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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: The Cold War Begins

Following World War II, the United States entered into a prolonged conflict with the Soviet Union known as the Cold War. Rather than involving direct combat, the Cold War was characterized by political tension and distrust, arms competition, and the threat of nuclear attack. Although allies during World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union held very different political, economic, and social views. Whereas the United States practiced democracy and capitalism, the Soviet Union was a Communist country ruled by a dictator. According to Communist principles, the state should control the economy and the lives of citizens. The Soviet Union wanted to spread Communism to other countries, and the United States wanted to contain it within the countries where it already existed.

Tension evolved as the victorious Allied nations discussed the future of Europe, which had been physically and economically devastated by the war. It quickly became apparent that the Soviet Union had a different agenda than the United States, Great Britain, and France. The Soviet Union's goals included protecting its borders from future attacks by establishing pro-Soviet governments in Eastern Europe and keeping the defeated countries of Germany and Japan weak. The United States wanted to promote future peace and allow European countries to choose their own form of government.

By early 1947, the year the Air Force became an independent service, tension between the United States and the Soviet Union led to a change in foreign policy. To protect the United States' role as a world leader, President Truman wanted to prevent the Soviet Union from spreading Communism beyond its post-World War II boundaries. He declared that the United States must assist any nations struggling to prevent a Communist takeover. This policy, known as the Truman Doctrine, justified the use of the military to prevent the spread of Communism. Under the new Marshall Plan, the United States also gave billions of dollars in aid to countries trying to recover from the war. The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan formed key elements in the United States' Cold War policy known as "containment."

Undaunted by Truman's policies, the Soviet Union continued to use its 10-million strong army to expand its "sphere of influence." The German capital of Berlin became a hot zone in Soviet-US relations. Following World War II, the four Allied nations had agreed to each control a portion or zone of Germany. They further divided the capital city of Berlin, which was located within the Soviet's zone. The United States, France, and England occupied the western section of the city, while the Soviet Union controlled the eastern portion of the city. In June 1948, the Soviets tried to gain control of the entire city by blockading rail, water, and roadways into West Berlin. The Soviets hoped that a lack of food and supplies would force West Berlin residents to comply. The Western Allies combated the blockade by flying supplies into the city. During the Berlin Airlift, the United States Air Force delivered food, clothing, medicine, and other supplies to two million West Berlin residents. After 462 days and nearly 200,000 flights, the Soviets lifted the blockade. Air power had effectively prevented a Communist takeover of West Berlin, and the new Air Force had successfully met its first Cold War challenge. Not surprisingly, the relationship between the world's two superpowers continued to deteriorate.

In June 1950, war broke out in Korea when Communist North Korean troops invaded South Korea. When the United Nations declared this act a violation of international peace, the United States and several other countries sent troops and supplies to aid South Korea's fight against a Communist takeover. The Soviet Union and China aided the North Korean troops. This was the first war in which both sides used jet planes. The Communist forces flew MiG-15 fighters and the United Nations' forces employed F-86 Sabres. During the three-year conflict, U.S. Air Force pilots shot down approximately 800 MiGs, while losing only about 80 Sabres. The Korean War, which had sparked an enormous increase in the armed forces, ended with a cease-fire in 1953. The war had prevented Communist expansion, but the original boundary dividing South Korea and Communist North Korea remained.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II, became President of the United States in 1953 as the Korean War was ending. He was determined to stop Communist expansion without hurting the nation's economy with massive military spending like the Truman Administration. He also wanted to avoid future regional conflicts like Korea, which had cost thousands of lives and was very unpopular with the public. He adopted what came to be known as the "New Look" policy. According to this policy, the nation's defense would rely on nuclear weapons and air power. Maintaining an arsenal of nuclear bombs would be cheaper than maintaining a large peacetime military force. The United States claimed it would counter Communist aggression anywhere in the free world with atomic strikes. This warning, backed up by nuclear capability, was intended to minimize the possibility of Soviet aggression. Eisenhower stated, "We shall not be aggressors, but we and our allies have and will maintain a massive capability to strike back."1

Using the threat of "massive retaliation" as the nation's primary defense plan necessarily pushed the Air Force to the forefront. According to this policy, the first line of defense would be an air atomic strike force. Eisenhower's plan called for large cuts in the Army and Navy's budget. The Air Force, however, would receive an $800 million increase in order to create an air force superior to any in the world. Although it was the newest service, the Air Force emerged as the United States' primary military arm during the first decade of the Cold War. As General Thomas D. White, Air Force vice chief of staff, claimed, the Air Force "had been recognized as an instrument of national policy."2

Questions for Reading 2

1. How would you define the Cold War? What made it "cold"? Based on the political, economic, and social differences between the United States and the Soviet Union, do you think that the Cold War was inevitable? Explain your answer.

2. What were the Soviet Union's primary goals after World War II? What was the Truman Doctrine? How would you define "containment"?

3. How did the Allies use air power creatively in response to the Soviet Union's blockade of West Berlin? What was the result?

4. Why did the United States send troops to South Korea? What was the result?

5. Why did Eisenhower create his "New Look" policy and how did it differ from Truman's approach to stopping the Communist threat? What was the impact of the "New Look" policy on the Air Force?

Reading 2 was compiled from Walter J. Boyne, Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the U.S. Air Force, 1947-1997 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997); George V. Fagan, The Air Force Academy: An Illustrated History (Boulder, Col.: Johnson Books, 1988); Bernard Fitzsimons, U.S. Air Force(New York: Arco Publishing, Inc., 1985); Leila M. Foster, The Story of the Cold War (Chicago: Childrens Press, Inc., 1990); Daniel J. Hoisington, "United States Air Force Academy, Cadet Area" (El Paso County, Colorado) National Historic Landmark Nomination Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2003; Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing, Cold War: An Illustrated History, 1945-1991(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998); Herman S. Wolk, "The 'New Look,'" Air Force Magazine, August 2003, Vol. 86, No. 8; and Bill Yenne, The History of the U.S. Air Force (New York: Exeter Books, 1984).

1 Herman S. Wolk, "The 'New Look,'" Air Force Magazine, August 2003, Vol. 86, No. 8.
2 Ibid.

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