Robert Kennedy's United States History Class
Learning Objective III
Describe the legacy and consequences of the Cold War
Lecture LO III
Despite a proposed slashing of U.S. Army personnel to pre-World War II levels, American military might is beyond question.
The Cold War grew out of a failure to achieve a durable settlement among leaders from the “Big Three” Allies—the US, Britain, and the Soviet Union—as they met at Yalta in Russian Crimea and at Potsdam in occupied Germany to shape the postwar order. The Germans had pillaged their way across Eastern Europe and the Soviets had pillaged their way back across it at the cost of millions of lives. Stalin considered the newly conquered territory part of a Soviet “sphere of influence.” With Germany’s defeat imminent, the Allies set terms for unconditional surrender, while deliberating over reparations, tribunals, and the nature of an occupation regime that would initially be divided into American, British, French, and Soviet zones. Even as plans were made to end the fighting in the Pacific, and it was determined that the Soviets would declare war on Japan within ninety days of Germany’s surrender, suspicion and mistrust were already mounting. The political landscape was altered drastically by Franklin Roosevelt’s sudden death in April 1945, just days before the inaugural meeting of the United Nations (UN). Although Roosevelt was skeptical of Stalin, he always held out hope that the Soviets could be brought into the “Free World.” Truman, like Churchill, had no such illusions. He committed the United States to a hard-line, anti-Soviet approach.
At the Potsdam Conference, held on the outskirts of Berlin from mid-July to early August, the allies debated the fate of Soviet-occupied Poland. Toward the end of the meeting, the American delegation received word that Manhattan Project scientists had successfully tested an atomic bomb. On July 24, when Truman told Stalin about this “new weapon of unusual destructive force,” the Soviet leader simply nodded his acknowledgement and said that he hoped the Americans would make “good use” of it.
The Cold War had long roots. An alliance of convenience during World War II to bring down Hitler’s Germany was not enough to erase decades of mutual suspicions. The Bolshevik Revolution had overthrown the Russian Tsarists during World War I. Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin urged an immediate worldwide peace that would pave the way for world socialism just as Woodrow Wilson brought the United States into the war with promises of global democracy and free trade. The United States had intervened militarily against the Red Army during the Russian civil war, and when the Soviet Union was founded in 1922 the United States refused to recognize it. The two powers were brought together only by their common enemy, and, without that common enemy, there was little hope for cooperation.
On the eve of American involvement in World War II, on August 14, 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill had issued a joint declaration of goals for postwar peace, known as the Atlantic Charter. An adaptation of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the Atlantic Charter established the creation of the United Nations. The Soviet Union was among the fifty charter UN member-states and was given one of five seats—alongside the US, Britain, France, and China—on the select Security Council. The Atlantic Charter, though, also set in motion the planning for a reorganized global economy. The July 1944 United Nations Financial and Monetary Conference, more popularly known as the Bretton Woods Conference, created the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the forerunner of the World Bank, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The “Bretton Woods system” was bolstered in 1947 with the addition of the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), forerunner of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Soviets rejected it all.
Many officials on both sides knew that the Soviet-American relationship would dissolve into renewed hostility upon the closing of the war, and events proved them right. In a 1947 article for Foreign Affairs—written under the pseudonym “Mr. X”—George Kennan warned that Americans should “continue to regard the Soviet Union as a rival, not a partner,” since Stalin harbored “no real faith in the possibility of a permanent happy coexistence of the Socialist and capitalist worlds.” He urged US leaders to pursue “a policy of firm containment, designed to confront the Russians.”
Truman, on March 12, 1947, announced $400 million in aid to Greece and Turkey, where “terrorist activities…led by Communists” jeopardized “democratic” governance. With Britain “reducing or liquidating its commitments in several parts of the world, including Greece,” it fell on the US, Truman said, “to support free peoples…resisting attempted subjugation by…outside pressures.” The so-called “Truman Doctrine” became a cornerstone of the American policy of containment.
