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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

THE COLD WAR 1945-1973

Learning Objective I

Discuss the origins of the Cold War


If we want to gain a better understanding of the world in which we live, we must go back at least to the end of World War II. That war has been described by some historians as the continuation of World War I. At the end of World War I, the statesmen of Europe and the United States had met in Paris to make a peace that would prevent a repetition of another world war . In this they failed miserably because within 20 years the world became involved in a costlier war ... World War II.


Given the earlier failure in 1919, one would have expected the victors in 1945 to have learned from past mistakes and to have given careful thought in advance to the kind of world they hoped to create, once the fighting was over.



The Cold War is the story of two great powers with each with a expectations as to how the other should behave, which neither was willing to fulfill.


The question, "Who started the Cold War?" has little meaning; the important question is, "Why did it happen?". It is impossible to understand the dynamics of this conflict without keeping in mind the stage on which the opening act began in 1945.


In 1945 the Soviet Union and the United States renewed the mutual hostility that had started in 1917. By 1945, each country perceived the other as having gone back on promises and posing a major military threat to its national security.

Russia's need for a buffer zone in eastern Europe to uphold Soviet Communism clashed head-on with America's traditional belief in national self-determination. It also clashed with the view held by some Americans that the United States should have free access to the world's markets and raw materials and exert dynamic leadership over world trade.

The United States emerged from World War II the most powerful nation in the history of the world. By almost any historical definition the United States was supreme. The United States alone possessed the secret of the atomic bomb, short-lived as that monopoly was to be. The United States military forces were located on every inhabited continent, and took permanent control of much of Japan's Pacific empire in the form of "strategic trusts".

The war, which had brought all other participants close to economic ruin, victor and vanquished alike, had restored the American economy after the Great Depression and left the United States in a position to manage the reconstruction of the world economy.

The dollar was now the global currency and the United States was the number one banker, creditor, and consumer of resources.

The picture of the Soviet Union in 1945 could not provide more of a contrast. With up to 20 million of her people dead, her relatively primitive industrial facilities largely in ruins, and her territory wasted by four years of "scorched earth" war by Hitler, the Soviet Union, having purchased survival at a great price was weak and vulnerable

True, she was unquestionably the number two power in the world, in part because of her impressive military victories over Hitler, BUT principally because "victory" had spelled the end of the British and French empires that had long dominated European politics, along of course, with the Italian, German, and Japanese empires. Soviet troops were in the middle of Europe, but the new Soviet empire was shaky indeed.

The United States entered the postwar era with a well- developed imperial creed. The United States, declared President Truman in April 1945, should "take the lead in running the world in the way that the world ought to be run."

As a result of this imperial creed the Truman administration saw nothing anomalous about insisting on the very rights for the number one power that they would deny the No. 2 power. American diplomats saw nothing wrong with the double standard and believed that the Soviet Union ought to behave in accordance with the new balance of power in the world and expected that the military superiority that the atomic bomb had brought it, together with America's economic strength, would insure a properly "cooperative" Soviet policy.

But Stalin lost no time in signaling his unwillingness to play the role )

assigned to him by American diplomats. This double standard was justified in the same way as the imperial creed by the fact the United States must now seek world power "as a trustee for civilization." The basic tenet of the new imperial creed was anti-imperialism.

The United States sought power supposedly not to perpetuate the "selfish" policies of the old colonial powers but to "organize the peace" and to "impose international law."

Hence; World War II finalized a revolution in American foreign policy, that started with the Spanish-American War, ending two centuries of isolation in world diplomatic affairs. During the events leading up to and including the Spanish-America War; the United States appetite for a "larger policy" in world affairs developed. This appetite and desire subsided somewhat after the Spanish-American War and World War I, BUT became very strong again in 1945. Before World War 11,the United States had no formal alliances, no troops stationed on foreign soil, and only a small defense budget. After World War II it was decided to be a permanetly armed nation.  

The defeat of Germany and Japan did not bring stability to the world. Within two years of the end of World War II, the United States was engaged in a global ideological struggle with the Soviet Union that historians call the Cold War.


The United States government developed a Cold War mentality, characterized by a FEAR OF COMMUNIST expansion and a tendency to interpret all revolutionary activity as part of a monolithic communist movement controlled by Moscow.


On the other hand the Soviet Union developed a FEAR OF CAPITALISM and its tendencies towards the creation of economic slaves. Hence; the Soviet Union viewed American economic and political initiatives throughout the world as a threat to its security. Stalin emerged from World War II


resolved to preserve the Soviet state in what he believed to be an even more hostile environment than before the war. Suspicious by nature, conscious that the Nazis were only the latest of a wave of foreign invaders that had ravaged the Russian soil throughout her history, AWARE that a fundamentally anti-Soviet capitalist state had become the giant among nations, Stalin became was obsessed with the question of NATIONAL SECURITY. Hitler was the only man Stalin had ever trusted and he betrayed Stalin and almost cost him his empire.


The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union began gradually. But as mentioned the United States had refused to recognize the Bolshevik revolutionary government in Moscow until it was 16 years old, in 1933. More important Soviet suspicions of the West began to become very strong in 1942 and again in 1943 when the British and United States twice delayed in opening up a SECOND FRONT against Germany, while the red army paid a ghastly price to roll the Nazi invaders back across Russia and Eastern Europe.


For two years (1945-47) after World War II the nations tried to adjust their differences over the (1) division of Europe, (2) postwar economic aid, and (3) the atomic bomb through discussion and negotiation.

The division of Europe:


The fundamental disagreement was over who would control postwar Europe. The Russians, mindful of past invasions from the west were intent on imposing Communist governments loyal to Moscow in the Soviet sphere.

The Soviet Union consolidated its grip on Eastern Europe in 1946 and

1947. One by one, Communist regimes replaced coalition governments in Poland, Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria. Moving cautiously to avoid provoking the West, Stalin used communism as a means to dominate half of Europe, both to protect the security of the

Soviet state and to advance its international power.

