Many of us who grew up in the decades of the Cold War have memories of participating in air raid drills in school, watching Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist hearings on the grainy black and white of our televisions, waiting breathlessly for nuclear war during the Cuban Missile crisis, and listening to the debates over the handling of the Korean war. For us, the Cold War is part of our personal experience. For our students, however, this is ancient history. Yet as teachers and historians, we know that the policies and politics of the post World War II era still play a critical role in shaping the diplomatic and economic contours of America today. In this issue, seven leading scholars examine the era of the Cold War so that we can better demonstrate to our students the strands of ideology and the trajectories of foreign policy that produced the world in which they are growing up.
In "Iran and the United States in the Cold War," Malcolm Byrne explains how, and why, Iran came to be one of this nation’s primary adversaries during the cold war. Byrne points to Iran’s location between the USSR and the Persian Gulf, the presence of major oil reserves, and perhaps most importantly, the global military and ideological competition between the Soviet Union and the United States. He traces the key events that created the intense hostilities between our two countries and prompted our leaders to view Iran as a major factor in our recent Middle Eastern policies.
In "Cold War, Warm Hearth," Elaine May takes a close look at the impact of the Cold War on domestic life in America. The desire to marry and have a family dominated American society after World War, leading to a demographic explosion popularly known as the "baby boom." Yet social tensions ran high in the postwar era and there were fears that racial and class conflicts in America would damage the country’s prestige in the world. Fears of a communist take-over or the defeat of the US in the Cold War, May notes, led to a view of the family as "a bastion of safety in an insecure world."
Elizabeth Edwards Spalding offers us a new look at the Truman doctrine in her essay "Truman and His Doctrine: Revolutionary, Unprecedented and Bipartisan" The President, Spalding shows, understood that isolationism was no longer possible in the postwar world; he realized that the US was the only power able to lead the free world. Truman devised a strategy of containment that would dominate American policy for several administrations to come.
In "The United States and China During the Cold War," Warren Cohen focuses on the Cold War in Asia as it shaped US policy regarding the Chinese Revolution, the Korean conflict, and the 'two Chinas of Mao’s mainland and Taiwan. Cohen takes us through the shifts in policy from Truman to Nixon to Reagan, shifts that marked the beginning and the end of the Cold War.
Mark Lawrence explores our role in Southeast Asia and its domestic impact in his essay on the Vietnam War. Fears that a communist take over of South Vietnam would open the way to communist expansion elsewhere in Asia, led Lyndon Johnson to expand our role in the conflict. The key question then became how, not whether, to fight the war, and the possibility of defeat was rarely acknowledged. The Johnson Administration did not shift its policies when the CIA issued a report that declared the outcome of the Cold War would not hinge upon the outcome in Vietnam. Would the war have ended sooner, Lawrence asks, if LBJ had accepted the report’s argument?
Next, Jeremi Suri looks at the life and influence of a controversial policy maker in "Kissinger and American Foreign Policy," following Henry Kissinger through his experiences in World War II to his emergence as a key member of a new group of Cold War "experts" who used their knowledge and access to influence policy. Suri examines Kissinger’s impact on our Viet Nam strategies and policies, but he emphasizes the impact of Kissinger’s realpolitick on our policy in Latin America, especially Chile, and in the movement toward détente.
Finally, in "Ronald Reagan and the End of the Cold War," Michael Cox assesses the role of this president in ending the Cold War. Cox analyzes Reagan’s strategies, beginning with an aggressive challenge to the legitimacy of the communist system and then engaging in serious and constructive negotiations with Gorbachev. But Cox reminds the reader that Gorbachev’s role in the end of the Cold War must also be considered. No matter how we assess the importance of Reagan in the conclusion of the cold war, Cox argues that it is important to appreciate this president’s vision of a "different global future in which all might play a constructive role."
Want to read more? Mary-Jo Kline provides an extensive bibliography for further study. Our master teachers, Bruce Lesh and Phil Nicolosi suggest central themes that emerge from these provocative essays and can provide starting points for your classroom lessons and discussions. Sample lesson plans are provided to assist you as well. And, as always, History Now includes an interactive feature; in this issue it’s an examination of some of the Cold War documents housed in the Gilder Lehrman Collection.
The perspectives and analyses provided in this issue’s essays allow us to see the events of our lifetime in a new historical light; they allow us to bring those events alive to the next generations.
Editor, History Now
Carol Berkin is Presidential Professor of History at Baruch College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of several books including Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Conservative, First Generations: Women in Colonial America, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, and Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence.