Lecture 12: The Cold War


We live today in what is often called a post-Cold War world. This is markedly different from the situation of the previous generation, when bi-polar diplomacy was the framework for international relations and international communism served as an external enemy defining American ideology by contrast. This lecture helps us understand the world of the generation of Americans immediately previous to today's by relating the origins of the Cold War with the Soviet Union during the Truman years and carrying the story through the Eisenhower and Kennedy years.



The alliance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, so important to the prosecution of the war against Germany, deteriorated after the war into rivalry and conflict between international communism and the western democracies.

Truman and the Cold War

President Truman sought to rally and mobilize the American response to Communist expansionism.  The Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO were key elements of his effort.  The conflict and rivalry of this time defined the nature of the Cold War.

Asia and Korea

The so-called “loss of China” to communism stood in counterpoint to apparent American success at containing communism in Europe.  Acting in concert with the United Nations, the U.S. sought to enforce containment in Korea—with limited success, in a limited war.

Cold War Blues

The realities of the Cold War produced disgruntlement among Americans, who went through a Second Red Scare.  The Eisenhower administration promised a more vigorous response to Communist expansionism.  At home, the Cold War was an influence on American hopes, habits, and fears.

Cold War in the 1960s

The Kennedy administration, too, promised to energize the crusade against Communism.  What ensued instead was a series of crises—Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, the Berlin Wall.  By the mid-1960s, as the U.S. began to be seriously involved with the war in Indochina, there was no end to the Cold War in sight.

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“The Present and Probable Future Condition of the Three Races that Inhabit the Territory of the United States”

This chapter contains one of Tocqueville's most-cited pieces of prophecy, one worth considering in connection with the Soviet-American rivalry of the Cold War.


·         Why does Tocqueville predict the United States is to become a great nation?

·         How does it compare in character with Russia?


I have no idea who operates this site, but check out Missiles Away and see where the missile fields of North Dakota are. (And ask me about the Minuteman Monument in Lamoure.)

What did President Kennedy say at the Berlin Wall? And President Reagan? Find out at this American Originals page courtesy of the National Archives.

Film Review

Dr. Strangelove – amazing dark comedy of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation

Emperor – Mathew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones (as Douglas MacArthur) deliberate over the fate of Emperor Hirohito in postwar Japan

Thirteen Days – 2000 film based on Robert Kennedy’s book recounting the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

Good Night, and Good Luck – through a focus on Edward R. Murrow, the journalist, the film treats the Second Red Scare and the red-baiting of Senator Joseph McCarthy

Book Review

Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History

Frankel, High Noon in the Cold War