The climax came in March 1948 when a coup in Czechoslovakia overthrew a democratic government and gave the Soviets a strategic foothold in Central Europe.

Both sides were intent on imposing their values in the areas liberated by their troops. The Russians were no more likely to withdraw from Eastern Europe than the United States and Britain were from Germany , France, and Italy. A FRANK RECOGNITION OF COMPETING SPHERES OF INFLUENCE MIGHT HAVE AVOIDED FURTHER ESCALATION OF TENSION.


But the Western nations , remembering Hitler's aggression in the 1930's, began to see Stalin as an equally dangerous threat to their well-being. Instead of accepting him as a cautious leader bent on protecting Russian security, they perceived him as an aggressive dictator leading a Communist drive for world domination.


Postwar economic aid: World War II had inflicted enormous damage on Russia. The brutal fighting had taken between 16 and 20 million Russian lives, destroyed over 30 thousand factories, and tom up 40 thousand miles of railroad track. The industrialization that Stalin had achieved at such great sacrifice in the 1930's had been badly set back; even agricultural production had fallen by half during the war . OUTSIDE AID AND ASSISTANCE WERE VITAL FOR THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE SOVIET UNION .


American leaders knew of Russia's plight and hoped to use it to good advantage. Wartime ambassador Averell Harriman wrote in 1944 that economic aid was "one of the most effective weapons at our disposal" in dealing with Russia. Truman was convinced that economically "we held all the cards and the Russians had to come to us." In January 1945, the Soviets requested a $6 billion loan to finance postwar reconstruction. Despite initial American encouragement , Roosevelt deferred action on this request ; as relations with Russia cooled, and Truman became President in April the chances for action dimmed. While at the same time the United States rubbed salt in Soviet wounds when it abruptly terminated vital lend-lease aid to battered Russia and spumed Moscow's plea for the $6 billion loan it gave a similar loan of $3.75 billion to the British. Deprived of American assistance, the Soviets were forced to rebuild their economy through reparations. The Soviets systematically removed factories and plants from areas they controlled, including their zone of Germany, Eastern Europe, and Manchuria. Slowly the Soviet economy recovered from the war, but the bitterness over the American refusal to extend aid convinced Stalin of Western hostility and thus deepened the growing antagonism.


The atomic bomb: The inability to reach agreement on international control of the atomic bomb greatly added to the mounting tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. With the successful use by the United States in August 1945, of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the new weapon raised problems that would have been difficult for friendly nations to resolve. GIVEN THE UNEASY STATE OF SOVIET-AMERICAN RELATIONS, THE EFFECT WAS DISASTROUS.


The wartime policy followed by Roosevelt and Churchill ensured a postwar nuclear arms race. Instead of informing their major ally of the developing atomic bomb in the late 1930's and early 40's they kept it a closely guarded secret. Stalin learned of the Manhattan Project through espionage and responded by starting a Soviet atomic program in 1943, which he completed in 1949.


After the war and BEFORE the Soviets developed their atomic bomb the United States wanted to develop a disarmament plan which was based on (1) sanctions by the United Nations against violators of the ban on production of the bomb, (2) inspections and (3) taking away the ·veto power the "Big Five" (including the Soviets) had in the Security Council on all matters involving atomic energy. THE NET EFFECT OF THIS PLAN WOULD PRESERVE THE AMERICAN ATOMIC MONOPOLY FOR THE INDEFINITE FUTURE. The Soviets advocated immediate disarmament hoping to neutralize the United States advantage.


These responses were predictable and no agreement was possible. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union could abandon its position without surrendering a vital national interest. The nuclear dilemma, inherent in the Soviet- American rivalry, blocked any national settlement. Instead the 2 superpowers agreed to disagree.


Since neither side trusted the other nor any form of international cooperation, each concentrated on taking maximum advantage of its wartime gains. THUS THE SOVIETS EXPLOITED THE TERRITORY THEY HAD CONQUERED IN EUROPE WHILE THE UNITED STATES RETAINED ITS ECONOMIC AND STRATEGIC ADVANTAGES OVER THE SOVIET UNION.

By the end of 1946, the United States perceptions of the Soviet Union led American diplomats to conclude that it was futile to bargain with the Russians. INSTEAD, THEY TURNED TO CONTAINMENT, A STRATEGY DESIGNED TO LIMIT SOVIET AND COMMUNIST EXPANSION.

Learning Objective II

Discuss the policy of “containment” and the FIVE Phases of its development:

The first phase of the containment policy developed during the Truman

administration between 1947-53; and has three parts.

The Truman Doctrine: The initial step of the containment policy came in February 1947, when the British informed the United States that they could no longer afford to aid the Greek government in a bitter civil war against Communist guerrillas . Believing that the Russians were responsible for the strife in Greece (in fact, they were not), Secretary of State George Marshall decided that the United States would have to take over Britain's role in the eastern Mediterranean.

Worried about congressional support Marshall called a meeting with the legislative leadership to outline the problem. Dean Acheson an aid to Marshall compared the situation in Greece to one rotten apple spoiling an entire barrel, Acheson warned that "the corruption of Greece would infect Iran and all to the East... Africa ... Italy and France." Acheson concluded that "we alone were in a position to break up the play." The bipartisan group of congressional leaders were deeply impressed. They agreed to support Marshall and the President in this area, but added that to ensure public backing, Truman would have to "scare hell" out of the American people... and he did.

In March 1947 Truman asked Congress for $400 million for military and economic aid and at the same time stated: "It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure."

The Truman Doctrine marked an informal declaration of Cold War against the Soviet Union. Truman used the crisis in Greece to secure conressional aproval and build a national consensus for the policy of containment.

In less than 2 years, the civil war in Greece ended, but the American commitment to oppose Communist expansion, whether by internal subversion or external aggression, placed the United States on a collision course with the Soviet Union around the world ...Korea and Vietnam.


