The Cold War Outline of Events

The Cold War

An Outline of Events

Ideological differences.

  • US fears of Communism.

An uneasy alliance: U.S. – Soviet Relations during World War II.

  • The end of Lend Lease.
  • Yalta and Potsdam Conferences.
  • Failure of the United States to open up a second front in Europe.
  • The dropping of the atomic bomb

The United States follows a policy of containment.

  • Soviet development of the Comintern.
  • The Truman Doctrine is articulated.
  • The Marshall Plan begins.
  • NATO is created.

The Cold War becomes hot

  • Warsaw Pact is created
  • The Soviet Union develops the atomic bomb.
  • Eisenhower develops the Eisenhower Doctrine
  • Sputnik is launched
  • A U-2 incident.
  • The Berlin Blockade and Airlift.
  • The U.S. wages war in Korea.

Teetering on the brink

  • The United States fears a “domino effect” in Southeast Asia.
  • Communists in Cuba
  • The Bay of Pigs invasion
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Peaceful coexistence
  • The Vietnam War escalates

A New Direction is taken.

  • The US pulls out of Vietnam
  • Detente
  • SALT I

The end of the Cold War

  • The US escalates the arms race.
  • Gorbachev brings a policy of Glasnost.
  • The Berlin Wall comes down.




Ideological differences

In 1917 Lenin leads a revolution in Russia. The world watches as the new Communist government takes power. For most of the Soviet Union’s early history she remains a weak neighbor to the other European powers. The nation must rebuild. The Communists plan is to remove the concept of private ownership of property. Their philosophy, Marxism, states that eventually the entire world would turn to Communism. Americans look on with fear. Would this be us? Would Communism come to the United States and destroy our way of life? As more and more immigrants come to America fears are heightened. American fears of Communism and its elimination of private wealth and ownership continue through the depression and World War II.

An uneasy alliance: U.S. – Soviet Relations during World War II.

As the World War II rages on Soviet casualties mount. The Soviet strategy has been one called “scorched earth,” which meant that as they retreated from the Nazi’s they would burn everything so that the Nazi’s would gain nothing but a wrecked nation. Now as the Red Army stems the tide at Stalingrad the Soviets begin to push the Germans back. It is a typical cold Russian winter, millions are dying and Stalin can only wonder when the United States will commit its forces to attack Germany in mass and take some of the heat off the Red Army. Two years go by before America truly opens up a second front by invading in July of 1944 in Normandy, France. During this time a number if things happen:

1) The US ends the Lend Lease program that was providing needed supplies to the Soviet people.

2) Roosevelt and Churchill agree at the Yalta Conference to allow a Communist government in Poland. Stalin promises to allow “free and unfettered” elections in Eastern Europe

3) At the Potsdam Conference Stalin reneges on his promise to have free elections in Eastern Europe. The west is informed that Eastern Europe will be turned into Satellite states, creating a buffer zone, against future attack toward the USSR.

In August of 1945 the United States drops the atomic bomb on Japan. The Soviets knew nothing of this weapon.

The United States follows a policy of containment

The Soviet Union emerged from World War II a very different nation than when she entered it. The Soviet Union now was the second strongest nation in the world and controlled all of Eastern Europe. This type of power and control prompted Winston Churchill to declare that “an iron curtain had descended upon Europe. Stalin was a powerful dictator who had eliminated his opposition. This was the kind of mentality and drive that faced the United States. Stalin was committed to the Marxist philosophy that stated that eventually the entire world would turn to Communism. To achieve that goal Stalin created the Comintern, a government organization designed to help Communist revolutions around the world. As far as America was concerned this is clearly a grave threat to our way of life. The United States response to the Comintern was the policy known as containment. Simply put, containment meant that the spread of communism had to be contained, held where it was. Over the years the policy of containment would take many forms. The first was called the Truman Doctrine (1947) named after the President at that time. The Truman Doctrine said that America would give vast financial aid any nations in danger of falling to Communism. In 1947 the United States gave $400 million to Greece and Turkey to fend off Communist revolutions. Then, later in 1947, the United States announced the Marshall Plan. Under the Marshall Plan Congress approved spending $12 billion dollars to rebuild Europe. Stalin, who could not afford to offer this type of aid to nations he controlled saw this as threat even though any nation could apply for Marshall Plan funds. The Eastern European nations never took Marshall Plan monies.

In 1949, with the Cold War becoming a more clearly defined diplomatic conflict the United States formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Eleven nations joined NATO which was stated that “an armed attack against one shall be considered an armed attack against all.” Clearly the purpose of the NATO was to deter the Soviet Union from aggression.

The Cold War becomes hot.

After the United States began to actively pursue its policy of containment, Stalin began to move more aggressively. In response to the creation of NATO the Soviet Union organized the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance of Eastern European nations. Later in 1949 Stalin decided to test American resolve. Overnight a wall appeared that surrounded West Berlin. Stalin had decided that the capitalist influence had to be eliminated. The blockade of Berlin was an act of war but Truman responded creatively. Instead of seeking a military solution he announced to the world that the United States would not abandon Berlin. The United States began the Berlin Airlift and dropped supplies in by parachute on a daily basis. Stalin would be unable to starve out the Berliners. Eventually the blockade ended. That same year (1949) the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb. In 1952 the United States announced it had a Hydrogen Bomb, many time more powerful. A year later the Soviets detonated their first H-bomb. Now there were two nuclear powers in direct competition and the world would never be the same.

