we heard from our participants. You will hear from Brian Chen, Hannah Gonzalez, Grace Campagna, Emma Budd, Christian Decker, and Kelli Finn.

Brian Chen discussed Henry Kissinger’s diplomacy during the South Asia Crisis of 1971. He argued that given the geopolitical constraints of the Cold War and the limits of U.S. influence in the region, his response to the genocide in East Pakistan was not unreasonable. Kissinger’s policy of “quiet diplomacy” improved the prospects of peace between the United States and the Communist world, while also providing necessary humanitarian relief to the Bengali people.

Hannah Gonzalez’s paper, “Natives, Naturalists, and Negotiated Access: William Bartram’s Navigation of the Eighteenth-Century Southeast,” examined how the naturalist William Bartram negotiated access to native territories and knowledge while constrained by colonial politics and a climate of cross-cultural hostilities. This navigation of the Southeast involved the utilization of imperial and colonial structures, from treaties to white traders. As recorded in Travels, Bartram’s journey demonstrates how naturalists negotiated the cultural landscape on levels beyond the scientific.

You can follow her on Twitter @hannahegonzalez.

Grace Campagna’s presentation, “The Quern: The Biography of a Medieval Object,” traced the lifecycle of an artifact, including its production, operation, and repurposing, using both historical and archaeological methods. The quernstones that archaeologists discovered in the Thames river came from a quarry in Germany in order to undergo the final stages of manufacturing in a London workshop. The presentation examined how communities assign value to everyday items and addressed the challenges of analyzing objects for which there are few primary sources. You can access the full link to her article here: https://medievallondon.ace.fordham.edu/exhibits/show/medieval-london-objects-3/quern

Emma Budd’s presentation analyzed intersecting power dynamics in colonization, humanitarian intervention, and sexual assault. Through the lens of the Algerian War of Independence, she argued that the three aforementioned phenomena are intrinsically connected by their roots in a desire for power without concern for humanity.

Christian Decker’s presentation talked about Polish immigrant networking from 1900 to 1945. It included discussion of family and labor networks, religious networks, all the way up to the formation of the Polish American Congress.

You can follow Christian Decker on Twitter @PCGamingFanatic

Kelli Finn’s presentation, “We survive. We’re Irish:” An Examination of Irish Immigration to the United States, 1840 -1890,” examined how the systemic poverty that Irish immigrants faced from the 1840s-1880s shaped their immigrant experience. It argued that the extreme poverty that the Irish faced lead to harsh stigmatism of Irish immigrants even in the workforce which in turn lead to poor living conditions for the Irish when they got to America and the highest mortality rates among immigrant groups at the time.

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Cold war

Mutual suspicion had long existed between the West and the USSR, and friction was sometimes manifest in the Grand Alliance during World War II. After the war the West felt threatened by the continued expansionist policy of the Soviet Union, and the traditional Russian fear of incursion from the West continued. Communists seized power in Eastern Europe with the support of the Red Army, the Russian occupation zones in Germany and Austria were sealed off by army patrols, and threats were directed against Turkey and Greece. Conflict sometimes grew intense in the United Nations United Nations
(UN), international organization established immediately after World War II. It replaced the League of Nations. In 1945, when the UN was founded, there were 51 members 193 nations are now members of the organization (see table entitled United Nations Members).
. Click the link for more information. , which was at times incapacitated by the ramifications of the cold war, at others effective in dealing with immediate issues.

In a famous speech (1946) at Fulton, Mo., Sir Winston Churchill warned of an implacable threat that lay behind a Communist "iron curtain." The United States, taking the lead against the expansion of Soviet influence, rallied the West with the Truman Doctrine, under which immediate aid was given to Turkey and Greece. Also fearing the rise of Communism in war-torn Western Europe, the United States inaugurated the European Recovery Program, known as the Marshall Plan Marshall Plan
or European Recovery Program,
project instituted at the Paris Economic Conference (July, 1947) to foster economic recovery in certain European countries after World War II. The Marshall Plan took form when U.S. Secretary of State George C.
. Click the link for more information. , which helped to restore prosperity and influenced the subsequent growth of what has become the European Union.

During the cold war the general policy of the West toward the Communist states was to contain them (i.e., keep them within their current borders) with the hope that internal division, failure, or evolution might end their threat. In 1948 the Soviet Union directly challenged the West by instituting a blockade of the western sectors of Berlin, but the United States airlifted supplies into the city until the blockade was withdrawn (see Berlin airlift Berlin airlift,
1948󈞝, supply of vital necessities to West Berlin by air transport primarily under U.S. auspices. It was initiated in response to a land and water blockade of the city that had been instituted by the Soviet Union in the hope that the Allies would be
. Click the link for more information. ). The challenges in Europe influenced the United States to reverse its traditional policy of avoiding permanent alliances in 1949 the United States and 11 other nations signed the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO see North Atlantic Treaty Organization North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO), established under the North Atlantic Treaty (Apr. 4, 1949) by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United States.
. Click the link for more information. ). The Communist bloc subsequently formed (1955) the Warsaw Treaty Organization Warsaw Treaty Organization
or Warsaw Pact,
alliance set up under a mutual defense treaty signed in Warsaw, Poland, in 1955 by Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union.
. Click the link for more information. as a counterbalance to NATO.

The Cold War Worldwide

In Asia, the Communist cause gained great impetus when the Communists under Mao Zedong Mao Zedong
or Mao Tse-tung
, 1893�, founder of the People's Republic of China. Mao was one of the most prominent Communist theoreticians and his ideas on revolutionary struggle and guerrilla warfare have been extremely influential, especially among Third
. Click the link for more information. gained control of mainland China in 1949. The United States continued to support Nationalist China, with its headquarters on Taiwan. President Truman, fearing the appeal of Communism to the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, created the Point Four program, which was intended to help underdeveloped areas. Strife continued, however, and in 1950 Communist forces from North Korea attacked South Korea, precipitating the Korean War Korean War,
conflict between Communist and non-Communist forces in Korea from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953. At the end of World War II, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into Soviet (North Korean) and U.S. (South Korean) zones of occupation.
. Click the link for more information. . Chinese Communist troops entered the conflict in large numbers, but were checked by UN forces, especially those of the United States. The focus of the cold war in Asia soon shifted to the southeast. China supported insurgent guerrillas in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia the United States, on the other side, played a leading role in the formation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization Southeast Asia Treaty Organization
(SEATO), alliance organized (1954) under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty by representatives of Australia, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States.
. Click the link for more information. and provided large-scale military aid, but guerrilla warfare continued.

The newly emerging nations of Asia and Africa soon became the scene of cold-war skirmishes, and the United States and the Soviet Union (and later China) competed for their allegiance, often through economic aid however, many of these nations succeeded in remaining neutral. As the cold-war struggle continued in Southeast Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa (in nations such as Congo Congo, Democratic Republic of the,
formerly Zaïre
, republic (2015 est. pop. 76,197,000), c.905,000 sq mi (2,344,000 sq km), central Africa. It borders on Angola in the southwest and west, on the Atlantic Ocean, Cabinda (an Angolan exclave), and the Republic of
. Click the link for more information. (Kinshasa), Angola Angola
, officially Republic of Angola (2015 est. pop. 24,300,000), including the exclave of Cabinda, 481,351 sq mi (1,246,700 sq km), SW Africa. Angola is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, by Congo (Kinshasa) on the north and northeast, by Zambia on the east, and by
. Click the link for more information. , and others), and in Latin America (where the United States supported the Alliance for Progress Alliance for Progress,
Span. Alianza para el Progreso, U.S. assistance program for Latin America begun in 1961 during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. It was created principally to counter the appeal of revolutionary politics, such as those adopted in Cuba (see Fidel
. Click the link for more information. to counter leftist appeal), both the Soviet Union and the United States supported and maintained sometimes brutal regimes (through military, financial, and other forms of aid) in return for their allegiance.

In Europe, the East German government erected the Berlin Wall Berlin Wall,
1961󈟅, a barrier first erected in Aug., 1961, by the East German government along the border between East and West Berlin, and later along the entire border between East Germany and West Germany.
. Click the link for more information. in late 1961 to check the embarrassing flow of East Germans to the West. In 1962 a tense confrontation occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union after U.S. intelligence discovered the presence of Soviet missile installations in Cuba. Direct conflict was avoided, however, when Premier Khrushchev ordered ships carrying rockets to Cuba to turn around rather than meet U.S. vessels sent to intercept them (see Cuban Missile Crisis Cuban Missile Crisis,
1962, major cold war confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. In response to the Bay of Pigs Invasion and other American actions against Cuba as well as to President Kennedy's build-up in Italy and Turkey of U.S.
. Click the link for more information. ). It was obvious from this and other confrontations that neither major power wanted to risk nuclear war.

