A Freeze Hits US-Soviet Relations After World War Two

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This is Doug Johnson. And this is Phil Murray with THE MAKING OF A NATION -- a VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

Today, we tell about the period known as the Cold War.

The Cold War began after World War Two. The main enemies were the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Cold War got its name because both sides were afraid of fighting each other directly. In such a "hot war," nuclear weapons might destroy everything. So, instead, they fought each other indirectly. They supported conflicts in different parts of the world. They also used words as weapons. They threatened and denounced each other. Or they tried to make each other look foolish.

Over the years, leaders on both sides changed. Yet the Cold War continued. It was the major force in world politics for most of the second half of the twentieth century.

Historians disagree about how long the Cold War lasted. Some believe it ended when the United States and the Soviet Union improved relations during the 1960s and early 1970s. Others believe it ended when the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989.

The Cold War world was separated into three groups. The United States led the West. This group included countries with democratic political systems. The Soviet Union led the East. This group included countries with communist political systems. The Non-Aligned group included countries that did not want to be tied to either the West or the East.

Harry Truman was the first American president to fight the Cold War. He used several policies. One was the Truman Doctrine. This was a plan to give money and military aid to countries threatened by communism. The Truman Doctrine effectively stopped communists from taking control of Greece and Turkey.

Another policy was the Marshall Plan. This strengthened the economies and governments of countries in Western Europe.

A major event in the Cold War was the Berlin Airlift. In June 1948, the Soviets blocked all ways into the western part of Berlin, Germany. President Truman quickly ordered military planes to fly coal, food, and medicine to the city.

The planes kept coming, sometimes landing every few minutes, for more than a year. The United States received help from Britain and France. Together, they provided almost two and one-half million tons of supplies on about two hundred-eighty thousand flights.

The United States also led the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949. NATO was a joint military group. Its purpose was to defend against Soviet forces in Europe. The first members of NATO were Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United States.

The Soviet Union and its east European allies formed their own joint military group -- the Warsaw Pact -- six years later.

In 1953, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died. His death gave the new American president, Dwight Eisenhower, a chance to deal with new Soviet leaders.

In July, 1955, Eisenhower and Nikolai Bulganin met in Geneva, Switzerland. The leaders of Britain and France also attended.

Eisenhower proposed that the Americans and Soviets agree to let their military bases be inspected by air by the other side. The Soviets later rejected the proposal. Yet the meeting in Geneva was not considered a failure. After all, the leaders of the world's most powerful nations had shaken hands.

Cold War tensions increased, then eased, then increased again over the years. The changes came as both sides actively tried to influence political and economic developments around the world.

For example, the Soviet Union provided military, economic, and technical aid to communist governments in Asia. The United States then helped eight Asian nations fight communism by establishing the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization.

In the middle 1950s, the United States began sending military advisers to help south Vietnam defend itself against communist North Vietnam. That aid would later expand into a long and bloody period of American involvement in Vietnam.

The Cold War also affected the Middle East. In the 1950s, both East and West offered aid to Egypt to build the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River. The West cancelled its offer, however, after Egypt bought weapons from the communist government of Czechoslovakia.

Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser then seized control of the company that operated the Suez Canal. A few months later, Israel invaded Egypt. France and Britain joined the invasion.

For once, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed on a major issue. Both supported a United Nations resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire.

The Suez crisis was a political victory for the Soviets. When the Soviet Union supported Egypt, it gained new friends in the Arab world.

In 1959, Cold War tensions eased a little. The new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, visited Dwight Eisenhower at his holiday home near Washington. The meeting was very friendly. But the next year, relations got worse again.

An American military plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. Eisenhower admitted that such planes had been spying on the Soviets for four years. In a speech at the United Nations, Khrushchev got so angry that he took off his shoe and beat it on a table.

John Kennedy followed Eisenhower as president in 1961. During his early days in office, Cuban exiles invaded Cuba. They wanted to oust the communist government of Fidel Castro. The exiles had been trained by America's Central Intelligence Agency. The United States failed to send military planes to protect them during the invasion. As a result, almost all were killed or taken prisoner.

In Europe, tens of thousands of East Germans had fled to the West. East Germany's communist government decided to stop them. It built a wall separating the eastern and western parts of the city of Berlin. Guards shot at anyone who tried to flee by climbing over.

During Kennedy's second year in office, American intelligence reports discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba. The Soviet Union denied they were there. American photographs proved they were.

The Cuban missile crisis easily could have resulted in a nuclear war. But it ended after a week. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles if the United States agreed not to interfere in Cuba.

Some progress was made in easing Cold War tensions when Kennedy was president. In 1963, the two sides reached a major arms control agreement. They agreed to ban tests of nuclear weapons above ground, under water, and in space. They also established a direct telephone line between the White House and the Kremlin.

Relations between East and West also improved when Richard Nixon was president. He and Leonid Brezhnev met several times. They reached several arms control agreements. One reduced the number of missiles used to shoot down enemy nuclear weapons. It also banned the testing and deployment of long-distance missiles for five years.

A major change in the Cold War took place in 1985. That is when Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev held four meetings with President Ronald Reagan. He withdrew Soviet forces from Afghanistan. And he signed an agreement with the United States to destroy all middle-distance and short-distance nuclear missiles.

By 1989, there was widespread unrest in eastern Europe. Gorbachev did not intervene as these countries cut their ties with the Soviet Union.

The Berlin Wall, the major symbol of communist oppression, was torn down in November. In less than a year, East and West Germany became one nation again. A few months after that, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. The Cold War was over.

This program of THE MAKING OF A NATION was written by Jeri Watson and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Doug Johnson. And this is Phil Murray. Join us again next week for another VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.