In using the atomic bomb, historians initially agreed that ending World War II dominated the president's thinking in the summer of 1945. However, in recent years revisionists have argued that Truman's desire to practice what historian Gar Alperovitz aptly calls "atomic diplomacy" strongly affected his decision to authorize the nuclear attack on Japan. According to this thesis, Truman sought to influence Soviet policy by dramatically proving that the United States possessed an unprecedentedly destructive weapon that American leaders were willing to use against an enemy. With one awesome stroke Truman could show his mettle as a tough warrior, end the war, depreciate the Soviet Union's claim to share the occupation of Japan, and discourage Soviet communism's expansion into Europe and Asia.

Economic aid and the Marshall Plan: By 1947, many Americans felt Western

Europe was open to Soviet penetration because of the economic problems they were having after World War II. Despite $9 billion in piecemeal American loans, England, France, Italy, and the other European nations had great difficulty in recovering from the war. Food was scarce, industrial machinery was broken down and obsolete, and workers were demoralized by years of depression and war. Resentment and discontent led to growing Communist voting strength, especially in Italy and France. Unless the United States could do something to reverse the process, it seemed as through all Europe might drift into the Communist orbit.

Undersecretary of state Dean Acheson believed that it was time to extend American "economic power" to "create a basis for political stability and economic well- being." A plan for massive infusion of American capital to finance the economic recovery of Europe was drawn up in June 1947.


Marshall presented the plan to Congress which offered extensive economic aid to all European nations if they could reach agreement on ways to achieve "the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist."


Neither Russia nor its satellites would take part , apparently because Moscow saw the Marshall Plan as an American attempt to weaken Soviet control over Eastern Europe.


The Marshall Plan called for spending $12.5 Billion over four years in 16 cooperating countries. The Plan would help the United States by stimulating trade with Europe as well as checking Soviet expansion. It was the latter argument, however, that proved decisive. When the Czech coup touched off a war scare in March 1948, Congress quickly approved the Marshall Plan by a heavy majority.


Over the next four years , the huge American investment paid rich dividends, generating a broad industrial revival in Western Europe that became self-sustaining by the 1950's. The threat of Communist domination faded, and a prosperous Europe proved to be a bonanza for American farmers, business men, and manufacturers.

The Western Militruy Alliance: The third and final phase of containment under Truman came in 1949 with the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO GREW OUT OF EUROPEAN FEARS OF RUSSIAN MILITARY AGGRESSION. There were two main features of NATO.


First, the United States committed itself to the defense of Europe in the key clause which stated that "an armed attack against one or more... shall be considered an attack against them all." In effect, the United States was extending its atomic shield over Europe. The second feature was designed to reassure Europeans that the United States would honor this commitment. In 1950, President Truman appointed General Dwight Eisenhower to the post of NATO supreme commander and authorized the stationing of four American divisions in Europe to serve as the nucleus of the NATO army. NOW ANY RUSSIAN ASSAULT WOULD AUTOMATICALLY INVOLVE AMERICAN TROOPS AND THUS DETER THE SOVIET UNION

Americans and Europeans alike were attempting to apply the lesson of Hitler to the Cold War. But Stalin was not Hitler, and the Soviets were not the Nazis. There was no evidence of any Russian plan to invade Western Europe, and in the face of the American atomic bomb, none was likely. All NATO DID WAS TO INTENSIFY RUSSIAN FEARS OF THE WEST AND THUS INCREASE THE LEVEL OF INTERNATIONAL TENSION.


True rivalry that began in Europe would soon spread into a worldwide contest between the superpowers. By 1950 the Cold War had taken on global proportions.

The showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union in Asia came in Korea. Traditionally the cockpit of international rivalry in Northeast Asia, Korea had been divided at the 38th parallel in


The two superpowers pulled out most of their occupation forces by 1949. The Russians, however, helped train a well-equipped army in the North, while the United States... fearful that the South would seek unification through armed conquest... gave much more limited military assistance to South Korea.

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army suddenly crossed the 38th parallel in great strength. Truman saw the invasion as a clear-cut case of Soviet aggression reminiscent of the 1930's. "Communism was acting in Korea just as Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese had acted ten, fifteen, and twenty years earlier." Within a few days, American troops from Japan were in combat in South Korea. The c0nflict, which would last for more than three years, was technically a police action fought under UN auspices; in reality, the United States was at war with a Soviet satellite in Asia.

After a year of rapid movement up and down the Korean peninsula, the fighting stalled just north of the 38th parallel. The resulting truce line has divided North and South Korea ever since the July 1953 amnestic.


The second phase of the Cold War came about as a result of (1) the atomic stalemate,

(2) death of Stalin in May, 1953, and (3) the change in political leadership in the United States ushered in "competitive coexistence" 1953-1961, (competing in a nuclear anns race with the threat of massive retaliation) or a SECOND phase of the Cold War. During the Eisenhower administration two key changes in foreign policy developed.

First, Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, devised the policy of "massive retaliation" or "brinksmanship." They believed the United States could economize by developing an effective nuclear deterrent rather than relying solely on expensive conventional armed forces.

If the nation's major foreign enemy was a worldwide communist movement led by Moscow, they reasoned, the United States did not need to keep a large number of soldiers under arms, because atomic weapons could threaten the Soviet Union directly and force it to back down.


To accomplish this goal the Eisenhower administration expanded its commitment to develop the hydrogen bomb, which they tested in the atmosphere between 1954 and 1958.


This did little to improve the nation's security, as the Soviets matched the United States weapon for weapon in an escalating arms race. While the Soviet Union viewed the Eisenhower- Dulles policies of anticommunist alliances, and massive deterrence as inherently hostile, Eisenhower continued to work toward a negotiated arms limitation agreement. With new long-range ballistic missiles being perfected, it was only a matter of time before Russia and the United States would be capable of destroying each other completely. PEACE, AS WINSTON CHURCHILL NOTED, NOW DEPENDED ON A BALANCE OF TERROR.

The second key change in foreign policy during the Eisenhower administration was the CIA moving beyond its original mandate of intelligence gathering to ACTIVE involvement or COVERT ACTION in the internal affairs of countries where such action suited American objectives.