Hopes for rapprochement between the Soviet Union and the West had been raised by a relaxation in Soviet policy after the death (1953) of Joseph Stalin Stalin, Joseph Vissarionovich
, 1879�, Soviet Communist leader and head of the USSR from the death of V. I. Lenin (1924) until his own death, b. Gori, Georgia.
. Click the link for more information. . Conferences held in that period seemed more amiable, and hopes were high for a permanent ban on nuclear weapons. However, the success of the Soviet artificial satellite Sputnik in 1957, attesting to Soviet technological know-how, introduced new international competition in space exploration and missile capability. Moreover, both Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev Khrushchev, Nikita Sergeyevich
, 1894�, Soviet Communist leader, premier of the USSR (1958󈞬), and first secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union (1953󈞬).
. Click the link for more information. and U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles grimly threatened "massive retaliation" for any aggression, and the Soviet Union's resumption (1961) of nuclear tests temporarily dashed disarmament hopes. While Khrushchev spoke of peaceful victory, extremists in both camps agitated for a more warlike course, even at the risk of nuclear catastrophe. China began to accuse the USSR of conciliatory policies toward the West, and by the early 1960s ideological differences between the two countries had become increasingly evident.

Detente and the End of the Cold War

During the late 1950s and early 60s both European alliance systems began to weaken somewhat in the Western bloc, France began to explore closer relations with Eastern Europe and the possibility of withdrawing its forces from NATO. In the Soviet bloc, Romania took the lead in departing from Soviet policy. U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia led to additional conflict with some of its European allies and diverted its attention from the cold war in Europe. All these factors combined to loosen the rigid pattern of international relationships and resulted in a period of detente.

In the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan Reagan, Ronald Wilson
, 1911�, 40th president of the United States (1981󈟅), b. Tampico, Ill. In 1932, after graduation from Eureka College, he became a radio announcer and sportscaster.
. Click the link for more information. revived cold-war policies and rhetoric, referring to the Soviet Union as the "evil empire" and escalating the nuclear arms race some have argued this stance was responsible for the eventual collapse of Soviet Communism while others attribute its downfall to the inherent weakness of the Soviet state and the policies of Mikhail Gorbachev Gorbachev, Mikhail Sergeyevich
, 1931–, Soviet political leader. Born in the agricultural region of Stavropol, Gorbachev studied law at Moscow State Univ., where in 1953 he married a philosophy student, Raisa Maksimovna Titorenko (1932?󈟏).
. Click the link for more information. . From 1989 to 1991 the cold war came to an end with the opening of the Berlin Wall Berlin Wall,
1961󈟅, a barrier first erected in Aug., 1961, by the East German government along the border between East and West Berlin, and later along the entire border between East Germany and West Germany.
. Click the link for more information. , the collapse of Communist party dictatorship in Eastern Europe, the reunification of Germany, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In the 21st cent., however, the revival, under Valdimir Putin Putin, Vladimir Vladimirovich
, 1952–, Russian government official and political leader, b. Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). After graduating from the Leningrad State Univ.
. Click the link for more information. , of Russia's military power and great power ambitions led to new geopolitical tensions and conflicts between Russia and the West, and the economic and military modernization of China (which remained ruled by the Communist party) also resulted in tensions and conflicts, especially with respect to Chinese claims in the South China Sea.


See D. F. Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 1917� (1961) J. L. Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941� (1972, repr. 2000), The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War (1987), The United States and the End of the Cold War (1992), We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (1997), Strategies of Containment (1982, rev. ed. 2005), and The Cold War: A New History (2005) K. W. Thompson, Cold War Theories (1981) P. Savigear, Cold War or Detente in the 1980s (1987) J. Sharnik, Inside the Cold War (1987) M. Walker, The Cold War (1994) R. E. Powaski, The Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917� (1997) V. Zubok and C. Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev (1997) J. Chen, Mao's China and the Cold War (2001) W. LaFeber, America, Russia and the Cold War (9th ed. 2002) A. Fursenko and T. Naftali, Khrushchev's Cold War (2006) W. D. Miscamble, From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War (2008) R. Khalidi, Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East (2009) J. Mann, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War (2009) C. Craig and F. Logevall, America's Cold War (2009) D. E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (2009) E. H. Judge and J. W. Langdon, The Cold War: A Global History with Documents (2d ed. 2010) M. P. Leffler and O. A. Westad, ed., The Cambridge History of the Cold War (3 vol., 2010).

The Tragedy of Cold War History

Courtesy Reuters

It has been well over three decades now since the historian William Appleman Williams first called upon his colleagues in the profession to undertake a searching review of the way America has defined its own problems and objectives, and its relationship with the rest of the world. In The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, surely one of the most influential books ever written about the history of U.S. foreign relations, Williams rejected the celebratory tone that had characterized earlier scholarship, insisting that the record of this nation's foreign policy had been a "tragedy" because of the gap Americans had allowed to develop between aspirations and accomplishments. We had preached self-determination but objected when others sought to practice it we had proclaimed the virtues of economic freedom even as we sought to impose economic control. The result, Williams concluded, was that "America's humanitarian urge to assist other people is undercut--even subverted--by the way it goes about helping them."

The classical definition of tragedy is greatness brought low by some fundamental flaw in one's own character. When one considers the difficulties the United States created for itself through its own hubris and arrogance during the Vietnam War era, it is hardly surprising that Williams' tragic view of American diplomacy seemed, to a great many people at the time, to make sense. To a good many even today, it still does.

Therein, however, lies a danger. Any view held by a considerable number of people risks becoming an orthodoxy, and there are signs that this has happened within the field of American diplomatic history. Williams was, according to those who knew him, a profoundly unorthodox character. I suspect that the last thing he would have wanted would have been to see his own ideas--or anybody else's, for that matter--become conventional wisdom. As he himself put it in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, "history is a way of learning, of getting closer to the truth. It is only by abandoning the clichés that we can even define the tragedy."

The end of the Cold War has obliged most of us to jettison any number of clichés, orthodoxies and long-cherished pearls of conventional wisdom in this sense, we are all becoming post-Cold War revisionists. All the more reason, then, for taking another look into what Williams called the "mirror" of history, "in which, if we are honest enough, we can see ourselves as we are as well as the way we would like to be."1

Students frequently ask the question these days: what was the Cold War all about? Given what we now know of the Soviet Union's internal fragility given what has long been clear about the economic absurdity of Marxism-Leninism given persuasive evidence that an international communist monolith never really existed given all of these things, what exactly was the threat to American interests anyway? Whatever could have justified the massive expenditures on armaments, the violations of human rights abroad and civil liberties at home, the neglect of domestic priorities, the threats to blow up the world--whatever could have excused all the deplorable things the United States did during the Cold War if no genuine threat ever existed? Doesn't this record only confirm what Williams suspected: that the American system has a propensity to fight cold wars, and that if the Soviet Union had not provided the necessary adversary, someone else would have?

Few historians would deny today that the United States did expect to dominate the post-World War II international system, and that it did so well before the Soviet Union emerged as a clear and present antagonist. Woodrow Wilson years earlier had provided the rationale, with his call for a collective security organization to keep the peace, and for self-determination and open markets as a way of simultaneously removing the causes of war. It took the fall of France and the attack on Pearl Harbor to transform Wilson's ideas into sustainable policy, to be sure, but the country's leadership, if not yet the country as a whole, was thoroughly committed to those ideas long before World War II ended.

This vision of the future assumed a strong military role for the United States. Americans would hardly have been prepared, even under the best of circumstances, to turn the entire task of peacekeeping over to the United Nations, however enthusiastically they endorsed that organization. And it is now clear that careful calculations of material advantage lay behind the international economic order created at Bretton Woods. No one had ever combined the fact of self-interest with the appearance of disinterest more skillfully than Woodrow Wilson, and that aspect of his legacy was still very much around as influential Americans set out to design the postwar world.2

But let us be fair to those designers: they also assumed that the great powers would act in concert rather than in competition with one another. That presupposition had been the basis for Franklin D. Roosevelt's early and somewhat crude concept of the "four policemen," and it carried over into the more sophisticated planning for the United Nations and the organization of the postwar international economy that went on during the last two years of World War II. It is certainly true that the United States expected to lead the new world order it alone was in a position to set the rules and to provide the resources without which that system could hardly function. But the system was to have been based upon the principle of what we would today call common security. It was to have operated, at least insofar as the great powers were concerned, within a framework of consent, not coercion and most Americans expected, perhaps naively, that this relatively open and relaxed form of hegemony could be made to coincide with their own security interests.

