The beginning of the cold war in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s set in motion a chain of events that would change the United States forever. From the way the country handled foreign relations to the launch of the space program, the events that happened at beginning of the cold war are some of the most important in American history.
At the time in which the Cold War began many Americans were in a state of flux, after pitching in to help their country during WWII many people didn’t know what to think of life in post war America. This time would prove to be ultimately important because with the economy beginning to take a downturn and soldiers continuing to come home from duty overseas, the government was scrambling to figure out where to put all the men. Then came the answer, in 1944 the Montgomery G.I. Bill was introduced providing financial assistance for veterans to seek education. This was very important to the military and is still in place today to provide assistance and is ultimately the main reason why young men enter the U.S. military today. The G.I. Bill would serve it’s purpose providing education to millions and helping right the U.S.’ struggling economy.
As soldiers returned home and began to get an education, and marriage and birth rates went up as well. The term “Baby Boom” was coined as young couples began having kids at a rate faster than any time in American history (Bailey et. al 864). This time was very important historically because the Baby Boom and the children of that time now known as “Baby Boomers” still largely impact American politics today.
The man who would be president during this tumultuous time in American history was Harry Truman. Truman was an average American with a lack of education and some people thought wits. He would prove them wrong and his shyness developed into almost a cockiness which many historians believe lead to the beginning of the stand off between America and the U.S.S.R. that would become The Cold War. However before Truman was the man who many saw responsible for ending the war, President Roosevelt. Roosevelt along with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin had begun to be known as “The Big Three” during wartime and were thought to be the catalysts in post WWII relations. The big three hammered out a historical agreement at their final conference in Yalta in February 1945. This conference had huge historical significance as Stalin agreed that Poland should be a free country and that the United Nations should be formed. Stalin quickly reigned on the Poland promise but the United Nations is now vital to present time international relations.
At the same conference at Yalta the big three also agreed that Russia would help end the war in Japan, and in return would get many concessions. All sides agreed but Russian help would not be needed as the Americans ended Japan’s reign by dropping the world’s atomic bombs. It was shortly after this time that tensions would rise between the U.S.S.R. and the United States. It seemed the rift between the two mighty nations began when each nations leader had a different idea for a post war world. Stalin had his country and his country alone in his mind when he revealed ideals for a post war world. The U.S. on the other hand wanted to prevent the spread of communism, the premier political ideal in the USSR at the time. This was so important because at the root of almost every American war has been it’s disdain for communism, and during this time it’s prime ally in rebuilding the world was a communist nation.
As American lead the way in international relations after WWII working closely with many nations the Soviets declined to participate in almost all of the world talks. Roosevelt was determined to avoid the mistakes made by President Woodrow Wilson after WWI. Not even Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945 would slow the process as the first United Nations conference was held April 25, 1945 (Bailey et al. 498). The United Nations meeting brought leaders from over fifty nations and began an organization would be vital the future of the post WWII world. This historic meeting would shape not only the world after the war, but the world’s relations from 1945 until present time.
It was shortly after The United Nations was formed that the most important disagreement between blossoming enemies the U.S. and Soviets would take place. The issue was over what to do with the newfound technology of the atom. All the world saw the damage the atom bombs had done in Japan, and all nations agreed that something must be done to regulate it. The U.S. was in favor of turning all power of atomic energy, weapons and future atomic research to an independent U.N. council. The Soviets disagreed strongly on this point and felt that no nation should be allowed to control nuclear weapons. Neither plan was never approved and began an arms race and nuclear standoff between the American’s and the Soviets that would shape the face of The Cold War for nearly 50 years. This disagreement was perhaps one of the biggest historical events in terms of world history. This issue would put the world’s two biggest powers at extreme odds for many years. However the bickering between the countries would not stop there. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were then at odds over what to do with post war Germany.
Stalin who was denied aid from the U.S. needed money to rebuild his shattered country, and was quick to remember how Germany was the cause of his countries current state. He sought reparations from the Germans and this would quickly lead into the separation of East and West Germany. West Germany become and independent state with ties close the Americans. East Germany on the other hand was under the close communist watch of the U.S.S.R.
Many other historically important events happened shortly after the start of the Cold War. Americans began to fight against communism on a global scale. In the late 1950’s Europe’s fate was at a somewhat stable standstill even though the Americans and Soviets were still at odds the continent was essentially stable. Eastern Asia on the other hand was not as lucky. In Indochina the French were beginning to lose their stronghold as communism began to take over. The U.S. had promised to help let the Vietnamese secure freedom, but as the leaders in Vietnam became more and more communist, anti-communist sediment in the U.S. continued to rise.
Tensions in Vietnam soon came to a boiling point. Guerilla fighters in Northern Vietnam soon overthrew the under powered French. The U.S. strongly deliberated helping the French, but eventually decided that financial assistance would be all they could provide. This of course would not be enough. Vietnam was soon divided into two countries, the north communist, the south democratic. This division proved to be ultimately important because leaders in the North were promised that elections would be held in the South, something that never happened and lead to disdain towards the Americans who made this promise. This would ultimately lead to anti-American sediment and the start of the Vietnam War.
The North Vietnamese sat back and resting on their laurels for the next few years, waiting for Americans to come through on their promises. This did not happen and many South Vietnamese also grew tired of the Pro-American appointed government and were anxious to have elections of their own. Wanting to nip the problem in the bud then President John F. Kennedy ordered a larger U.S. military presence in Vietnam. These orders were historically important because they lead to the influx of U.S. troops on the ground in the unstable South Vietnam.
Kennedy would continue to order troops to be sent to Vietnam and eventually the U.S. organized a coup against the very leaders they appointed. Vietnam was now in a total unstable mess. This time would foster a war that would lead to the death of over 60,000 American troops. Tensions continued to rise in Vietnam and a full fledged war erupted shortly there after. The United States fell out of favor with many of it’s world allies and were believed to have ulterior motives in Vietnam other than just the stop of communism.
The start of the Cold War and the start of the Vietnam War were both important events, but which one will be reflected upon as more important in the terms of American History? The answer is The Cold War. A war that resulted in no direct military casualties, but lasted half a century and resulted in a world change. The events that followed WWII and resulted in the beginning of The Cold War will forever mark the face of American history books. Vietnam is still viewed today as a mistake and an important military lesson, but no lesson is greater than the one that was learned the day The Cold War ended. (1531)
Bailey, Thomas A., Lizabeth Cohen, David M. Kennedy. The American Pageant Volume II.
Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.