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The United States During and After the Cold War
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, "the paramount symbol of the Cold War and the division of Europe," a new epoch began. The German unification in 1990 "accelerated the Soviet political and military withdrawal from Europe" and finally its collapse ("Across" n. pag.). Yet, ten years ago nobody could imagine a world without daily news reports about the "global competition between two ideologies: the Free World, led by the United States, and the Communist World, led by the Soviet Union"("Fact Sheet" n. pag). The era of the Cold War did not end in just one night; it is a process that is not yet finished. It also affected each nation differently; whereas, the United States or Western mostly Europe profited from it, Eastern Europe or Asia still have adjustment problems. How these changes affected the United States of America in three ways: political, economical, and social, is the subject of this paper, furthermore, it looks for the probability of a new cold war in the future.
To understand why the cold War era was such a dangerous time for both sides, one has to look back to its causes. "The Cold War was a struggle between conflicting universal values. In the West, the concepts of a market economy and a multi-party democracy were cherished as necessity. In the East, single party statism and a command administrative economy were highly valued" ("Yalta" n. pag.). This struggle was reflected by "indirect military conflict, and direct competition in the arenas of military and nuclear supremacy, economics, diplomacy, culture, sports, space exploration, and political theory" ("Fact Sheet" n. pag.). Historians today see the Yalta Conference as the starting point of the Cold War. "The main purpose of Yalta was the re-establishment of the nations conquered and destroyed by Germany" ("Yalta" n. pag.). When the "Big Three" met at the former palace of Czar Nicholas on the Crimea, Stalin's army had reached the Oder River and was ready to attack Berlin. The allied forces under General Eisenhower were still west of the Rhine River ("The Cold War Begins" n.pag.). However, during the conference, February 4 - 11 1945, "the Russian army was ordered to hold its position for one week." In the treaty signed on February 11th, 1945, the leaders "agreed to divide Germany into zones controlled by each of the three nations present". Furthermore, Stalin agreed to "unquestionably" join the war against Japan ("Yalta" n. pag.). After returning home, Roosevelt "was harshly criticized by the public in 1946", when the terms of this agreement "became public information" (n. pag.). He was being accused "of a `sell-out' at Yalta, of giving away Eastern Europe to Stalin" ("The Cold War Begins" n. pag.). Roosevelt, however, thought open issues "would be handled further by the United Nations". He also needed Stalin's support in the war against Japan. Surprisingly, Stalin did not keep his promises; "he prevented popular elections" in most Eastern European countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Soon Communist satellite governments in these countries were established. "The United States, busy in its war against Japan and not wanting to lose a powerful ally, did nothing ("Yalta" n. pag.).
A couple months later, in August 1945, another very important factor appeared: the existence of a nuclear monopoly for the United States. When Truman ordered the attack on Hiroshima, "the usefulness of the bomb was incredible". Prior to the drop, Truman had announced at the Potsdam Conference that the United States were in possession of such a bomb. "The political demonstration of the superiority of the American military created fear in the Russian government. The response was Soviet militarization and a push towards nuclear technology" (n. pag.).
The final player in the creation of the Cold War and its two distinct blocs was Winston Churchill's Britain. Churchill favored the creation of the "iron curtain" in order to gain British power in Western Europe. His support of the American-Russian division increased the separation of Europe and the intensity of the Cold War. (n. pag.)
The interior and the exterior battleground was made, and for "the next 46 years, the United States and Russia would fight a war of nerves without any casualties" (n. pag.). Before entering these battlegrounds America's goals were: "defend Western Europe, contain Soviet or communist expansion, prevent/deter nuclear war" ("Fact Sheet" n. pag.). After it was obvious, that both nations weren't able to work together anymore and that the Soviet Union was out to get the secret of nuclear technology, America feared anything, which had to do with Communism. This era, "the Cold War at home" ("Cold War" n. pag.) was later known as McCarthyism. Actually, it was the second time in American history, when people were accused of being Communists and taken to trial, or that newspapers were censored.
These "Communist `witch hunts' led to unsubstantiated attacks on innocent people across the nation and in many different industries" (n. pag.).
