Digital History
Digital History ID 3828

Origins of the Cold War

Soviet-American Confrontation

Interpreting Primary Sources

From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in the Soviet sphere and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and increasing measure of control from Moscow....Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy.

Winston S. Churchill

One cannot forget the following fact: the Germans carried out an invasion of the U.S.S.R. through Finland, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary....One can ask, therefore, what can be surprising in the fact that the Soviet Union, in a desire to ensure its security for the future, tries to achieve that these countries should have governments whose relations to the Soviet Union are loyal?

Joseph Stalin

How do American actions since V-J Day appear to other nations? I mean by actions the concrete things like $13 billion for the War and Navy Departments, the Bikini tests of the atomic bomb and continued production of bombs, the plan to arm Latin America with out weapons, production of B-29's and planned production of B-36's, and the effort to secure air bases spread over half the globe....

How would it look to us if Russia had the atomic bomb and we did not, if Russia had 10,000 bombers and air bases within a thousand miles of our coast lines and we did not?....Most of us are firmly convinced of the soundness of our position when we suggest the internationalization and defortification of the Danube or of the Dardanelles, but we would be horrified and angered by any Russian counter-proposal that would involve the internationalizing and disarming of Suez or Panama. We must recognize that to the Russians these seem to be identical situations.

Henry A. Wallace

Today the ruling circles of the U.S.A. and Great Britain head one international grouping, which has as its aim the consolidation of capitalism and the achievement of the dominations of these countries over other peoples. The countries are headed by imperialist and anti-democratic forces in international affairs, with the active participation of certain Socialist leaders in several European states.

V.M. Molotov

Whether it be the control of atomic energy, aggression against small nations, the German or the Austrian peace settlements, or any of the other questions, the majority of nations concerned have found a common basis for action. But in every case the majority agreement has been rejected, denounced, and openly attacked by the Soviet Union and her satellites whose policy she controls....What the world needs in order to regain a sense of security is an end to Soviet obstruction and aggression.

President Harry Truman

Questions To Think About

1. What were the post-war goals of the United States and Soviet Union?

2. Was post-war conflict between the United States and Soviet Union inevitable?

3. What was the underlying source of international tension--an aggressive and intransigent Soviet Union or an overwhelmingly strong and uncompromising America?

The Containment Policy

Interpreting Primary Sources

Soviet power...bears within itself the seeds of its own decay, and the sprouting of these seeds is well advanced...[If] anything were ever to disrupt the unity and efficacy of the Party as a political instrument, Soviet Russia might be changed overnight from one of the strongest to one of the weakest and most pitiable of national societies....This would...warrant the United States entering with reasonable confidence upon a policy of firm containment, designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counter-force at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world.

George Kennan

At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one. One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression. The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

Truman Doctrine, 1947

The truth of the matter is that Europe's requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products--principally from America--are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character....

Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.

The Marshall Plan, 1947

Article 5 The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all; and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them...[will take] such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

The North Atlantic Treaty, 1949

Why, by inter-weaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and property in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humour, or caprice? It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.

George Washington, 1796

The security of the United States would again be seriously endangered if the entire European continent were once more to come under the domination of a power or an association of powers antagonistic to the United States....Today, the weakened condition in which the nations of Europe find themselves as a result of the destruction and privation of war has afforded a golden opportunity for a new aggressor....It is believed essential to the security of the United States, therefore, that it consolidate the friendship and support which it now enjoys from free and friendly nations.

State Department

The pact destroys the chances of European recovery. A permanently militarized Europe is doomed to living on an American dole. The pact is not an instrument of defense but a military alliance designed for aggression. It bypasses the United Nations and violates its Charter in a most flagrant manner. It divides the world permanently into two armed camps. And it provocatively establishes military bases on the borders of the Soviet Union.

Henry Wallace

Questions To Think About

1. Describe the containment policy. What was its goal?

2. Why did the United States decide to broaden its overseas commitments? Did the Soviet threat justify this expansion of America's commitments?