In 1953, in order to protect the United States interest in the Middle East the CIA was instrumental in overthrowing a popularly elected government in Iran and placing the Shah in full control of that country. Closer to home, in Cuba, in 1961 Kennedy continued this policy with the Bay of Pigs.

Third and Fourth Phase

While the Eisenhower administration viewed containment through nuclear weapons by use of the strategy of "massive retaliation;" the Kennedy administration would introduce a Third phase on containment which was the ability to mount a "flexible response," one precisely calibrated to meet actual situations that arose.

Kennedy's view of the Cold War and his desire for "flexible response" can best be viewed by the following statement he made in 1961: He bravely promised to " any price, bear any burden, meet any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty." The Vietnam War was the result of Kennedy's promise. Although Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy had all help create the political environment that would lead us into the Vietnam maze; it was Johnson's fate to lead the Cold War to Vietnam in phase FOUR, 1963-1969. The full-scale American involvement in Vietnam began in 1965 in a series of steps designed primarily to prevent a North Vietnamese victory.

With the political situation in Saigon growing more hopeless every day, Johnson advisers urged the bombing of the North as the only conceivable solution. American air attacks would serve several purposes: they would block North Vietnamese infiltration routes, make Hanoi pay a heavy price for its role, and lift the sagging morale of the South Vietnamese.


The air strikes, aimed at impeding the Communist supply line and damaging Hanoi's economy, proved ineffective. Johnson then authorized the use of American ground forces in South Vietnam, but he restricted them to defensive operations intended to protect American air bases.


Rejecting the clear-cut alternatives of withdrawal or the massive use of force, Johnson settled for military escalation designed compel Hanoi to accept a diplomatic solution.


In July of 1965, Johnson permitted a gradual increase in the bombing of North Vietnam and allowed American ground commanders to conduct combat operations in the South. These decisions formed an open-ended commitment to employ American military forces as the situation demanded. Convinced that withdrawal would destroy American credibility before the world and that an invasion of the North would lead to World War III, Johnson opted for large-scale but limited military intervention.

Moreover, Johnson feared the domestic consequences of either extreme. A pullout could cause a massive political backlash at home, as conservatives condemned him for betraying South Vietnam to communism. An all-out war, however, would mean the end of his social programs.

He feared that once Congress focused on the conflict "that bitch of a war" would destroy "the woman I really loved--the Great Society." So Johnson settled for a limited war, committing a half-million American troops to battle in Southeast Asia, all the while pretending it was a minor engagement and refusing to ask the American people for the support and sacrifice required for victory.


By 1968, what Lyndon Johnson had once referred to as "a raggedy-ass little fourth-rate country" had brought the world's most powerful military giant to its knees. As in the Korean conflict, the American people were learning that fighting communism was a complicated task. Thus; by 1968 the American people had decided they had had enough of Vietnam and the containment policy.

Phase Five

With Richard Nixon the Cold War and Vietnam war would come to and end in phase FIVE. Nixon had a three part plan to end the conflict... (1) renewed bombing, (2) a hard line in negotiations with Hanoi, (3) and the gradual withdrawal of American troops. The last tactic, known as Vietnamization, proved the most successful. The plan involved training the troops of South Vietnam to take over the American combat role. The number of American soldiers in Vietnam dropped from 543,000 in 1968 to under 30,000 by 1972, resulting in domestic opposition to the war dropping sharply.


Thus phase FIVE leads to the so-called Nixon Doctrine; which proclaimed that the United States could no longer do it all--that is, provide all the plans, programs, decisions, and defense for the free world. The Doctrine claimed that in the future, Asians and others would have to fight their own wars }Vithout the support of large bodies of American ground troops.

The Nixon Doctrine was attempt to bring American policy into line with capabilities, to draw back definitions of interest to correspond with what America could afford to do and could hope to accomplish a n corrective after a generation o o ar in which American activities constantly expanded, in which Americans shouldered burden after burden , only to learn in the latter 1960's that they had overreached their resources.

Nixon, heretofore an uncompromising anti- Communist, announced that he would travel to both China and Russia. In February 1972 he traveled to· China and paved the way for improved relations between the two countries. Nixon next traveled to Moscow in May 1972 to play his "China card" in a game of high­ stakes diplomacy. The Soviet Union hungry for American foodstuffs and haunted by the fear of intensified rivalry with an American-backed China, were ready to deal.




One product of eased relations was the great grain deal of 1972... a three year arrangement to sell the Soviets at least $750 million worth of wheat, corn, and other cereals. Far more important were efforts to stem the dangerously "competitive coexistence" practice of the nuclear arms race. The first major achievement was an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty. Nixon's detente diplomacy was, on the whole, successful. checkmating and co-opting the two great Communist powers, the_, president had cleverly set the stage for America’s exit from Vietnam

In sum, perhaps the Nixon Doctrine was not a new diplomacy, or at least not to the extent its supporters claimed. Some of the assumptions of the Cold War were passing from American policy by 1969, such as the belief in American having unlimited or universal power and vague ideas about what constituted a threat to American national interests.


Nixon's Detente with the Soviet Union and rapprochement with - China seemed signs of a new policy. But there were other signs that the Nixon Doctrine may have been no more than a reasonable attempt to bring American policy into line with capabilities, to draw back definitions of interest to correspond with what American could afford to do and could hope to accomplish.


The Nixon Doctrine was a necessary corrective after a generation of Cold War in which American political and military expanded, in which Americans shouldered burden after burden, only to learn in the latter 1960's that they had overreached their resources.


The climax and final phase of the Cold War came during the Reagan administration (1981-1989).

Learning Objective III


Describe the legacy and consequences of the Cold War

In summary the end of World War II brought a dramatic final shift in American foreign policy , as the United States broke from its isolationist tradition to seek a permanent role in world affairs.


The predominant characteristic of his new policy was the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Containment originally emerged in response to Soviet pressure on Eastern Europe, but that doctrine was expanded by succeeding administrations to include resistance to communism wherever it appeared. A Cold War mentality shaped United States foreign policy throughout the post-World War II era; as a result, the Korean and Vietnam wars were two outgrowths of this Cold War mentality or containment doctrine.


