From the Cold War to the Global Marketplace
Within five years of the defeat of Germany and Japan, the United States and the Soviet Union faced each other in a Cold War. For the next 40 years, the threat of nuclear war overshadowed relations between these two superpowers.
Initially from the end of World War II to the spring of 1947, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union continued to cooperate, albeit in an atmosphere of growing tension. But in March 1947, in response to a communist insurgency in Greece and Soviet pressure on Turkey, U.S. President Harry Truman announced a new doctrine, that American policy would “support free peoples … resisting subjugation.” He also unveiled the Marshall Plan to rebuild European economies, which the Soviet Union saw as a ploy to impose American economic domination. Within five years, the world had come to be divided into two camps, one dominated by the United States and the other by the Soviet Union.
In terms of economic and military power, the Cold War was an unequal contest. Communist aggressions along the periphery of Soviet control, in Iran (1946), Greece, Turkey, Berlin (1948), and Korea (1950), were all rebuffed. And in 1962, the Soviet Union had to remove the nuclear missiles placed in Cuba in an attempt to put the continental United States under threat of direct nuclear attack.
The greatest setback to U.S. dominance during this period came as the result of its involvement in Vietnam. After the French withdrew from this former colony in 1954, the U.S. sponsored resistance to the communist regime of the northern half of the country. Believing that non-communist countries in Southeast Asia would fall “like dominoes” unless the communists were stopped, the United States devoted enormous material and personnel resources to support South Vietnam. From 1964 onward, hundreds of thousands of American combat troops were sent to the country. After the Tet Offensive of January 1968 showed that there was little real prospect of an American victory, opposition to the war grew in the American public and within official circles in Washington. After 1968, U.S. President Richard Nixon continued peace overtures, while at the same time bombing North Vietnam. When the U.S. finally did leave South Vietnam in 1973, the writing was on the wall. Communist troops captured Saigon two years later. The defeat in Vietnam made the United States appear weaker and less resolute, a view that came to be widely shared both at home and abroad.
In economic terms, the “thirty glorious years” of rapid economic growth that followed World War II in Western Europe, Japan and the United States buttressed support for the guarantor state. The essence of the guarantor state is the redistribution of tax revenues to pursue social goals. In Europe, democratic socialists created a consensus in most countries in favor of such a state. In the United States, however, the guarantor state was never as extensive as in Europe.
In the midst of growing affluence, however, the ways in which Europeans and Americans earned their living were changing. By the 1970s, post-industrial service jobs dominated economies in Europe and North America. Computers increasingly penetrated the workplace and personal life.
From the mid-1950s through the 1960s, the affluent societies of North America and Western Europe were rocked by protest against the established order by youth, women, and in the United States, Blacks. The political protests of women and Black Americans had clear political goals of legal equality and workplace opportunity.
The Soviet bloc also underwent an economic expansion after World War II. After Stalin’s death in 1953, his successors realized that they could not blindly follow his methods of terror, industrialization, and collectivization. Between 1956 and 1964, Nikita Khrushchev attempted to revive the agricultural sector, to decentralize economic decision making, and to shake up the increasingly ossified party elite. He also denounced Stalin’s mass repressions and loosened restrictions on speech.
Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe became the sites of experimentation with different versions of state socialism. The Soviet Union responded to reforms in Eastern Europe with a mixture of repression and negotiation. In Hungary in 1956, the reformist communist leader Imre Nagy introduced reforms and left the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet Union quickly crushed this popular movement, although in subsequent years, Hungarian leaders were allowed to create a “goulash” or “consumer” form of communism that permitted some independent economic activity. In 1968 Alexander Dubcek, the reformist first secretary of the Czechoslovak communist party, relaxed censorship, promulgated a plan for a less-centralized economy, and even offered alternative political parties the opportunity to organize. In response, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and removed Dubcek from power.
THE THEMES IN CHAPTER 11
Global interrelatedness. After World War II, the world was generally seen as divided into two hostile camps, dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. Increasingly from the mid-1950s, various countries, such as Indonesia, attempted to make themselves independent of the two major power blocs. The years since the war have witnessed the emergence of Japan and the European Union as economic superpowers. This occurred along with the increase in global economic integration and the impact of technological change.
Identity and difference. Ideological differences (democracy and communism) did divide the superpowers, yet ideology was often just used as a mask for issues of power. After the war there was increasing pressure put on the guarantor state to meet the demands for equality of previously disadvantaged groups such as Blacks, women and youth.
Rise of the mass society. To fight the Cold War, national economies were mobilized on a mass scale. This also aided the development of consumer-driven economies. Television became a medium for de-politicizing the populace.
Technology versus nature. The threat of nuclear war played an ever-visible role in international affairs during the Cold War. The development of the computer signaled the start of the Information Age.