The United States plan for the postwar world, however, was never fully put into effect. Part of the reason was the United States' failure to take into account the extent of wartime devastation in Europe, and the consequent improbability that a return to open markets alone could solve that problem. But the main difficulty lay more in the realm of geopolitics than economics: it was that Washington's conception of common security ran up against another set of priorities, emanating from Moscow, of a profoundly different character.


There was nothing relaxed, or open, or consensual about Josef Stalin's vision of an acceptable international order and the more we learn about Soviet history now that the Soviet Union itself has become history, the more difficult it is to separate any aspect of it from the baleful and lingering influence of this remarkable but sinister figure. One need hardly accept a great man theory of history to recognize that in the most authoritarian government the world has ever seen, the authoritarian who ran it did make a difference.

Stalin was, above all else, a Great Russian nationalist, a characteristic very much amplified by his non-Russian origins. His ambitions followed those of the old princes of Muscovy, with their determination to gather in and to dominate surrounding lands. That Stalin cloaked this goal within an ideology of proletarian internationalism ought not conceal its real origins and character: Stalin's most influential role models, as his most perceptive biographer, Robert C. Tucker, has now made clear, were not Lenin, or even Marx, but Peter the Great and ultimately Ivan the Terrible. His rule replicated the pattern of earlier tsarist autocracies identified by the great pre-revolutionary Russian historian, V. O. Kliuchevskii: "The state swelled up, and the people grew lean."3

Now, if the Soviet Union had occupied, let us say, the position of Uruguay in the post-World War II international system, this kind of autocracy certainly would have oppressed its citizenry, but it would not have caused a Cold War. If the Soviet Union had been the superpower that it actually was, but with a system of checks and balances that could have constrained Stalin's authoritarian tendencies, a Cold War might have happened, but it could hardly have been as dangerous or as protracted a conflict. If the Soviet Union had been a superpower and an authoritarian state, but if someone other than Stalin had been running it--a Bukharin, for example, or perhaps even a Trotsky--then its government would have been in the hands of a Kremlin leader who, although by no means a democrat, at least would have known the outside world, and might have found it easier than Stalin did to deal with it on a basis of wary cooperation instead of absolute distrust.

Unfortunately, none of these counterfactuals became fact. Stalin was in command, and the people of the Soviet Union, together with the rest of the world, were stuck with him at the end of World War II. That was a tragedy, if not in a classical sense, then in an all too modern one. Let me try to illustrate why with a series of vignettes based on some of the new information we have about the great autocrat's life:

Stalin, we are told, once kept a parrot in a cage in his Kremlin apartment. The Soviet leader had the habit of pacing up and down in his rooms for long periods of time, smoking his pipe, brooding about God knows what, and occasionally spitting on the floor. One day the parrot, having observed this many times, tried to mimic Stalin's spitting. Stalin immediately reached into the cage and crushed the parrot's head with his pipe, instantly killing it.4

Stalin once had an independent-minded wife who was becoming concerned about the repressiveness of his policies. After she argued with him one night, either he shot and killed her, or--more likely--she shot and killed herself.5

Stalin once had a rival, Trotsky, whom he outmaneuvered, exiled and eventually had killed he also killed everyone he could who had ever been associated with Trotsky or any other potential challenger, as well as hundreds of thousands of other people who had never had anything to do with any opponents of his regime. Some three million Soviet citizens died, it is estimated, as a result of these purges.6

Stalin once had an idea: that in order to finance the industrialization that Marxist theory said had to take place before there could be a Marxist state, the Soviet government had to ensure a reliable supply of grain for export by forcibly collectivizing agriculture. The best estimate is that over 14 million Soviet citizens died from the famine, exiles, and executions that resulted.7

Stalin once presided over the fighting of a great war, in which at least another 26 million Soviet citizens were killed. When it was over, he congratulated himself not only on a great victory, but on the impressive territorial gains victory had brought. "Stalin looked at it this way," his foreign minister, V. M. Molotov, later recalled. "World War I has wrested one country from capitalist slavery World War II has created a socialist system and the third will finish off imperialism forever."8

My purpose, in reciting this litany, is to make the point that the United States and its allies, at the end of World War II, were not dealing with a normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill, statesmanlike head of government. They confronted instead a psychologically disturbed but fully functional and highly intelligent dictator who had projected his own personality not only onto those around him but onto an entire nation and had thereby, with catastrophic results, remade it in his image.9 And he had completed that task, I might add, long before the Cold War policies of the United States could possibly have given him an excuse to do so. The twentieth century has been full of tragedies, but what Stalin did to the Soviet Union and, let us not forget, to its neighbors as well, must surely rank as among the greatest of them.

One might justifiably ask at this point, though: so what? Weren't Stalin's sins fully apparent decades ago, and didn't they figure prominently in the earliest orthodox accounts of Cold War origins? Isn't raising this issue now a matter of beating a horse that has not only long been dead, but is mummified, possibly even petrified? There are several reasons why I think this is not the case, why the nature of Stalinism is an issue to which Cold War historians will need to return.

First, archives are important, even if all they do is confirm old arguments. The new Soviet sources, however, may well do more than that: the evidence now becoming available suggests strongly that conditions inside the U.S.S.R., not just under Stalin but also under Lenin and several of Stalin's successors, were worse than most outside experts had ever suspected. Whether one is talking about the death toll from collectivization, the purges or the war whether one considers the brutality with which the survivors were treated whether one evaluates the economic and ecological damage inflicted on the territories in which they lived whether one looks at what the Soviet system meant for other countries that got sucked into the Soviet sphere of influence--whatever dimensions of Soviet history one looks at, what is emerging from the archives are stories more horrifying than most of the images put forward, without the benefit of archives, by the Soviet Union's most strident critics while the Cold War was still going on.10 That is, in itself, significant.

But there is a second reason why I think a reconsideration of Stalinism is in order, and it has to do with the way American historians of the Cold War have for too long thought about that conflict. They have preoccupied themselves primarily, as one might have expected, with the so-called First World, where most of the archives have been open for years. They have frequently challenged each other, quite correctly, to extend their horizons to include the Third World, and to give full attention to the often intrusive impact the United States has had on it. It is odd, though, that with all of their emphasis on the need for a genuinely international perspective, historians of United States foreign relations have made so little effort to understand what was really happening in--and what the impact of American policies was on--the Second World.

This omission resulted, in part, from inaccessibility. It was difficult to find out much because governments in the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe and other Marxist states kept so much so carefully hidden. Part of the problem also had to do, I suspect, with the lingering effects of McCarthyism: the ideological excesses of the late 1940s and the early 1950s so traumatized American academics that for decades afterward many of them avoided looking seriously at the possibility that communism might indeed have influenced the behavior of communist states. Because some charges of Soviet espionage were exaggerated, there was a tendency to assume that all of them had been, that the spies were simply figments of right-wing imaginations. Because gestures like Congressional "captive nations" resolutions appeared to be a form of pandering to ethnic constituencies, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that there really were captive nations. And perhaps some of us also worried that if we talked too explicitly about these kinds of things, we might wind up sounding like John Foster Dulles, or, for a more recent generation, Ronald Reagan.

There was another problem as well, though, that made it difficult to assess what was happening in the Second World. It had to do with an unfortunate tendency, derived from international relations theory, to accord equal legitimacy, and therefore more or less equal respectability, to each of the major states within the international system, while ignoring the circumstances that had brought them into existence and the means by which they remained in power. Because all nations seek power and influence, or so realist and neorealist theory tell us, it was not too difficult to conclude that they did so for equally valid reasons that reasoning, in turn, led to a kind of moral equivalency doctrine in which the behavior of autocracies was thought to be little different from that of democracies.