At the same time the United States asserted its economic and political supremacy, it established a pattern of a double standard in these areas in dealing with the Soviet Union. While it was ok for the United States to establish missiles within a few miles of the Soviet border in Turkey; Kennedy was prepared to fight a nuclear war to compel the Soviets to remove their missiles from Cuba.


American aircraft (1960 U-2) flew over the air space of the Soviet Union at a time when a Soviet attempt to duplicate that feat in American air space would have meant a major confrontation.


The United States still asserts the right to maintain a permanent fleet in the Mediterranean, but a small Soviet fleet is a "threat." The United States began building military alliances in the Middle East in 1950, but Soviet penetration into the area in recent years is a menace to world peace.


It has been easy to justify the double standard by using IDEOLOGY. For example, when the United States took over the Britain's oil concessions in Iran, Roosevelt was thrilled at the chance to use Iran as an example of "what we could do by an unselfish American policy."


What is imperialism when done by another county is development when done by the United States. Fighting a worldwide battle against communism bad strong domestic repercussions . The new importance of foreign affairs enhanced the power of the president.


Second, what Eisenhower called the creation of the "military-industrial complex", led too the development of a partnership between big business and the Pentagon. This partnership became dependent on large expenditures for the production of war goods.


These growing defense expenditures took up an ever- larger part of the gross national product. It also led to paying: for defense spendin through taxes: deficits which took money away from social and domestic needs.


Finally as history has shown, small foreign wars would be the order of the day, or at least a constant possibility.

  1. URUGUAY1947Nuclear threatBombers deployed as show of strength.
  2. GREECE1947-49Command operationU.S. directs extreme-right in civil war.
  3. GERMANY1948Nuclear ThreatAtomic-capable bombers guard Berlin Airlift.CHINA1948-49Troops/Marinesevacuate Americans before Communist victory.
  4. PHILIPPINES1948-54Command operationCIA directs war against Huk Rebellion.
  5. PUERTO RICO1950Command operationIndependence rebellion crushed in Ponce.
  6. KOREA1951-53 (-?)Troops, naval, bombing , nuclear threatsU.S./So. Korea fights China/No. Korea to stalemate; A-bomb threat in 1950, and against China in 1953. Still have bases.
  7. IRAN1953Command OperationCIA overthrows democracy, installs Shah.
  8. VIETNAM1954Nuclear threatFrench offered bombs to use against seige.
  9. GUATEMALA1954Command operation, bombing, nuclear threatCIA directs exile invasion after new gov't nationalized U.S. company lands; bombers based in Nicaragua.
  10. EGYPT1956Nuclear threat, troopsSoviets told to keep out of Suez crisis; Marines evacuate foreigners.
  11. LEBANONl958Troops, navalArmy & Marine occupation against rebels.
  12. IRAQ1958Nuclear threatIraq warned against invading Kuwait.
  13. CHINAl958Nuclear threatChina told not to move on Taiwan isles.
  14. PANAMA1958TroopsFlag protests erupt into confrontation.
  15. VIETNAMl960-75Troops, naval, bombing, nuclear threatsFought South Vietnam revolt & North Vietnam; one million killed in longest U.S. war; atomic bomb threats in l968 and l969.
  16. CUBAl961Command operationCIA-directed exile invasion fails.
  17. GERMANYl961Nuclear threatAlert during Berlin Wall crisis.
  18. LAOS1962Command operationMilitary buildup during guerrilla war.
  19. CUBA l962 Nuclear threat, navalBlockade during missile crisis; near-war with Soviet Union.
  20. IRAQ1963Command operationCIA organizes coup that killed president, brings Ba'ath Party to power, and Saddam Hussein back from exile to be head of the secret service.
  21. PANAMAl964TroopsPanamanians shot for urging canal's return.
  22. INDONESIAl965Command operationMillion killed in CIA-assisted army coup.
  23. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC1965-66Troops, bombingArmy & Marines land during election campaign.
  24. GUATEMALAl966-67Command operationGreen Berets intervene against rebels.
  25. DETROITl967TroopsArmy battles African Americans, 43 killed.
  26. UNITED STATESl968TroopsAfter King is shot; over 21,000 soldiers in cities.
  27. CAMBODIAl969-75Bombing, troops, navalUp to 2 million killed in decade of bombing, starvation, and political chaos.OMANl970Command operationU.S. directs Iranian marine invasion.
  28. LAOSl971-73Command operation, bombingU.S. directs South Vietnamese invasion; "carpet-bombs" countryside.
  29. SOUTH DAKOTAl973Command operationArmy directs Wounded Knee siege of Lakotas.
  30. MIDEAST1973Nuclear threatWorld-wide alert during Mideast War.
  31. CHILE1973Command operationCIA-backed coup ousts elected marxist president.
  32. CAMBODIAl975Troops, bombingGassing of captured ship Mayagüez, 28 troops die when copter shot down.
  33. ANGOLAl976-92Command operationCIA assists South African-backed rebels.
  34. IRANl980Troops, nuclear threat, aborted bombingRaid to rescue Embassy hostages; 8 troops die in copter-plane crash. Soviets warned not to get involved in revolution.
  35. LIBYAl981Naval jetsTwo Libyan jets shot down in maneuvers.
  36. EL SALVADORl981-92Command operation, troopsAdvisors, overflights aid anti-rebel war, soldiers briefly involved in hostage clash.
  37. NICARAGUAl981-90Command operation, navalCIA directs exile (Contra) invasions, plants harbor mines against revolution.
  38. LEBANONl982-84Naval, bombing, troopsMarines expel PLO and back Phalangists, Navy bombs and shells Muslim positions. 241 Marines killed when Shi'a rebel bombs barracks.
  39. GRENADAl983-84Troops, bombingInvasion four years after revolution.
  40. HONDURASl983-89TroopsManeuvers help build bases near borders.
  41. IRANl984JetsTwo Iranian jets shot down over Persian Gulf.
  42. LIBYAl986Bombing, navalAir strikes to topple Qaddafi gov't.
  43. BOLIVIA1986TroopsArmy assists raids on cocaine region.
  44. IRANl987-88Naval, bombingUS intervenes on side of Iraq in war, defending reflagged tankers and shooting down civilian jet.LIBYA1989Naval jetsTwo Libyan jets shot down.
  45. VIRGIN ISLANDS1989TroopsSt. Croix Black unrest after storm.
  46. PHILIPPINES1989JetsAir cover provided for government against coup.
  47. PANAMA1989 (-?)Troops, bombingNationalist government ousted by 27,000 soldiers, leaders arrested, 2000+ killed.LIBERIA1990TroopsForeigners evacuated during civil war.
  48. SAUDI ARABIA1990-91Troops, jetsIraq countered after invading Kuwait. 540,000 troops also stationed in Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Israel.IRAQ1990-91Bombing, troops, navalBlockade of Iraqi and Jordanian ports, air strikes; 200,000+ killed in invasion of Iraq and Kuwait; large-scale destruction of Iraqi military.
  49. KUWAIT1991Naval, bombing, troopsKuwait royal family returned to throne.
  50. IRAQ1991-2003Bombing, navalNo-fly zone over Kurdish north, Shiite south; constant air strikes and naval-enforced economic sanctions
  51. LOS ANGELES1992TroopsArmy, Marines deployed against anti-police uprising.
  52. SOMALIA1992-94Troops, naval, bombingU.S.-led United Nations occupation during civil war; raids against one Mogadishu faction.YUGOSLAVIA1992-94NavalNATO blockade of Serbia and Montenegro.
  53. BOSNIA1993-?Jets, bombingNo-fly zone patrolled in civil war; downed jets, bombed Serbs.
  54. HAITI1994Troops, navalBlockade against military government; troops restore President Aristide to office three years after coup.ZAIRE (CONGO)1996-97TroopsTroops at Rwandan Hutu refugee camps, in area where Congo revolution begins.LIBERIA1997TroopsSoldiers under fire during evacuation of foreigners.
  55. ALBANIA1997TroopsSoldiers under fire during evacuation of foreigners.
  56. SUDAN1998MissilesAttack on pharmaceutical plant alleged to be "terrorist" nerve gas plant.
  57. AFGHANISTAN1998MissilesAttack on former CIA training camps used by Islamic fundamentalist groups alleged to have attacked embassies.IRAQ1998Bombing, MissilesFour days of intensive air strikes after weapons inspectors allege Iraqi obstructions.
  58. YUGOSLAVIA1999Bombing, MissilesHeavy NATO air strikes after Serbia declines to withdraw from Kosovo. NATO occupation of Kosovo.
  59. YEMEN2000NavalUSS Cole, docked in Aden, bombed.MACEDONIA2001TroopsNATO forces deployed to move and disarm Albanian rebels.
  60. UNITED STATES2001Jets, navalReaction to hijacker attacks on New York, DC
  61. AFGHANISTAN2001-?Troops, bombing, missilesMassive U.S. mobilization to overthrow Taliban, hunt Al Qaeda fighters, install Karzai regime, and battle Taliban insurgency. More than 30,000 U.S. troops and numerous private security contractors carry our occupation.
  62. YEMEN2002MissilesPredator drone missile attack on Al Qaeda, including a US citizen.
  63. PHILIPPINES2002-?Troops, navalTraining mission for Philippine military fighting Abu Sayyaf rebels evolves into combat missions in Sulu Archipelago, west of Mindanao.
  64. COLOMBIA2003-?TroopsUS special forces sent to rebel zone to back up Colombian military protecting oil pipeline.IRAQ2003-?Troops, naval, bombing, missilesSaddam regime toppled in Baghdad. More than 250,000 U.S. personnel participate in invasion. US and UK forces occupy country and battle Sunni and Shi'ite insurgencies. More than 160,000 troops and numerous private contractors carry out occupation and build large permanent bases.
  65. LIBERIA2003TroopsBrief involvement in peacekeeping force as rebels drove out leader.
  66. HAITI2004-05Troops, naval Marines & Army land after right-wing rebels oust elected President Aristide, who was advised to leave by Washington.
  67. PAKISTAN2005-?Missiles, bombing, covert operationCIA missile and air strikes and Special Forces raids on alleged Al Qaeda and Taliban refuge villages kill multiple civilians. Drone attacks also on Pakistani Mehsud network.
  68. SOMALIA2006-?Missiles, naval, troops, command operationSpecial Forces advise Ethiopian invasion that topples Islamist government; AC-130 strikes, Cruise missile attacks and helicopter raids against Islamist rebels; naval blockade against "pirates" and insurgents.
  69. SYRIA2008TroopsSpecial Forces in helicopter raid 5 miles from Iraq kill 8 Syrian civilians
  70. YEMEN2009-?Missiles, command operationCruise missile attack on Al Qaeda kills 49 civilians; Yemeni military assaults on rebelsLIBYA2011-?Bombing, missiles, command operationNATO coordinates air strikes and missile attacks against Qaddafi government during uprising by rebel army. 



By Zoltán Grossman, October 2001

Published in Z magazine. Translations in Italian Polish


Since the September 11 attacks on the United States, most people in the world agree that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice, without killing many thousands of civilians in the process. But unfortunately, the U.S. military has always accepted massive civilian deaths as part of the cost of war. The military is now poised to kill thousands of foreign civilians, in order to prove that killing U.S. civilians is wrong.


The media has told us repeatedly that some Middle Easterners hate the U.S. only because of our "freedom" and "prosperity." Missing from this explanation is the historical context of the U.S. role in the Middle East, and for that matter in the rest of the world. This basic primer is an attempt to brief readers who have not closely followed the history of U.S. foreign or military affairs, and are perhaps unaware of the background of U.S. military interventions abroad, but are concerned about the direction of our country toward a new war in the name of "freedom" and "protecting civilians."


