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After World War II, the United States and Great Britain wanted the
Eastern European nations to determine their own governments.
Stalin feared that the Eastern European nations would be
anti-Soviet if they were allowed free elections.
The “Iron Curtain” dividing Western Europe
and Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe was
the beginning of the Cold War.
For forty years, no missiles flew or guns fired but the world
was fiercely divided between two military and economic superpowers.
The Soviet Union feared the capitalist West.
The United States feared the communist East.
After the “Iron Curtain” split Europe, the superpowers struggled
for influence over the Third World: Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The US and USSR competed intensely over everything:
Who had more nuclear weapons?
… had the most advanced technology?
… would be the first in space?
… would be the first to the moon?
… had the biggest tanks?
… had the fastest airplanes?
… won more Olympic gold medals?
… had better spies?
… had more allies?
the United States adopted
the policy of containment
to keep communism
within its existing boundaries
and prevent further
Soviet aggressive moves.
The United States was concerned
that communism would spread
throughout the free world if left
The Cold War led to widespread fear that Communists
had infiltrated the United States government.
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy charged that hundreds of communists
were in high government positions. This created a massive “Red Scare.”
In early 1947 President Harry S Truman issued the Truman
Doctrine, which stated that the United States would give money to
countries threatened by Communist expansion.
In June 1947, the US started the Marshall Plan
to rebuild war-torn Europe.
The Soviet Union and its economically and politically dependent Eastern
European satellite states refused to participate in the Marshall Plan.
In 1949, the Soviet Union set up
the Council for Mutual Assistance
(COMECON) as a response to
the Marshall Plan.
COMECON was established to
help the economies of Eastern
By 1948, Britain,
the US, and France
worked to unify
the three western
Berlin and create a
The Soviets opposed the creation of a West German state,
so they tried to prevent it by setting up a blockade of West Berlin.
The United States and Great Britain used
the Berlin Air Lift to fly in supplies to West Berlin.
The Soviets ended the blockade in May 1949.
The economy of the Soviet Union was devastated by World War II.
By 1950, the Soviet Union had built new power plants, canals,
and giant factories. Heavy industry had recovered.
The Soviet Union tightened its grip on Eastern Europe.
After World War II, Soviet-controlled Communist
governments took control of these satellite states.
Between 1948 and 1953, Soviet-type five-year plans were
introduced there with emphasis on heavy industry.
They began to collectivize agriculture.
They set up secret police and military forces.
By 1945, China had
The United States supported the
Nationalist government of
Chiang Kai-shek, based in
southern and central China.
The Communist government
led by Mao Zedong
was based in northern China.
In 1945, war between
the Nationalists and Communists
Millions of peasants joined
Mao’s People’s Liberation Army
because they were promised land.
Mao’s Communist army
defeated the Nationalist army.
Chiang Kai-shek and his followers
fled mainland China and established
the capital of the Republic of China at
American military forces protected
Chinese Communists took control of the government of China in 1949.
In August 1945, the Soviet Union
and the United States agreed to
divide Korea into two zones at the
The Korean War began in 1950
when the Communist government
of North Korea, supported by the
Soviet Union, tried to take over
In 1950, North Korean troops invaded South Korea.
President Truman, with the support of the United Nations,
sent US troops to repel the invaders.
In 1951, the Chinese sent troops into North Korea and
pushed the UN forces back, south of the 38th parallel.
An armistice was signed in 1953.
The 38th parallel remains the border between North and South Korea today.
In 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb.
Both superpowers developed far more powerful
hydrogen bombs by the 1950s.
After the fall of China, North Korea,
and Eastern Europe, the US and
USSR began an arms race.
Each country built enough nuclear
weapons to kill 500,000,000 people
in the event of war, destroying all
civilization and laying waste to the
The policy was called mutually
In April 1949,
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) was formed.
This military alliance,
which included Great Britain, France,
other Western European nations, and
the United States and Canada,
agreed to provide mutual help
if any one of them was attacked.
In 1955, the Soviet Union and Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia,
East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania formed the
military alliance called the Warsaw Pact.
After World War II, Yugoslavia,
led by Josip Broz Tito, was an
independent Communist state
until his death in 1980.
The United States then extended
its military alliances around the world.
By the mid-1950s, the United States was in military alliances with 42 nations.
After Stalin’s death, Nikita Khrushchev
became the chief policy maker in the Soviet Union.
Under his leadership, de-Stalinization, or the process of
eliminating some of Stalin’s most ruthless policies, was put in place.
With Stalin gone, many Eastern European states tried to make reforms.
The Soviet Union, however, made it clear that it would not allow
its Eastern European satellites to become independent.
Revolts against communism in Poland, Hungary,
and Czechoslovakia were brutally crushed.
In August 1961, on the order of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev,
the East German government began to build the Berlin Wall.
It was built to stop the flood of East Germans escaping to the
greater freedom and prosperity of West Berlin.
In 1957, the Soviets sent Sputnik I,
the first man-made space satellite,
to orbit the earth.
