An Introduction to the Cold War
A time of tension between the USA and the USSR (1947-1991)
After WWII, the United States' primary plan for rebuilding western Europe was called the European Recovery Program or the Marshall Plan. The plan, which provided billions to European countries, attempted to make communism less appealing in western Europe.
As the U.S. became increasingly concerned with Communism, it adopted the policy of containment, or the idea to stop Communism from spreading. Specifically, in 1947, President Truman announced the Truman Doctrine which stated that the United States would "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."
The United States established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, with the non-communist European countries as a force against the Soviet nations of Eastern Europe. The Soviets' response came in the form of the Warsaw Pact which was an alliance of communist nations.
West v. East
Most notably, following WWII, Germany was partitioned into four territories for the Americans, the British, the French, and the Soviets, but the territory was generally considered to be divided into the east and west, as well. The capital of Berlin, which was located deep in the Soviets' territory, was also divided into four territories, but the Soviets cut off all highways, roads, and canals into West Berlin, hoping to drive the powers out of the city. In response, the U.S. and its allies sent supplies by air under what came to be known as the Berlin Airlift. The effort lasted over a year and carried over 2.3 million tons of cargo.
The earliest example of a proxy war came in the form of the Korean War in 1950. In this war, the U.S. helped the democratic South Korea when the Soviet-backed, communist North Korea invaded. After the North Korean forces were pushed back to the Korean Peninsula's border with China and the Chinese attacked, a cease-fire was called, dividing the nation at the 38th Parallel.
The Space Race
During the Cold War, the Soviets became increasingly influential in the Middle East following the supply of weaponry to Egypt by communist countries. In response, President Eisenhower declared the Eisenhower Doctrine which promised military or economic aid to any Middle Eastern country against communist aggression. The pronouncement was hardly a new idea as it simply extended the policy of containment.
During the Cold War, the United States did not always support moral regimes, prioritizing the containment of communism. One such example was Batista, the dictator of Cuba. In 1959, during the Cuban Revolution, Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro, a communist. Thus, Cuba, a country only 90 miles from the U.S., had fallen to communism.
In response, the American CIA trained and armed Cuban exiles, and on April 17, 1961, 1,500 Cuban exiles attempted to overthrow Castro in what became known as the Bay of Pigs. The attack was a disaster and many of the rebels were held for ransom.
The conflict in Cuba escalated in the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was the closest that the world came to a nuclear war. In the crisis, it was discovered that the Soviets had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy ordered a blockade, but the world watched with bated breath until the Soviets eventually removed the missiles. This crisis is often considered the best example of brinkmanship, a foreign policy practice in which a party forces interaction to the point of confrontation in an attempt to gain an advantage over the other for negotiation.
Map of the Korean Peninsula
The Korean War never officially ended. The fighting stopped in 1953 with a ceasefire, and the peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel into communist North Korea and democratic South Korea. Both countries have soldiers armed and posted at the border 24/7.
Buzz Aldrin on the first walk on the moon.
The Space Race was just one point of competition between the Americans and the Soviets. Following the Soviet launching of Sputnik I, there was a surge in the American space effort. Finally, in 1969, the U.S. "won" when the first humans set foot on the moon.
Fidel Castro embraces Nikita Khrushchev.
A sharp change from Cuba under Batista, the Castro regime allied with the communist Soviet Union. This alliance and the Cubans' resentment of the U.S. following the Bay of Pigs led to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.