A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

Part 1
THE COLD WAR
ABROAD AND AT HOME

The Cold War literally defined the half-century after World War II, marking a new era in both American and world history. It shaped international relations around the globe and decisively affected the cultural, economic, and political lives of many peoples, particularly Americans. In the United States, the anxieties and tensions associated with its onset helped produce the Second Red Scare—McCarthyism— a wide-ranging anticommunist crusade at home that paralleled the worsening contest between (according to Americans) the Soviet-masterminded worldwide communist conspiracy against peace, democracy, and capitalism, and (according to the Soviets) the militarized, economically aggressive U.S. effort to dominate the globe.

At its root was the transformation of the uneasy wartime collaboration between the Allies fighting Hitler’s Germany into the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union over the nature of the postwar world. Above all else, the Soviet Union demanded secure borders and control over those nations closest to Russia. It sought to refashion eastern Europe in its own image. The United States, however, clearly the strongest nation in the world and wanting to shape a new international system suited to its desires, insisted that the war had been fought for self-determination, territorial integrity, free trade, and traditional Western freedoms. This conflict over priorities and values would come to a head over five critical issues.

The Polish question—the first—symbolized to both sides the primary purpose for which they had fought the war. On three occasions, Western nations had invaded Russia via the Polish corridor. Hence, a Polish government subservient, or at least friendly, to the Soviet Union was Stalin’s overriding aim. Conversely, the Western Allies had gone to war with Germany over the matter of self-determination for

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