The term Cold War describes the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) from the end of the Second World War until the collapse of the Soviet system in 1991. The US and the USSR were engaged in a rivalry which attempted to demonstrate the superiority of each other=s way of life. Because each side had at its side the vast destructive power of nuclear weapons, it became extremely risky for war to commence between the two superpowers. Since a shooting war is Ahot@ and with threat of nuclear disaster, hence the term Cold War. 

The struggle between the US and the USSR was a struggle of economics, capitalism versus communism, and a struggle of political systems, democracy versus dictatorship. Since the results of a hot war were too dangerous to contemplate, both sides sought other ways of demonstrating the correctness of their system. Whenever a period of improved (or warmer) relations between the US and USSR occurred, it was referred to as a 'thaw' in the Cold War.

This ACold War@ was fought in a variety of other ways:

1. Use of proxies. Since the two superpowers could not go to war with each other, they tried to show the superiority of their political-economic system through the use of proxy nations who demonstrated those values for them. Thus North Korea squared off against South Korea from 1950 to 1953 in the Korean War, South and North Vietnam fought each other from 1960 through 1975, and the Communist government of Afghanistan fought the Mujahaddin rebels from 1981-1988. Each side received military and economic support from their benefactor and, when one proxy started to falter, that nation could expect the direct intervention of their supporting superpower. Once one superpower intervened directly, the opposing superpower stayed out of the fray, for fear of the Cold War turning hot.

2. Economics. The two superpowers advanced economic support to other nations around the globe through economic assistance. By providing such assistance, a superpower could show the strength of it system by raising the standard of living in a particular nation. With the many new nations of the so-called AThird World@ emerging in the 1950-60s with the end of European colonialism, there was fertile ground available for both powers to show the superiority of their system in countries throughout Asia and Africa, or where economies lay stagnant, such as in Latin America. However, both superpowers expected a return on their investment, and desired that these third world nations support their efforts to showcase either system. What they actually received was support that was purchased, not earned, and could expect continued support only as long as they continued to invest in these backward nations. More often than not, economic aid looked much like military aid. For example, Soviet support of Communist Cuba required that Cuban soldiers fight in places such as Angola in southern Africa, in support of Communist advances there.

3. Diplomacy. Diplomats were the key to preventing war from starting between the two superpowers. Thus it was essential to have effective diplomats who could deter war, communicate the proper message, and gain advantage over the competing side. Contrary to the system used by the Europeans in 1914 when the military advisors held sway over national leaders, it was important during the Cold War to give diplomats the time necessary to work out agreements or defuse threatening situations. Failure to do so could have resulted in war.

4. Alliances. Another way of demonstrating the superiority of one superpower was through the gathering of other allies, supportive of the system. Thus the United States created NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to defend Western Europe against Communist expansion. Though a military alliance, the NATO nations for the most part had democratically elected governments and a capitalist economic structure. The Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact with their Eastern European supporters, all with Communist political-economic systems to counter NATO. Each superpower could count on their alliance=s additional resources of tanks, aircraft, ships, and men as part of their own military strength.

5. Threats. Whenever one side found its system floundering and seemingly at the mercy of the other, it was time to threaten the use of nuclear weapons to prevent the situation from deteriorating any further. When faced with the possibility of a war which might go nuclear, the side that held the upper hand found it pointless to push further, for fear of a Ahot@ war starting.


This policy was developed under the Truman Administration, and its suggests that the US should respond to Communist advances where ever they appear around the globe, in order to stop further Communist expansion.  The policy was developed from George Kennan's (Mr. X) 'long telegram' sent from Moscow in 1947, where Kennan suggested that the US was now in a new struggle against the Soviet Union.  The idea of containment calls for US assistance to those nations which are facing the specter of Communist threats.  The aid can be in the form of economic assistance, or military aid, or both, and could also include direct American military action (Examples: Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, Berlin Airlift, American troops sent to South Korea).