In the harsh winter of 1946-47, famine loomed in much of continental Europe. Blizzards and freezing cold halted coal production. Factories closed. Unemployment spiked. Amid these conditions, the Communist parties of France and Italy gained nearly a third of the seats in their respective Parliaments. American officials worried that Europe’s impoverished masses were increasingly vulnerable to Soviet propaganda. The situation remained dire through the spring, when Secretary of State General George Marshall gave an address at Harvard University, on June 5, 1947, suggesting that “the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace.” Although Marshall had stipulated to potential critics that his proposal was “not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty…and chaos,” Stalin clearly understood the development of the ERP as an assault against Communism in Europe: he saw it as a “Trojan Horse” designed to lure Germany and other countries into the capitalist web.
The European Recovery Program (ERP), popularly known as the Marshall Plan, pumped enormous sums into Western Europe. From 1948-1952 the US invested $13 billion toward reconstruction while simultaneously loosening trade barriers. To avoid the postwar chaos of World War I, the Marshall Plan was designed to rebuild Western Europe, open markets, and win European support for capitalist democracies. The Soviets countered with their rival Molotov Plan, a symbolic pledge of aid to Eastern Europe. Polish leader Józef Cyrankiewicz was rewarded with a five-year, $450 million dollar trade agreement from Russia for boycotting the Marshall Plan. Stalin was jealous of Eastern Europe. When Czechoslovakia received $200 million of American assistance, Stalin summoned Czech foreign minister Jan Masaryk to Moscow. Masaryk later recounted that he “went to Moscow as the foreign minister of an independent sovereign state,” but “returned as a lackey of the Soviet Government.” Stalin exercised ever tighter control over Soviet “satellite” countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
The situation in Germany meanwhile deteriorated. Berlin had been divided into communist and capitalist zones. In June 1948, when the US, British, and French officials introduced a new currency, the Soviet Union initiated a ground blockade, cutting off rail and road access to West Berlin (landlocked within the Soviet occupation zone) to gain control over the entire city. The United States organized and coordinated a massive airlift that flew essential supplies into the beleaguered city for eleven months, until the Soviets lifted the blockade on May 12, 1949. Germany was officially broken in half. On May 23, the western half of the country was formally renamed the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic (GDR) later that fall. Berlin, which lay squarely within the GDR, was divided into two sections (and, from August 1961 until November 1989, famously separated by physical walls).
The Berlin Blockade and resultant Allied airlift was one of the first major crises of the Cold War. Photograph, U.S. Navy Douglas R4D and U.S. Air Force C-47 aircraft unload at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift, c. 1948-1949. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:C-47s_at_Tempelhof_Airport_Berlin_1948.jpg.
In the summer of 1949, American officials launched the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO), a mutual defense pact in which the US and Canada were joined by England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. The Soviet Union would formalize its own collective defensive agreement in 1955, the Warsaw Pact, which included Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany.
Liberal journalist Walter Lippmann was largely responsible for popularizing the term “the Cold War” in his book, The Cold War: A Study in U.S. Foreign Policy, published in 1947. Lippmann envisioned a prolonged stalemate between the US and the USSR, a war of words and ideas in which direct shots would not necessarily be fired between the two. Lippmann agreed that the Soviet Union would only be “prevented from expanding” if it were “confronted with…American power,” but he felt “that the strategical conception and plan” recommended by Mr. X (George Kennan) was “fundamentally unsound,” as it would require having “the money and the military power always available in sufficient amounts to apply ‘counter-force’ at constantly shifting points all over the world.” Lippmann cautioned against making far-flung, open-ended commitments, favoring instead a more limited engagement that focused on halting the influence of communism in the “heart” of Europe; he believed that if the Soviet system were successfully restrained on the continent, it could otherwise be left alone to collapse under the weight of its own imperfections.
A new chapter in the Cold War began on October 1, 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by Mao Tse-tung declared victory against “Kuomintang” Nationalists led by the Western-backed Chiang Kai-shek. The Kuomintang retreated to the island of Taiwan and the CCP took over the mainland under the red flag of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Coming so soon after the Soviet Union’s successful test of an atomic bomb, on August 29, the “loss of China,” the world’s most populous country, contributed to a sense of panic among American foreign policymakers, whose attention began to shift from Europe to Asia. After Dean Acheson became Secretary of State in 1949, Kennan was replaced in the State Department by former investment banker Paul Nitze, whose first task was to help compose, as Acheson later described in his memoir, a document designed to “bludgeon the mass mind of ‘top government’” into approving a “substantial increase” in military expenditures.
