Domestic & International Politics During the Cold War
As you may remember from our earlier post, What Characterized the Postwar U.S.?, the Cold War followed the Second World War. It was characterized by specific and conflicting ideologies as well as scientific advancements and changes in the national temperament. Knowing the characterizations of the postwar can be helpful to understanding the impact on domestic and international politics during this time, so we recommend reviewing that post before continuing with your TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™ study plan.
In this post, you will gain insight into the impact of the Cold War and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam on domestic and international U.S. politics. Focus on the key points below:
The threat of Communism dramatically impacted domestic politics and daily life in America. According to Tennessee’s Teacher’s Section on “Domestic Impacts of the Cold War,” both Republicans and Democrats “tapped into that fear and ran for office based on how strong they would be against communists.” The most famous of these politicians was Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose radical anti-communism in the United States was known as McCarthyism and was essentially a witch-hunt.
These politicians focused on eradicating United States Communists and those who sympathized with Communism. This was primarily because of the looming threat of nuclear war, which was constant throughout the Cold War as the U.S. and the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons pointed at each other. This fear continued to grow after the development of the hydrogen bomb, which was “many times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki” at the end of the Second World War.
Fear in the U.S. was so predominate that it directly impacted American culture. It was common for school children to have practice drills for nuclear attacks. Fallout shelters were designated, and nuclear warning sirens were set up in cities to warn citizens. The Teacher’s Section also notes, “science fiction and political movies, based on Cold War themes, were widely popular. Movie themes included attacks by giant insects (a byproduct of nuclear experimentation), invasions from outer space (mirroring the public fear of death from the sky), international espionage, and communist infiltration.” Arguably, the Cold War was as much a propaganda war as a militant war.
President Dwight Eisenhower developed a military plan that focused on stockpiling nuclear weapons on the home front rather than developing the land forces.
However, the domestic situation in the U.S. was largely good. As the experts at Cliffnotes write, “the middle class rapidly expanded, unemployment was low, and the United States (the only country with a nuclear bomb) became the most powerful country on earth.” This lasted for only four years, when the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon.
The tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War was a global conflict. These two nations were the dominant world powers after the Second World War, when many countries were focused on rebuilding and de-colonialization. Many European cities were devastated due to modern warfare, including the German Blitzkrieg. De-colonialization represents the end of a long period of colonialism across the world. European powers withdrew from their colonial holdings, which impacted these colonial nations and left a vacuum of power.
At the end of the Second World War, the Soviets occupied large portions of Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union wanted to keep hold of these lands in an attempt to create a buffer zone, which would prevent further invasion. Though many nations disagreed, the U.S. and its allies were unwilling to send military forces to remove the Soviets after the war. Consequently, Eastern Europe was occupied and controlled by the Soviet Union for 45 years under the Warsaw Pact. This area was known as the Iron Curtain.
This was allowed primarily because the U.S. and its allies could not afford another war. However, it was also allowed because the Soviet Union withdrew from Western Europe. These countries made-up the alliance with the U.S., which became known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
One of the primary international policies of the U.S. after the Second World War was known as containment. In other words, the U.S. committed itself internationally to preventing further expansion of Soviet power – and, by implication, Communism. The Korean and Vietnam Wars are important examples of military intervention against communism. The primary reason the U.S. invaded these nations in an attempt to stop communist expansion.
Looking for more resources? Many books have been written on the Cold War, such as Marc Trachtenberg’s The Cold War and After, which can be found at local libraries. These books can help you develop a better understanding of these events as you prepare for the TASC test’s Social Studies subtest. You can also find research guides and additional information using Tufts University’s Research Guides.