This was not, to be sure, a universal tendency. Many Cold War historians have long argued that certain Third World autocracies held power illegitimately, and have vigorously condemned U.S. foreign policy for putting up with them. But not everyone who took this view was willing to grant equal attention to what those few citizens of the Second World who were free to speak had been saying all along during the Cold War, which was that communism as it was practiced in the Soviet Union really was, and had always been, at least as illegitimate and repressive a system. Now that they are free to speak--and act--the people of the former Soviet Union appear to have associated themselves more closely with President Reagan's famous indictment of that state as an "evil empire" than with more balanced academic assessments. The archives, as noted earlier, are providing documentary evidence for such an interpretation. And yet, these developments have not visibly altered the historians' actual preoccupation with the First World, their periodic exhortations to give greater emphasis to the Third World, and their corresponding neglect of the Second World, which badly needs the historiographical equivalent of an affirmative action policy.11

A truly international approach to American diplomatic history, I should think, would be one fully prepared to look into the mirror that Williams wrote about to see whether we have given adequate attention to a tragedy that has had the most profound consequences--extending over more than seven decades--for the largest nation on the face of the earth, and for most of the other nations that surrounded it.

What would that mean, though, for the writing of Cold War history? The most persistent issue historians of that subject have had to wrestle with is a variant of what we would today call the Rodney King question: couldn't we all have gotten along if we had really tried? The question was answered long ago with respect to another great dictator, Adolf Hitler: few people today have any difficulty with the proposition that Nazi Germany really did represent absolute evil, and that there was never any possibility that, if only we had tried, we could have gotten along with so odious a regime.

Nevertheless, American diplomatic historians have made, and still make, the argument that the United States should have undertaken a greater effort than it did at the beginning of the Cold War to "get along" with the Soviet Union.12 They have tended to reject the notion, popular during that period, that Stalin was another Hitler, that what had evolved in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe was not communism at all, but rather "Red Fascism." It is true that the Soviet autocrat did differ from his German counterpart in several important ways, not the least of which was that Stalin was more cautious than Hitler and would back down if confronted with the fact or at least the plausible prospect of resistance. Nor did Stalin ever seek the systematic extermination of an entire people: the Holocaust was, and remains, unique.

But as Robert C. Tucker and Alan Bullock have recently shown, the similarities between Stalin and Hitler far outweigh the differences.13 These were both remarkably single-minded leaders, driven to dominate all those around them. They combined narcissism with paranoia in a way that equipped them superbly for the task of obtaining and holding onto power. They persisted even in the most unpromising circumstances and although capable of tactical retreats, they were not to be swayed from their ultimate objectives. They were extraordinarily crafty, prepared to take miles when inches were given them. And, most important, they both had visions of security for themselves that meant complete insecurity for everyone else: we have long known that Hitler killed millions in pursuit of his vision, but we now know that Stalin killed many more.14 It is really quite difficult, after reading careful studies like those of Tucker, Bullock, and also the Russian historian Dimitri Volkogonov, to see how there could have been any long-term basis for coexistence--for getting along-with either of these fundamentally evil dictators. One was dealing here with states that had been reshaped to reflect individuals but these individuals, in turn, were incapable of functioning within the framework of mutual cooperation, indeed mutual co-existence, that any political system has to have if it is to ensure the survival of all of the parts that make it up.

The tragedy of Cold War history, then, is that although fascism was defeated in World War II, authoritarianism--as it had been nurtured and sustained by Marxism-Leninism--was not. That form of government was at the apex of its influence during the last half of the 1940s, even as the Soviet Union itself lay physically devastated: material conditions alone do not explain everything that happens in the world. As a result, Stalin was able to create or inspire imitators whose influence extended well past his own death in 1953.

Stalin's clones appeared first in Eastern Europe, where he installed regimes so scrupulous in following his example that they conducted their own purge trials during the late 1940s, a decade after the "Leader of Progressive Mankind" had shown the way. His influence was still present in that part of the world four decades later, as the careers of Erich Honecker, Nicolae Ceausescu, and their counterparts abundantly illustrate. Stalin certainly provided a model for the third great autocrat of the twentieth century, Mao Tse-tung, who it now appears had no interest in cooperating with the United States when he took power in China in 1949.15 Despite his differences with Stalin's successors, Mao was still emulating Stalin himself when he launched the ill-conceived "Great Leap Forward" in 1957, a program of crash industrialization that is now believed to have cost the lives of some 30 million Chinese, a civilian death toll that may be higher than what Stalin and Hitler together managed to achieve.16 And then there were all the little Stalins and Maos who appeared elsewhere in the world during the Cold War: Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Mengistu Haile-Miriam, Babrak Karmal, and many others, each of whom, like their teachers, promised liberation for their people but delivered repression.

Now, tyrants--even well-intentioned tyrants--are nothing new in history. Certainly the United States associated itself with its own share of repressive dictators throughout the Cold War, and had been doing so long before that conflict began. But there was something special about the Marxist-Leninist authoritarians, and it is going to be important for post-Cold War historians to understand what it was. They were, like Hitler, murderous idealists, driven to apply all of the energies they and the countries they ruled could command in an effort to implement a set of concepts that were ill-conceived, half-baked, and ultimately unworkable. They believed that, by sheer force of will, all obstacles could be overcome, and they were willing to pay whatever price was necessary in lives to overcome them. These were not hard-nosed realists but rather brutal romantics that does not justify us, though, in romanticizing any of them.

But just what was it about the twentieth century that allowed such romantics to gain such power during its first eight decades, and then so abruptly, at the end of the ninth, to lose it? After all, the great authoritarians were not alien visitors they sprang from circumstances not of their own making, and they rose to preeminence by taking advantage--with astonishing skill and persistence--of the situations that surrounded them. History for a long time was on their side, and then it ceased to be. We need to understand why.

One way to find out might be to follow another piece of advice from William Appleman Williams, which is that we rediscover Karl Marx.17 It was Marx, more than anyone else, who alerted us to the fact that there are long-term, "sub-structural" forces in history, and that they shape modes of economic production, forms of political organization, and even social consciousness. To use a term from more recent discoveries in the geological sciences, Marx exposed underlying "tectonic" processes that drive history forward, in much the same way that comparable processes push the continents around on the face of the earth. These forces by no means determine the actions of individuals, but they do establish the environment within which they act. "Men make their own history," Marx emphasized in his famous 1852 essay, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," "but they do not make it just as they please they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past."18

We have neglected Marx's approach to history, I believe, for several reasons. First, we too easily confused Marxism with Marxism-Leninism, which was as thorough a perversion of Marx's own thinking as one can imagine. Second, Marx's incompetence as an economist, which was considerable, obscured his strengths as a historian. Third, Marx himself weakened his historical analysis by falling victim to what we now recognize as the Fukuyama fallacy: this is the curious tendency of those who think that they have identified the ultimate "engine" of history to assume that history will stop with them.19 Marx insisted that the progression from feudalism through capitalism to socialism and communism was irreversible, but that it would then for some reason end at that point.

What really appears to have happened is that one set of tectonic forces--industrialization, the emergence of class-consciousness and the alienation that flowed from it--undermined liberal, democratic, bourgeois, market capitalism late in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries, thus paving the way for fascism, communism and the authoritarianism that accompanied them. But during the second half of the twentieth century these tectonic forces took on new forms--postindustrialization, the emergence of communications-consciousness and the alienation that flowed from it--which then undermined the foundations of authoritarianism and brought us around to our next historically determined phase, which turned out to be liberal, democratic, bourgeois, market capitalism all over again. Marx, it seems, had mixed up linear with cyclical processes in history, and that was a substantial error indeed. But it does not invalidate his larger insight into the existence of tectonic forces and the role they play in human affairs. That insight might well serve as a starting point for a reconsideration, not just of the Cold War, but of the twentieth century as a whole.

The great authoritarians of this century arose, from this perspective, because they were to turn historical tectonics to their own advantage: they were able to align their own actions with deep sub-structural forces, and thus convey an appearance of inevitability--of having history on their side--in most of what they did. With the passage of time, though, the historical tectonics shifted, the authoritarians successors were unable to adapt, and they themselves became demoralized, with the result that their regimes collapsed very much as the dinosaurs did once the environment within which they had flourished no longer existed. One might even conclude from this that the Cold War's outcome was predetermined, and that the real tragedy of Cold War history was all the wasted effort the opponents of authoritarianism put into trying to bring about what was going to happen anyway.20

It is unlikely, though, that Marx would have taken this position, for despite his emphasis on underlying historical forces, he was no historical determinist. The authoritarians arose, he might well have argued, because a few key individuals made their own history by exploiting the circumstances that confronted them, circumstances that, at the time, presented them with immense possibilities. It was the intersection of action with environment that produced results, not action alone or environment alone. But once one admits that possibility, one also has to allow that the resistance to authoritarianism may have made a difference. It makes no sense to claim that dictators can exploit tectonic forces, but that their opponents can never do so. So let us consider the resistance to authoritarianism, and that gets us back to the actions the United States--and its allies--have taken in the affairs of this century.

