Origins of the Cold War: Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, Berlin Blockade and AirliftThis is a featured page

The Cold War Takes Shape (Intro)
“The period form early 1947 to 1951 marked the crucial phase in the shaping of the Cold War. By the time aid under the Marshall Plan ended in 1951, the confrontation had frozen into the pattern that dominated world affairs for three decades: a globalised, militarized confrontation in which the two superpowers led alliance systems that threatened nuclear conflagration. In 1947 only on the those two powers had nuclear weapons a;nd there were no institutions connecting other countries to their blocs. Some efforts at at compromise over Germany had recently been given up, others were still, at least technically going. At this stage, confrontation was diplomatic, economic, psychological and pokitical. In the early months of 1947 Cold War attitudes had not yet frozen into glacial solidity. The fact that Europe was literally freezing in the winter of 1946-47 was, however, of great significance. The economics of the West were descending into disarray. Some Western leader feared that to Germans the Soviet zone in Germany might seem to be better off than the Western ones: as General Clay put it, there was no choice between being a communist on 1500 calories a day and a capitalist on 1,000 calories.”
“Berlin Airlift and coup in Czechoslovakia helped to speed the advent of a peacetime US security guaranteed to Western Europe through NATO. After 1950 all major powers rearmed rapidly, decisions were taken to develop hydrogen bombs and the new structure of the Cold War confrontation solidified. By the time of Stalin’s death and Eisenhower’s inauguration in early 1953, it was embedded at the very centre of global politics.”

“The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan In the winter of 1946-47 the British economy was close to collapse. Finances were overstretched as a result of a combination of global commitments, efforts to build a welfare state at home that would serve as an alternative to US capitalism and Soviet communism, and persistent internal problems that necessitated dollar loans. In early 1947 the decision was taken to cut back aid to Turkey as well as to the Greek government in its struggle against communist insurgency. Britain asked the USA to assume the burden. This handed Truman a major problem. There was a growing consensus in government that aggressive communism posed a threat to vital US interests, including the security of the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. If country after country fell into communism, the USA might eventually stand alone against a hostile world. Yet the new Republican Congress was determined to cut taxes and retained pockets of isolationist or ‘Aia-first; sentiment. When congressional leaders were briefed, the administration that if Truman made the same case publicly, Congress would pass an appropriations bill for aid to the two countries. A rallying call, intended to mobilize a public suspected of latent isolationism, resulted. Truman addressed both Houses and the nation on how democracy must be defended wherever it faced aggression. He argued that the investment they had made in freedom in the Second World War must not be lost for want of the funds- and for only a fraction of the cost of the war- now needed to help those fighting totalitarian subversion, oppressive minorities and external threats to their self-determination. The call for US commitment against tyranny and the juxtaposition of slavery and freedom soon became known as the Truman Doctrine. Not all of the money sought by the administration was approved, but the USA did take up the burden.

"Although this ran against Soviet predictions of US post-was behavior, Stalin did not react openly or finally. The meetings for the feign ministers' conference in Moscow between April and May 1947, however, convinced Secretary of State thought Stalin was playing for time in hope that the situation in western Europe would worsen. Despite pleas from various quarter for more patience, Marshall moved swiftly to adopt George Kennan's vision of building a European bulwark against Soviet expansion. In June he proposed a programme of aid to Europe, emphasizing to Congress that 'the situation is critical in the extreme'. Aid would be open to all European countries that chose to participate, but would come with strings attached. The reaction from Britain and France was immediate and positive, while that of the USSR, although not an outright rejection, was guarded.

