(HRS) The Cold War 1945-1960   


HRS Chapter 25 Study Guide

Chapter 25 surveys the history from 1945 to 1961 of the bipolar contest for international power between the United States and the Soviet Union, a contest known as the Cold War.

We first examine the Cold War as the outgrowth of a complex set of factors. At the end of the Second World War, international relations remained unstable because of: (1) world economic problems, (2) power vacuums caused by the defeat of Germany and Japan, (3) civil wars within nations, (4) the birth of nations resulting from the disintegration of empires, and (5) air power, which made all nations more vulnerable to attack. This unsettled environment encouraged competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two most powerful nations at the war's end.

Furthermore, both the United States and the Soviet Union believed in the rightness of their own political, economic, and social systems, and each feared the other's system. Their decisions and actions, based on the way each perceived the world, confirmed rather than alleviated these fears. For example, the American resolution to avoid appeasement and hold the line against communism, the American feeling of vulnerability in the air age, and American determination to prevent an economic depression led to an activist foreign policy characterized by the containment doctrine, economic expansionism, and globalist diplomacy. These factors, along with Truman's anti-Soviet views and his brash personality, intensified Soviet fears of a hostile West. When the Soviets acted on the basis of this feeling, American worries that the Soviet Union was bent on world domination intensified.

Despite the fact that the Soviet Union had emerged from the Second World War as a regional power rather than a global menace, United States officials were distrustful of the Soviet Union and reacted to counter what they perceived to be a Soviet threat. They did so because of: (1) their belief in a monolithic communist enemy bent on world revolution, (2) fear that unstable world conditions made United States interests vulnerable to Soviet subversion, and (3) the desire of the United States to use its postwar position of strength to its advantage. When the actions of the United States brought criticism, the United States perceived this as further proof that the Soviets were determined to dominate the world.

The interplay of these factors provides the thread running through the examination of American-Soviet relations from 1945 to 1961. The action-reaction theme is evident throughout the chapter, and the events discussed serve as evidence to support the authors interpretation of the sources of the Cold War. For example, in the discussion of the origins of the Korean War, we find that Truman acted out of the belief that the Soviets were the masterminds behind North Korea's attack against South Korea. However, closer analysis of the situation shows the strong likelihood that North Korea started the war for its own nationalistic purposes and secured the support of a reluctant Joseph Stalin only after receiving the support of Mao Zedong. We examine the conduct of the war, Truman's problems with General Douglas MacArthur, America's use of atomic diplomacy, and the war's domestic political impact. In the war's aftermath, the globalist foreign policy used to justify it became entrenched in U.S. policy. This, in turn, led to an increase in foreign commitments and military appropriations and solidified the idea of a worldwide Soviet threat.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, accepted this view of a worldwide communist threat. During Eisenhower's administration, this belief and the fear of domestic subversives that accompanied it led to the removal of talented Asian specialists from the Foreign Service, an action that would have dire consequences later on. Meanwhile, a new jargon invigorated the containment doctrine, and the U.S. undertook propaganda efforts to foster discontent in the Communist regimes of eastern Europe. Despite Eisenhower's doubts about the arms race, the president continued the activist foreign policy furthered during the Truman years and oversaw the acceleration of the nuclear arms race. Therefore, during the Eisenhower-Dulles years, the action-reaction relationship between the superpowers continued. Each action by one side caused a corresponding defensive reaction by the other in a seemingly endless spiral of fear and distrust. As a result, problems continued in eastern Europe, Berlin, and Asia.

The process of decolonization begun during the First World War accelerated in the aftermath of the Second World War. As scores of new nations were born, the Cold-War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union began. Both superpowers began to compete for friends among the newly emerging nations of the Third World; however, both the United States and the Soviet Union encountered obstacles in finding allies among these nations. The factors that created obstacles for the United States in its search for Third World friends included:

1. America's negative view toward the neutralist movement among Third World nations,

2. the way in which the United States characterized Third World peoples,

3. embarrassing incidents in the United States in which official representatives of the Third World were subjected to racist practices and prejudices,

4. America's intolerance of the disorder caused by revolutionary nationalism, and

5. America's great wealth.

To counter nationalism, radical doctrines, and neutralism in the Third World, the United States undertook development projects and, through the United States Information Agency, engaged in propaganda campaigns. In addition, during the Eisenhower administration the United States began increasingly to rely on the covert actions of the Central Intelligence Agency, as demonstrated in the Guatemalan and Iranian examples. Moreover, the attitude of the United States toward neutralism and toward the disruptions caused by revolutionary nationalism may be seen in the discussion of America's deepening involvement in Vietnam and in the Eisenhower administration's reaction to the events surrounding the 1956 Suez Crisis. In the aftermath of that crisis, fear of a weakened position in the Middle East led to the issuance of the Eisenhower Doctrine, which in turn was used to justify American military intervention in Lebanon in 1958, thus expanding the nation's global watch approach to the containment of Communism.