In response to the presence of Soviet atomic weapons the new American President, Dwight Eisenhower, announced his policy on nuclear weapons. This policy known as the “Eisenhower Doctrine,” called for massive retaliation to any aggressive act by the Soviet Union. What was massive retaliation? It clearly meant that the United States was willing to use nuclear weapons if the Soviets used force in Europe. Luckily that never happened.

The United States proved its willingness to use force to contain the spread of Communism during the Korean War which lasted for 1950 to 1953. In the Korean war the US backed the South Koreans against the North Korean who were supported by the Communist Chinese government.

Ever since 1945 the US had been secure that it held an edge in technology. That illusion was shattered in 1957 when the Soviets launched the first satellite known as Sputnik. Perhaps now the Soviets would be able to spy on the US or launch long range missiles with nuclear warheads? The space race had begun!

By the late 1950’s Stalin had died and a new Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, was the leader of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev did not rule as strongly as Stalin did but he was still a dictator. In 1960 a U.S. spy plan, the U-2, was shot down over the Soviet Union. This incident further increased tensions.

When the new American President, John F. Kennedy, moved into the White House in 1961 he was immediately tested by Khrushchev. Overnight a concrete and barbed wire wall rose to surround West Berlin. Khrushchev was embarrassed that West Berlin was so much wealthier than East Berlin. Heras determined to stop East Berliners from defecting. Kennedy took a strong stance announcing that he would never give in to Soviet pressure to give back Berlin. “Ich bin ein Berliner!” (I am a Berliner) he announced to the German people and the German people roared in approval. But the Berlin Wall still stood, a symbol of the Cold War.

Teetering on the brink

The 1960’s saw a further increase in tensions. In 1960 the United States sent 15 advisors to help prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam. Twelve years, four Presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon), 45,000 dead Americans and a total deployment of 500,000 men later we pulled out of Vietnam having failed to achieve our goals. The Vietnam War represented a fear on the part of the United States that if one nation fell to Communism then other would soon fall. This was known as the domino effect. The Vietnam war caused many problems at home. Our society was deeply divided over the conflict, so much so that President Johnson did not even run for reelection.

In 1959 Cuba, an island only 90 miles away from United States fell to Communism. The revolutionary leader Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgenico Battista and installed a Communist government. What could the United States do to eliminate this threat? President Eisenhower supported a CIA plan to train Cuban exiles and send them to Cuba to invade and start a rebellion. The plan was set in motion by Eisenhower but never executed. When Kennedy took office he went along with the plan and the US sent in the renegade Cubans. The incident became known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The invasion was an embarrassing failure. The “soldiers” were easily defeated and the US looked rather foolish.

In October 1962 US spy planes took pictures of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The crisis known as the Cuban missile crisis pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. President Kennedy ordered US ships to intercept Soviet ships that might be carrying nuclear weapons. Kennedy demanded the ships turn around and that the missiles be removed from Cuba. American ships steamed toward the Soviet ships as the world held its breath. Who would back down? Children in schools practiced air raid drills, dark curtains were drawn across windows to darken the cities and make them less of a target. Kennedy and Khrushchev were playing the largest game of chicken in history. At the last moment it was Khrushchev who blinked and pulled back his ships. Today Kennedy is commended for winning the game known as brinkmanship.

This embarrassing failure led Khrushchev to begin a new policy known as peaceful coexistence. He claimed that the US and Soviet Union could live together in peace. Khrushchev’s policy did not last long as his support in the Politburo ended and he was removed from power.

A New Direction is taken.

By the 1970’s the Vietnam war had seen the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the ruin of Lyndon B. Johnson’s idealistic presidency and the election of Richard M. Nixon. Nixon, a staunch anti communist and promised to remove America from our involvement in Vietnam. In 1972 the last US troops left. America had failed to achieve her objectives in the conflict.

The Nixon and the new Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev were bitter rivals yet they both realized that a nuclear war would destroy both nations. The stakes were just too high to play this poker game. Both nation entered into a period known as detente, and a cooling off period. During detente the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) was negotiated. Both nations agreed to limit their numbers of nuclear weapons and the US also sold $750 million in grain to the Soviets.

The end of the Cold War

Detente lasted with peace coming in varying levels through much of the 1970’s. Brezhnev gave way to Chernenko, and then Chernenko died giving way to Andropov. When Andropov also died suddenly the Politburo turned to a young upstart, Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev was not the hardliner the others had been. He had strange ideas… ideas that would change the world. Meanwhile, the President of the United States in 1981 was Ronald Reagan. Reagan was a conservative who termed the Soviet Union “the evil empire.” He promised America that we would be stronger than the Soviets. He promised America a new “star wars” defense system capable of knocking enemy missiles out of the sky. A new arms race ensued. Both the Soviets and the Americans tried to develop bigger, better weapons.

In the Soviet Union things were changing. The government was offering more and more freedoms to its people. Gorbachev’s Perestroika program meant more freedom for the people. His Glasnost program meant more openness toward the outside world. The soviet government spent so much money trying to keep up with American military spending that they were unable to provide some of the basic consumer goods their people needed. The Soviets people now feeling more freedom than ever began to see the riches of the west for the first time. There was great unrest in the nation. Summit meetings were held between Gorbachev and Reagan. Peace was around the corner. When Gorbachev was faced with a coup by the hard liners it was a man named Boris Yeltsin, the President of the Russian Republic, that ended the mini revolution. Open elections were held for the first time and a new leader was chosen, Boris Yeltsin. The Soviet Union was broken up and the republics were set free. In 1989 the Berlin wall came down. President George Bush succeeded Reagan and held meetings with Yeltsin. The United States needed to define its new relationship with the Soviet Union. The Cold War was over.