"The USA offered aid with a number of ends in view. As the US economy would benefit, aid was an enlightened form of self interest. Marshall assumed that the Creation of strong economies in a stable Europe would underpin democracy and that Germany could be integrated into this system. This would help to avoid a return to the conditions of the 1930s when the failure of democracy to withstand totalitarian aggression was perceived to have occurred because economic chaos had undermined the will to resist. The USA had not been able to avoid being drawn into the ensuing conflict and thus protect Americans from war. The plan would consolidate European security by promoting prosperity. It also had a clear ideological message, noted by Molotov. Marshall's declaration that 'Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos... Governments, political parties or groups which seek to perpetuate human misery in order to profit therefrom politically or otherwise will encounter the opposition of the United States' struck the Soviets as an aggressive speech that sought to bring Germany into the Western fold and bring US economic influence into eastern Europe. However, they did not reject bilateral aid, as long as there were very few strings and Germany was not a beneficiary.

"Certain assumptions underlay the ensuing Paris talks of July 1947. Aid was to be centrally planned, not bilaterally negotiated. Not least to satisfy a reluctant Congress, it was to involve opening economies to outside scrutiny and to be anathema to Stalin by Assistant Secretary Will L. Clayton and his British and French counterparts when they met in London proir to Paris conference. By through Stalin's British espionage network, that the intention was to preclude Soviet participation. A struggle ensued over whether the countries of eastern-central Europe would follow Moscow's lead or participate and receive aid. Soviet leader experienced difficulty in persuading the Pole and Czechs not to participate in the second round of Paris talks. Their interest in participating seemed to proved evidence that the aid posed a threat to the Soviet buffer zone. The Czech leaders were summoned to Moscow and instructed as to what line to adopt, leading Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk to conclude that he had left home the representative of a sovereign state but returned 'as a lackey of the Soviet Union.'

"The episode illustrates the 'security dilemma'. The Americans, French and British assumed that they were acting to secure their interests, preserve ideals they saw beneficial. Their efforts to make themselves more secure were perceived in Moscow as threatening. Misperceptions of the other side's efforts to defend its interests were a feature of the Cold War reasoning, but they were never more important than at this moment. Stalin's advisers assumed that Marshall was deliberately putting together an anti-Soviet bloc and both sides underestimated the others genuine apprehensions."

The American Age: U.S. Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad, Vol 2 since 1896 by LaFeber, (Cram 101 Textbook Reviews) Chapter 8. The Cold War, or the Renewal of U.S.-Russian Rivalry 1945-1949

"Marshall Plan: The Marshall, officially the European Recovery Program ERP, was the Primary plan of the United States for rebuilding the allied countries of Europe and repelling communism after WWII."

"Cold War- The Cold War was the period of conflict, tension and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union and their allies from the end of the 1940s until the early 1990s"

"Communism- Communism is an ideology that seeks to establish a classes, stateless social organization based on common ownership of the means of production."

"Anticommunism- Anticommunism refers to opposition to communism, Historically, the word "communism has been used to refer to several types of communal social organization and their supporter, but, since the mid-19th century, the dominant school of communism in the world has been Marxism."

The wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union began to unravel even before the end of World War II. When the war ended, the Red Army occupied much of Eastern Europe. The evident weakness of Western Europe raised the specter of communism spreading even further.
Although the Marshall Plan helped restore Western Europe, other events of the late 1940s kept tension high: the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia and Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948, the fall of China and the Soviet A-bomb in 1949. Soviet support for the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950 confirmed the threat in Western eyes.
The establishment in 1949 of the Western alliance, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), and the 1955 Warsaw Pact between the Soviet Union and its satellites solidified the two opposing blocs that shaped the Cold War.