If, as seems likely, the twentieth century is remembered as one whose history was largely shaped by the rise and fall of authoritarian regimes, then historians will have no choice but to debate the role the United States played in resisting them. They may conclude that the role was an active one: that the Americans harnessed tectonic forces even more successfully than the authoritarians did and that after a protracted struggle the Wilsonian vision prevailed over those of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and their imitators. Or historians may see the American contribution as a more passive one: that it was one of holding the line, of providing evidence that authoritarianism need not be the only path to the future, until such time as the underlying tectonic forces shifted, thus undermining authoritarianism's foundations and bringing about the events we have recently witnessed. Or historians may find that the truth lay somewhere in between.

But whatever the direction these lines of interpretation eventually take, the role of the United States in resisting authoritarianism will be at the center of them. It would seem most appropriate, therefore, for historians of American foreign relations to be at the center of that debate. I see little evidence of that happening, though, and I wonder if this is not because those of us who work in this field have allowed Williams' "tragic" perspective to obscure our vision. We have turned a set of criticisms that might have been appropriate for particular policies at a particular time and place into something approaching a universal frame of reference. We have transformed what was, in its day, a profoundly unorthodox criticism of conventional wisdom into an orthodoxy that has now become conventional wisdom. Like most orthodoxies, it does not wear well it distorts our understanding of our place in the world, and also of ourselves.

How often do we ask the question: tragedy as compared to what? Gaps exist, after all, between the aspirations and the accomplishments of all states, just as they do in the lives of all individuals if they alone are to be our criteria for defining tragedy, then that is a characteristic inseparable from human existence, which rather weakens its analytical usefulness. If one defines tragedy according to the extent of the gap between aspirations and accomplishments, it becomes a more fruitful concept. But if one then compares gaps in terms of their extent, setting the American record against those of other great powers in the twentieth century, the tragedy appears more to fade out than to stand out. Perhaps that is why the United States is still the preferred destination of those who seek to leave their own countries in the hope of finding better lives: the truly oppressed normally flee away from their oppressor, not toward it. If historians are to take the voices of the oppressed seriously, we will need to listen to everything they are telling us, not just those parts of it that fit our preconceptions.

Americans are no more likely to be exempted from tragic processes in history than anyone else is but historians have treated these processes in a shallow, shortsighted and antiseptic way. We need to regain a sense of what real tragedy, in this less-than-perfect world, is all about. That means comparing the American tragedy with the others that surrounded it. It means using history as a genuine way of learning, not simply as a convenient platform from which we hold forth, either in self-condemnation or self-congratulation. It means, in the most fundamental sense, meeting our obligations as historians, which involve being honest not only about ourselves but about the environment in which we have had to live. And it means according equal respect, as I fear we have not yet done, to all of the survivors, and to all of the dead.

6 Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 486.

7 Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 306.

16 Basil Ashton, Kenneth Hill, Alan Piazza and Robin Zeitz, "Famine in China, 1958-61," Population and Development Review, December 1984, 613-45. I am indebted to John Mueller for this reference.

17 William Appleman Williams, The Great Evasion: An Essay on the Contemporary Relevance of Karl Marx and on the Wisdom of Admitting the Heretic into the Dialogue about America's Future. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1964.

18 Quoted in Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1978, p. 595.

20 I am indebted to one of my students, Philip Nash, for suggesting this point.

The Cold War: The Ordinary People who Helped Shaped the Future

COLD WAR HISTORIOGRAPHY has undergone major changes since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. For two years (1992–1993) the principal Soviet archives fell open to scholars, and although some of the richest holdings are now once again closed, new information continues to find its way out. Moreover, critical documentary information has become available from the former Soviet bloc nations and from China. Gone are the days when students of the Cold War found the Eastern bloc side completely closed off to historical investigations. Such is the rush of new documentation from the former Eastern bloc that some researchers have commented that trying to make use of the materials is like trying to drink from a fire hose.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute held at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., “New Sources and Findings on Cold War International History,” under the direction of Dr. James F. Hershberg of George Washington University and Dr. Vladislav M. Zubok, Senior Research Fellow at the National Security Archive. The program directors did an excellent job, providing a superb reading list (see Works Cited) and assembling an all-star cast of speakers featuring many of the leading contributors to recent Cold War scholarship, including Vojtech Mastny, John Haynes, Allen Weinstein, Chen Jian, Kathryn Weathersby, Mark Kramer, Raymond L. Garthoff, and Timothy Naftali, among others. The seminar represented the very best scholarship from the mainstream of Cold War studies.

Most of the twenty-nine participants at the Institute were specialists in diplomatic history, the history of the Cold War, international affairs, or in the recent history of the Soviet Union or China. I am a Latin Americanist and my attendance at the Institute was prompted by my present research project: I am writing a general history of Ecuadorian/United States relations for the University of Georgia Press’ “United States and the Americas” series. In this sense, I came to the Institute with something of an outsider’s perspective, with all the disadvantages and advantages that this status can bring. Outsiders lack an insider’s nuanced knowledge base and command of the field’s specialized vocabulary, but on the other hand, outsiders can sometimes see larger patterns that are not as plainly visible to insiders working on more narrowly defined problems in their field. As a specialist in Latin American history who lived among Cold War scholars at the NEH Institute, I would like to first report back to other historians what I believe are the leading new conclusions from Cold War studies, especially those that bear on the teaching and writing of Third World and Latin American history. The History Teacher has previously published two pieces on Cold War historical scholarship, that of Greg Cashman and Arthur N. Gilbert, “Some Analytical Approaches to the Cold War Debate” (1977), and that of Edward Crapol, “Some Reflections on the Historiography of the Cold War” (1987). While both of these essays can still be read with profit, given the remarkable progress in the field of Cold War studies in the past sixteen years, it is time for an update.

New Findings on the Cold War

Cold War scholars have tended to be cautious about drawing sweeping judgments based on the new documents. They have usually found that there was more than enough work to do in just understanding the meaning of the new evidence for their focused case studies. Nevertheless, what is most striking to me is the broad accord I see on a number of important new conclusions—conclusions I believe that many non-specialists would find fairly surprising. During the Cold War, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan, from Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to Alexander Haig, United States policy makers articulated a common core of shared opinions on the origins and continuing causes of the Cold War, a viewpoint that most Americans came to share. This familiar orthodox interpretation held that it was the Soviet Union that had started the Cold War after WWII when it ruthlessly occupied territory and set up pro-communist puppet governments in Eastern Europe. The orthodox view also held that the Soviet Union together with fellow communist allies, especially Red China, spied and spread discord across the globe and endlessly probed for Western weakness as part of a larger plan for communist world conquest. Even today many Americans, indeed, perhaps even most Americans, would probably still adhere to the basic tenets of this orthodox position.

At first, as Eastern bloc documents began to become available, it appeared that the new information would vindicate the orthodox view of the Cold War. (Beginning in 1992 thousands of new Cold War documents have been translated and published in the series, Cold War International History Project Bulletin, published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.) For example, the new information confirmed that Alger Hiss was guilty. Julius Rosenberg had also passed on secrets (even if his wife Ethel was only marginally involved in espionage). Documents from the Soviet side confirmed that stolen atomic secrets helped their scientists develop the A-bomb two years earlier than they might have otherwise. And intercepted spy cables showed that hundreds of Americans, especially people linked to the American Communist Party, actively engaged in espionage to aid the Soviet Union (although admittedly most of this came during WWII when the Soviets were our allies). (See, Weinstein and Vassiliev, and Haynes and Klehr, Venona.)

But the impact of the new evidence has largely been otherwise. There have, of course, been “revisionist” and “post-revisionist” challenges to the orthodox view, but the new documents have yielded further evidence that calls into question several of the most basic suppositions of the orthodox view. It has come from multiple archives and from multiple sources: secret records, letters, directives, meeting minutes, logs of private conversations from Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, and other communist leaders, as well extensive recently declassified records from other top level communist officials from across the Eastern bloc. What this means is that we no longer have to guess at communist actions, goals, and intentions, we can read their secret debates, private ruminations, and their own explanations to themselves and their colleagues about what they did and what they thought about what they were doing. As a result, key claims about the extent of Soviet control over its satellites, about the extent of unity within the Eastern bloc, about the extent of Soviet direction of Cuban military involvement in Africa, and even basic orthodox assertions about the essential nature of Soviet intentions throughout the Cold War are all now under serious challenge due to the new evidence.

