Sunday, November 2, 2008

An Analysis of the Cold War

By Glen Maganzini

Following the Second World War, the United States emerged as a super power. The democratically centered U.S was opposed in the super power arena by the communist Soviet Union. Both countries competed for influence in the world during this time period known as the Cold War. Whilst neither country invaded the other (a “hot war”), the competition was fierce; ultimately resulting in American hysteria, disillusionment, and insecurity. Principally, many Americans were fearful of communists taking over the world. Internally, McCarthyism flourished as Americans grew weary of countless alleged leftists. More specifically, government officials were called out as communist spies. Even away from home, the fear of communism existed amongst Americans. The Berlin airlift, along with the Soviet’s aiding of Cuba and China’s emergence as a communist nation caused great international worry. Also during the late 1940s and 1950s, the nuclear warfare question gained precedence. The Eisenhower administration did not want to lose out to the Soviet Union so as a preventive measure the administration increased educational and military spending. Eisenhower himself continued Harry Truman’s containment policies towards Soviet and Chinese communism. Though Eisenhower’s efforts to address said fears were meaningful and bold, his “New Look” was not en masse successful.

Communism, the beast from the East, was emerging as a homeland threat – or so many Americans thought following World War II. Joseph McCarthy, a conservative Senator, is credited as the foremost anticommunist “crusader” during the Cold War era. McCarthy in the ‘40s and ‘50s used media manipulation and uncanny swagger to “out” communists in the government and most importantly cause bewilderment to strike the average American citizen. McCarthy was quite successful in creating the kind of frenzy Dwight Eisenhower described in a March 1954 press conference. McCarthy in actuality failed to root a communist, but nevertheless his aimed reduction of radical views and speech could not have come at a better time. John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, like McCarthy, feared communism extending to America. He said, “If world communism captures any American State...a new and perilous front is established which will increase the danger to the free world and require even greater sacrifices from American people.” Eisenhower did in fact adopt a containment policy (more on this later), but he did not effectively settle the Red Scare mess. A Republican like McCarthy, Eisenhower did not publicly address the Senator; in effect propaganda of Communism in America continued and it was not until 1954 that the Senate condemned the “s.o.b” a term used by Ohio Senator John Bricker.

Americans at this time also grew fearful of communism taking over worldwide. In 1954, according to Dulles, the “situation in Guatemala had become so dangerous that the American States could not ignore it.” And America did not disregard it as the CIA and a small rebel Guatemalan group overthrew socialist President Jacobo Arbenz. Even though the coup d’état was mainly for economic reasons (Arbenz started to nationalize), Americans saw this as another step toward defeating communism. Across the Pacific Ocean, China was in its communist infancy. Americans did not want another potential superpower to fall to the “dark” side. Eisenhower responded to American concern by signing a defense treaty with the Republic of China and forming an anti-communist alliance, SEATO, in order to halt the spread of communism in Asian countries. Moving westward, a blockade of West Berlin by the Soviet Union in 1948 caused American uneasiness. The U.S was forced to resupply the Western sector via air. West Germany after World War I was a NATO ally. America still had many troops stationed in Europe and was not willing to give up Europe to the Soviets after having just fought a costly war. The situations in Guatemala, China, Cuba, and Berlin can all be clumped together and placed under the category of fear of communist expansion. In fact, many thought that the Soviets would march past Germany and invade the rest of Europe. This was not the case, but the U.S and the Soviet Union did in fact become enveloped in a bitter non-fighting competition.

A large fear of the post WWII age was that of nuclear warfare. Scared about the increasing ability of the USSR’s strategic bombers, Eisenhower set out to build a fleet of super bombers known as the Strategic Air Command. “Air-atomic” capable land army and navy forces gained precedence. If the U.S was attacked, the country would adopt a Massive Retaliation policy. As the graphic in the U.S News and World Report (1957) indicates, accepting the first blow could devastate the U.S so much, that they would not be able to respond. Many Americans at this time worried if all the nuclear spending would go to waste. In an almost fearful gesture, Eisenhower proposed an “open skies” agreement to Nikita Krushchev, but the Soviet Premier declined calling the policy an “espionage device.” As evidenced, Eisenhower often switched between being nice (open skies) and not being so nice (massive retaliation). Eisenhower decided to go down a slippery slope by threatening to use nuclear weapons in a threatening policy termed “brinkmanship.” Along with arms building, the race to space became a Soviet-U.S arena of competition. Four months after the Soviets launched the Sputnik into orbit, Eisenhower in a special message to Congress announced the growing importance of science and technology education. The National Defense Education Act passed in 1958 primarily to stimulate the advancement of math, science, and foreign language education. All of this educational spending added to the total government budgetary spending – which according to the Department of Commerce was at $92.1 billion in 1959. Getting students to become interested in technology would in effect make the U.S succeed in its propaganda effort. Teenagers could become interested in assisting their country in an attempt to become the top nation. To many a man’s surprise, space research and military potential were interconnected. The dropping of an atom bomb or ballistic missile is easier in space. In the end, no fighting or bomb dropping occurred.

During his inauguration address, John F. Kennedy said, “...Finally to those nations who make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge, but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace...” It was not until 1991 that the Soviet Union dissolved into a democracy. Peace followed, but decades of fear – many times artificial – plagued everyone, not just Americans. Communism tested the values of democracy and nuclear armament tested the virtues of peace. In hindsight, critics look back at the Cold War period and see that Eisenhower did a great job in comforting the ambient fright in the U.S. Facing off against a world power is never an easy task. Eisenhower may have thrown civilian services and welfare programs off the cliff as displayed in Herblock’s popular 1958 cartoon, but he did accomplish his campaign goal of helping the American people live safely in times of political and technological pandemonium.

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