The United States military has been intervening in other countries for a long time. In 1898, it seized the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico from Spain, and in 1917-18 became embroiled in World War I in Europe. In the first half of the 20th century it repeatedly sent Marines to "protectorates" such as Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. All these interventions directly served corporate interests, and many resulted in massive losses of civilians, rebels, and soldiers. Many of the uses of U.S. combat forces are documented in A History of U.S. Military Interventions since 1890:


U.S. involvement in World War II (1941-45) was sparked by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and fear of an Axis invasion of North America. Allied bombers attacked fascist military targets, but also fire-bombed German and Japanese cities such as Dresden and Tokyo, party under the assumption that destroying civilian neighborhoods would weaken the resolve of the survivors and turn them against their regimes. Many historians agree that fire- bombing's effect was precisely the opposite--increasing Axis civilian support for homeland defense, and discouraging potential coup attempts. The atomic bombing of Japan at the end of the war was carried out without any kind of advance demonstration or warning that may have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.


The war in Korea (1950-53) was marked by widespread atrocities, both by North Korean/Chinese forces, and South Korean/U.S. forces. U.S. troops fired on civilian refugees headed into South Korea, apparently fearing they were northern infiltrators. Bombers attacked North Korean cities, and the U.S. twice threatened to use nuclear weapons. North Korea is under the same Communist government today as when the war began.


During the Middle East crisis of 1958, Marines were deployed to quell a rebellion in Lebanon, and Iraq was threatened with nuclear attack if it invaded Kuwait. This little-known crisis helped set U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with Arab nationalists, often in support of the region's monarchies.

In the early 1960s, the U.S. returned to its pre-World War II interventionary role in the Caribbean, directing the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs exile invasion of Cuba, and the 1965 bombing and Marine invasion of theDominican Republic during an election campaign. The CIA trained and harbored Cuban exile groups in Miami, which launched terrorist attacks on Cuba, including the 1976 downing of a Cuban civilian jetliner near Barbados. During the Cold War, the CIA would also help to support or install pro-U.S. dictatorships in Iran, Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, and many other countries around the world. 


The U.S. war in Indochina (1960-75) pit U.S. forces against North Vietnam, and Communist rebels fighting to overthrow pro-U.S. dictatorships in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. U.S. war planners made little or no distinction between attacking civilians and guerrillas in rebel-held zones, and U.S. "carpet-bombing" of the countryside and cities swelled the ranks of the ultimately victorious revolutionaries. Over two million people were killed in the war, including 55,000 U.S. troops. Less than a dozen U.S. citizens were killed on U.S. soil, in National Guard shootings or antiwar bombings. In Cambodia, the bombings drove the Khmer Rouge rebels toward fanatical leaders, who launched a murderous rampage when they took power in 1975.


Echoes of Vietnam reverberated in Central America during the 1980s, when the Reagan administration strongly backed the pro-U.S. regime in El Salvador, and right-wing exile forces fighting the new leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Rightist death squads slaughtered Salvadoran civilians who questioned the concentration of power and wealth in a few hands. CIA-trained Nicaraguan Contra rebels launched terrorist attacks against civilian clinics and schools run by the Sandinista government, and mined Nicaraguan harbors. U.S. troops also invaded the island nation of Grenada in 1983, to oust a new military regime, attacking Cuban civilian workers (even though Cuba had backed the leftist government deposed in the coup), and accidentally bombing a hospital.


The U.S. returned in force to the Middle East in 1980, after the Shi'ite Muslim revolution in Iran against Shah Pahlevi's pro-U.S. dictatorship. A troop and bombing raid to free U.S. Embassy hostages held in downtown Tehran had to be aborted in the Iranian desert.


After the 1982 Israeli occupation of Lebanon, U.S. Marines were deployed in a neutral "peacekeeping" operation. They instead took the side of Lebanon's pro-Israel Christian government against Muslim rebels, and U.S. Navy ships rained enormous shells on Muslim civilian villages. Embittered Shi'ite Muslim rebels responded with a suicide bomb attack on Marine barracks, and for years seized U.S. hostages in the country. In retaliation, the CIA set off car bombs to assassinate Shi'ite Muslim leaders. Syria and the Muslim rebels emerged victorious in Lebanon.


Elsewhere in the Middle East, the U.S. launched a 1986 bombing raid on Libya, which it accused of sponsoring a terrorist bombing later tied to Syria. The bombing raid killed civilians, and may have led to the later revenge bombing of a U.S. jet over Scotland. Libya's Arab nationalist leader Muammar Qaddafi remained in power. The U.S. Navy also intervened against Iran during its war against Iraq in 1987-88, sinking Iranian ships and "accidentally" shooting down an Iranian civilian jetliner.

U.S. forces invaded Panama in 1989 to oust the nationalist regime of Manuel Noriega. The U.S. accused its former ally of allowing drug-running in the country, though the drug trade actually increased after his capture. U.S. bombing raids on Panama City ignited a conflagration in a civilian neighborhood, fed by stove gas tanks. Over 2,000 Panamanians were killed in the invasion to capture one leader.


The following year, the U.S. deployed forces in the Persian Gulf after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which turned Washington against its former Iraqi ally Saddam Hussein. U.S. supported the Kuwaiti monarchy and the Muslim fundamentalist monarchy in neighboring Saudi Arabia against the secular nationalist Iraq regime. In January 1991, the U.S..and its allies unleashed a massive bombing assault against Iraqi government and military targets, in an intensity beyond the raids of World War II and Vietnam. Up to 200,000 Iraqis were killed in the war and its imemdiate aftermath of rebellion and disease, including many civilians who died in their villages, neighborhoods, and bomb shelters. The U.S. continued economic sanctions that denied health and energy to Iraqi civilians, who died by the hundreds of thousands, according to United Nations agencies. The U.S. also instituted "no-fly zones" and virtually continuous bombing raids, yet Saddam was politically bolstered as he was militarily weakened.


