How do you win a war of ideals at home and abroad?
In World War II, the United States and Great Britain teamed up with the Soviet Union to defeat Adolf Hitler’s Germany. In the years that followed, however, the partnership broke down into a struggle between the west, led by the United States, and the communist bloc backed by the Soviets. Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared that Russia had erected an “iron curtain” in Eastern Europe to force communism upon the countries it had occupied at the end of the war.
Post-WWII Relationship Crumbles Between U.S. and Soviet Union
The U.S. began rebuilding western Europe with economic aid through the Marshall Plan while eastern Europe struggled. Control of Berlin, the capital city of a defeated Germany, was shared by Russian, British and U.S. forces at the end of the war. When Russia shut off land routes to the city from the west, President Harry Truman ordered a massive air lift of supplies to send the message that the west would not abandon its European allies. In 1949, the U.S. and the nations of western Europe created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The member nations declared that an attack on any one would be considered an attack on all. Russia responded with a similar military alliance in eastern Europe.
In the 1948 election, Iowa’s Henry A. Wallace ran for president on a platform that sought to reduce tensions and find ways to cooperate with the Soviet Union. He was soundly defeated and tagged as sympathetic to communism. This effectively ended his national political career of nearly two decades from his appointment as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture in 1933, his election as vice president in 1940 and next in line to the presidency through World War II, and a term as Secretary of Commerce under President Truman.
Cold War tensions became even stronger when the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb in 1949. Until then, the United States had been the only atomic power, and the only nation that had ever used the atomic bomb in the attack on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which rapidly led to a Japanese surrender. In another shock to Americans, communist China military forces won a bloody civil war while forces loyal to the west fled to the island of Taiwan.
Cold War Tensions Reign Supreme Over U.S. Politics
For the next 40 years, the Cold War was the focus of American foreign policy. There was always the danger that a conflict anywhere could touch off a conflict that might escalate into the use of nuclear weapons. A very real threat came in October 1962, when the U.S. discovered that the Soviets were sending missiles to Cuba capable of attacking American cities. The U.S. demanded that Soviet ships turn back. For 13 days, the world anxiously awaited the outcome. Finally, Russian ships turned around and the immediate crisis was over.
Some politicians, most often Republicans, favored a more aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union and a build-up of American military forces. George Kennan, an American diplomat, developed the “containment” theory that advocated for policies that prevented Soviets from expanding but did not initiate military moves to roll back communist control. He predicted that Soviet communism would eventually collapse from internal factors.
For one moment in the Cold War, the eyes of the world focused on Iowa when Iowa corn seed salesman Roswell Garst hosted the premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, on a visit his farm near Coon Rapids. Amid very tight security, the head of the communist world leaned on the fences of a hog lot and discussed farming practices with Garst, who had been a business partner with Henry Wallace. Garst proposed boosting agricultural trade with Russia which was at the time struggling with farm output.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan boosted military spending which put a huge strain on the Soviet economy to keep up. It could not, and in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed into several pieces and lost control of eastern European. The Cold War as it had existed from the end of World War II was over.
Is conflict unavoidable in a battle over ideals or is compromise possible?
- "The Only Good Communist is a Dead One" Sign at Protest in Des Moines, Iowa, September 23, 1959 (Image)
- "International Space Law and Outer Space" Speech by Sen. Thomas E. Martin, August 16, 1960 (Document)
What role, if any, should the military play in a war of ideals?
- People Picketing the Use of Tax Dollars for the Development of Nuclear Weapons, March 15, 1950 (Image)
- Soldiers Seek Shelter from Mortar Shells in Korea, April 11, 1951 (Image)
- "Old Soldiers Never Die" Address by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, April 19, 1951 (Document)
- "Defense - Space - Atomic" Speech by Iowa Senator Thomas E. Martin, 1959 (Document)
How can leaders effectively convince nations and people its ideals are in their best interests?