To be sure, not all Cold War scholars would agree with this. Indeed, one of the most respected senior Cold War authorities, John Lewis Gaddis, author of We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (1997), flatly rejects the notion that the new documents have revealed weaknesses in the standard orthodox position, holding, quite to the contrary, that the new evidence supports the orthodox view. But the redoubtable Gaddis notwithstanding, what is most striking to me is how, in new case study after case study, on issue after issue, most Cold War scholars (if clearly not all of them) have come to individual conclusions that the new evidence undercuts several essential assumptions of the orthodox view of the Cold War.

There are many, many examples. Stalin’s decision after WWII to set up communist governments in the nations along the Soviet border in Eastern Europe derived almost entirely from his continuing fear of a resurgent Germany and his determination to assure future Soviet security. If Stalin’s actions were just a first step in a larger plan for world conquest, he did a good job of hiding this from others in leadership positions in Moscow. Instead, what the new documents reveal is that Stalin showed almost no practical interest in and gave almost no effort to fomenting world communist revolution, and least of all in Latin America, which he conceded was part of the United States’ sphere of influence.

There is no reason to doubt that Stalin believed in the inevitability of conflict between socialism and capitalism, and that he thought that socialism would ultimately prevail. However, even if Stalin was sure that the world victory of socialism would come one day, he could not really say when. If this did not happen in his lifetime, then perhaps it would come in the next generation, or if not then, then at some point after that. Stalin was a patient man. Consequently, Stalin’s core belief in the ultimate victory of socialism over capitalism did very little to inform his practice of foreign policy. (See Zubok and Pleshakov, Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War.)

The new documents also show that Eastern bloc allies were actually far more autonomous in their attitudes and actions than had previously been suspected. The crises over Berlin had much more to do with the machinations of East German leader Walter Ulbricht than it did with Soviet long term intentions. (See Harrison, “Ulbricht and the Concrete ‘Rose’: New Archival Evidence on the Dynamics of Soviet-East German Relations and the Berlin Crisis, 1958–61.”) Likewise, the Sino-Soviet split came earlier and was deeper than we realized. (See Westad, ed., Brothers in Arms.)

For Third World specialists, new documents on Cuba’s support for revolutionary forces in Africa similarly demonstrate the need to reconsider prior orthodox suppositions. Given the previous near total lack of documentation, it had been reasonable enough to assume that the reason the Cubans sent 300,000 troops to Africa from the 1960s to the 1980s was that their Soviet benefactors instructed them to do so. The new documents, especially those from Cuban archives, show that it was just the reverse. (See, Gleijeses, “Cuba’s First Venture in Africa” Gleijeses, “Flee! The White Giants are Coming!”) Fidel Castro sent Cuban troops because he wanted to support fellow revolutionaries. When the Soviet leadership found out what Castro was doing they tried to stop him. Typically the Soviets would only send in their own troops after the Cubans had shamed them into it.

Prior interpretations of the Cuban missile crisis also got key aspects of the story wrong. Conventional United States accounts of the showdown have emphasized how President John Kennedy exercised cool crisis management, went “eye ball to eye ball” until the other guy blinked, and in facing down Soviet aggression saved the world from a nuclear inferno. However, one of the things that we can see now is that in the early 1960s the Soviet nuclear arsenal was actually very weak compared to that of the United States. In fact, it was so weak that some American strategists concluded that the Soviet Union was actually vulnerable to a first strike. American intelligence predicted that if the United States launched a first strike against the Soviet Union, the United States could be ninety percent certain to take out one hundred percent of Soviet nuclear weapons, and one hundred percent certain to take out at least ninety percent of Soviet nuclear weapons. Given this, some in the Pentagon, most famously General Curtis E. LeMay, seemed at points to be advocating a first strike, at least under certain conditions. It is therefore posible to argue, ironically, that had it not been for Kennedy’s reaction, Khrushchev’s placement of nuclear weapons in Cuba could actually have brought greater nuclear stability, for the weapons there would have removed any further temptation among some in the Pentagon to push for a United States nuclear first strike.

What the new documents show is that Khrushchev decided to place nuclear weapons in Cuba in order to dissuade the United States from directing another invasion against the island, as it had attempted at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. In the end, Khrushchev removed the missiles only after Kennedy agreed to a deal. Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba and to withdraw American nuclear missiles from Turkey. In return Khrushchev took the nuclear weapons, including, we now know, about one hundred tactical nuclear weapons, out of Cuba. (See, Fursenko and Naftali, “One Hell of a Gamble.”)

Throughout the Cold War the Soviet Union repeatedly took unilateral steps to attempt to bring about an end to the Cold War, as for example when Khrushchev dramatically cut Soviet troop levels in the late 1950s. (See Evangelista, “Why Keep Such an Army?”) As the Cold War came to an end in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was the unilateral steps that Mikhail Gorbachev took that proved decisive. He radically reduced Soviet nuclear and conventional arms and withdrew Soviet troops from Eastern Europe. (See, Garthoff, The Great Transition.) Gorbachev and the top Soviet officials that supported his leadership recognized what should have been obvious to all long before: the arms race was both ruinously expensive and held the world in nuclear terror continuing it was madness. The Soviet Union produced a generation of leaders surrounding Gorbachev who had the wisdom, vision, and courage to support a series of unilateral Soviet steps that brought about the end of the Cold War. The United States failed to produce such leadership. For Cold War studies, this may be the most provocative conclusion of all.

Obviously, it would be impossible to get all Cold War scholars to agree upon any single overarching interpretation of the Cold War. The very essence of scholarly debate precludes it. Nevertheless, taken as a whole the new scholarship does generally endorse conclusions which stand at sharp variance with the old orthodox position. Even those who still advocate the orthodox view would concede this point. For instance, Richard C. Raack, a determined defender of the orthodox position, attacks the new scholarship in his recent essay in World Affairs (1999), vigorously asserting that the current generation of Cold War studies scholars are as a whole a profoundly unqualified group, noteworthy for their “remarkable naiveté” and “incompetence.” (Raack, 45, 47) He goes so far as to write that the “cheapened [university] degrees” of this cohort have left them “intellectually impoverished,” “dismally uniformed,” and “provincial.” (Raack, 45) Because these writers—”apparently willing victims of Stalin‘s propagandists” (60)—”know [so] appallingly little,” they “broadly mislead readers,” Raack says. (Raack, 60, 49) To Raack it is especially lamentable that “nowadays [such ‘anti-American…’ views—that is, anti-orthodox views]…reflect…the stodgy political certainties of much of the U.S.—and not only U.S.—journalism and academe.” (Raack, 47) While I can join in none of Raack’s judgements regarding the value of the new scholarship, on at least part of his last point we do agree: the bulk of the new Cold War scholarship directly disputes the orthodox position.

Ultimately, each historian will have to decide for her or himself whether or not the new evidence has seriously undermined key orthodox suppositions about the Cold War. What is beyond debate is that given the overall developments in the field, history teachers who deal with Cold War issues in their classrooms will need to carefully examine the new scholarship. This will be a large task because the new research is not neatly summed up in three or four books. While John Lewis Gaddis’s We Now Know does seek to bring together in just one volume the largest implications of the new research (his is a work of synthesis, not original research), in all fairness Gaddis’s overall conclusions do really seems to be out of step with those of most others working in the field.

Finally, I was somewhat disappointed at the Institute to find no real representation there of a broader way of looking at foreign policy or of exploring new methodological pathways and asking questions involving gender, race, and social history. Examples of this new scholarship include Brenda Gayle Plummer’s well researched Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935–1960 (1996), which considers how leaders in the African-American community sought to influence the debate on Cold War and international political issues. Richard M. Fried’s The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!: Pageantry and Patriotism in Cold War America (1998) shows how American society was influenced, and sometimes not influenced, by United States Cold War propaganda. Cynthia Enloe’s work on women and international studies, including Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives (2000), and The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War (1993) explores how the military as a “patriarchal institution…[has] manipulate[d]…women’s lives in order to maintain its efficiency, power, and readiness.” (Review by Rowley, 103) If Enloe’s work is not favored by all—Michael Lind writing in The New Republic characterizes her work as “rambling exercises in free association” (Lind, 38)—she is at least asking some intriguing new questions. Some studies have appeared on masculine gender roles (see for example, Robert D. Dean, “Masculinity as Ideology: John F. Kennedy and the Domestic Politics of Foreign Policy”), and new Cold War studies would certainly benefit from additional investigations of how leaders’ notions of what constitutes proper masculinity may have shaped decision making.