In the 1990s, the U.S. military led a series of what it termed "humanitarian interventions" it claimed would safeguard civilians. Foremost among them was the 1992 deployment in the African nation of Somalia, torn by famine and a civil war between clan warlords. Instead of remaining neutral, U.S. forces took the side of one faction against another faction, and bombed a Mogadishu neighborhood. Enraged crowds, backed by foreign Arab mercenaries, killed 18 U.S. soldiers, forcing a withdrawal from the country.


Other so-called "humanitarian interventions" were centered in the Balkan region of Europe, after the 1992 breakup of the multiethnic federation of Yugoslavia. The U.S. watched for three years as Serb forces killed Muslim civilians in Bosnia, before its launched decisive bombing raids in 1995. Even then, it never intervened to stop atrocities by Croatian forces against Muslim and Serb civilians, because those forces were aided by the U.S. In 1999, the U.S. bombed Serbia to force President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw forces from the ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo, which was torn a brutal ethnic war. The bombing intensified Serbian expulsions and killings of Albanian civilians from Kosovo, and caused the deaths of thousands of Serbian civilians, even in cities that had voted strongly against Milosevic. When a NATO occupation force enabled Albanians to move back, U.S. forces did little or nothing to prevent similar atrocities against Serb and other non-Albanian civilians. The U.S. was viewed as a biased player, even by the Serbian democratic opposition that overthrew Milosevic the following year.


Even when the U.S. military had apparently defensive motives, it ended up attacking the wrong targets. After the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, the U.S. "retaliated" not only against Osama Bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, but a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that was mistakenly said to be a chemical warfare installation. Bin Laden retaliated by attacking a U.S. Navy ship docked in Yemen in 2000. After the 2001 terror attacks on the United States, the U.S. military is poised to again bomb Afghanistan, and possibly move against other states it accuses of promoting anti-U.S. "terrorism," such as Iraq and Sudan. Such a campaign will certainly ratchet up the cycle of violence, in an escalating series of retaliations that is the hallmark of Middle East conflicts. Afghanistan, like Yugoslavia, is a multiethnic state that could easily break apart in a new catastrophic regional war. Almost certainly more civilians would lose their lives in this tit-for-tat war on "terrorism" than the 3,000 civilians who died on September 11.



Some common themes can be seen in many of these U.S. military interventions.


First, they were explained to the U.S. public as defending the lives and rights of civilian populations. Yet the military tactics employed often left behind massive civilian "collateral damage." War planners made little distinction between rebels and the civilians who lived in rebel zones of control, or between military assets and civilian infrastructure, such as train lines, water plants, agricultural factories, medicine supplies, etc. The U.S. public always believe that in the next war, new military technologies will avoid civilian casualties on the other side. Yet when the inevitable civilian deaths occur, they are always explained away as "accidental" or "unavoidable."


Second, although nearly all the post-World War II interventions were carried out in the name of "freedom" and "democracy," nearly all of them in fact defended dictatorships controlled by pro-U.S. elites. Whether in Vietnam, Central America, or the Persian Gulf, the U.S. was not defending "freedom" but an ideological agenda (such as defending capitalism) or an economic agenda (such as protecting oil company investments). In the few cases when U.S. military forces toppled a dictatorship--such as in Grenada or Panama--they did so in a way that prevented the country's people from overthrowing their own dictator first, and installing a new democratic government more to their liking.

Third, the U.S. always attacked violence by its opponents as "terrorism," "atrocities against civilians," or "ethnic cleansing," but minimized or defended the same actions by the U.S. or its allies. If a country has the right to "end" a state that trains or harbors terrorists, would Cuba or Nicaragua have had the right to launch defensive bombing raids on U.S. targets to take out exile terrorists? Washington's double standard maintains that an U.S. ally's action by definition "defensive," but that an enemy's retaliation is by definition "offensive."


Fourth, the U.S. often portrays itself as a neutral peacekeeper, with nothing but the purest humanitarian motives. After deploying forces in a country, however, it quickly divides the country or region into "friends" and "foes," and takes one side against another. This strategy tends to enflame rather than dampen a war or civil conflict, as shown in the cases of Somalia and Bosnia, and deepens resentment of the U.S. role.


Fifth, U.S. military intervention is often counterproductive even if one accepts U.S. goals and rationales. Rather than solving the root political or economic roots of the conflict, it tends to polarize factions and further destabilize the country. The same countries tend to reappear again and again on the list of 20th century interventions.


Sixth, U.S. demonization of an enemy leader, or military action against him, tends to strengthen rather than weaken his hold on power. Take the list of current regimes most singled out for U.S. attack, and put it alongside of the list of regimes that have had the longest hold on power, and you will find they have the same names. Qaddafi, Castro, Saddam, Kim, and others may have faced greater internal criticism if they could not portray themselves as Davids standing up to the American Goliath, and (accurately) blaming many of their countries' internal problems on U.S. economic sanctions.


One of the most dangerous ideas of the 20th century was that "people like us" could not commit atrocities against civilians.


  • German and Japanese citizens believed it, but their militaries slaughtered millions of people. 
  • British and French citizens believed it, but their militaries fought brutal colonial wars in Africa and Asia.
  • Russian citizens believed it, but their armies murdered civilians in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere. 
  • Israeli citizens believed it, but their army mowed down Palestinians and Lebanese. 
  • Arabs believed it, but suicide bombers and hijackers targeted U.S. and Israeli civilians.
  • U.S. citizens believed it, but their military killed hundreds of thousands in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Every country, every ethnicity, every religion, contains within it the capability for extreme violence. Every group contains a faction that is intolerant of other groups, and actively seeks to exclude or even kill them. War fever tends to encourage the intolerant faction, but the faction only succeeds in its goals if the rest of the group acquiesces or remains silent. The attacks of September 11 were not only a test for U.S. citizens attitudes' toward minority ethnic/racial groups in their own country, but a test for our relationship with the rest of the world. We must begin not by lashing out at civilians in Muslim countries, but by taking responsibility for our own history and our own actions, and how they have fed the cycle of violence.