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America and the Cold War

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It came at a time when men began to believe with the prophet Isaiah that they could hammer their swords into plowshares and learn of war no more.  In 1945 World War II ended and much of Europe lay in ruins, with more than 43 million of its countrymen dead.  Hitler’s Nazi dream had been defeated, and through the waste hopes of liberty swelled.  Even as German representatives signed documents of surrender, however, Europe found itself carved up among the victors.  Much of Germany, half its capital city of Berlin, and most of Eastern Europe were controlled by the communist Red Army of the Soviet Union.

At a wartime conference in the Crimean city of Yalta, the Allied powers of America, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union agreed to a partitioning of Germany and for free elections to be held throughout Europe following Germany’s unconditional surrender.  By 1946 it was becoming clear that free elections would not be held in the Soviet controlled spheres.  An American Foreign Service officer serving in Moscow gave focus to those fears when he described in a telegram sent to Washington that the world was being divided into competing spheres of capitalism and socialism and that the coming battle “will decide [the] fate of capitalism and of communism in [the] entire world."

The coming battle would be called the Cold War, and it would be unlike anything America had ever seen.  In the Pacific the world war had ended punctuated by twin mushroom clouds colored by ash that seconds before had been the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  If the zones in Europe began to shape the political and geographical boundaries of the Cold War, the radioactive plumes that swelled over the ruined Asian cities gave shape to the fears of the Cold War.

In this new kind of war, begun in 1945 and lasting until 1991, the front lines would be defined less by massed armies and more by ideological arguments.  Rather than generals directing their troops, agencies would send forth spies.  Instead of the war’s two titans meeting one another on the battle field, substitute armies would test resolve in remote corners of the globe.  The lexicon of the old war would be shelved, and the world would learn of atoms, half-life, fall-out, and intercontinental ballistic missiles.  The Cold War was indeed a new breed of war and would profoundly test America’s spirit, leadership, and way of life.

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