The man who gave that time its name, Joseph R. McCarthy, was a late educated but smart farm boy from Wisconsin. When he ran for the Senate "in the late 1940's and early 1950's," he used the issue of the Cold War and Communism as a way to get attention from the public. After he got elected, "McCarthy became one of the top investigators of Communism along with Edgar Hoover, who was at the time [the] director of [the] FBI" ("Hunt" n. pag.). His "Committee for Un-American Activities was responsible for investigating subversive citizens in the United States" Many of those attacks interfered with Constitutional rights, "but continued unopposed out of a fear of Communism" ("Cold War" n. pag.). People like the Rosenbergs were taken to famous trials, which "were televised across the country" (n. pag.). Both Julius, a Communist, and Ethel Rosenberg were found guilty of giving away information about the atomic bomb. Their "execution sparked a worldwide protest by those who felt that execution was an injustice" (n. pag.). During this time "a lot of Anti-Soviet propaganda was published"; this propaganda was made "to make Americans aware of `Communist infiltration' ("Hunt" n pag.). Hollywood followed this line producing "many films portraying `bad' Russians" (n. pag.).
In 1954 McCarthy launched his last attack, this time against the army. During this investigation, he "was unable to show any real evidence of Communism in the army." This incident was his end, "the nation realized that it had been fooled by McCarthy and his House Committee for Un-American Activities." Yet, there is no doubt, that "a fear of Communism maintained until the end of the Cold War, the search for subversive citizens was limited to reasonable suspects" ("Cold War" n. pag.).
Besides the "hunt" of Communists, there was another event going on, "the most visible part of the Cold War - the arms race," and simultaneously the space race ("Arms Race" n. pag.). The race was based on the following "three ideas. One: both nations have enough weapons to destroy the other; two: both nations can detect a first strike before it arrives, and three: both nations are able to respond adequately before they are hit by the first strike" (n. pag.). According to these ideas, both nations tried to decrease their responding time, in case of a nuclear strike, by first placing missiles "as close as possible"; whereas, the United States attempted to install launching facilities in Turkey, the Soviet Union tried to do so on the island of Cuba. Realizing that permanent facilities would be too dangerous, "the second best solution came with the invention of the SLBM, or submarine launched ballistic missile." Submarines are easily able to come close to the hostile shore, without being detected. Yet,"SLBMs were a very dangerous weapon because they created the possibility of a nuclear victory" (n. pag.).
The third way to shorten the responding times "was by way of detection." Spy planes were the first to perform this very dangerous task of detecting "missile sites within" Soviet borders (n. pag.). After a U - 2 plane was shot down over Soviet territory, causing an international scandal, another solution had to be found - space (n. pag.). "The Space Race was a messy time for America. The objective of the entire era was to find the next frontier and conquer it before the other country. What started out as a project of scientists turned quickly into a battle between politicians" ("Conclusions" n. pag.). When Sputnik "the first satellite, was orbiting the earth in 1957" the Soviet Union showed her lead and the possibility of spying undetected from space ("Cold War" n. pag + "Arms Race" n. pag.). Soon "spy planes were no longer needed as photographic equipment", because satellites "were able to read license plates on cars" ("Arms Race" n. pag.). Yet, the space race continued with Yuri Gagarin being the first human in the orbit by 1961. Treated like a national hero in the Soviet Union, his success "slapped the pride of America square in the face." JFK reacted by announcing "that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade." With a successful landing of Apollo 11 on the moon, the United States "took the lead". Shortly after this great accomplishment, "the push for exploration died" ("Cold War" n. pag). Although the space race slowed down, the Cold War, and with it the "ever-expensive arms Race," was still a "hot" issue (n. pag.). As the Cold War finished its first decade, there was still a major problem unsolved - the Berlin Question. After World War II Berlin had been divided into four allied zones; whereas, the American, British and French zones made up West Berlin the Soviet zone itself formed East Berlin. Another factor playing an important role in the dispute about Berlin, was that the entire city was located in the Soviet zone. Stalin's goal was it to either make it a free city or to take Berlin over.
