American History
The Cold War

*At the Potsdam Conference, the Allies divided up Europe.  Most of Eastern Europe ended up as Soviet satellites behind the Iron Curtain.  Furthermore, the German capital of Berlin, although jointly occupied by the US, UK, France, and USSR, was entirely within the Soviet Occupation Zone, which soon became (effectively) a separate country, East Germany, while the other occupation zones eventually formed West Germany.

*Not only did Stalin gain control of most of Eastern Europe, he also wanted Greece and Turkey, and supported communist revolutions there.  First the British and then the US sent money to the governments of those countries to resist the communists.  Soon this became known as the Truman Doctrine—America’s promise to support any country threatened by Communism.

*This was part of the policy of containment, which was proposed and supported by an American diplomat named George Kennan.  He believed that the Soviet Union could not be fought directly, but that its ideas should be prevented from spreading.

*Not only did Truman send aid to countries directly threatened by Communism, but his secretary of state, George Marshall also proposed the Marshall Plan.  From 1948 to 1951, the Marshall Plan rebuilt much of Western Europe, paying over $13 billion (perhaps $100 billion or more in to-day’s funds).  The Communist countries were invited to take advantage of it as well, but the Soviet Union forbade them, creating their own version in its place.  That version in fact did little for the conquered nations, and in most cases the Russians actually dismantled German factories and moved them back to Russia as a form of reparations.  With this help most of Western Europe was more prosperous (or at least had a higher industrial output) than they were before the war, and local Communist parties declined in popularity.

*The Soviet Union did not want to be contained, however, and planned to test the limits of the United States.  In June, 1948, Stalin cut off the city of Berlin from getting outside supplies, even though the Americans, British, and French had soldiers and diplomats in their own sectors of Berlin.  They did not back down, however.

*The US Air Force could still get to Berlin, and did so, carrying food and other supplies, not just to the soldiers there, but to the German people in the city.  When the planes were sometimes unable to land, they dropped supplies in crates with parachutes.  The Berlin Airlift lasted for almost a year before Stalin relented and allowed road traffic back into West Berlin.

*In 1949, 12 countries, mostly in Western Europe, but also including the United States and Canada, formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, in which each member agreed to treat an attack on any of them as an attack on all of them. 

*This was important, because in 1949, the Soviet Union also tested its first atomic bomb and the Communists in China took over the entire country and renamed it the People’s Republic of China (except for Taiwan, which remained the Republic of China and was supported by the United States.)

*In 1955, the Soviet Union and its satellites formed the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance between those countries.




This page last updated 31 October, 2009.