The Cold War

The United States vs The Soviet Union -- 1946-1991

The Cold War

The Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union began immediately following the conclusion of World War II. Both countries, previously allies during the war, now distrusted the other, their form of government, and competed against each other to be the superior power.

The Cold War started right after World War II around 1946 and lasted until 1991. The US employed a tactic known as containment to help stop the spread of communism. With containment, the United States also felt that they needed to stockpile atomic weapons and the Soviet Union began their own search for comparable weaponsl.


The United States’ Foreign Policy was to keep communism from spreading. Following WWII, the United States would selectively choose where they would interfere with the Soviet Union's efforts to spread communism in Europe, Asia and around the globe. This led to many smaller wars and engagements until the Soviet Union ceased to officially exist in 1991.

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Iron Curtain

Almost immediately following the end of World War II, the Soviet Union tightened its control over large portions of Eastern Europe. Winston Churchill came up with the phrase "Iron Curtain" to describe this political divide between self-governing nations located in the West and those controlled by Soviet Russia.

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Truman Doctrine

This was a foreign policy presented to Congress by United States President Harry S. Truman on March 12, 1947. The policy's intent was to provide economic and financial aid to countries that were being threatened by communism. It started out targeting just a couple countries but would eventually expand to include any country opposing the spread of communism and outside forces.

Marshall Plan

Also known as the European Recovery Program, was a program where the United States funded billions of dollars to rebuild Europe following World War II. The intent was to rebuild devastated portions of Europe, modernize their industries, remove trade restrictions between countries and attempt to limit the growth of communism in Europe.

Berlin Airlift

The airlift of supplies to residents of West Berlin who had access cut off by the Soviet Union during the occupation of Germany following World War II. The Western European nations and others began a military cargo drop operation that provided food and goods to West Berlin for over one year. By 1949, the USSR removed the blockade and the airlifts were suspended.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

The United States along with Canada, Iceland and nine other European nations formed NATO in April 1949. NATO or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization formed an alliance to provide support for each nation against armed attack and to work together on military strategy.

Korean War

A war between North and South Korea started in 1950 when North Korean military forces invaded South Korea with the assistance of China and the Soviet Union. North and South Korea had been split following the end of World War II with the Soviet Union promoting communism in North Korea and the United States supporting South Korea. A war raged for four years without a victor, before the boundary was once again set at the 38th parallel, where it remains today.


A phrase associated with United States Senator Joseph McCarthy and his efforts to investigate the private lives of Americans in the early 1950's due to the fear of communism spreading in America. His actions were considered a paranoid witch-hunt which accused people in government or well-known individuals of being communist without any real evidence.

Space Race

A term used to describe competing efforts by the United States and the Soviet Union to dominate efforts in space. In 1955, the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 satellite becoming the first country to place an object in orbit. They were also the first to put an astronaut into space. The United States responded by placing an astronaut on the moon in 1969. Efforts continue by both countries although they now partner on space-related missions and the space station.

U-2 Incident

In 1960, the CIA in the United States had flown a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union and was shot down. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, his plane and evidence of photos being taken were captured by the Soviet Union. The United States was greatly embarrassed by the incident and the pilot was sent to prison in the Soviet Union for a few years before he was later released in a prisoner exchange.

Eisenhower Doctrine

The Eisenhower Doctrine stated that the United States would provide economic or military aid to Middle Eastern countries if they were being threatened. The purpose of the doctrine was to counter the role of the Soviet Union in this region and prevent the spread of communism.


An expression used during the Cold War to describe the practice of nearly reaching a massive confrontation or war with another country, only to retreat back to a neutral position in the hopes of reaching an advantage. The phrase became well known from an interview with United States Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles who said, "If you are scared to to the brink, you are lost." The expression referred to the recurring interactions between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Cuban Missle Crisis

A thirteen-day standoff between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1962 when the United States discovered that the Cubans were being supplied Soviet missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The United States set up a blockage of Cuba which almost lead to a nuclear war. Eventually, the Soviet Union removed the missiles bringing an end to the crisis.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

An attempt to overthrow the Cuban communist government of Fidel Castro by a United States CIA supported paramilitary force in 1961. The flawed plan resulted in 1,500 individuals being captured and the attempted coup ended in just a few days. This failed military invasion brought Castro and the Soviet Union closer together.