The Cold War between the US & Soviet Union is examined in this web page. Specifically, the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis are discussed.
After World War efforts to rebuild Europe were begun.
Much of post-World War 2 Europe lay in ruins. After the death of 50 million people in the war, there was incredibly bad feelings toward the Germans, the main perpetrators of World War 2. Additionally, the Soviet Union seemed more interested in looting what remained of European industry under the guise of "reparations" than in participating in the rebuilding of Europe.
The Cold War between The Soviet Union and the Allies began almost immediately in post-World War 2 Europe as relations between partners of the former coalition against Germany fell to bickering over just about everything. More formally, the cold war began in 1946 when Winston Churchill made his "Iron Curtain Speech" at Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri while receiving an honorary degree there. Churchill stated:
"I have a strong admiration and regard for the valiant Russian people......It is my duty, however, to place before you certain facts........From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in 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......Vienna......and Sofia; all these famous cities......lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere........."
The cold war was on and would not end for over 40 years. Instead of England, the Soviet Union and the US and their allies matched against Germany, Japan and their allies (Axis Powers), the post-World War 2 Cold War struggle matched the US, England and their allies against the Soviet Union and her allies. Some of the major events of the cold war included the following:
The Marshall Plan was a positive event in the cold war. In the first few years of post-World War 2, Europe remained devastated economically. .
Partly as a result of the Marshall Plan, the European economy came roaring back in post-World War 2 and most of Europe was saved from the grasp of communist Soviet Union.
For a little more detail on the Marshall Plan, see Post - World War 2.
In post-World War 2 Germany, as the cold war got underway, the Soviets severed all traffic to and from Berlin, partly as the result of the Marshall Plan being implemented. The Allies - Britain and the United States - responded with a Berlin airlift that supplied the city with food and other essentials. The unity of the Allies showed the Russians that they were not going to get Berlin without a fight and they eventually agreed to a settlement which ended the need for a Berlin airlift.
4. The Korean War (1950-53)
The Korean War was a major event of the cold war with up to 4 or 5 million soldiers and civilians killed. The war raged up and down the Korean Peninsula with China entering the war in late 1950 as U.S. and South Korean troops approached the Chinese-North Korean border near the northern tip of North Korea. The Chinese entered the Korean War primarily to repay their North Korean allies who had provided much assistance in ousting the Chinese Nationalists from China a year earlier. The Chinese quickly turned the tide of battle and captured Seoul, the capital of South Korea.
The US recaptured Seoul and eventually the Korean War stabilized along the 38th parallel. Fierce, World War I - type trench warfare continued until an armistice was finally declared in 1953. The US came close to using atomic weapons in the Korean War and, eventually, General Douglas McArthur was relieved of US command partly because President Truman did not trust him with using the atomic weapons. Truman did not want to see an atomic war between the US and the Soviet Union.
Sixty-five years later, the two Koreas are still separated and there is no peace treaty meaning that the Korean War is, theoretically, still going on. This is technically true even though the Cold War has ended. Since the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the declaration by President Bush that North Korea is one of the three axis of evil, North Korea has made a number of threats toward South Korea but there is little indication that immediate renewed conflict is pending. However, should the US launch an attack on North Korea because of that country's nuclear arsenal, it is virtually certain the conflict would quickly spill over into South Korea where North Korea's powerful conventional army could best assert itself. North Korea has threatened to use its nuclear weapons if attacked. Any use of nuclear weapons would be the first use of these weapons in post-World War 2.
After the end of World War 2, Ho Chi Mink, the leader of the Viet Minh, declared Indochina's independence from France. The French, heavily supported by the United States, refused to go along and a 9 year war broke out.
The French lost the war (and Vietnam) when they took a gamble (only a French General could have dreamed this one up) and parachuted in a force of 13,000 well-armed soldiers into Dienbienphu in 1954. They hoped to draw the Viet Minh army under the command of General Giap into a battle where the French felt circumstances favored them. Giap took up the gamble and attacked Dienbienphu and after a 56 day siege, Dienbienphu fell ending French power in Indochina and inflicting one of the greatest military defeats in French history on the French.
Two years later, at the Geneva Conference, French Indochina was divided into two separate territories - North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was ruled by the Vietnamese Communists and South Vietnam was ruled by the non-Communist Vietnamese headed by the US-supported Ngo Dinh Diem. The foundation for the Vietnam War had been laid.
After leading an unsuccessful revolt in 1953, Castro returned to Cuba in 1956 and retreated to the Sierra Maestra where, aided by Che Guevara, he waged a guerrilla war against the military government of Batista. Batista left the Cuba on January 1, 1959 and Castro took over. It quickly became apparent that Castro was not just an agrarian reformer but was totally committed to the Communist cause.
One of the agreements at the Geneva Conference of 1954 was that an election was to take place in Vietnam in 1956. Ho Chi Minh was favored to win nationwide elections but the US-backed South Vietnam leader, Diem, refused to take part in the nationwide elections, instead, holding an "election" in South Vietnam only. He then declared South Vietnam to be an independent nation. Diem, a Catholic, however, did not enjoy a broad base of support in South Vietnam and organized opposition (National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam or NLF) developed rapidly in South Vietnam. Guerilla war soon broke out and eventually the North Vietnamese were slowly pulled into the war. Things continued to spiral out of hand after Diem was assassinated in 1963.