American Society & Culture in the Cold War

The Cold War touched many aspects of American social and cultural life, from the civil rights movement to survivalism, from Hollywood to the universities. The nuclear threat—and the Communist menace lurking behind it—brought the National Defense Education Act, the interstate highway system, and growing mistrust of government by both liberals and conservatives. In ways sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, the Cold War left its mark on activities ranging from art and poetry to movies and comic books. Sports events became particularly prominent venues for rivalry, beginning with the London Olympics in 1948 and peaking every fourth year thereafter. Visiting artists, traveling exhibitions, and other cultural exchanges, both formal and informal, sometimes helped ease Cold War tensions.
The Marshall Plan
George C. MarshallAs the war-torn nations of Europe faced famine and economic crisis in the wake of World War II, the United States proposed to rebuild the continent in the interest of political stability and a healthy world economy. On June 5, 1947, in a commencement address at Harvard University, Secretary of State George C. Marshall first called for American assistance in restoring the economic infrastructure of Europe. Western Europe responded favorably, and the Truman administration proposed legislation. The resulting Economic Cooperation Act of 1948 restored European agricultural and industrial productivity. Credited with preventing famine and political chaos, the plan later earned General Marshall a Nobel Peace Prize.


Blockade of the US, UK and French zones of Berlin by the Soviet Union, intended to force negotiations over the division and future of Germany. It failed because the blockaded powers were able to airlift in huge amounts of supplies.


In the final months of World War Two Germany, the main aggressor, was invaded by Allied armies: the UK, US and their allies from the west, the USSR from the East. As the war ended and peace emerged, the country was divided into four zones, occupied and administered by one of the US, UK, France and USSR. Berlin, the German capital, was deep within the Russian zone, but was also split into four between the same nations.

The German Question:

All the occupiers were worried about a reborn and rearmed unified Germany which would again threaten peace in Europe, but communist Russia was also worried about a unified and capitalist West Germany working closely with the US, which would first pull the Russian zone away from Soviet control and then destabilise the communist east. The other allies wanted a unified West Germany fully integrated into pan-European economic and defence organisations to both make it self supporting and keep it under control.

The Allies Start to Form West Germany:

Once failures in talks with Russia had convinced the UK and US that a West German state was needed, a Six Power Conference was called between Britain, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and US. It sat during the first half of 1948 and concluded successfully: on June 7th 1948 the West Germans were told to draft a constitution for a new West German state. On June 20 a new currency was introduced into the three allied zones, the Deutschmark. East Germany countered with its own new currency, the Ostmark.

Stalin Reacts: The Berlin Blockade:

The USSR, led by Stalin, refused to accept the developments during the Six Power Conference, believing that they could apply enough pressure on the Western governments to force a renegotiation, even a neutral unified Germany. This pressure was to be applied to Berlin, in which the western zones were dependant upon supplies crossing through the larger Russian zone in Germany. On the night of June 23-24 all rail and road links were cut off, as was the electricity supply, the excuse given being a need to stop devalued older currency flooding in from the West.

The West Reacts:

An isolated West Berlin could not support itself for very long without supplies from outside: 2.5 million people had only five weeks food. Stalin hoped the allies would give in on West Germany to save Berlin. The initial allied reaction was surprise and confusion. Bevin, the British foreign minister, took on a forceful role, insisting that a West German state should still be created. The US and UK rejected the suggestion of General Clay, the US High Commissioner in Germany, to force an armoured convoy through Russian Germany, in case that provoked full scale war, instead favouring Bevin’s suggestion of an airlift.

The Berlin Airlift:

In the aftermath of World War Two three air corridors over the Russian zone in Germany had been allocated to the allies and these, they gambled, were still open: Stalin wouldn’t risk war by shooting a plane down and causing war. There thus began a massive airlift of food, coal and other supplies between the Western German zones and Berlin. The airlift was at first highly improvised and by the end of July that year US and UK planes were bringing in 2000 tons a day.


2000 tons a day was good, but the Allies felt that over 5000 would be needed if West Berlin was to survive the coming winter. Worried that the airlift might fail, Allied ambassadors met with Stalin to discuss the situation. He demanded that the ostmark replace the Deutschmark in Berlin and that the future of Germany be discussed. The Allies were prepared to compromise over the currency issue, with some reservations, but not over the West German State. Feeling that the blockade would force the allies back to negotiate, the Russians didn’t budge. The UN also tried mediating.

