How Did the Cold War Affect Domestic Policy? Essay

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Often, new wars follow closely behind old wars. This was the case with the 1947-1991 “Cold War.” This war was not characterized by thousands of deaths due to bloody battles but by long-term tension between the Soviet Union and the United States with their allies. Starting almost directly after World War II, the Cold War involved numerous countries and several smaller conflicts.

During World War II, America and the Soviet Union worked together towards a common goal: defeat Hitler. However, when their goal was accomplished, they became wary of the other again. The United States and the Soviet Union had always had their differences, mainly in their political choices. The U.S.S.R (the official name for the Soviet Union) practiced communism and socialism with a plan to spread their ideas to every nation. The United States was comfortable with their capitalist government, and they were not happy at the thought of communism spreading further than it already had.

The last time the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union leaders met to discuss WWII, it became abundantly clear that the Soviet Union was already forcing communism in several of the countries under their control. They would not allow fair elections in these nations, and Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union dictator, would stop at nothing to expand his communist rule.

In 1948, the Marshall Plan was passed. It was a program intended to help recover European countries after World War II. America spent over $13 billion focused on rebuilding European economies. One of the goals of the Marshall Plan was to prevent communism from spreading further.

During WWII, the Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain, and France had their military occupy different zones that they had agreed they would be in charge of. Berlin, Germany was under Soviet control. Upset by the attempts to recover European nations through the Marshall Plan, Stalin made a radical decision. He blockaded Berlin, leaving over 2 million people with no food, no medicine, no fuel, and more. The Allies had a quick response, and they started delivering food and other supplies by aircraft just two days after the blockade started. Since they couldn’t get to Berlin by road, rail, or canal, they made flight after flight to Berlin. The Berlin Airlift lasted 11 months. American, French, and British planes delivered about 2.3 million tons of supplies to Berlin in those months. In the end, more than 277,000 flights took place, and these flights saved millions of lives.

Soon, European countries and the United States along with some of their allies came to the conclusion that an alliance was essential to stop Soviet aggression. After much discussion, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, which formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also known as Nato. This treaty was signed on April 4, 1949, and included the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and a handful of European countries. Later on, even more countries entered the alliance. This treaty was signed while the Berlin Airlift was still going on. The treaty stated things such as, “an armed attack against one or more of them… shall be considered an attack against them all.” The allies also agreed to consult with one another when any of them were threatened. This treaty would make a huge difference in the outcome of the Cold War.

In May of 1955, West Germany was admitted to Nato. This addition was made to assure that Germany would not become a powerful and dangerous independent nation again and to prevent Germany from becoming Communist. Stalin had wanted to keep Germany weak, but when west Germany became part of Nato, it gained strength from its allies and their military. To counter this action, Stalin created the Warsaw Treaty Organization, which included East Germany, Russia, and many of the U.S.S.R’s satellite states. By the end of 1955, two opposing organizations existed.

One of the most prominent features of the Cold War is that it never was about military strength and fighting. Instead, both sides resorted to atomic bombs. The nuclear arms race played a major role in the tension between Nato and the Warsaw Treaty Organization.

During World War II, three countries decided to build the atomic bomb. Britain joined the Manhattan Project, which was the codename for America’s efforts to build an atomic bomb. The Soviet Union did not focus on their bombs as much as the United States and United Kingdom did. The Manhattan Project was fueled by the fear that Germany would make an atomic bomb, but they never made a significant attempt. The United States had two bombs ready by 1945, but with Germany already defeated, President Truman decided to bomb Japan instead. They dropped both bombs in Japan, resulting in 210,000 deaths. Some question if it was necessary to bomb Japan or if the goal was to intimidate the U.S.S.R.

Weeks after America bombed Japan, Stalin set up a committee to build an atomic bomb for the Union as soon as possible. By 1949, their atomic bomb was tested, and the Cold War nuclear arms race began. For the next few decades, both America, the Soviet Union, and all their allies would be focused on having the biggest supply of dangerous nuclear weapons. In 1952, America made the first super bomb-a highly destructive bomb. The Soviet Union followed in their footsteps the next year. These were 1,000 times bigger than the bomb that America had dropped on Japan. Both countries had test sites to test their bombs, and by the 1980s, over 60,000 nuclear weapons had been created in the world.

In 1956, the government of Hungary, which was part of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, revolted against the Soviet Union and fought for their freedom. In October, thousands of people demanded for a more democratic system. Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy tried to calm things down and peacefully asked for Soviet military presence to be removed. When they did remove the troops, Nagy attempted to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. New Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev responded by sending Soviet tanks and troops to end the revolution. About 2,500 Hungarians died and a quarter million more left to find refuge.

Joseph Stalin died in 1953, and when Khrushchev took over, he pledged to withdraw from using the same aggression and oppression Stalin had. However, he did not stick to his pledge, which can be seen in his actions towards Hungary.