In 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin,
became the first man to orbit the Earth in space.
Americans feared there was a missile gap
between the Soviet Union and the United States.
In the 1950s, a movement in Cuba led by Fidel Castro
aimed to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Castro’s revolutionaries captured Havana in 1959.
Many Cubans who disagreed with Castro fled to the US.
The Argentinean Che Guevara, who had aided Castro
during the Cuban Revolution, then tried to spark
Communist revolutions elsewhere in Latin America.
Relations between the US and Cuba quickly deteriorated as
Castro began to receive aid and arms from the Soviet Union.
In October 1960, the US declared a trade embargo
prohibiting trade with Cuba.
In January 1961, the US broke diplomatic relations with Cuba.
In April 1961, US President
John F. Kennedy supported
an attempt to overthrow
The attempted invasion at
the Bay of Pigs failed.
In 1962, Khrushchev began to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to counteract
U.S. nuclear weapons placed in Turkey, near the Soviet Union.
In October 1962, President Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba to
stop Soviet ships carrying more nuclear missiles from reaching Cuba.
Khrushchev agreed to send the ships back and remove nuclear missiles
in Cuba if Kennedy agreed not to invade Cuba.
Kennedy agreed. Six months later, the US removed its missiles from Turkey.
The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to very brink of nuclear war.
The American Mercury program
succeeded in sending John Glenn
to space in 1962.
On July 20, 1969, the Apollo project allowed American Neil Armstrong to
become the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon.
After World War II, many Europeans wanted European unity.
Nationalism, however, was too strong for European nations to give up
their sovereignty. Instead the countries focused on economic unity.
In 1957, France, West Germany, the Benelux countries,
and Italy created the European Economic Community
(EEC), also known as the Common Market.
For almost 25 years after World War II,
France was led by Charles de Gaulle,
leader of the French Resistance during
During this time, France recovered
economically and became a major
industrial producer and exporter.
At the end of World War II, Great Britain had major economic problems.
The Labour Party, promising far-reaching reforms, defeated
Winston Churchill’s Conservative Party which had led through the war.
The Labour Party, led by
Prime Minister Clement Attlee
created a modern welfare state
- a state in which the
responsibility for providing
citizens with services and a
minimal standard of living.
The British welfare state became
the norm for most European
states after the war.
The cost of building a welfare state caused Great Britain to dismantle the
British Empire. Many British colonies gained their independence.
Great Britain granted independence to India and
Pakistan in 1947, Burma in 1948, and Malaya in 1957.
In 1946, the United States granted
total independence to the Philippines.
In 1949, the US pressured the Netherlands into
granting independence to Indonesia.
After World War II, Communists
in Vietnam under leadership of
Ho Chi Minh fought for
independence from France.
In 1945, Vietminh rebels took
control of most of Vietnam.
The French, however, refused to accept the new government
and fought for control of the southern part of the country.
In 1954, France agreed to a peace settlement.
Vietnam was divided – the Communist north based in Hanoi
and the anti-Communist south based in Saigon.
But by early 1965, South Vietnamese Communist guerrillas known
as the Viet Cong were ready to seize control of the entire country.
In 1964, Nikita Khrushchev was removed from office.
Leonid Brezhnev became the main Soviet leader until 1982.
He issued the Brezhnev Doctrine which asserted that the
Soviet Union had the right to intervene if communism was
threatened in another Communist state.
U.S. policy makers applied the domino theory to Vietnam.
According to this theory, if South Vietnam fell to communism,
then other countries in Asia would fall like dominoes to communism.
In March 1965, US President Lyndon B. Johnson
decided to send American troops to South
Vietnam to prevent a Communist victory.
By the end of the 1960s, the Vietnam War reached a stalemate –
neither side was able to make significant gains.
The atrocities of the war were broadcast nightly on television.
A massive anti-war movement
grew in the US as more American
troops were sent to Vietnam.
President Johnson decided not to run for re-election
because of public opinion against his handling of the war.
Former Republican vice-president Richard M. Nixon won the election
with the promise to end the war and reunite the American people.
In 1973, Nixon reached
an agreement with
North Vietnam that
allowed the US to
withdraw its forces.
Within two years, Vietnam was forcibly reunited by Communist armies.
By the end of 1975, Laos and Cambodia also had Communist regimes.
The dictator Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge,
established a brutal revolutionary regime in Cambodia.
In Communist China,
Mao believed that only
an atmosphere on
fervor, could produce
the final stage of
In 1966, Mao started the Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution
to create a working class
The Little Red Book, a collection
of Mao’s thoughts, provided
knowledge in all areas.
The Red Guards were formed to
eliminate the “Four Olds” – old
ideas, old culture, old customs,
and old habits.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon became the first US President
to visit the People’s Republic of China.
In 1979, China and the US established diplomatic ties.
By the 1970s, United States-Soviet relations had reached détente
- a relaxation of tension and improved relations.