Unfortunately, containment is only about stopping the spread of Communism, it does not call for the rollback of the 'Iron Curtain' and thus offers no assistance to those countries already under communist rule (Eastern Europe).  When Eastern European countries revolted against their communist masters (Hungary, 1956 and Czechoslovakia, 1968), they did not receive any assistance in their efforts, and were thus subject to further domination by the soviets, until 1991, when the Cold War ended.

In further American dealings with Moscow after the Truman Presidency, Brinkmanship (Eisenhower-Dulles), Mutual Assured Destruction (Kennedy-Johnson) and Detente (Nixon-Kissinger) were all styled after Truman's Containment model.


The era of American interest in Vietnam, the former colony of French Indochina covers the presidencies six men: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. The American rationale for participation in Vietnam is built largely around the parameters of Cold War fighting, that is, we had to stop the spread of Communism. Whatever the merits of this belief, unfortunately it ignores the nationalist desires of the Vietnamese people to be rid of foreign interventionism.

The Truman administration, as part of its Containment philosophy, provided military and economic assistance tot he French who desired to restore their Indochina imperial holding after Japan surrendered in 1945.  Covert aid was provided by the CIA.  In 1954, the Eisenhower administration decided against bailing the French out of their fortress at Dien Bien Phu, and the French eventually suffered a humiliating defeat.  Eisenhower began to provide military assistance to the new independent nation of South Vietnam, but also urged the South Vietnamese government not to participate in joint elections which would have led to a unified Vietnam under the Communist, Ho Chi Minh. 

In 1961, President Kennedy, very much enthralled with the Army's Special Forces (Green Berets), began to send more advisors to assist the South Vietnamese, who now faced a full scale guerrilla war with supporters of Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Cong rebels.  The American involvement reached upwards to 20,000 men, but as Kennedy said, "In the end this is South Vietnam's war to win or lose."

In 1965, the Johnson administration had decided it would not stand idly by and allow the forces of Ho Chi Minh to defeat the South Vietnamese government and install communist rule over Vietnam. Johnson committed huge numbers of American troops, which eventually totaled over 500,000 men, to the ground fight in South Vietnam.

By 1968, the United States seemed to be bogged down in Southeast Asia, with no end in sight.  When the North Vietnamese launched their Tet offensive in February, Americans were shocked at the NVAs initial military success, since LBJ, Defense Secretary McNamara, and the American military commander in Vietnam, General Westmoreland, had all been proclaiming that the War was being won.  At home, disillusionment with the war grew rapidly, especially on college campuses, as Americans were committed to battle and casualty rates climb, all seemingly without purpose. This growing dissatisfaction led to the development of an antiwar protest movement, which forced Americans to take sides, either for or against the war. The nation was shaken to its foundation over the war, and the nation divided in a way not seen since 1861 and the Civil War. Eventually more than 50,000 American fighting men were killed during the Vietnam war.  Whatever hopes Johnson had held when he committed the nation's resources to South Vietnam back in 1965 were destroyed, along with Johnson's presidency.  In March, 1968, LBJ announced he would not seek re-election

Richard Nixon campaign for the presidency in 1968 with a "secret" plan to end the Vietnam War, later called "Vietnamization," Which helped him win the election over Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey.  Over the next four years, Nixon hoped to achieve "Peace with Honor"  by gradually turning over the conduct of the war to the South Vietnamese.  In 1972, Nixon ran for re-election, and with Vietnamization having greatly reduced the American presence in South Vietnam, from a high of 500,000 to less than 100,000 men, he seemed like a sure winner. His opposition came largely from the little known liberal anti-war senator from South Dakota, George McGovern. In October of 1972, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announced that "peace is at hand" thanks to secret negotiation he held with the North Vietnamese in Paris.  After a vicious Christmas air bombing campaign over Hanoi took place in December, 1972, a suddenly stubborn North Vietnamese government agreed to a cease fire in January, 1973, which brought and end to the American involvement in the Vietnam War.