Teachers should certainly be aware that the history of the Cold War is much more than the story of the decision making processes of the great leaders, for it is also the story of how ordinary people were affected by these decisions and how, in turn, these ordinary people helped to shape historical outcomes.


Cashman, Greg and Gilbert, Arthur N. “Some Analytical Approaches to the Cold War Debate,”The History Teacher 10:2 (February 1977): 263–280.
Crapol, Edward. “Some Reflections on the Historiography of the Cold War,”The History Teacher 20:2 (February 1987): 251–262.

Dean, Robert D. “Masculinity as Ideology: John F. Kennedy and the Domestic Politics of Foreign Policy,” Diplomatic History 22:1 (Winter 1998): 29–62.
Enloe, Cynthia. Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives. Berkeley, 2000.

_______. The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War. Berkeley, 1993.

Evangelista, Matthew. “‘Why Keep Such an Army?’: Khrushchev’s Troop Reductions.” Cold War International History Project Working Paper #19.
Fried, Richard M. The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!: Pageantry and Patriotism in Cold War America. New York, 1998.

Fursenko, Aleksandr, and Naftali, Timothy. “One Hell of a Gamble”: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958–1964. New York, 1997.
Gaddis, John Lewis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. New York, 1997.

Garthoff, Raymond L. The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War. Washington, 1994.

Gleijeses, Piero. “Cuba’s First Venture in Africa: Algeria, 1961–1965.” Journal of Latin American Studies (February 1996): 159–95.

_______. “Flee! The White Giants are Coming! The United States, the Mercenaries, and the Congo, 1964–1965.” Diplomatic History (Spring 1994): 207–237.

Harrison, Hope M. “Ulbricht and the Concrete ‘Rose’: New Archival Evidence on the Dynamics of Soviet-East German Relations and the Berlin Crisis, 1958–61.” Cold War International History Project Working Paper #5.
Haynes, John, and Klehr, Harvey. Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. New Haven, 1999.

Lind, Michael. “Of Arms and the Woman.” The New Republic 209:20 (November 15, 1993): 36–38.

Mastny, Vojtech. The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity: The Stalin Years. New York, 1996.

Plummer, Brenda Gayle. Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935–1960. Chapel Hill, 1996.

Raack, Richard C. “The Cold War Revisionists Kayoed: New Books Dispel More Historical Darkness.” World Affairs 162:2 (Fall 1999): 43–62.
Rowley, Monica. Review of Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives, by Cynthia Enloe. Sexuality & Culture 5:2 (Spring 2001): 103–106.

Weinstein, Allen, and Vassiliev, Alexander. The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America—The Stalin Era. New York, 1999.

Westad, Odd Arne, ed. Brothers in Arms: The Rise and Fall of the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1945–1963. Washington, 1998.

Zubok, Vladislav M., and Pleshakov, Constantine. Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev. Cambridge, 1996.

12 of the Best Cold War History Books

During the 20th century, the United States was involved in several wars, but one of the wars that lasted the longest wasn’t fought on any battlegrounds: the Cold War. The Cold War began in 1947, and was defined by the open rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and its allies. The name came from an article written about the two world powers by author George Orwell during World War II. It was a war fought on political, economic, and propaganda fronts, which resulted in anti-communist suspicions, such as those presented by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare, and international incidents, like the Bay of Pigs. The Cold War continued for almost five decades, ending with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Because the Cold War was so long and had many players and events, a lot of fascinating books have been written about it. Here is a look at 10 of the best Cold War history books for adults. These tales of espionage and intrigue detail a time of suspicion and fear not that far in the past, and include true stories that read like bestselling spy novels.

The Compatriots

By Andrei Soldatov

By Irina Borogan

The Compatriots is a comprehensive look at the exodus of Russian citizens that began at the end of the 19th century, and how Russia took advantage of it by turning some emigrants, including Leon Theremin, the inventor of the theremin, into spies for Moscow. It also looks at the suspicion and persecution Russians abroad faced all over the world.

The 1950s and early 1960s were times of the backyard Bomb Shelter.

In downtown Columbus, Ohio, at least one building in every block was equipped with a heavily reinforced basement area that could shield people against a nuclear attack. These shelters were advertised with a large metal image of a nuclear radiation insignia.

The USA tested nuclear bombs below ground in the American West and on what they thought were uninhabited islands. This was not always the case. People that lived close to these areas suffered some affects of radiation. The USSR tested nuclear bombs as well.

In the 21st century, Russian nuclear submarines for 40 years previously lie, still submerged, in the bays of St. Petersburg, their nuclear reactors and radioactive materials decaying into the surrounding waters and entering the food and water supply of the people. The book and film K-19 tells the true story of this ongoing mishap.

Real Wars were fight by America during this time, but named as somethings else: The Korean Conflict or Police Action and the Vietnam Conflict (begun with the French interest and picked up by the US in the late 50s via US military advisers that helped American to decide to escalate into the conflict status.)

Cold War Timeline

Cold War

As World War II was ending, the Cold War began. This was to be a long lasting and continuing confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, lasting from 1945 to 1989. It was called the Cold War because neither the Soviet Union nor the United States officially declared war on each other. However, both sides clearly struggled to prevent the other from spreading its economic and political systems around the globe.

Many American leaders believed that the Soviet Union hoped to spread communism all over the world. Communism was an expansionist ideology in theory and was assumed by many people to be spread through revolution. It suggested that the working class would overthrow the middle and upper classes. With the Soviet Union occupying much of Eastern and Central Europe following World War II, many Americans believed that communism had to be resisted.

Some of the leaders of the Soviet Union were convinced that the United States intended to wage war against the Russian people. The American use of the atomic bomb against Japan demonstrated to the Soviets that the United States was a possible military threat to the stability of the Soviet government. The Soviets also opposed a quick return of sovereignty to the German people after World War II. The Germans had invaded Russia twice in the first four decades of the twentieth century and killed millions of Russians. The Soviets wanted to occupy Germany to prevent yet another attack. The Americans wanted to allow the Germans to rule themselves as quickly as possible.

During the Cold War, the United States participated in the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam War (1964-1973), and several other conflicts to prevent the spread of communism. Approximately 4,700 Ohioans died in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The government of the United States began several other programs to prevent the expansion of communism. In the years after World War II, many Americans became concerned that communism might spread to the United States and threaten the nation's democratic values. Both the federal government and state governments reacted to those fears by attacking perceived communist threats. One of the main tactics used at the federal level was the creation of various investigative committees. Senator Joseph McCarthy chaired one such committee and hoped to end communist influence in the federal government. Thousands of federal government workers were suspected of communist loyalties, and many of these people lost their jobs. The federal government also investigated the motion picture, television, and radio industries. It was believed by many people at the time that communists might be attempting to spread their message through the American media.

In 1951, the Ohio General Assembly created the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee. This was a joint committee of state representatives and senators charged with determining communism's influence in Ohio. The committee was based on the federal government's House Un-American Activities Committee. Its members received sweeping powers to question Ohioans about their ties to communism. Between 1951 and 1954, the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee, headed by House member Samuel Devine, questioned forty Ohioans, asking each person, "Right now, are you an active member of the Communist Party?" Every person refused to answer and cited the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protecting Americans against self-incrimination.

Many of the persons questioned were college students or people who had favored socialist or communist programs to end the Great Depression of the 1930's. Various grand juries eventually indicted the forty people. Fifteen of the accused were convicted of supporting communism. In 1952, the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee contended that 1,300 Ohioans were members of the Communist Party.

In 1953, the Ohio General Assembly, with Governor Frank Lausche's approval, extended the existence of the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee. Lausche generally opposed the committee's actions, but he faced great pressure from Ohioans who wished to continue to seek out communists. The governor contended that the committee's actions might put into "grave danger . . . the reputations of innocent people against whom accusations can be made on the basis of rumor and frequently rooted in malice." However, he also said, "Communism is a menace to our country."

Governor Lausche vetoed a bill that would impose jail terms and monetary fines for anyone found guilty of communist leanings. However, the Ohio General Assembly passed the bill over the governor's veto. By the mid 1950s, the lengthy investigations of people suspected of communist sympathies generally came to an end. However, many Americans continued to be concerned about communism and its influence.