3. Was the containment policy essentially offensive or defensive?

The Korean War

Interpreting primary Sources

In Korea the Government forces, which were armed to prevent border raids and to preserve internal security, were attacked by invading forces from North Korea....The attack upon Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war.

President Harry Truman

Once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War's very object is victory--not prolonged indecision. In war, indeed, there can be no substitute for victory.

General Douglas MacArthur

It seems strangely difficult for some to realize that here in Asia is where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest, and that we have joined the issue thus raised on the battlefield; that here we fight Europe's war with arms while the diplomats there still fight it with words; that if we lose the war to communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable, win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom.

General Douglas MacArthur

We do not want to see the conflict in Korea extended. We are trying to prevent a world war--not to start one....But you may ask why can't we take other steps to punish the aggressor. Why don't we bomb Manchuria and China itself? Why don't we assist Chinese Nationalist troops to land on the mainland of China? If we were to do these things we would be running a very grave risk of starting a general war....If we were to do these things, we would become entangled in a vast conflict on the continent of Asia and our task would become immeasurably more difficult all over the world.

I believe that we must try to limit the war to Korea for these vital reasons: To make sure that the precious lives of our fighting men are not wasted, to see that the security of our country and the free world is not needlessly jeopardized and to prevent a third world war. A number of events have made it evident that General MacArthur did not agree with that policy. I have, therefore, considered it essential to relieve General MacArthur so that there would be no doubt or confusion as to the real purpose and aim of our policy.

President Harry Truman

General MacArthur...would have us, on our own initiative, carry the conflict beyond Korea against the mainland of Communist China, both from the sea and from the air. He would have us accept the risk of involvement not only in an extension of the war with Red China, but in an all-out war with the Soviet Union. He would have us do this even at the expense of losing our allies and wrecking the coalition of free peoples throughout the world. He would do this even though the effect of such action might expose Western Europe to attack by the millions of Soviet troops poised in Middle and Eastern Europe.

George Marshall

Questions To Think About

1. What was America's mission in Korea?

2. How far should the United States go in accomplishing that mission?

3. Did President Truman improperly interfere in military operations in Korea?

Anti-Communism at Home

Interpreting primary Sources

Sec. 2: (a) It shall be unlawful for any person--
(1) to knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise, or teach the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of such government;
(2) with the intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any government in the United States, to print, publish, edit, issue, circulate, sell, distribute, or publicly display any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence;
(3) to organize or help to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any government in the United States by force or violence; or to be or become a member of, or affiliate with, any such society, group or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof.

The Smith Act, 1940

Part I.
1. There shall be a loyalty investigation of every person entering the civilian employment of any department or agency of the executive branch of the federal government.

Part II.
2. The head of each department and agency shall appoint one or more loyalty boards...for the purpose of hearing loyalty cases....

Part V.
1. The standard for the refusal of employment or the removal from employment in an executive department or agency on grounds relating to loyalty shall be that, on all the evidence, reasonable grounds exist for belief that the person involved is disloyal to the government of the United States.
2. Activities and associations of an applicant or employee which may be considered in connection with the determination of disloyalty may include one or more of the following:
a. Sabotage, espionage, or attempts or preparations therefore, or knowingly associating with spies or saboteurs;
b. Treason or sedition or advocacy thereof;
c. Advocacy of revolution or force or violence to alter the constitutional form of government of the United States;
d. Intentional, unauthorized disclosure to any person, under circumstances which may indicate disloyalty to the United States, of documents or information of a confidential or nonpublic character obtained by the person making the disclosure as a result of his employment by the government of the United States.
f. Membership in, affiliation with or sympathetic association with any foreign or domestic organization, association, movement, group or combination of persons, designated by the attorney general as totalitarian, fascist, communist, or subversive, or as having adopted a policy of advocating or approving the commission of acts of force or violence to deny other persons their rights under the Constitution of the United States, or as seeking to alter the form of government of the United States by unconstitutional means.