The communist world system rested, in part, on the relationship between the two largest communist nations — the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. This 1950 Chinese Stamp depicts Joseph Stalin shaking hands with Mao Zedong. Wikimedia, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chinese_stamp_in_1950.jpg.
“National Security Memorandum 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security,” a national defense memo known as “NSC-68,” achieved its goal. Issued in April 1950, the nearly sixty-page classified memo warned of “increasingly terrifying weapons of mass destruction,” which served to remind “every individual” of “the ever-present possibility of annihilation.” It said that leaders of the USSR and its “international communist movement” sought only “to retain and solidify their absolute power.” As the central “bulwark of opposition to Soviet expansion,” America had become “the principal enemy” that “must be subverted or destroyed by one means or another.” NSC-68 urged a “rapid build-up of political, economic, and military strength” in order to “roll back the Kremlin’s drive for world domination.” Such a massive commitment of resources, amounting to more than a threefold increase in the annual defense budget, was necessary because the USSR, “unlike previous aspirants to hegemony,” was “animated by a new fanatic faith,” seeking “to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.”
Both Kennan and Lippmann were among a minority in the foreign policy establishment who argued to no avail that such a “militarization of containment” was tragically wrongheaded.
On June 25, 1950, as US officials were considering the merits of NSC 68’s proposals, including “the intensification of … operations by covert means in the fields of economic … political and psychological warfare” designed to foment “unrest and revolt in … [Soviet] satellite countries,” fighting erupted in Korea between communists in the north and American-backed anti-communists in the south.
After Japan surrendered in September 1945, a US-Soviet joint occupation had paved the way for the division of Korea. In November 1947, the UN passed a resolution that a united government in Korea should be created but the Soviet Union refused to cooperate. Only the south held elections. The Republic of Korea (ROK), South Korea, was created three months after the election. A month later, communists in the north established the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Both claimed to stand for a unified Korean peninsula. The UN recognized the ROK, but incessant armed conflict broke out between North and South.
In the spring of 1950, Stalin hesitantly endorsed North Korean leader Kim Il Sung’s plan to ‘liberate’ the South by force, a plan heavily influenced by Mao’s recent victory in China. While he did not desire a military confrontation with the US, Stalin thought correctly that he could encourage his Chinese comrades to support North Korea if the war turned against the DPRK. The North Koreans launched a successful surprise attack and Seoul, the capital of South Korea, fell to the communists on June 28. The UN passed resolutions demanding that North Korea cease hostilities and withdraw its armed forces to the 38th parallel and calling on member states to provide the ROK military assistance to repulse the Northern attack.
That July, UN forces mobilized under American General Douglass MacArthur. Troops landed at Inchon, a port city around 30 miles away from Seoul, and took the city on September 28. They moved on North Korea. On October 1, ROK/UN forces crossed the 38th parallel, and on October 26 they reached the Yalu River, the traditional Korea-China border. They were met by 300,000 Chinese troops who broke the advance and rolled up the offensive. On November 30, ROK/UN forces began a fevered retreat. They returned across the 38th parallel and abandoned Seoul on January 4, 1951. The United Nations forces regrouped, but the war entered into a stalemate. General MacArthur, growing impatient and wanting to eliminate the communist threats, requested authorization to use nuclear weapons against North Korea and China. Denied, MacArthur publicly denounced Truman. Truman, unwilling to threaten World War III and refusing to tolerate MacArthur’s public insubordination, dismissed the General in April. On June 23, 1951, the Soviet ambassador to the UN suggested a cease-fire, which the US immediately accepted. Peace talks continued for two years.
With the stated policy of “containing” communism at home and abroad, the U.S. pressured the United Nations to support the South Koreans and deployed American troops to the Korean Peninsula. Though overshadowed in the annals of American history, the Korean War caused over 30,000 American deaths and 100,000 wounded, leaving an indelible mark on those who served. Wikimedia.
General Dwight Eisenhower defeated Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 presidential election and Stalin died in March 1953. The DPRK warmed to peace, and an armistice agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. Upwards of 1.5 million people had died during the conflict.