The Cold War continued until the late 1980s. Conflicts over communism in Cuba and South Vietnam dominated the 1960s and 1970s. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the United States began to produce as many nuclear warheads as possible to deter the Soviets from launching their own nuclear attack against America. This strategy, encouraged by President Ronald Reagan, helped the United States emerge victorious from the Cold War.

The Soviet Union attempted to expand its own military power to meet the challenge of the United States. However, the Soviet economy was not as strong as the American system and the building campaign destroyed the Russian government's ability to meet the needs of its people. By the late 1980s, people across Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union rose up against their communist governments. The Cold War came to an end.

Tag: Cold War

The United States faces an abundance of national security concerns in 2016, ranging from North Korean nuclear testing to Islamic State nuclear ambitions. Russia was notably absent from the 2016 Nuclear Summit, which was “aimed at locking down fissile material worldwide that could be used for doomsday weapons,” while maintaining the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. These concerns prompt a question that originated in the early Cold War period: how can a nation prevent nuclear attack?

During WWII, the U.S. detonated the first nuclear bomb over Hiroshima, Japan on August 1945, catastrophically damaging the city. The postwar 1949 explosion of a Soviet atomic bomb ignited fears of the American public about what Anne Wilson Marks dubbed in an article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a “new Pearl Harbor.”

The Ground Observer Corps, Advertising Material, A public service campaign prepared for the Department of the Air Force and the Federal Civil Defense Administration by The Advertising Council, Inc., Box 5, Folder “GOC- General 1953 (2),” 15A6, James M. Lambie Jr. Records, Eisenhower Presidential Library.

When most think of early Cold War civil defense they recall bomb shelters and “duck and cover” drills. However, President Dwight D. Eisenhower implored Americans in a 1953 advertisement to “Wake Up! Sign Up! Look Up!” to Soviet airplanes potentially escorting an atomic bomb over the U.S. He encouraged them to do so through a collaborative program with the U.S. Air Force called the Ground Observer Corps, established in 1949.

In the GOC, civilian volunteers were encouraged to build watchtowers in backyards and community centers, and to survey skies from existing commercial structures. Utilizing a telephone, binoculars, observation manual, and log of duties, civilians searched the skies for airplanes flying lower than 6,000 feet, which could evade radar detection. At the sight of a suspicious, possibly nuclear-bomb-toting plane, civilians were to telephone their local filter center, staffed with Air Force personnel, who could then direct the plane to be intercepted or shot down.

Image courtesy of Conneaut Valley Area Historical Society.

This collaborative civil defense program involved approximately 350,000 observers, made up of families, prisoners and guards, the youth and elderly, the blind and handicapped, and naval and USAF personnel. In 1952, the Ground Observer Corps operated 24-hours each day and became known as Operation Skywatch.

Scientists estimated that Soviet aircraft would emerge over the North Pole, raising questions about Indiana’s vulnerability. Governor Henry F. Schricker warned in The Indiana Civil Defense Sentinel that “Hoosiers should be alert to protect vital Indiana war industries if hostilities should break out.” Indiana officials worried that Lake County, part of Chicago’s urban industrial area, could be a site of an enemy attack. Concerned Indiana citizen Thomas H. Roberts wrote to Gov. Schricker that his family lived in “the highly industrialized Calumet area. I am sure you are aware that this area is a likely target for enemy attack.”

Map, “One Call, the Ground Observer Corps,” U.S. Government Printing Office, 1954.

According to articles and letters sent to Schricker in 1950 from other governors, GOC planning advanced more quickly and decidedly in Indiana than other participating states. Unsure as to how to proceed after a Washington planning conference, Illinois Governor and future presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson appealed to Schricker for advice. Schricker detailed Indiana’s planning process for Stevenson, stating that he would first contact every mayor, town board president and all “peace officers on every level throughout the state.” Days after the meeting, the Department of Civil Defense for Indiana compiled a list of observer posts for each county.

On March 16, 1950, a mock air attack over Indiana illustrated the shortcomings of radar, as B-26 bombers flown by members of the Air National Guard of Indiana, Missouri and Illinois proceeded “completely undetected” by radar at Fort Harrison, the state’s only warning facility. Following the alarming mock air attack, municipal and county officials named Civil Defense Directors in 51 Indiana counties, who established observer posts in the northern two-thirds of Indiana. By late 1950, as the Korean conflict grew, the Air Force had partially constructed a filter center in South Bend, Indiana.

Recruitment sticker, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Historian Jenny Barker-Devine wrote in 2006 that rural residents were likely not targets of atomic explosions, but that federal civil defense agencies sought their help because “rural families also served as custodians of democracy and could prevent any type of socialism or communism from taking hold in local, state, and national governments.”

Diligent rural citizens, such as Larry O’Connor of Cairo, Indiana, organized movements to establish local GOC towers. O’Connor, a World War II Navy veteran and owner of Cairo’s only store (attached to his house), designated it the small community’s initial observation site.

Cairo Ground Observer Corps tower, image courtesy of Queen City Discovery.

In an interview with the author, Cairo resident James Haan shared that the post was necessary because Cairo was located along a line of beacon lights that could guide the enemy to industrial centers in Chicago. In 1952, building began on the Cairo observation tower and the local Rural Electric Membership Cooperative (REMC) donated and set the tower poles. Local merchants from Lafayette and the town of Battle Ground donated materials, and residents in surrounding areas furnished labor. Between 90 and 120 volunteers from surrounding areas volunteered at the Cairo tower. Haan states that volunteers worked in two-hour shifts and that he and other farmers worked all day in the fields, while female family members manned the towers, and the men volunteered throughout the night.

Commemorative limestone monument at Cairo watchtower, image courtesy of Tippecanoe County INGen Web Project.

The Lafayette Journal and Courier claimed that Cairo’s tower was one of the first freestanding towers constructed over the ground. According to O’Connor, it was “the first G.O. Post officially commissioned by the U.S.A.F. in the U.S.A.” Commanding Officer of the South Bend GOC detachment, Lieutenant Colonel Forest R. Shafer, mentioned in a letter “I can verify that the tower constructed at Cairo, Indiana was the first of its kind within my jurisdiction but cannot confirm that it was the first in the United States. However, I am certain it was among the very first, at least.”

More research should be done to verify these claims, but it is clear that the recognition of USAF personnel and public officials gave residents a sense of pride in their contributions. Haan recalled “We had some representatives down here and felt pretty good about it.” He felt that the GOC tower made “a pretty important place out of it [Cairo]. There was a lot of business up there, a lot of people coming and going and working on the tower. And there was for days and days and days a lot of people up there.”

Under O’Connor’s direction, local residents held a dedication for the tower in 1976, commissioned a moment featuring limestone volunteers, and got the tower listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site was later commemorated with a historical marker.

Site of Cairo skywatch tower and historical marker, image courtesy of Queen City Discovery.

The GOC is now long forgotten, as demonstrated by the Cairo tower, once so revered by the community for decades, but now in decay. As with many civil defense programs of the 1950s, the GOC has been deemed a quirky, superfluous program, constructed by an overly-paranoid people. However, the GOC established a model of national defense that solicited the participation of the general public. It served as an opportunity for families, neighbors, and community members to spend quality time together through the shared objective of improving national security.

On January 31, 1959, the Secretary of the Air Force announced the termination of the program due to the improvement of detection radar and inability of civilians to detect increasingly technical Soviet missile system. The Indiana Civil Defender almost wistfully noted that the U.S. “is geared to the substitution of machines for manpower . . . and we accept this theory of progress.” The bulletin lamented the conclusion of the program, but congratulated its participants for successfully deterring attack, going so far as to claim the GOC may have been “the one final deterrent to an attack on the country by a calculating enemy.”

As national attention returns to security concerns, the question remains: how does a country stop the detonation of a nuclear bomb? An NPR correspondent recently contacted the author about the potential for a piece about these Cold War watchtowers.

Despite precarious national security issues, IHB is pleased to report that the Cairo marker has recently been repainted. We are grateful to the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity at Purdue University and Bruce Cole and his sons for their work to preserve the legacy of those vigilant Indiana citizens.

Learn more about the GOC and Cairo tower with the author’s master’s thesis.

Want more towers? Check out our blog posts about Hoosier surveyor Jasper Sherman Bilby, whose Bilby Tower was foundational to modern GPS.

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Watch the video: The Cold War Explained In 15 Minutes (January 2022).