After the failed blockade in 1948, Stalin realized that his former allies never would let Berlin fall in his hands. At this point in time, it was clear that Stalin was going to install one of his totalitarian satellite governments in East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic, as it was called since 1949. However, "until August of 1961 the border between East and West Berlin is opened and daily half a million people cross the border from one part of the city into the other", East Berliners worked, shopped and entertained themselves in West Berlin ("BerlinWall" n. pag.). The decision to build a wall closing the open border between East and West Berlin was made at a conference of Communist party leaders in Moscow in early August, 1961 (n. pag.). One of the biggest reasons for that hard decision was "to halt a tide of migrants to the West that had left East Germany short of workers and threatened the stability of the Communist regime: more than 2.7 million had departed since the founding of the German Democratic Republic" ("Wall of" n. pag.). When East and West Berliners woke up on August 13, 1961, the border had already been closed by "army, police, and the `Kampfgruppen'". For the next 28 years, streets, railways and subways would end in the middle of nowhere within Berlin ("BerlinWall" n. pag.). Separating a city, "a nation and virtually the whole world it became the most famous symbol of the Cold War, "representing the fighting parties and their attitudes" ("CW-Guide"). Furthermore, with the closing of the "so called green border" an escape towards West Germany was made almost impossible (n. pag.). However, as time went by, several agreements and especially the Four Power's agreement in 1971, over Berlin made traveling to the East zone easier ("BerlinWall" n. pag.). When Gorbachev "renounces the Brezhnev Doctrine, which pledged to use Soviet force to protect its interests in Eastern Europe" and along with his reform program "Glasnost and Perestroika" the Eastern satellite governments gained more self-control ("1989" n. pag.). Hungary was the first Eastern European country to open its borders westward. In the summer of 1989, many East Germans, who spend their vacation in Hungary, could not believe that they were able to pass through the Hungarian border. When classes started in East Germany in September of that year, many friends of mine did not show up - questioning where all my fellow classmates were, we were told, "they left our Republic." I also remember that my mom told me almost daily of people, even friends of our family, who had left the "Republic," many of them just with their luggage. "Then on September 10,1989 Hungary stops enforcing East German visa restriction, throwing open its borders [completely]." Fifteen thousand people passed the border to Austria, heading towards West Germany, in the first three days ("Timeline" n. pag.). "After massive public demonstrations in East Germany, and Eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall falls on November 9,1989." Prior to that event the East German government already had resigned ("1989" n. pag. + "Timeline" n pag.). With its formal reunification on October 3, 1990, Germany and the world entered a new age - the post - Cold - War era (n. pag.). President Bush stated, "the fall of the wall was the start of the Cold War's endgame and everyone understood that" or as President Clinton said, "[it was] surely one of the happiest and most important days of the 20th Century" ("Rice" n. pag.+ "Clinton" n. pag.). Yet, the Berlin Wall "also stood as a reminder of the limits of power in the nuclear age. Paradoxically, the Wall, despised though it was, acted as a bulwark for stability in Europe, ratifying two spheres of influence and thus maintaining the alternative of cold war to hot war ("Wall of" n. pag.).
There is no question, neither here nor in Germany, that the United States played a major role in unifying Germany and freeing Eastern Europe, but it also affected America itself - its politics, its economy and social aspects. Facing "a policy problem of enormous gravity and complexity as Bush describes the situation, he still believed in German democracy and the country's western orientation ("Rice" n. pag.). Shortly after the walls' crumble, two major problems occurred for the United States first: the loss of "a dear cut ideological enemy," and secondly, how to deal with Europe ("Kissinger" n. pag.). Losing this enemy means that the present foreign policy is no longer a series of solutions to specific problems (n. pag.). Yet, that vacuum has been filled, with religious terrorists or criminal syndicates ("Is the world" n. pag.). Even "the end of the Cold War was clearly a victory for the forces of freedom and democracy;" however, the world hasn't become any safer ("George Bush" n. pag.). As Bush said, "the problem is not in terms of world peace, the problem is how we are going to get along with Russia [and China]" ("George Bush 24" n. pag.). With the end of the Cold War era, the focused, American, foreign policy got disturbed. "The world into which America has been projected" has made that country even more powerful ("Kissinger" n. pag.). The question at this point of time is how America can handle that power, and how Washington defines its global mission ("How has" n. pag.). At a speech, Clinton defined America's foreign policy agenda: "attempt to secure peace in the Balkans, help to stabilize Russia's economy and to help ease tensions between Pakistan and India" ("Clinton" n. pag.).