The Berlin Airlift Succeeds:

In the end the Allies didn’t need to negotiate any further because the Berlin Airlift developed into a hugely successful operation, by January moving an average daily tonnage of 5620 and 8000 tons by April. A mild winter also helped, as did the introduction of larger US C54 planes. A thousand aircraft could be in the three air corridors at once. The airlift was totally unprecedented. The Allies also shut all exports from Germany into the Soviet zone, placing economic pressure back on Russia.Stalin, facing defeat, changed position, saying he’d lift the blockade if a Council of Foreign Ministers, which had met before to discuss the post war world, was held. The Allies agreed and the Blockade was lifted on May 12 1949. The Council of Foreign Ministers met eleven days later; there was to be no agreement on the fate of Germany.
Although diplomatic relations between the US led western powers and the USSR had been decaying since the end of, indeed during, the Second World War, and although the Cold War was already a firm feature of the political landscape, the Berlin Blockade was the first time these former allies had been in open conflict. It also bought the threat of US nuclear power to Europe: The UK had asked the US to station some of its B-29 bombers on British soil, and during the Blockade sixty were sent over. The B-29 was the only plane capable of carrying and dropping an atomic bomb and, although those sent over had not been converted to carry nuclear weapons, the threat to Russia was implicit. The Berlin Blockade has been described as "an astonishing display of the West’s industrial weight and political determination." (Walker, The Cold War, Vintage, 1994, p.57).
The History guide
Lectures on 20th Century Europe
Lecture 14
The origins of the cold war are not really that difficult to uncover. Nor are these origins that complex. Here in the west we have the tendency -- not unusual, I suppose -- to place the entire responsibility of the cold war upon the shoulders of the Soviet Union. And so, there have been a few events which have shaped this response. For instance, when Mother Russia overthrew its tsar, made a revolution, became the Soviet Union, unified itself under Lenin and created an ideological structure called communism, the United States could only react with fear and trepidation. The government could not accept the simple fact that a country could exist with economic and political principles so critically opposed to democracy and industrial capitalism.
By 1919 or 1920, the Red Scare had become an American reality. Through the manipulation of public opinion and repression and even physical force, anarchists, socialists and communists were clearly forced into retreat. Socialism or communism in the United States is simply an impossibility -- it is too European for American tastes. It always has been and perhaps always will be. True, there have been socialists and communists in this country well before 1917. And they exist today as well, but only as small pockets of supporters from whom we basically never hear a word. Americans fear revolution. Americans fear change -- real, fundamental social, economic and political change. And what really terrifies Americans are immigrants who desire change through revolution. Again, it's too European. This is an attitude which does have a history and I think if you study the atmosphere of the United States in the late 1840s and 50s you will discover why. In 1848, most European governments were under assault from the left. And when many of these individuals came to this country to escape political repression, they brought their ideas of revolution -- red ideas -- with them.
The French Revolution -- or something on the scale of the French Revolution -- could never have taken place in this country. Radicalism, true liberalism, a revolutionary frame of mind, is an impossibility on American soil. Review the last two centuries of American dissent or radicalism. You will soon notice that it is a history full of examples in which independent thought or direct criticism is most often met with the club or the stick. Meaningful dissent in the United States is an impotent force. Whether that dissent is homegrown or imported from abroad, the results have almost always been the same. So when we speak of dissent in this country today, it is perhaps better to speak of permissible dissent rather than true dissent.
When we turn to the more immediate and tangible causes of the cold war, we must begin with World War Two itself. On July 25, 1945, two months after Germany had surrendered, the Big Three -- Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Harry Truman -- met at POTSDAM in order to discuss the fate of Germany. By 1945, Stalin was the veteran revolutionary, a man who had held the reins of Soviet power and authority for nearly twenty years. Truman, on the other hand, had been President barely three months. The crucial issue at Potsdam, as it had been at Versailles in 1918 and 1919, was reparations. The Soviet Union, as to be expected, wanted to rebuild their near-destroyed economy using German industry. The United States feared it would have to pay the whole cost of rebuilding Germany, which in turn would help rebuild the Soviet Union. So, after all the discussions had ended, a compromise was reached and Germany was to be partitioned into four occupied zones. Britain, France and the United States would occupy parts of western Germany while the Soviet Union would occupy east Germany.
The main issue at Potsdam and for the next two years was who would control Europe. Britain had its chance, so too did France and Germany. Was it now Russia's turn? Or perhaps the United States? Few people ever questioned why Europe needed to be controlled in the first place but in the end, everyone wanted to avoid yet another war. Russia wanted Poland. Everybody wanted Poland. But especially Russia. Historically, Poland had always been the key state needed from which to launch an attack against Russia. The United States upheld the principles of self-determination, principles declared in Woodrow Wilson's FOURTEEN POINT PLAN. For Wilson, nations should have the right to choose their own form of government. Of course, Wilson really meant was America's destiny to make "the world safe for democracy".
The Soviets viewed this demand as unacceptable for it indicated that the United States was really taking too heavy a hand in determining what nations ought to adopt what specific form of government. In response, Stalin went on to create what Winston Churchill, never at a loss for words, dubbed the IRON CURTAIN. For Churchill:

from Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste on 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, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia. From what I have seen of our Russian friends and allies during the war I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength and nothing for which they have less respect than military weakness.
By 1946, the United States and Britain were making every effort to unify all of Germany under western rule. The Soviet Union responded by consolidating its grip on Europe by creating satellite states in 1946 and 1947. One by one, communist governments, loyal to Moscow, were set up in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Stalin used Soviet communism to dominate half of Europe. Why Stalin did this might not be clear. Was he trying to build an international communist movement beginning in eastern Europe? Or, was he simply trying to protect his borders from any intervention on the part of the United States or the allies? The climax came in March 1948. A communist coup in Czechoslovakia overthrew a democratic government and the Soviet Union gained a foothold in central Europe.
Given the experience of World War Two itself, this division of Europe was perhaps inevitable. Both sides wanted their values and economic and political systems to prevail in areas which their soldiers had helped to liberate. If both sides had accepted these new spheres of influence, a cold war might never have occurred. But the nations of western Europe and the United States still had Hitler on their minds and they soon began to see Stalin as a similar threat.
With World War Two at an end by the end of the summer of 1945, the United States knew that the Soviet economy was in a state of near-collapse. The Soviet Union had lost at least 20 million souls during the war alone and perhaps another 20-30 million from Stalin's decade of purge trials. Thirty thousand factories and forty thousand miles of railroad tracks had been destroyed. All the industrialization that Stalin had promised and delivered to his people with the Five Year Plans had been lost. Truman realized this and remained confident that the United States was in the stronger bargaining position. He surmised that the Soviets had to come to the United States for much-needed economic aid. As early as January 1945, FDR had already denied the Soviet request for a six billion dollar loan. Lend-Lease proved no more effective. In the Spring of 1945, Congress agreed that they would not allow Lend-Lease for any post-war reconstruction in Russia. This was obviously a major shift in policy for under the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, the United States had shipped enormous quantities of war materiel to the Soviets, including almost 15,000 planes, 7000 tanks, 52,000 jeeps and almost 400,000 trucks.

Overshadowing all these initial cold war issues of 1945 was the atomic bomb. The new weapon used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August presented a whole new category of problems. Even friendly nations would have had difficulty resolving their problems -- given the state of American and Soviet affairs in 1945, the situation was positively explosive. The early history of the bomb is interesting. One would have thought that the Germans, with their V1 and V2 rockets, were far in advance of any developments by the Allies. But thanks to Hitler and the Nazis, from the early 1930s onward, there was a steady exodus of Germany's greatest scientific minds. They came to Cambridge in England or to the United States. Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Max Planck (1858-1947), Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) had all pioneered the new physics upon which nuclear fission rested. The Hungarian Leo Szilard (1898-1964) and Danish scientist Niels Bohr (1885-1962) had worked on uranium fission in Germany before the war, but they left as well. In August 1939, Einstein wrote a letter to FDR urging him of the necessity to start work on a new super-weapon before the Germans had developed one themselves.

The Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge became the most important British research center. It was at Cavendish that Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) first achieved atomic disintegration in 1919 and where James Chadwick (1891-1974) identified the neutron in 1932. The first chain reaction uranium fission was achieved at the University of Chicago in 1942. A huge nuclear plant built at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, produced fissionable material in large quantities. Under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967)), the actual weapons development took place at Los Alamos in New Mexico.
During World War Two, Roosevelt and Churchill followed a policy that would ensure a nuclear arms race at war's end. Still, Stalin found out about the Manhattan Project and by 1943 had already begun development of a Soviet bomb. After the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagaski and the subsequent surrender of Japan, the United States developed a disarmament plan based on turning over all fissionable materials, plants and bombs to an international regulatory agency. The Soviets responded quickly with their own plan which stipulated nothing less than a total ban on the production of all fissionable material. They further added that all existing bombs would be destroyed. Wishing to preserve its monopoly on nuclear weapons, the United States continued to stress regulation and inspection by an independent agency. But the Soviets, in the hopes of neutralizing any United States advantage, insisted on immediate disarmament. Eventually an agreement was reached and the two sides agreed to disagree.

Another cause of the cold war revolved around a relatively new development in United States-Soviet relations. At the beginning of 1946, Truman decided that he was "tired of babysitting the Soviets who understand only an iron fist and strong language." Stalin responded in February with a speech stressing the basic incompatibility between Soviet communism and western democracy, thus inaugurating a new hard line policy. Frustrated, Washington found meaning in a crucial document known as the "Long Telegram." In 1946, the Soviet expert George Kennan, sent an 8000 word telegram to Washington from Moscow. Kennan was a foreign service officer who new Russia well. He understood their history, their culture and their language. Kennan explained the communist mentality in the following way. The Soviet's hostility to the west is rooted in the need to legitimize their bloody dictatorship -- they must therefore believe in the inevitable triumph of communism over the beast capitalism. The Soviets, Kennan continued, would exploit every opportunity to extend their system and therefore could not and would not be converted to a policy of harmony and cooperation. According to Kennan, Russia's policy was:
to undermine the general and strategic potential of major western powers by a host of subversive measures to destroy individual governments that might stand in the Soviet path, to do everything possible to set the major Western powers against each other.
But since the Soviets believed that they had history on their side -- history as understood by Marx's materialist conception of history -- the communists were in no hurry and would not risk major war. Met with firmness, Kennan went on, the Soviets will back off. Eventually published as "THE SOURCES OF SOVIET CONDUCT," in the journal Foreign Affairs and signed by "X," Kennan's observations quickly gave Washington its own hard line and for the next three decades or so American foreign policy could be expressed by one word: containment. In order to quiet Soviet ambitions, the United States now had to embark on a path of intervention, under the guise of containment.

There were two other administrative policies that also helped to shape the future of US-Soviet relations during the early stages of the cold war. Most western European Communist parties were at a peak in the years immediately following World War Two. The French Communist Party, for instance, won almost 30% of the vote in November 1946 elections. In Greece, Communist led guerrillas supplied from Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania, posed a threat to the uninspired government of Greece. The Greek communists attempted to seize power in late 1944, when their tactics of mass slaughter turned off a majority of Greeks. But the communists fought back, aided by Tito, not Stalin. Civil war eventually broke out in Greece in 1946 amid economic crisis. By January 1947, the British informed the United States that they could no longer supply economic aid to Greece or Turkey. Believing that the Soviet Union was responsible for Britain's pullout, the United States decided that they had to assume the role of supplying aid. The TRUMAN DOCTRINE of March 12, 1947 announced aid to Greece and Turkey in the stated context of a general war against communism. Aid in the amount of $400 million was approved by the House and Senate by a margin of three to one. In many ways, the Truman Doctrine marked the formal declaration of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union -- it also solidified the United States' position regarding containment.