Coming so soon after World War II and ending without clear victory, Korea became for many Americans a “forgotten war.” Decades later, though, the nation’s other major intervention in Asia would be anything but forgotten. The Vietnam War had deep roots in the Cold War world. Vietnam had been colonized by France and seized by Japan during World War II. The nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh had been backed by the US during his anti-Japanese insurgency and, following Japan’s surrender in 1945, “Viet Minh” nationalists, quoting Thomas Jefferson, declared an independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). Yet France moved to reassert authority over its former colony in Indochina, and the United States sacrificed Vietnamese self-determination for France’s colonial imperatives. Ho Chi Minh turned to the Soviet Union for assistance in waging war against the French colonizers in a protracted war.
After French troops were defeated at the ‘Battle of Dien Bien Phu’ in May 1954, US officials helped broker a temporary settlement that partitioned Vietnam in two, with a Soviet/Chinese-backed state in the north and an American-backed state in the south. To stifle communist expansion southward, the United States would send arms, offer military advisors, prop up corrupt politicians, stop elections, and, eventually, send over 500,000 troops, of whom nearly 60,000 would be lost before the communists finally reunified the country.
The Arms Buildup, the Space Race, and Technological Advancement
The world was never the same after the United States leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 with nuclear bombs. Not only had perhaps 180,000 civilians been killed, the nature of warfare was forever changed. The Soviets accelerated their nuclear research, expedited in no small part by spies such as Klaus Fuchs, who had stolen nuclear secrets from the American’s secret Manhattan Project. Soviet scientists successfully tested an atomic bomb on August 29, 1949, years before American officials had estimated they would. This unexpectedly quick Russian success not only caught the United States off guard, caused tensions across the Western world, and propelled a nuclear “arms race” between the US and the USSR.
The United States detonated the first thermonuclear weapon, or hydrogen bomb (using fusion explosives of theoretically limitless power) on November 1, 1952. The blast measured over 10 megatons and generated an inferno five miles wide with a mushroom cloud 25 miles high and 100 miles across. The irradiated debris—fallout—from the blast circled the Earth, occasioning international alarm about the effects of nuclear testing on human health and the environment. It only hastened the arms race, with each side developing increasingly advanced warheads and delivery systems. The USSR successfully tested a hydrogen bomb in 1953, and soon thereafter Eisenhower announced a policy of “massive retaliation.” The US would henceforth respond to threats or acts of aggression with perhaps its entire nuclear might. Both sides, then, would theoretically be deterred from starting a war, through the logic of “mutually-assured destruction,” (MAD). Oppenheimer likened the state of “nuclear deterrence” between the US and the USSR to “two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other,” but only by risking their own lives.
Fears of nuclear war produced a veritable atomic culture. Films such as Godzilla, On the Beach, Fail-Safe, and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb plumbed the depths of American anxieties with plots featuring radioactive monsters, nuclear accidents, and doomsday scenarios. Anti-nuclear protests in the United States and abroad warned against the perils of nuclear testing and highlighted the likelihood that a thermonuclear war would unleash a global environmental catastrophe. Yet at the same time, peaceful nuclear technologies, such as fission and fusion-based energy, seemed to herald a utopia of power that would be clean, safe, and “too cheap to meter.” In 1953, Eisenhower proclaimed at the UN that the US would share the knowledge and means for other countries to use atomic power. Henceforth, “the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.” The ‘Atoms for Peace’ speech brought about the establishment of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), along with worldwide investment in this new economic sector.22
As Germany fell at the close of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union each sought to acquire elements of the Nazi’s V-2 superweapon program. A devastating rocket that had terrorized England, the V-2 was capable of delivering its explosive payload up to a distance of nearly 600 miles, and both nations sought to capture the scientists, designs, and manufacturing equipment to make it work. A former top German rocket scientist, Wernher Von Braun, became the leader of the American space program; the Soviet Union’s program was secretly managed by former prisoner Sergei Korolev. After the end of the war, American and Soviet rocket engineering teams worked to adapt German technology in order to create an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The Soviets achieved success first. They even used the same launch vehicle on October 4, 1957, to send Sputnik 1, the world’s first human-made satellite, into orbit. It was a decisive Soviet propaganda victory.
