Modern history

Conclusion: The Cold War and Anticommunism

Anticommunism remained a potent weapon in political affairs as long as the Cold War operated in full force. When George Kennan designed the doctrine of containment in 1946 and 1947, he had no idea that it would lead to permanent military alliances such as NATO or to a war in Korea. He viewed the Soviet Union as an unflinching ideological enemy, but he believed that it should be contained through economic rather than military means, along the lines of the Marshall Plan. When the Korean War ended in 1953, the Truman administration had already put into operation around the world the heightened military plans called for by NSC-68. Hard-line Cold War rhetoric portrayed the struggle as a battle between good and evil, summed up in the phrase “I’d rather be dead than Red.” Casting the conflict in apocalyptic terms did little justice to the nature of its origins. Born out of different perceptions of national interests and mutual misunderstandings of the other side’s actions, the Cold War became frozen in the language of competing moralistic assumptions and self-righteousness. Within this context, though some Americans rallied to obtain clemency for the Rosenbergs, most considered that they got just what they deserved.

The Cold War remained the backdrop for life during the 1950s. Americans accepted it and took it for granted as part of the hazard of modern everyday life. Occasionally, overseas crises riveted their attention on the perilous possibilities of atomic brinksman- ship with the Soviets, but for the most part Americans focused their attention on pursuing their economic dreams and raising their families. They could not avoid the Cold War, but they would try to work around it.

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

Truman Doctrine (p. 624)

Marshall Plan (p. 624) imperial presidency (p. 625)

National Security Council (NSC) (p. 625)

Berlin airlift (p. 627)

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) (p. 627)

NSC-68 (p. 627)

Servicemen's Readjustment Act (p. 632)

Taft-Hartley Act (p. 633)

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) (p. 633)

To Secure These Rights (p. 634)

vital center liberalism (p. 635)

House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) (p. 635)

Smith Act (p. 636)

Federal Employee Loyalty Program (p. 636)

blacklist (p. 636)

McCarthyism (p. 641)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. Why did American policymakers believe that containing Communist expansion should be the foundation of American foreign policy?

2. What role did mutual misunderstandings and mistrust play in the emergence of the Cold War?

3. What were the causes and consequences of the militarization of the containment strategy in the late 1940s and early 1950s?

4. How did the Korean War contribute to the centralization of power in the executive branch?

5. What social and economic challenges did America face as it made the transition from war to peace?

6. Why did Truman have only limited success in implementing his domestic agenda?

7. Why did fear of Communists in positions of influence escalate in the late 1940s and early 1950s?

8. Why was McCarthyism much more powerful than Joseph McCarthy?



• House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC) established


• Servicemen's Readjustment Act (GI Bill) passed


• Potsdam Conference


• George Kennan sends telegram outlining containment strategy

• Winston Churchill delivers "iron curtain" speech


• Truman Doctrine articulated

• Taft-Hartley Act passed

• National Security Act passed; Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established

• Truman creates Federal Employee Loyalty Program

• President's Committee on Civil Rights issues To Secure These Rights

• Jackie Robinson becomes the first black baseball player to enter the major leagues


• Berlin blockade and airlift

• Alger Hiss affair


• Truman orders desegregation of the military

• Congress approves Marshall Plan


• National Security Agency established

• Communists win Chinese civil war

• North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) formed

• Soviet Union successfully tests atomic weapon


• Korean War


• Senator Joseph McCarthy carries out anti-Communist crusade


• NSC-68 issued


• Truman administration seizes steel mills; Supreme Court reverses the action


• Julius and Ethel Rosenberg executed for espionage

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