The nuclear arms race was not the only race that took place during the Cold War. The Soviet Union and America also competed to advance their space technology. In 1957, the Soviet satellite Sputnik was launched. This was the beginning of the space race. One year later, America launched their first artificial satellite. Each country had many firsts, such as sending dogs and eventually humans to space. The Soviet Union sent their first person to space less than a month before America sent theirs. Eventually, a new goal was made: walk on the moon. In 1969, the goal was finally achieved. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from America walked on the moon. The U.S. is considered to be the winner of the space race.

In 1955, U.S. President Eisenhower suggested an “open skies” plan with the Soviet Union at a summit meeting. This agreement would ensure that each country would know where the other one was keeping their nuclear weapons, and it would grant them permission to conduct aerial monitoring to make sure that the other was complying in any arms control agreement. Khrushchev shut down this offer immediately. The U-2 spy plane program was supposed to help the U.S. spy on the Soviet Union unnoticed. U-2 spy planes flew at altitudes of 70,000 feet, and they were thought to be undetectable by radars. It was very important that they were undetected because invading a country is normally considered an act of war. Through C.I.A operations, the first U-2 plane flew over Moscow in 1956. For the next four years, U-2 spy planes made many trips over Soviet Union territories. On May 1, 1960, C.I.A pilot Francis Gary Powers left a base in Pakistan, headed for one in Norway. This would bring Powers well into Soviet airspace. His plane was shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air missile, and he was captured to be interrogated. Soviet radar systems were more advanced than the C.I.A had thought, so they could see Powers’s spy plane. The U.S attempted a cover-up by saying that Power’s flight was a routine weather flight; however, Khrushchev saw through the lies. Powers was sentenced to prison and hard labor afterwards. Eisenhower admitted that he was fully aware of the spy plane program, and he said that it was necessary to maintain national defense. Khrushchev gave up trying to reason with Eisenhower, and he waited instead for the inauguration of a new president, who he ultimately failed at solving problems with too.

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10 years after the Berlin Airlift, many people still fled from east (Soviet-controlled) Germany to west (U.S, U.K, and France controlled) Germany. Nearly 3 million people had crossed the border in the last ten years. Additionally, many people crossed the border daily for work or entertainment purposes. In 1961, Khrushchev gave the order to close Berlin’s border. In only two weeks, a temporary wall divided Berlin in half. The wall soon became permanent. Although it was not impossible, leaving east Germany was now extremely difficult. At least 170 people died in less than three decades in their attempts to cross the border.

In Cuba in 1953, Fidel Castro began his attempt to overthrow the Cuban government. Castro failed at first, but eventually he attracted many followers who sympathized with his efforts to overthrow the dictator Batista. With much luck, Castro’s volunteers won many battles against Batista’s much bigger armies using guerrilla warfare techniques and war strategies that did not require face-to-face combat. In 1959, Castro became Cuba’s Prime Minister. Quickly, the Communist Party of Cuba became a dominant political force, and Cuba’s previous capitalist system faded away.

President Kennedy aimed to get Castro out of power because he had pulled back on American influence on the island. Instead, he became allies with the Soviet Union. The C.I.A planned to send Cuban exiles to Cuba in hopes that Castro would be removed from power. When Castro took over, many Cubans fled. The C.I.A trained around 1,500 of these men, and on April 17, 1961, they landed at the Bay of Pigs to fight. This operation was extremely unsuccessful. Castro’s army greatly outnumbered the troops the U.S. had sent, and there was no air support provided. Within two days, most of the force had been killed or captured by Castro’s army. 114 Cuban exiles were killed in this battle. The C.I.A’s plan to get rid of Castro failed miserably.

After the Bay of Pigs invasion, America sent missiles into Italy and Turkey that were within range of Moscow, a Soviet ally. Khrushchev’s response sent the world to the edge of war. He made a decision in October of 1962 that became one of the scariest parts of the war. He decided to place over 40 missiles in Cuba, only 90 miles from United States land. Many of America’s biggest cities could easily be blown up. Khrushchev placed those missiles in Cuba to assert his dominance and to close the missile gap.

U-2 spy planes discovered the missile sites in Cuba on October 14, 1962. When President Kennedy found out two days later, he immediately formed a special committee known as ExComm. Initially, the president and his advisors swayed towards air strikes to obliterate the missile threats in Cuba. They settled instead for a navy blockade all around Cuba to stop Soviet ships suspected of bringing more nuclear missiles. This blockade began on October 22.

Khrushchev reached out to Kennedy with a proposal. He sent a letter that said he would remove the missiles if the U.S. lifted the blockade and promised not to invade Cuba. Then, Khrushchev sent a second letter that said America’s missiles would also have to be removed from Turkey. Kennedy chose to ignore the second message, agreeing only to the first. U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy then met with the Soviet ambassador. They agreed that the missiles would be taken out of Turkey although it would not be part of the public solution to the missile crisis. The next day, Khrushchev made a public statement assuring the removal of the missiles in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis came to an end. Khrushchev took the missiles out in November, and the blockade ended soon after. In 1963, the U.S quietly took their missiles out of Turkey.

Khrushchev was forced out of power in 1964 by other high-ranking Soviet officials. They were not happy with the way he had been handling things, including how he handled the Cuban Missile Crisis. They also didn’t like how he undermined their authority. Brezhnev, a close friend of Khrushchev, took his post the same day Khrushchev resigned.

