American History: The Cold War
After World War II, the largest and the most violent conflict in the history of mankind, a confrontation between Communist bloc countries on the one hand and Western capitalist nations on the other hand started. The key reason for the Cold War included unsolvable ideological differences between the two models of society, socialism and capitalism. The West feared the strengthening of the Soviet Union. The lack of a common enemy for the Second World War winners, as well as ambitions of political leaders, contributed the escalation of the conflict. Nevertheless, the United States assumed the role of a superpower, the mission of which was to promote democratic values in the world and to protect the community from communism. Thus, the Cold War could be interpreted as rivalry for dominance in the new post-war world, which substantially impacted the quality of the USA domestic policy, made it an opened country, and brought America to the level of the sole superpower.
General Description of Cold War Development from 1945 to 1955
The initial phase of the Cold War can be characterized by the reorganization of the international arena. European countries’ weakening gave an opportunity to the USA and the Soviet Union to become the leading world power, which gradually turned into two superpowers and formed poles of influence. Churchill’s speech delivered in the spring of 1946 in Fulton put the beginning of the Cold War (CVCE, 2015). He proposed to create a union of the Anglo-Saxon countries that would fight against communism. An economic victory over the Soviet Union, as well as the achievement of military superiority, became the core aim of the United States. In fact, the Cold War began earlier, in 1946, due to the refusal of the Soviet withdrawal from Iran, when the situation was seriously deteriorated (CVCE, 2015).
The nuclear race became the most substantial evidence that a bitter struggle for dominance had swept the world community. The invention and testing of U.S. nuclear weapons in 1945, as well as the announcement of the Soviet Union’s nuclear power status in 1949 marked its beginning (Holloway, n.d.). Superpower confrontation was traced during the civil war in Korea (1950-1953) (Jervis, 1980). The mentioned conflict as one of the Cold War’s events was seen as a proxy war between the USA and its allies with the forces of China and the Soviet Union. The northern part of the coalition included North Korea and its armed forces, Chinese army (unofficially), and the Soviet Union, which was also not officially involved in the war, but financially participated in supplying Chinese troops in many ways.
The beginning of the Cold War was also marked by the formation of polar blocks. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded on April 4, 1949 in the USA as a transatlantic forum for countries of allied consultations on any issues affecting vital interests of its members, including events that could jeopardize their security to protect Europe from the Soviet influence (Mastny, 2002). The response of the USSR was the creation of the Warsaw Pact on May 14, 1955 as a military alliance of European socialist states (NATO equivalent) under the leadership of the Soviet Union, which established a bipolar world for the next 36 years (Mastny, 2002). Thus, the Cold War entered the stage of escalation.
Final Rejection of American Isolationism
In the first years after World War II, the United States occupied a dominant position in the world. The country was almost not affected in that great battle, and the American people were filled with the consciousness of the U.S. mission both in domestic and in international affairs. The U.S. government sought to strengthen it and create all conditions for its prosperity, defending democracy at enormous costs and efforts. American analysts believed that the American Century began. It meant final rejection of the policy of isolationism and implied its engagement in the global processes.
The U.S. public recognized the need for a tough confrontation with the Soviet Union in the Cold War and approved government’s policy aimed at welfare state strengthening. Americans reaped fruits of the post-war economic boom when the material well-being of the United States had increased even more. That fact contributed to the advancement of the country on the world stage, which did not only begin with nuclear bomb testing, but also with Marshall Plan implementation in 1947, which was aimed at providing material support to Europe in overcoming the economic crisis. Additionally, the establishment of U.S.-led NATO also meant the existence of a strong leader who actively participated in all international military operations to maintain the policy of the containment of the Soviet Union. Subsequent phases of the Cold War corrected the U.S. foreign policy. However, the first stage of the bipolar confrontation was marked by American influence intensification in the world.
U.S. Domestic Reorganization
The Cold War reinforced the fears of Americans about the appearance of radicals capable of a coup. Anti-communist campaigns of the postwar decades became an attempt to erase all traces of communism in the USA. The Truman government understood that success in that business was impossible without broad support of the population. Thus, the Cold War was presented as a struggle with communists inside the United States.
When in 1946 the Republicans had won midterm elections in the Congress and expressed a desire to investigate subversive activities in the country, the President approved the program of testing the loyalty of federal employees (Boyer, Clark, Halttunen, Kett, & Salisbury, 2011). Moreover, in 1947, the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was engaged in an ideological analysis of American movies (Foner, 2009). The cinema was influenced by the anti-communist propaganda. Despite government efforts, many lives were crushed because of weak accusations and unfounded suspicions of supporting communism.
However, there were positive aspects. The Cold War provided impetus to changes in the position of the American blacks. Truman announced that everyone had the right to prove his importance to society, and to become its full-fledged member in the struggle for democracy. The employment committee was created at the beginning of the 1950s. It controlled the elimination of racism and various forms of discrimination (Foner, 2009). Finally, the USA had to become a model of democratic power to lead the world community.
The first phase of the Cold War in the United States was marked by an unprecedented economic boom. The war returned the country to prosperity. For that reason, the USA became the richest nation in the world. It significantly influenced the development of big business and corporate mergers. Gross national product (GNP) rose from $ 200 billion dollars in 1940 to $ 300 billion in 1950 (Boyer et al., 2011). Economic recovery took place because of the motor vehicles production increase (in the period of 1946 - 1955, it increased four times), rapidly growing housing construction, and other reasons (Boyer et al., 2011). GNP also increased due to a rise in military spending. The beginning of the Cold War gave impetus to the start of the technical revolution in America, and the general improvement of living standards.
Cold War Inevitability and the U.S. Mission
The unipolar model of the world with the United States as a dominant superpower formed after the Soviet Union was defeated in the Cold War. The USA could not avoid the involvement in confrontation with the communist regime. America did not react to the Soviet threat after World War II and the division of Germany and continued to defend Western values later, when communism came into full force. The U.S. mission was to provide support to weakened Europe and prevent the advancement of communism to the West. The policy of isolationism, which was broken during the War, could not be restored because the most powerful and rich nation had no moral right to refuse to help the world community. Moreover, it was a good opportunity to cement future positions. The communist machine could not stop on its own. The Cold War was inevitable and its escalation was a matter of time only. The opportune response of the USA simplified the “red plague” opposition and contributed to the preservation of Western democratic values.
The beginning of the Cold War, as well as its ending, was marked by the exceptional position of the USA on the world arena. The non-viability of pro-Soviet communist regimes, weakness of the Soviet economy and its inability to maintain a race of armaments proved that the Western coalition headed by the United States retained its lead from the very first phase of confrontation. The Cold War reorganized domestic and foreign policies of the USA and allowed it to lead the anti-communist coalition. As a powerful state and the only counterweight to the USSR after World War II, America could not avoid involvement in the Cold War, which was a question of time.