In response, the US government rushed to perfect its own ICBM technology and launch its own satellites and astronauts into space. In 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created as a successor to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Initial American attempts to launch a satellite into orbit using the Vanguard rocket suffered spectacular failures, heightening fears of Soviet domination in space. While the American space program floundered, on September 13, 1959, the Soviet Union’s “Luna 2” capsule became the first human-made object to touch the moon. The “race for survival,” as it was called by the New York Times, reached a new level. The Soviet Union successfully launched a pair of dogs (Belka and Strelka) into orbit and returned them to Earth while the American Mercury program languished behind schedule. Despite countless failures and one massive accident that killed nearly one hundred Soviet military and rocket engineers, Russian ‘cosmonaut’ Yuri Gagarin was launched into orbit on April 12, 1961. Astronaut Alan Shepard accomplished a sub-orbital flight in the Freedom 7 capsule on May 5. John Kennedy would use America’s losses in the “space race” to bolster funding for a moon landing.
While outer space captivated the world’s imagination, the Cold War still captured its anxieties. The ever-escalating arms race continued to foster panic. In the early 1950s, the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FDCA) began preparing citizens for the worst. Schoolchildren were instructed, via a film featuring Bert the Turtle, to “duck and cover” beneath their desks in the event of a thermonuclear war.
Although it took a back seat to space travel and nuclear weapons, the advent of modern computing was yet another major Cold War scientific innovation, the effects of which were only just beginning to be understood. In 1958, following the humiliation of the Sputnik launches, Eisenhower authorized the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) housed within the Department of Defense (later changed to DARPA). As a secretive military research and development operation, ARPA was tasked with funding and otherwise overseeing the production of sensitive new technologies. Soon, in cooperation with university-based computer engineers, ARPA would develop the world’s first system of “network packing switches” and computer networks would begin connecting to one another.
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 domesticneeds.
Finally as history has shown, small foreign wars would be the order ofthe day, or at least a constant possibility.
- URUGUAY 1947 Nuclear threatBombers deployed as show of strength.
- GREECE 1947-49 Command operationU.S. directs extreme-right in civil war.
- GERMANY1948Nuclear ThreatAtomic-capable bombers guard Berlin Airlift.CHINA1948-49Troops/Marinesevacuate Americans before Communist victory.
- PHILIPPINES1948-54Command operationCIA directs war against Huk Rebellion.
- PUERTO RICO1950Command operationIndependence rebellion crushed in Ponce.
- 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.
- IRAN1953Command OperationCIA overthrows democracy, installs Shah.
- VIETNAM1954Nuclear threatFrench offered bombs to use against seige.
- GUATEMALA1954Command operation, bombing, nuclear threatCIA directs exile invasion after new gov't nationalized U.S. company lands; bombers based in Nicaragua.
- EGYPT1956Nuclear threat, troopsSoviets told to keep out of Suez crisis; Marines evacuate foreigners.
- LEBANONl958Troops, navalArmy & Marine occupation against rebels.
- IRAQ1958Nuclear threatIraq warned against invading Kuwait.
- CHINAl958Nuclear threatChina told not to move on Taiwan isles.
- PANAMA1958TroopsFlag protests erupt into confrontation.
- 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.
- CUBAl961Command operationCIA-directed exile invasion fails.
- GERMANYl961Nuclear threatAlert during Berlin Wall crisis.
- LAOS1962Command operationMilitary buildup during guerrilla war.
- CUBA l962 Nuclear threat, navalBlockade during missile crisis; near-war with Soviet Union.
- 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.
- PANAMAl964TroopsPanamanians shot for urging canal's return.
- INDONESIAl965Command operationMillion killed in CIA-assisted army coup.
- DOMINICAN REPUBLIC1965-66Troops, bombingArmy & Marines land during election campaign.
- GUATEMALAl966-67Command operationGreen Berets intervene against rebels.
- DETROITl967TroopsArmy battles African Americans, 43 killed.
- UNITED STATESl968TroopsAfter King is shot; over 21,000 soldiers in cities.
- CAMBODIAl969-75Bombing, troops, navalUp to 2 million killed in decade of bombing, starvation, and political chaos.OMANl970Command operationU.S. directs Iranian marine invasion.
- LAOSl971-73Command operation, bombingU.S. directs South Vietnamese invasion; "carpet-bombs" countryside.
- SOUTH DAKOTAl973Command operationArmy directs Wounded Knee siege of Lakotas.