Norton (2008). A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 8th Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

From Hot War to Cold War: 1945-1950

1943 Establishment of Los Alamos lab. Tehran conference.

1944 The Bretton Woods Conference. Supreme Court strikes down all-white primary in Smith v. Allwright.

1945 The Yalta Conference. Fire-bombing of Tokyo. Roosevelt dies; Harry Truman becomes president. Invasion of Okinawa. United Nations established. The Trinity test. Potsdam Conference and Potsdam Declaration. United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese surrender.
First electronic computer (ENIAC) developed. Nuremberg Trials begin.

1946 Price controls ended. UAW, miners, and railroad workers strike.
Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech. George Kennan publishes "Mr. X" article.
Strategic Air Command established. Atomic Energy Commission established. Republican Party wins control of Congress.

1947 Taft-Hartley Act passed. Truman issues Truman Doctrine and institutes Loyalty Program. National Security Act passed; establishes DOD, NSC, CIA.
Brooklyn Dodgers sign Jackie Robinson. HUAC investigates Hollywood Ten.

1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia. Marshall Plan enacted.
Berlin airlift. United States recognizes Israel. Executive order calls for desegregation in the military. Truman wins reelection.

1949 Creation of NATO. Creation of the Federal Republic of Germany.
"Fall" of China. Soviets explode atomic bomb.

1950 Alger Hiss convicted of perjury. National Science Foundation established. Klaus Fuchs case. NSC-68.


War and Diplomacy: Although the United States experienced relatively little in the way of armed conflict in the immediate post-World War II period, the nation faced a series of tense crises with the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1950. The two wartime allies had vastly different conceptions of the shape of the postwar world, and each perceived the other's actions through a lens of distrust and suspicion. The United States gradually developed a policy of containment in an effort to prevent the expansion of Soviet power. By the end of the 1940s, communism had spread to China and other parts of Asia. Between 1950 and 1953, the United States fought a costly and inconclusive war in Korea, the first armed conflict of the Cold War.

Globalization: The expansion of the containment policy, as well as the process of helping to rebuild war-torn Western Europe and Japan, transformed America's relationship with the rest of the world. The United States developed a substantial aid program to Western Europe in the form of the Marshall Plan and occupied Japan from 1945 until the 1950s. American foreign policy became heavily focused on preserving democracies throughout Europe and Asia (and later to other parts of the world) in an effort to develop reliable allies in the anticommunist struggle. At the same time, the United States sought to promote a liberal world economic order based on free trade in an effort both to maintain foreign markets and prevent the spread of economic anarchy, which American policymakers saw as having been central to the eventual outbreak of World War II.

Politics and Citizenship: America's activist foreign policy required extensive domestic mobilization and significantly increased the power of the national state. Although President Truman had sought to keep defense spending limited in the early years of the Cold War, by 1950 American leaders believed it was necessary to undertake a major increase in defense spending to combat the Soviet threat. The nation's intelligence, military, and diplomatic institutions were all reorganized to give the president greater power and authority to conduct foreign policy.

Culture: The Cold War had profound effects on virtually all aspects of American culture. Most apparent was the pervasive fear of communism that gripped much of the American public and eventually found form in the anticommunist crusade known as McCarthyism (although the phenomenon went much deeper than the Wisconsin Senator and his followers). Long accustomed to living relatively isolated from any direct threats to the nation's security, Americans had to become accustomed to a series of threats ranging from internal subversion and espionage to the potential threat of nuclear war (even if it would be years before the Soviet Union had an effective capability for attacking American soil).

George, J. & Brown, J. (2007). AP achiever: Advanced placement american history exam preparation guide.  McGraw Hill.

Digital History

The Cold War

After World War II, the United States clashed with the Soviet Union over such issues as the Soviet dominance over Eastern Europe, control of atomic weapons, and the Soviet blockade of Berlin. The establishment of a Communist government in China in 1949 and the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950 helped transform the Cold War into a global conflict. The United States would confront Communism in Iran, Guatemala, Lebanon, and elsewhere. In an atmosphere charged with paranoia and anxiety, there was deep fear at home about enemies within sabotaging U.S. foreign policy and passing atomic secrets to the Soviets.

Lecture Outlines

Origins of the Cold War 1945-1965

The Presidents 

Harry Truman

Dwight Eisenhower


Post War Politics and the Cold War

Anti Communism in the 1950s

Cold War Warm and Hearth

PowerPoint Presentation

The Early Cold War (1945-1961)