Chapter 26 Postwar Europe and North America, 1945-1968
into East and West helped trigger a
between the United States and the Soviet Union to
more powerful and destructive weapons. The arms race in turn intensified
the suspicions the superpowers felt toward each other, and more than
once pushed the world to
made the Cold War different from other eras of great power competition
was the existence of nuclear weapons. These new weapons were
enormously more destructive than any previous weapons, and they
threatened the world with mass devastation.
Einstein's theory of relativity had brought about a complete revolution
in the way scientists thought about matter and energy. Between 1910 and
1939 scientists across Europe performed experiments to discover the
mysteries of the atom. Eventually these scientists became interested in
a process known as fission-the splitting of the nucleus of an atom in
order to release great amounts of energy.
1942 the United States formally organized a program, known as the
Manhattan Project, to develop an atomic bomb. The military gathered many
top nuclear scientists at the remote site of Los Alamos, New Mexico,
under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer, to work on the project.
The military director of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves,
described the first atomic blast, which took place on July 16, 1945:
brief period there was a lightning effect within a radius of twenty
miles equal to several suns at midday; a huge ball of fire was formed
which lasted for several seconds. This ball mushroomed and rose to a
height of over 10,000 feet before it dimmed ....
seemed to feel that they had been present at the birth of a new age."
August 6 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and three
days later another on Nagasaki to end the war with Japan.
four years the United States possessed a monopoly over atomic weapons.
During that time Soviet scientists worked frantically on a Soviet atomic
bomb – aided by spies who had actually worked on the Manhattan Project
and had access to U.S. and British atomic secrets. In 1949 the Soviet
Union exploded its first atomic device.
successful Soviet atomic test contributed to growing American fears of
communism. U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy and others began a campaign to
uncover suspected Communists. Without any
real evidence, McCarthy accused many people of communist activities,
ruining their careers and destroying their reputations. Nevertheless, a
special Congressional investigative organization, known as the House
Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, did in fact uncover several
acquisition of the atomic bomb only further convinced American leaders
of the need to press ahead and create even more powerful weapons, which
in turn fueled Soviet determination to keep pace. With neither side
trusting the other, and each convinced that the other represented the
antithesis of its own way of life, a new arms race was underway.
the earlier bombs had produced their energy from fission, another
process-fusion-promised to yield bombs immensely more destructive.
Fusion bombs (also called thermonuclear bombs) derived their energy from
combining hydrogen atoms in the same kind of reaction that fuels the
first U.S. hydrogen blast took place in November 1952. The first Soviet
detonation of a hydrogen bomb followed in August 1953. During the 1950s
both superpowers also began developing long-range missiles, including
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could strike enemy
targets from either the United States or the Soviet Union.
nuclear arms race provoked protests by many people who feared that the
new weapons would produce a war far more destructive than even World War
II. During the early years of the nuclear era, the protests were
essentially confined to the United States and Western Europe. A 1946
U.S. proposal would have made atomic energy an international venture
after a transition
but Stalin rejected the plan.
the 1950s many antinuclear protests focused on the problem of
fallout-radioactive dust and other particles from nuclear blasts that
are potentially harmful to living things. By the late 1950s scientists
could detect radioactive material almost everywhere-in livestock, in
crops, in drinking water, in the bones of children. Medical scientists
predicted sharp increases in rates of cancer, birth defects, and
miscarriages. People everywhere demanded that the superpowers cease
the end of the 1950s, the superpowers began making plans for talks on
nuclear arms control. In 1959 Khrushchev visited the United States, and
together he and U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower planned a summit that
would be held the following year in Paris. In May 1960, however,
Khrushchev announced that an American U-2 spy plane had been shot down
over the Soviet Union. Eisenhower refused to apologize for the
incident, maintaining that keeping tabs on developments in the Soviet
Union was vital to U.S. security. Outraged, Khrushchev refused to meet
arms race produced enormously powerful weapons, as well as fears and
protests about the dangers these weapons posed.
arms race elevated the level of tension between the superpowers. Both
countries hoped to gain political advantage by raising the possibility
of military action-action that might result in the use of nuclear
weapons. This practice became known as brinkmanship-the act of moving to
the brink of nuclear war without going over.
Berlin Wall. One
of the most dangerous acts of brinkmanship involved Berlin. In November
1958 Khrushchev demanded negotiations on the future of Berlin. He
threatened to conclude a separate peace treaty with East
Germany-implying that Western access to Berlin might be cut off. The
United States, Britain, and France denounced Khrushchev's threats, but
they did agree to meet. The discussions, however, led nowhere.
the Berlin situation was the matter of refugees. Every month, thousands
of mostly young East Germans were fleeing their country for the West,
often using West Berlin as an exit. Worried by the mass migration, in
August 1961 the Soviets and East Germans erected a wall separating East
Berlin from West Berlin. Almost overnight, a wall of concrete and barbed
wire, reinforced by guard towers and land mines, went up through the
middle of the city.
Cuban missile crisis.
more nervewracking than the Berlin affair was the Cuban missile
crisis of October 1962. The crisis began during the summer of 1962, when
the Soviet Union secretly began constructing launch sites for
intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Cuba, less than 100 miles from
U.S. shores. By the time U.S. spy planes discovered the sites in
October, they were nearly operational.
October 22 U.S. President John F. Kennedy publicly demanded that
Khrushchev withdraw the missiles from Cuba. He
announced an American blockade of the island to prevent additional
missiles or parts from arriving. He also warned Khrushchev to halt
shall be the policy of
nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any
nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the
United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet
five days the world held its breath, wondering whether Khrushchev
would yield to Kennedy's demand. Finally Khrushchev did, agreeing to
pull the Soviet missiles out of Cuba in exchange for a U.S. pledge not
to invade Cuba and a confidential promise by Kennedy to withdraw U.S.
missiles from Turkey.
threat of nuclear war meant that international disagreements could grow
into dangerous crises.
the Cuban missile crisis did not lead to war, it shook some nations'
confidence in the leadership of the superpowers. Within a few years, for
example, Charles de Gaulle announced that France was withdrawing its
military obligations to NATO. France remained part of the Western
alliance, but the French pursued an independent foreign policy. Most
importantly, the Cuban missile crisis finally led to efforts by the
superpowers to control the arms race. In August 1963 the United States,
the Soviet Union, and Britain signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty. This treaty forbade nuclear testing in the atmosphere, the
oceans, and outer space. The nuclear powers, however, continued to
test underground. A broader arms control treaty-the Non-Proliferation
Treaty-followed five years later. The treaty committed the United
States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and eventually more than 100 other
countries to refrain from acquiring or spreading nuclear weapons.
though the Cuban missile crisis helped slow the nuclear arms race, it
did not stop the Cold War. Since the communist victory in China in 1949
and the outbreak of the Korean War, the United States had been concerned
with the spread of communism in Asia. In 1954 President Eisenhower
warned of the consequences of one nation falling to communism by
likening countries to dominoes: "You have a row of dominoes, and
you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is
the certainty that it will go over very quickly." This idea came to
be known as the "domino theory." During the 1950s and early
1960s, efforts to halt communist expansion led the United States to send
military advisors to South Vietnam. By 1965 U.S. involvement had
escalated into a full-scale war in Southeast Asia. (See Chapter 27.)
Cuban missile crisis caused great fear of a nuclear confrontation, but
also led to
nuclear arms and testing.
explain the significance of the following: fission
were many people frightened of the arms race, and what did some people
do in response to these fears?
was the Cuban missile crisis important in East-West relations?
did new weapons technology affect international stability?
do you think both superpowers agreed to control the further development
and testing of nuclear weapons?