French Indo-China - French colonial holding established in 1880s
Ho Chi Minh
-Vietnamese Nationalist and Communist, president of North Vietnam, died 1969
Viet Minh
- supporter of Ho Chi Minh during period of French colonial rule
Dien Bien Phu
-1954 battle where French were defeated by Viet Minh (March-May)
Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam, South Vietnam
- four countries created by July, 1954 Geneva Accords
Ngo Dinh Diem
- President of South Vietnam, overthrown and assassinated in November, 1963
Robert S. McNamara
- American Secretary of Defense and architect of American military role in Vietnam
Green Berets
- American Special Forces sent to South Vietnam by President Kennedy to advise South Vietnamese military forces
- Army of the Republic of (South) Vietnam
- North Vietnamese Army
Viet Cong
- Vietnamese Communist rebels who fought the USA and South Vietnamese forces, commonly referred to as "Charlie" by American soldiers
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
(August, 1964) -Congressional resolution which authorized President Johnson to expand American military presence in Vietnam and widen the war to include bombing North Vietnam after suspected North Vietnamese naval attacks against American Navy (Gulf of Tonkin Incident)
Nguyen Van Thieu
- last president of South Vietnam, died 2001 in Boston
Tet Offensive
- February, 1968 VC and NVA military offensive against American forces during truce period, which challenged American assertion that the war was being won, and led to President Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election in 1968
Khe Sanh
-American Marine base in northwestern South Vietnam, sight of most recognizable battle of Vietnam War in 1968
Hamburger Hill
- May, 1969, battle fought by 101st Airborne Division against NVA, which came to symbolize American inability to ever win the Vietnam War
Christmas bombings
- 1972 American B-52 bomber campaign launched against two largest North Vietnamese cities, Hanoi and Haiphong
- President Nixon’s plan to end American participation in Vietnam War by completely turning over combat role to ARVN
Paris Peace Accords
(January, 1973) - Agreement which temporarily ended the Vietnam War and ended direct American military involvement in Vietnam. Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho awarded 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. War resumed soon after American forces departed, and the South Vietnamese capital city of Saigon fell to the Communists on April 30, 1975, ending more than three decades of war.


SALT I - Strategic Arms Limitation Talks agreement achieved by Nixon which placed limits of the offensive nuclear arsenals of the US and Soviet union.  Also limited extent of Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Defense development by both sides.  Ratified by Senate.
SALT II - A second treaty negotiated by US and Soviets during President Carter's administration.  The treaty was already  under attack in the US Senate for being too generous to the Soviets when the Senate scuttled the entire treaty after the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
U-2 Incident - The high flying super secret U-2 spyplane successfully overflew the Soviet Union in the 1950s on at least 20 occasions to take pictures of Soviet missile development.  On May 1, 1960, a U-2 flown by Francis Gary Powers was shot down by the Russians
John Foster Dulles - Secretary of State under Eisenhower, and architect of the policy of 'Brinkmanship' towards Soviet Union.
Robert McNamara - Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, architect of the expansion of the Vietnam War in 1965.
Henry Kissinger - National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State under  Nixon and Ford.  Architect of 'Detente' policy towards Soviet Union, and won Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a truce for war in Vietnam.  Later helped to disengage Israeli and Egyptian military forces along Suez Canal.
Truman Doctrine - Economic and military assistance provided by US in 1947 to Greece and Turkey, to help those two nations fend off Communism.
Marshall Plan - Economic aid to Western Europe in 1947 to help fend off Communist threat, named after Secretary of State George C. Marshall.
Bay of Pigs - failed invasion of Cuba in April, 1961.  CIA built an army of Cuban refugees to invade island and overthrow Fidel Castro.  Planned during  Eisenhower administration, but carried under Kennedy.  A huge failure for the new Kennedy administration.
Tet Offensive - massive NVA/VC military offensive in February, 1968 in South Vietnam, launched during Tet Lunar New Year truce period.  A huge US military victory, but exposed Johnson handling of Vietnam War effort as a disastrous failure, and exposed military optimism about the war as a lie.  Tet Offensive included the US Marines successful defense of Khe Sanh.