By 1979, however, a new period of East-West confrontation began when the
Soviets invaded Afghanistan. They wanted to restore a pro-Soviet regime.
The United States viewed this as an act of expansion.
In 1980, US President Ronald Reagan
began a new military buildup and
arms race with the USSR.
Reagan even proposed a
Strategic Defense Initiative
dubbed “Star Wars”
which would blast
incoming missiles with
lasers from space.
His plan was to outspend
and bankrupt the USSR.
Reagan gave military aid to the Afghan rebels to fight the Soviets.
Reagan’s battle against Communism shocked
America during the Iran-Contra Affair.
Members of Reagan’s administration,
led by Lt. Col. Oliver North,
orchestrated the sale of weapons to
Iran, an enemy of the United States.
The profits from those sales
were used to fund the Contras,
a right-wing rebel force
attempting to overthrow the
left-wing government of Nicaragua.
By the 1970s, the Communist ruling class
of the Soviet Union had become corrupt.
The Soviet economy was weakened by the government’s bureaucracy
that discouraged efficiency and encouraged indifference.
Farmers and workers lacked incentive to work hard.
By 1980, the Soviet economy was seriously declining.
In 1985, the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev
was chosen to lead the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev’s basis of reform was perestroika, or
restructuring, of the Soviet economy and government.
His willingness to rethink Soviet domestic
and foreign policy led to a dramatic end to the Cold War.
In 1987 Gorbachev made an agreement with the United
States - the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty –
to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles.
Gorbachev changed Soviet policy by stopping
military support to Communist governments in Eastern Europe.
This led to the overthrow of Communist regimes in these countries.
Workers’ protests led to demands for change in Poland.
In 1980, Lech Walesa organized
a national trade union in Poland known as Solidarity.
In 1988, the Polish regime agreed to free parliamentary
elections - the first free election in Eastern Europe in forty years.
Walesa was elected president of Poland in 1990.
In 1988 unrest led many East Germans to flee their Communist country.
In 1989, mass demonstrations against the Communist regime broke out.
On November 9, 1989, the East German government removed
travel restrictions to the West and the Berlin Wall fell.
reunified in 1990 –
signaling the end of
the Cold War.
In 1988 and 1989, mass demonstrations throughout Czechoslovakia
led to the collapse of the Communist government.
In 1993, conflicts between Czechs and Slovaks led to the peaceful division of
Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
As the Soviet government eased its control,
ethnic tensions emerged throughout the Soviet republics.
During 1990 and 1991, several of these republics
called for independence from Soviet control.
In 1991, conservative leaders arrested Gorbachev and tried to seize power.
Boris Yeltsin and others defeated their attempt.
Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991.
The next day, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and
Belarus declared the Soviet Union dissolved.
Yeltsin became president of the new Russia.
He worked to introduce a free market economy to Russia.
Chechens tried to secede from Russia and form their own republic.
Yeltsin used brutal force in Chechnya.
In 1999 Yeltsin resigned and Vladimir Putin was elected president.
Fighting in Chechnya continues.
At the end of the 1980s,
Yugoslavia was also caught
up in the reform movements
of Eastern Europe.
By 1990, new political parties
had emerged and
the Communist Party
In 1990, the Yugoslav
republics of Slovenia,
worked for independence.
Slobodan Milosevic, leader of Serbia, rejected independence.
In June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence
In September 1991, the Yugoslavian army attacked Croatia.
In 1992, the Serbs attacked Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Many Bosnians were Muslims.
The Serbs followed a policy of ethnic cleansing against them.
In 1995, air strikes by NATO air strikes were
launched in retaliation for Serb attacks on civilians.
On December 14, Serbia signed a formal peace.
In 1998, Serbs began to massacre ethnic
Albanians during the Kosovo War.
The United States and NATO intervened again.
In 2000, Milosevic was ousted from power in a
The United Nations placed him on trial for crimes
against humanity. He died in prison March 11, 2006.
In 1992, the EEC became the European Union (EU).
By 2007, there will be 25 member states and growing.
The Cuban economy relied on Soviet aid and the
purchase of Cuban sugar by Soviet bloc countries.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba lost its support.
Cuba’s economy has continued to decline in recent years.
From 1945-1952, Japan was an occupied country. Its lands were
held and controlled by Allied military forces.
US general Douglas MacArthur was commander of the
occupation administration, which instituted vast reforms in Japan.
Following World War II, Japan rapidly emerged as an economic giant.
Today, Japan is the greatest exporter in the world.
Besides Japan, the Asian countries of South Korea,
Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong have been economic
powerhouses referred to as the “Asian Tigers.”
In 1997, Great Britain returned control of Hong Kong to mainland China.
The Communist People’s Republic of China is
determined to unite Taiwan with mainland China.
In 1989, student
protesters in China
also called for an end
to corruption and
Beijing were crushed
by Chinese tanks and
China’s continued human rights violations,
and its growing military and economic power
have created strained relations with the West.
However, US trade with China is, and will continue to be, one of
the most important economic relationships in the 21 st century.