The Soviets accepted the Truman Doctrine's "two rival worlds" idea. It went along with the Marxist-Leninist notion of a world divided into two hostile camps -- one capitalist, the other communist. For Stalin, a final class struggle, determined by the laws of historical development, would mean certain Soviet victory.
In May came the American decision to "reconstruct the two great workshops," Germany and Japan. And on June 5, Secretary of State George C. Marshall gave a SPEECH AT HARVARD which would further harden the United States' position toward the Soviets. Marshall proposed a scheme of extensive aid to all European nations if they could agree on how to revive a working economy, "so as to permit," he wrote, "the emergence of political and social conditions in which institutions can exist." There's no doubt which institutions Marshall had in mind -- a free market economy directed by forces not in Europe but across the Atlantic. Marshall even included the Soviets in his plan. But at a meeting in Paris the following month, the Soviets gave their response to the Marshall Plan by walking out. Neither Russia nor its satellite states would take up the offer. Meanwhile, as the Marshall Plan pumped US dollars into Europe, West German economic recovery began to trigger a general European recovery. The Soviets viewed this development as little more than a capitalist plot to draw the nations of eastern European into the American sphere of influence.

1947 was a crucial year in early cold war history. The forces of the free world, it seemed, were rallying to resist Soviet aggression, build up the defenses of the non-communist world and, tackle the problem of European economic recovery with massive assistance from the United States. That assistance grew to something like $20 billion before 1951.

The issue of Soviet containment was also played out in 1949 with the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. The idea for something like NATO grew from general European fears of renewed Soviet aggression. Hitler was still on everybody's mind. Although Hitler was dead, was Stalin perhaps viewed as the next aggressor? Regardless of whether or not Stalin was hell-bent on world domination, the point here is that he was perceived to be an aggressor in the Hitler mold. Western Europe also needed some guarantee from the United States that they would be protected from any aggression while they began the slow process of economic recovery.

England, France and the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) initiated the organization of what would become NATO by forming the Western Union in March 1948 to get the ball rolling. The main force behind the creation of NATO was not Truman, as you might have suspected, but the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. By January of 1949, Truman called for an even broader pact which eventually would involve the United States, Canada and ten European nations. The North Atlantic Treaty was eventually signed April 4, 1949. NATO was created with the sole aim of protecting Europe from Soviet aggression, "to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law." There were two main features of the Treaty. First, the United States made a firm commitment to protect and defend Europe. As stated in the Treaty, "an armed attack against one shall be considered an attack against all." Second, the United States would indeed honor its commitment to defend Europe. So in 1950, Truman selected Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) as the Supreme Commander of NATO forces. Four United States divisions were stationed in Europe to serve as the nucleus of NATO forces.

The American public embraced NATO because it offered a way of participating in world affairs and opposing Soviet power in a more indirect way. Americans no longer believed that world security would come through the United Nations -- itself a product of World War One -- but they still held on to the ideas of some sort of collective security with an ideological base. The Atlantic nations were said to be held together by both common interests as well as a common commitment to democracy and industrial capitalism. For western Europe, NATO provided a much-needed shelter of security behind which economic recovery could take place. In a way, NATO was the political counterpart of the Marshall Plan. For the United States, NATO signified that the United States could no longer remain isolated from European affairs. Indeed, NATO meant that European affairs were now American affairs as well.
Despite the apparent advantages of NATO, there were problems right from the start. Neither Britain nor France provided much in the way of military strength for a number of years. France was too heavily committed overseas, especially in Indochina and Algeria. And the British were in the midst of losing even more territories of their Empire. West German military presence in NATO was next to nothing. So, it was the United States which provided the entire muscle behind NATO. It was clearly an unequal partnership which at different times seemed to bother both Europeans and Americans. But what eventually counted, at least in the context of the late 1940s and early 50s, was not the ground forces under NATO control but the American "nuclear umbrella" acting as a deterrent against any Soviet temptation to attack. As it turned out, Eisenhower returned to Europe with tens of thousands of American GIs for the second time in a decade, this time to guard the enemy of World War Two against one of its former Allies. While this buildup continued, NATO forces remained outnumbered many times over by Russian ground forces. But what sustained Europe's spirit and perhaps deterred the Soviets -- who had very little intention of an armed attack on Europe -- was the assurance that such an attack would bring the United States, with is massive resources, into the war.