Ending Soviet power in Europe meant that somebody had to take over the leadership role. According to Bush, "the United States couldn't listen to siren call isolation and protection" because the work in Europe wasn't finished yet ("George Bush 24" n. pag). America plays a leading role in NATO. Without its equipment many military and emergency operations would not be possible (n. pag.). America's push towards a free and democratic Europe was a challenge and not always easy considering, that "since the wall has come down, the eight countries of the old Eastern Bloc have become 27 countries in a series of bloody divorces, and Kosovo, Montenegro and Chechnya threaten to make it 30" ("Is the world" n. pag.). Hopefully, these conflicts can be resolved in a positive manner in the next couple years.
Ten years later Europe bears no open wounds from the resolution of the `German question'.
The statecraft of time must be judged by success. But the fall of the wall was not just a matter of Europe's political future. November 91989 and what followed also changed forever the lives of Germany's people. ("Rice" n. pag.)
Being the biggest industrial nation on this earth is an honor and a responsibility at the same time. With the fall of the Berlin Wall about ten years ago, America entered the longest consecutive era of economic growth and prosperity. One of the reasons for this development is the opportunity for American investors overseas to start businesses in former East European nations, and, ironically, in Russia as well. A huge new market lacking high-quality consumer products over decades is waiting to be served. The other reason for America's increasing economy is the technical revolution. With a few exceptions, all major computer - related inventions had been made in the Land of the Free. The economic power the United States has should be used wisely, because any significant disturbance could cause a serious crisis, as America experienced in 1929.
Another important impact on the U.S. society was social change, which came along with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The biggest advance was in communications, as people were now able to talk to relatives or friends whom they were not permitted to talk or write to for decades. Freeing Eastern Europe from Communism brought major changes in the human rights issue. The bad conditions described by political refugees had horrified Americans over decades. Ending the Cold War also released a lot of pressure on the American people because the fear of a war breaking out is much smaller than it was ten years ago ("George Bush 24" n. pag.). Although the end of the Cold War was the most important event of our century, the social impact on the average American citizen was not overwhelming; however, the prosperity caused by it changed the lifestyle and attitude of Americans.
The world after the Cold War is certainly a changed one. The so-called "global village" is not a vision anymore; it is becoming a reality a little bit more every day. But is the world safer and more peaceful? Most definitely not! Usually when a problem is solved, these solutions bring other problems with them. Russia and all the other former republics of the Soviet Union are weak democracies right now - if they lose their faith in the democratic system another dictatorship in these countries could easily be possible. The western nations have to make sure to support these democratic movements politically, and even more importantly, economically. Although the probability of a new Cold War is relatively small, the growing Asia and in particular China could be a new diplomatic conflict area. A problem for western nations is the abuse of human rights, especially in China. Past experience that atomic bombs are not beneficial, however, they are still a threat. Especially young atomic nations like India or Pakistan could over react in conflicts, and some "insane" dictators like Hussein still think the can take over the world with such a weapon.
While the Cold War dominated the world for almost half a century, an entire generation in both blocs grew up hating the other side. No one ever told them that these people are just humans, demanding basically the same thing love, food, clothes and shelter. Luckily the Cold War never turned into a hot war, because hot wars are always fought on the back of the innocent. The Cold War was fought on tables and in schoolbooks, even though the Berlin Wall as the tangible symbol of the Cold War is gone, the psychological barriers and scars will remain for an indefinite period of time.
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- Quote paper
- Schlegel, Robert (Author), 2000, The United States During and After the Cold War, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/97118