In 1968, Czechoslovakia attempted to reform their government. New first secretary Dubcek supported a more democratic system, and he took a big step by adopting the Action Program. The Action Program contained a changed constitution that granted civil rights and liberties. It also said that the Communist Party would have to reestablish their rule by competing against other political organizations. Many Czechoslovakians got a taste of their old life again. Christian churches surfaced again, along with minority associations and human rights groups. A document titled “Two Thousand Words” was signed by a great number of people, and it encouraged movement to a real democratic government. The movement and temporary liberalization is known as the “Prague Spring.” Although many people supported this movement, powerful Communist leaders still lived in and around Czechoslovakia.

When Dubcek did not attend a special meeting of the Warsaw Pact powers, the other powers sent him a letter notifying him that they considered it their job to protect Czechoslovakia from a revolution. Dubcek did not take their notification seriously. On August 20, 1968, only 7 months into Dubcek’s rule, Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia. These forces secretly captured many of the leaders pushing for a democratic government, including Dubcek, and took them to Moscow. The people of Czechoslovakia acted against the Soviet invasion by attempting to resist them. They did things such as removing road signs to confuse the troops and refusing to serve the soldiers in restaurants and stores. Their efforts were not successful, and on August 27, the Moscow Protocol was signed. It said that Dubcek could remain in power and return to Prague, but Soviet troops would stay in Czechoslovakia temporarily. The Soviet’s made many other rules in Czechoslovakia to keep them from revolting again. Soviet presence helped the Communist leaders defeat the revolters. However, there was still evidence of resistance to communism. Demonstrators broke into a Soviet airlines office, Aeroflot, and started a fire there. Zan Zajic, a university student, committed suicide as a political protest. In 1969, Dubcek was replaced with Gustav Husak, whose reign in Czechoslovakia became known as the “Normalization.”

From the late 1960’s to about 1979, the Cold War died down. Newly elected President Nixon and Soviet Union leader Brezhnev made many agreements. They signed anti-nuclear proliferation agreements, which was meant to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and technology to make a safer world. The detente, as this peaceful time during the Cold War was called, also helped both superpowers financially. The U.S. spent billions of dollars helping fund the Vietnam War, and their economy was affected by disruptions in their oil supply. The Soviet Union faced similar problems, such as lack of agricultural growth that caused food prices to skyrocket. The two sides benefited financially from the detente because they stopped creating nuclear weapons that cost a great deal of money.

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. They did this to promote communism there. Previously, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan had been gaining power. The Soviet Union wanted to keep Afghanistan as a Communist country, and they feared that America would influence their government. However, the Soviet Union’s efforts failed. For the next nine years, Soviet soldiers fought against mujahideen (Muslim) fighters in Afghanistan. After much loss, the Soviet Union signed a peace treaty with Afghanistan in 1989.

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, there was a new election in the U.S. Ronald Reagan became the new president in 1980. He endorsed a more aggressive policy with the Soviet Union, calling them the “evil empire.” He said that America should save the world from Soviet repression and their plan to spread communism. Obviously, many Americans agreed because he won the presidential election by a landslide. Reagan’s presidency ended the detente. The CIA executed Operation Cyclone, a program that assisted the anti-Soviet mujahideen soldiers all throughout the Soviet-Afghan War.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the new Soviet Union leader. He made many reforms in the next few years. He introduced the ideas of glasnost and perestroika. Perestroika was a movement that called for the restructuring of the Soviet Union’s economy. Gorbachev argued that the Soviet Union’s economy, which had been suffering greatly from the Soviet-Afghan War, could not recover if it was being controlled by the government. By 1987, Gorbachev was able to pass a law allowing businesses to have more freedom. The Communist Party was not happy with this step, a step towards democratization. In response, Gorbachev weakened the Communist Party’s hold on the Soviet Union’s government by creating a new parliament. The Congress of People’s Deputies, formed in 1988, allowed citizens to nominate their representatives instead of having it chosen for them.

Glasnost called for more openness in the government. Gorbachev lifted restrictions on information that had been in place since Joseph Stalin had been the leader. People became more involved in the government, and they started to talk about the failures of their previous leaders. It also gave citizens some freedoms back, such as the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. In 1989, Gorbachev called for the nearly 30-year-old Berlin Wall to be taken down. However, Gorbachev’s reforms soon led to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev worked to improve relations with other countries, including the U.S. He bowed out of the nuclear arms race and took some Soviet troops out of Warsaw Pact nations in Europe. However, in 1989, a revolution took place in Poland, an ally of the Soviet Union. They changed the Communist government there to have free elections. Inspired, several other countries gained their independence. Gradually, the U.S.S.R lost their allies as they claimed their independence. Gorbachev signed agreements with Belarus and Ukraine to let them be independent, and all the other republics followed within weeks. The last republic, Kazakhstan, declared its independence on December 16, 1991. Gorbachev resigned as president on Christmas Day. The Cold War, a war that lasted over 4 decades, had finally come to an end.

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