The western alliance embodied in NATO had the effect of escalating the cold war. Historians are pretty much agreed. NATO was created by an over-reaction of the western world to what they perceived to be Soviet aggression. Once again, Hitler was on everybody's mind. But Stalin was not Hitler. Furthermore, the Soviets were not Nazis. And in the end there was very little evidence of a Soviet plot to invade western Europe. All NATO really did was intensify Soviets fears of the West and to produce even higher levels of international tension.

As the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union grew in the late 1940s and into the 50s, both countries began to rebuild their military forces. Following World War Two, American leaders were intent on reforming the military forces. There were two main goals policy makers had in mind. First, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the armed forces had to be unified into an integrated system. Such a policy of unification was required by the cold war itself. Second, there was also a need for entirely new institutions to coordinate all military strategy. In 1947, Congress solved both issues by creating the National Security Act. The results of this Act should be familiar to all of us today since it established institutions we know take for granted. The Act created first, a Department of Defense which would serve as an organizing principle over the army, navy and air force. Second, the Act created the National Security Council, a special advisory board to the executive office. And lastly, the Act created the Central Intelligence Agency or CIA, which was in charge of all intelligence.

In 1949, American military planners received a rather profound shock: the Soviets had just succeeded in exploding an atomic bomb of their own. The bomb was a fission bomb, created by the disintegration of plutonium 239 mixed with uranium 235. By this time, however, nuclear technology had advanced so far that this sort of bomb, like the one that leveled Hiroshima, was as obsolete as a six-shooter. The first United States explosion of an H-bomb, or hydrogen bomb, took place in 1952. The Soviets announced the detonation of a similar thermonuclear device in August of the following year. This fusion bomb, the product of fusion at extreme temperatures of heavy isotopes of hydrogen, is many times more powerful than the A-bomb. In fact, since it operates by chain reaction, the only limit to its size is determined by the size of the aircraft which is carrying it. A bomber can carry a 100 megaton bomb. The Hiroshima bomb, which killed 80,000 souls in less than fifteen minutes, was about 1/700th as large as a 100 megaton bomb. Because the H-bomb was manufactured from one of the most common elements, enough bombs could be readily produced to destroy the planet several times.

Of course, who would want to do that? This was possibly the most dangerous period for nuclear war. The vast growth in the numbers and kinds of long range nuclear weapons meant the neither the United States nor the Soviet Union could hope to escape the ravages of thermonuclear war. Of course, the massive numbers of nuclear warheads produced actually resulted in a stalemate -- and this was good for everyone concerned. The world shuddered at the thought that the destiny of the globe was in the hands of two super powers, yet the logic of the "balance of terror" worked right from the start. Total war was too dangerous. It would destroy everything. There are no victors in thermonuclear war -- only victims.

In the wake of all these developments a new national defense policy was needed by the United States and it came with a policy document known as NSC-68. NSC-68 was based on the premise that first, the Soviets were trying to impose absolute authority over the world and second, that the United States had to face that challenge. What all this boiled down to was this: no more appeasement and no more isolation. NSC-68 raised defense spending immediately. While the 1950 budget had allocated $13 billion for military spending (about one-third of the national budget and five percent of the GNP), the 1951 budget, dedicated $60 billion for defense (about two-thirds of the national budget and more than eighteen percent of a rising GNP). In the end, NSC-68 stands as a symbol of America's determination to win the cold war regardless of cost.

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