Executive Order 9835, 1947

(1) There exists a world Communist movement, which, in its origins, its development, and its present practice, is a world-wide revolutionary movement whose purpose it is, by treachery, deceit, infiltration into other groups (governmental and otherwise), espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and any other means deemed necessary, to establish a Communist totalitarian dictatorship in the countries through the medium of a world-wide Communist organization.

(15) The Communist movement in the United States is an organization numbering thousands of adherents, rigidly and ruthlessly disciplined. Awaiting and seeking to advance a moment when the United States may be so far extended by foreign engagements, so far divided in counsel, or so far in industrial or financial straits, that overthrow of the Government of the United States by force and violence may seem possible of achievement, it seeks converts far and wide by an extensive system of schooling and indoctrination.

Sec. 8 (a) Any individual who is or becomes a member of any [communist] organization...[shall] register with the Attorney General as a member of such organization.

The McCarran Act

Sec. 2 The Congress hereby finds and declares that the Communist Party of the United States, although purportedly a political party, is in fact an instrumentality of a conspiracy to overthrow the Government of the United States. It constitutes an authoritarian dictatorship within a republic, demanding for itself the rights and privileges accorded to political parties, but denying to all others the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. Unlike political parties, which evolve their policies and programs through public means, by the reconciliation of a wide variety of individual views, and submit those policies and programs to the electorate at large for approval or disapproval, the policies and programs of the Communist Party are secretly prescribed for it by the foreign leaders of the world Communist movement....Therefore the Communist Party should be outlawed.

Communist Control Act of 1954

Six years ago this summer America stood at what Churchill described as the "highest pinnacle of her power and fame."...What do we find in the summer of 1951? The writs of Moscow run to lands which, with its own, number upward of 900 millions of people--a good 40 percent of all men living....

During all this time the administration preaches a gospel of fear and [Secretaries of State] Acheson and Marshall expound a foreign policy in the East based upon craven, whimpering appeasement....

How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man....What can be made of this unbroken series of decisions and acts contributing to the strategy of defeat? This cannot be attributed to incompetence.

Senator Joseph McCarthy, 1951

Questions To Think About

1. Why were many post-war Americans concerned about the domestic threat posed by communism? Was fear of communism a response to legitimate threats to national security or an irrational response to other tensions within American society?

2. Were the federal government loyalty programs intelligent and constitutional methods of preserving American values?

3. Can the government legitimately require employees to take loyalty oaths?

4. What, if anything, can society do about people who hold opinions that the majority finds abhorrent?

Postwar Society

Interpreting Statistics

United States in 1947 
Proportion of world's manufacturing 50 %
Proportion of world's steel production 57 %
Proportion of world's electricity usage 43 %
Proportion of world's oil production 62 %
Proportion of world's automobiles 75 %
Proportion of world's automobiles manufactured 80 %

Questions To Think About

1. What factors contributed to American industrial preeminence in l947?

2. In your view, is it realistic to think that the U.S. could have maintained this preeminence in subsequent years?

Interpreting Statistics

Geographic Distribution of the U.S. Population 
  1950 1960 1970
Central Cities 32.3 32.6 31.4
Suburbs 23.8 30.7 37.6
 Rural Areas 43.9 36.7 31.0

Questions to think About

1. How did the geographic distribution of the U.S. population change after 1950?

2. What factors encouraged this shift?

Interpreting Statistics

Weekly Earnings of Manufacturing Workers, 1940-1960
  Index of Weekly Earnings   Index of Real Weekly Earnings
(adjusted for inflation) 
1940 21.9 53.1
1945 38.6 72.8
1950 51.6 72.8
1955 66.4 84.3
1960 78.1 89.5

Questions To Think About

1. Describe the changes that took place in earnings after the war?

2. How would you explain this increase?


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