- MIDEAST1973Nuclear threatWorld-wide alert during Mideast War.
- CHILE1973Command operationCIA-backed coup ousts elected marxist president.
- CAMBODIAl975Troops, bombingGassing of captured ship Mayagüez, 28 troops die when copter shot down.
- ANGOLAl976-92Command operationCIA assists South African-backed rebels.
- IRANl980Troops, nuclear threat, aborted bombingRaid to rescue Embassy hostages; 8 troops die in copter-plane crash. Soviets warned not to get involved in revolution.
- LIBYAl981Naval jetsTwo Libyan jets shot down in maneuvers.
- EL SALVADORl981-92Command operation, troopsAdvisors, overflights aid anti-rebel war, soldiers briefly involved in hostage clash.
- NICARAGUAl981-90Command operation, navalCIA directs exile (Contra) invasions, plants harbor mines against revolution.
- LEBANONl982-84Naval, bombing, troopsMarines expel PLO and back Phalangists, Navy bombs and shells Muslim positions. 241 Marines killed when Shi'a rebel bombs barracks.
- GRENADAl983-84Troops, bombingInvasion four years after revolution.
- HONDURASl983-89TroopsManeuvers help build bases near borders.
- IRANl984JetsTwo Iranian jets shot down over Persian Gulf.
- LIBYAl986Bombing, navalAir strikes to topple Qaddafi gov't.
- BOLIVIA1986TroopsArmy assists raids on cocaine region.
- IRANl987-88Naval, bombingUS intervenes on side of Iraq in war, defending reflagged tankers and shooting down civilian jet.LIBYA1989Naval jetsTwo Libyan jets shot down.
- VIRGIN ISLANDS1989TroopsSt. Croix Black unrest after storm.
- PHILIPPINES1989JetsAir cover provided for government against coup.
- PANAMA1989 (-?)Troops, bombingNationalist government ousted by 27,000 soldiers, leaders arrested, 2000+ killed.LIBERIA1990TroopsForeigners evacuated during civil war.
- 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.
- KUWAIT1991Naval, bombing, troopsKuwait royal family returned to throne.
- IRAQ1991-2003Bombing, navalNo-fly zone over Kurdish north, Shiite south; constant air strikes and naval-enforced economic sanctions
- LOS ANGELES1992TroopsArmy, Marines deployed against anti-police uprising.
- SOMALIA1992-94Troops, naval, bombingU.S.-led United Nations occupation during civil war; raids against one Mogadishu faction.YUGOSLAVIA1992-94NavalNATO blockade of Serbia and Montenegro.
- BOSNIA1993-?Jets, bombingNo-fly zone patrolled in civil war; downed jets, bombed Serbs.
- 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.
- ALBANIA1997TroopsSoldiers under fire during evacuation of foreigners.
- SUDAN1998MissilesAttack on pharmaceutical plant alleged to be "terrorist" nerve gas plant.
- 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.
- YUGOSLAVIA1999Bombing, MissilesHeavy NATO air strikes after Serbia declines to withdraw from Kosovo. NATO occupation of Kosovo.
- YEMEN2000NavalUSS Cole, docked in Aden, bombed.MACEDONIA2001TroopsNATO forces deployed to move and disarm Albanian rebels.
- UNITED STATES2001Jets, navalReaction to hijacker attacks on New York, DC
- 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.
- YEMEN2002MissilesPredator drone missile attack on Al Qaeda, including a US citizen.
- PHILIPPINES2002-?Troops, navalTraining mission for Philippine military fighting Abu Sayyaf rebels evolves into combat missions in Sulu Archipelago, west of Mindanao.
- 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.
- LIBERIA2003TroopsBrief involvement in peacekeeping force as rebels drove out leader.
- HAITI2004-05Troops, naval Marines & Army land after right-wing rebels oust elected President Aristide, who was advised to leave by Washington.
- 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.
- 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.
- SYRIA2008TroopsSpecial Forces in helicopter raid 5 miles from Iraq kill 8 Syrian civilians
- 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.
A BRIEFING ON THE HISTORY
OF U.S. MILITARY INTERVENTIONS
By Zoltán Grossman, October 2001
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:http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz/interventions.html
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 Yemenin 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.