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American History 2--HIST 2112 (OER): Chapter 25: The Cold War

American Yawp Chapter Summary

Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union–erstwhile allies–soured soon after the Second World War. On February 22, 1946, less than a year after the end of the war, the Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, George Kennan, frustrated that the Truman Administration still officially sought U.S.-Soviet cooperation, sent a famously lengthy telegram–literally referred to as the “Long Telegram”–to the State Department denouncing the Soviet Union. “World communism is like a malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue,” he wrote, and “the steady advance of uneasy Russian nationalism … in [the] new guise of international Marxism … is more dangerous and insidious than ever before.”1 There could be no cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union, Kennan wrote. Instead, the Soviets had to be “contained.” Less than two weeks later, on March 5, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited President Harry Truman in his home state of Missouri and declared that Europe had been cut in half, divided by an “iron curtain” that had “descended across the Continent.”2 Aggressive anti-Soviet sentiment seized the American government and soon the American people.3

The Cold War was a global political and ideological struggle between capitalist and communist countries, particularly between the two surviving superpowers of the postwar world: the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). “Cold” because it was never a “hot,” direct shooting war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the generations-long, multifaceted rivalry nevertheless bent the world to its whims. Tensions ran highest, perhaps, during the “first Cold War,” which lasted from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s, after which followed a period of relaxed tensions and increased communication and cooperation, known by the French term détente, until the “second Cold War” interceded from roughly 1979 until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Cold War reshaped the world, and in so doing forever altered American life and the generations of Americans that lived within its shadow. Read more from Chapter 25 of the American Yawp.

Things to Consider

Questions to be thinking about as you move through the content of this chapter

  1. What are the sources of the Cold War?
  2. Discuss post-war Poland and Germany.
  3. How did the Cold War manifest itself in the Pacific?
  4. Describe the importance of Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech.
  5. What is the significance of the Truman Doctrine?
  6. What is the significance of George Kennan’s “containment” strategy?
  7. Why did the Cold War reach its apex during the presidency of John F. Kennedy?
  8. What is the significance of President Nixon’s triangular diplomacy?
  9. What is the significance of Mikhail Gorbachev’s “glasnost” & “perestroika”?
  10. How did the Cold War end?

Learning Objectives and Assessment

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Distinguish between primary and secondary materials and decide when to use each
  • Identify key events that define change over time in a particular place or region, and identify how change occurs over time
  • Recognize a range of viewpoints in historical narratives
  • Understand the dynamics of change over time
  • Explore the complexity of the human experience, across time and space
  • Seek a variety of sources that provide evidence to support an argument about the past
  • Develop a methodological practice of gathering, sifting, analyzing, ordering, synthesizing, and interpreting evidence

Course Objectives

  • The student will understand the impact of the Cold War on U.S. society and U.S. international politics.
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