When the fighting of WW2 ended, Soviet troops occupied most of the countries of Eastern Europe: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The Soviet Union also controlled East Germany. Although Stalin had promised to allow free elections in these satellite countries, he did not keep his promise. In addition, he cut off communication, trade, and travel between the satellites and countries to the west. Winston Churchill declared that an Iron Curtain of dictatorship had descended over Eastern Europe.
President Truman's policy toward communism was one of containment--preventing the further spread of communism without military intervention. Truman supported Secretary of State George C. Marshall's plan. Under the Marshall Plan, the United States provided billions of dollars in aid to European countries so that they could recover from the losses of World War II. Truman believed that a speedy economic recovery would give Europeans the strength and energy to maintain democratic governments and resist communism.
The rivalry and distrust between communist and democratic countries was called the Cold War. The Cold War never became an actual "hot" war, but conflicts arose as both sides struggled for control. To keep these conflicts from escalating into a real war, more than fifty countries in 1945 formed the United Nations.
In April 1949, the democratic governments of the United States, France, and Great Britain, still fearing Soviet aggression, formed an alliance called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. The member countries agreed to consider an attack against one of them an attack against all.
Until 1949, the United States had remained the only country that had the knowledge and technology to explode a nuclear weapon. Then, in September of that year, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. Now that two world powers had the capacity to launch a nuclear attack, the arms race began. The world had witnessed what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and knew that, with the threat of nuclear warfare, it was more important than ever for countries to resolve their differences peacefully. War could mean total destruction.
The Korean War
After World War II, Korea was divided into two countries. North Korea had a communist government, and South Korea, or the Republic of Korea, had a democratic government. In June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea in an effort to join the two countries together as a communist nation. The United Nations sent troops led by General Douglas MacArthur into South Korea to force the North Koreans out. Most of the troops were Americans. They were successful at first, but then China entered the war on the side of North Korea. In April of 1951, President Truman and General MacArthur disagreed about how to conduct the war. Truman replaced MacArthur with another general--Matthew B. Ridgway. MacArthur had wanted to wage an "all-out" war, bombing bases in Manchuria and even using the atomic bomb against the Chinese. Truman was afraid that such actions might lead to a disastrous World War III and to the mass destruction that atomic warfare would cause. Later that year, truce talks began, but fighting continued. The Korean War finally ended with the signing of a peace treaty in July 1953. By that time, Truman was no longer president.
Although most people today view Truman's decision not to escalate the war as a wise one, at the time it was unpopular. Truman decided not to run for another term as president, and on November 4, 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower became president-elect with Richard M. Nixon as vice president. General Eisenhower had been supreme commander of the Allied armies in Europe during World War II.
Toward the end of the Korean War, many Americans feared that communists were trying to take over the world, including the U.S. government. Senator Joseph McCarthy played into Americans' fear of communism by launching a communist "witch hunt" in 1950. With no evidence to prove his claims, McCarthy accused many loyal Americans of being communists and brought them to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Over the next four years, McCarthy ruined people's reputations and careers by suggesting that they were communist sympathizers and spies. Eventually the government denounced McCarthy, and the term McCarthyism has lived on to refer to the persecution of people for their political beliefs without regard for truth or fairness.
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