- Korean War Atrocities Report by U.S. Senate, January 1954 (Document)
- Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev Visits Farms, Research Center in Iowa, 1959 (Video)
- Interview of Korean War Veteran Raymond L. Ayon, October 27, 2004 (Video)
|Cold War Source Set Teaching Guide|
|Printable Image and Document Guide|
"The Only Good Communist is a Dead One" Sign in Des Moines, Iowa, September 23, 1959
"International Space Law and Outer Space" Speech by Sen. Thomas E. Martin, August 16, 1960
People Picketing the Use of Tax Dollars for the Development of Nuclear Weapons, March 15, 1950
Soldiers Seek Shelter from Mortar Shells in Korea, April 11, 1951
“Old Soldiers Never Die” Address by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, April 19, 1951
“Defense - Space - Atomic” Speech Delivered by Iowa Senator Thomas E. Martin, 1959
Korean War Atrocities Report by U.S. Senate, January 1954
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev Visits Farms, Research Center in Iowa, 1959
- Video resource
Interview of Korean War Veteran Raymond L. Ayon, October 27, 2004
- 50th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan
This online exhibit through the Library of Congress has a variety of cartoons, letters, images and more showing the impact of the Marshall Plan in Europe.
- Overview of Khrushchev Visit
The link takes you to a four-page secondary source outlining Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the United States.
- Herblock Gallery
This is a link to a digital version of the Library of Congress' Herbert L. Block political cartoon exhibit. The exhibit includes selections from 1961-1966, as well as 1951, cartoons focused solely on communism.
- Khrushchev's Itinerary for his U.S. Visit
A recap of Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the United States in 1959.
- Revelations from the Russian Archives
A variety of sources that have been translated from Russian to English. Sources include Nikita Khrushchev's letter to John F. Kennedy and a document outlining the United States’ imperialist policies.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (9-12)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are high school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for 9-12 students.
No. Standard Decsription SS-Gov.9-12.14. Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to the definition of who is a citizen, expansion of that definition over time, and changes in participation over time. (21st century skills) SS-Gov.9-12.19. Evaluate the effectiveness of political action in changing government and policy, such as voting, debate, contacting officials, campaign contributions, protest, civil disobedience, and any alternative methods to participation. (21st century skills) SS-Gov.9-12.20. Explain the significance of civic values to a well-functioning democracy including concepts such as conviction vs. compromise, majority rule vs. minority rights, state interests vs. individual interests, rights vs. responsibilities, and other related topics. (21st century skills) SS-Gov.9-12.22. Identify and evaluate the contributions of Iowans who have played a role in promoting civic and democratic principles. (21st century skills) SS-Gov.9-12.25.
Evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of the implementation of public policy, specifically looking at the bureaucracy, citizen feedback, public opinion polls, interest groups, media coverage, and other related topics. (21st century skills)
SS-Econ.9-12.14. Use cost-benefit analysis to argue for or against an economic decision. SS-Geo.9-12.17. Analyze how environmental and cultural characteristics of various places and regions influence political and economic decisions. SS-Geo.9-12.19. Analyze the reciprocal relationship between historical events and the spatial diffusion of ideas, technologies, cultural practices and the distribution of human population. SS-US.9-12.13. Analyze how diverse ideologies impacted political and social institutions during eras such as Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, and the Civil Rights movement. SS-US.9-12.20. Analyze the growth of and challenges to U.S. involvement in the world in the post-World War II era. SS-US.9-12.23. Analyze the relationship between historical sources and the secondary interpretations made from them. SS-US.9-12.24. Critique primary and secondary sources of information with attention to the source of the document, its context, accuracy, and usefulness such as the Reconstruction amendments, Emancipation Proclamation, Treaty of Fort Laramie, Chinese Exclusion Act, Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, Wilson’s Fourteen Points, New Deal Program Acts, Roosevelt’s Declaration of War, Executive Order 9066, Truman Doctrine, Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Test Ban Treaty of 1963, Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and the Voting Act of 1965. SS-US.9-12.26. Determine multiple and complex causes and effects of historical events in American history including, but not limited to, the Civil War, World War I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. SS-US.9-12.27. Evaluate Iowans or groups of Iowans who have influenced U.S. History. SS-WH.9-12.18. Assess impact of conflict and diplomacy on international relations. SS-WH.9-12.20. Evaluate methods used to change or expand systems of power and/or authority. SS-WH.9-12.23. Critique primary and secondary sources of information with attention to the source of the document, its context, accuracy, and usefulness of sources throughout world history. SS-WH.9-12.24. Examine and explain how the perspectives of individuals and societies impact world history. SS-WH.9-12.25. Determine multiple and complex causes and effects of historical events within world history.