After the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 authorizing the U.S. to send troops to Vietnam was passed, involvement of U.S. combat troops (advisors) soon followed in 1965. The tragedy of the Vietnam War, possibly the greatest tragedy of the Cold War, was well underway.
As the Vietnam War escalated, the NLF proved superior to the South Vietnamese in battle. American troop involvement escalated as a result. Bombing of North Vietnam was begun, resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties. In 1968, the NLF forces began the major Tet Offensive with an objective being to influence U.S. home opinion. The Tet Offensive was a vicious offensive conducted throughout the country. It lasted until the fall of 1968.
In the meantime, President Lyndon Johnson's popularity had dropped so low because of the Vietnam War that he declined to run for reelection and Richard Nixon was elected president promising to bring "peace with honor" to Vietnam via means of a "secret plan."
Nixon's plan consisted of a "Vietnamization" policy whereby he would begin to withdraw American soldiers and the South Vietnamese would take over. He still wanted to win the Vietnam War, however, so, as part of his Vietnamese policy, Nixon ordered air strikes on Cambodia and also ordered American troops into Cambodia. These actions were designed to strengthen South Vietnamese forces as the US began to pull out of Vietnam. The resulting damage to the Cambodian structure was so great that the Cambodian peasants revolted against their right wing government and supported, in a civil war, the Khmer Rouge, who took power in 1975. The Khmer Rouge are considered one of the cruelest regimes in the history of mankind. So, the American mistakes related to the Vietnam War continued to escalate!
The U.S., at this time, also promoted an invasion of Laos by South Vietnamese troops. The invasion was aimed at closing the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It also turned into a disaster as the South Vietnamese troops were routed. Still another mistake for American Vietnamese policy! Nixon's Vietnamization policy was not working too well. The mistakes of the Vietnam War were being compounded.
Finally in 1972, as the Presidential Election of 1972 approached, Henry Kissinger, the American Secretary of State, met with Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese representative and a deal for peace was hammered out. Although the South Vietnamese did not agree with the terms, and continued to fight on until 1975, the United States withdrew from the conflict. The Vietnam War - one of the country's costliest wars (about 50,000 American lives lost) was finally over.
Probably the most dangerous event of the Cold War was the Cuban Missile Crisis because it involved the possible use of nuclear weapons. Of course, in the Korean War, consideration was given to the possibility of using nuclear weapons when the Chinese came into the war. The Chinese did not yet have nuclear weapons. I'm sure some consideration was also given to using such weapons in the Vietnam War but, by then, Russia and China were fully armed with nuclear weapons, and it is unlikely a sane American President would have used them with that scenario.
In May and July of 1962, Cuban and Russian officials conferred to discuss deploying nuclear arms in Cuba. By September, surface-to-surface medium range ballistic missiles began arriving in Cuba. On October 14, a U2 spy plane photographed the missiles in Cuba. By mid-October, about 40 IRBMs were in Cuba and more than 20 Soviet ships were in route to Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War was intensifying.
On October 22, President Kennedy sent a letter to Khrushchev notifying him that we are aware of the missiles in Cuba. That night, he addressed the nation: "....unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation of that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere."
A critical moment in the Cold War had arrived. Both Kennedy and Khrushchev were to be tested in this Cuban Missile Crisis.
On October 25, Adlai Stevenson presented accurate photographic evidence of the Cuban missiles. (Forty one years later, Secretary of State Colin Powell stole a page from Stevenson and presented highly questionable photographic evidence that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Adlai Stevenson must be turning over in his grave.)
An ABC reporter, John Scali, received an offer from an old trusted friend of Khrushchev. Khrushchev confirmed the offer in a letter to Kennedy. The offer stated that the missiles will be removed if the US issues a pledge not to invade Cuba. A second letter then was sent by Khrushchev adding the requirement that US remove Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Kennedy accepted the first letter and secretly had Bobby Kennedy inform the Russians that the missiles would be removed from Turkey also.
The Cuban Missile Crisis ended as the parties agreed to the terms. The US naval quarantine that had been set up around Cuba was also lifted. Castro squawked about the loss of the missiles but had to go along.
Other cold war events of the post World War 2 era worthy of notice included:
a. US exploded first hydrogen bomb (1952)
b. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik and started the "Space Race" (1957) which culminated with the U.S. landing on the moon in 1969.
c. Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT -1969)
d. Nixon visits and 'opens up' China (1972)
e. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan (1979). the Soviet Union spent a number of years trying to conquer Afghanistan but were opposed by fierce tribesmen, Afghans and foreign Arabs including Osama Bin Laden. The Soviet Union finally acknowledged defeat after thousands of Russian soldiers died. The Soviet Union then abandoned Afghanistan. A few years later, as Bin Laden fled to Afghanistan after 9/11, the United States invaded that country and is still embroiled in an attempt to stabilize Afghanistan. .
f. Berlin Wall falls (1989). This is the unofficial end of the Cold War although the total collapse of the Soviet Union did not occur until 1991.
Cold War Events between the US and the Soviet Union lasted for decades, led to the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and almost caused a nuclear war, and the effects of the war are still felt.
Last Updated: 03/26/17
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