The Cold War Era is also a dynamic period in domestic American History, as this nation tried to support its foreign interests with a home system that mirrored the strength we tried to show the world

1. Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. The 1954 Brown case is arguably the most important case adjudicated by the Supreme Court in the 20th century. It overturned the Plessey v. Ferguson (1896) decision which had allowed legalized segregation in the United States. In the Brown case, the Warren Court decided that segregated schools, even if equal, were inherently unequal because of the separation of races, and thus unconstitutional. The case went beyond mere schooling, and all like cases came under the Brown ruling, in fields such as bathrooms, hotels/motels, dining, and transportation. In such cases, segregated areas were, as such, even when considered equal, unequal. The following year the Court ruled that desegregation of schools was to be accomplished Awith all due speed.@ In subsequent years, additional Civil Rights legislation was passed by Congress to end discriminations in other sectors of American life. In 1964, the Constitution was changed with the 24th Amendment which ended the Poll Tax (a payment required in exchange for the right to vote).

2. The Warren Court. In 1953, President Eisenhower named former California Governor Earl Warren, who had run as the Republican candidate for vice president in 1948 (with Thomas Dewey) as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In addition to the Brown decision, the Warren Court also expanded the individual rights of American citizens. In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Court determined that all defendants had right to a lawyer in criminal cases if they could not afford one. Previously, defendants only had right to counsel in offenses which carried the possibility of capital punishment. In Miranda v. Arizona, the Court ruled that suspects in criminal cases had a right to be notified of their civil rights. Thus police now warn suspects that they have a right to be silent, and a right to have a defense attorney when being questioned by the police. In some circles, these decisions seemed to impede the ability of police officials to investigate crimes. In 1956, Eisenhower appointed William Brennan, who consistently ruled with Warren, to the Court as an Associate Justice. When Eisenhower left the presidency in 1961, he was asked if he had many any mistakes during his two term tenure, and he responded that he had indeed made two mistakes, and both were sitting on the Supreme Court, a reference to his nominations of Warren and Brennan.

3. JFK and Nixon. The presidential election of 1960 was not only the narrowly determined election up to its time, it also marked a turning point in presidential politics in that both candidates were the first born in the 20th century, and both proved to be the leading statesmen of their respective political parties for the second half of the century. John Fitzgerald Kennedy came from a well-to-do politically connected Irish Catholic family from Boston. He attended Harvard, joined the Navy in World War II, earned the Navy Cross for his service as a PT boat commander in the South Pacific, and returned home to be elected to Congress in 1946 (re-elected in 1948 and 1950) and then to the Senate in 1952 (re-elected in 1958). He narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for vice president in 1956. Photogenic, rich, and with a beautiful young wife, Kennedy proved himself a formidable candidate, in spite of his youth (age 43).

Richard Milhous Nixon came from a poor Quaker family in southern California. He worked his way through tiny Whittier College, and his excellent grades earned him a scholarship to Duke University. He also served in the Navy in World War II, as a supply officer, and returned home to California to be elected to Congress in 1946 (re-elected in 1948), where he became friends with another freshman Congressman, John Kennedy. He was elected to the US Senate in 1950, and was elected vice president in 1952 at age 39 on the Eisenhower ticket (re-elected 1956). He was only 47 when he ran for the presidency, but was not nearly as photogenic as the glamorous Kennedy.

The election will probably be remembered not only for the narrowness of the result, but also for the famous presidential debates, which were not only the first ever to be televised, but were not normal to the election process, such as they are today. The photogenic Kennedy seemed to have the upper hand from those who watched the debate, while those who heard the debate on radio, seemed to believe that Nixon=s experience as vice president made him a better candidate for the White House.

Though Kennedy won a narrow popular vote over Nixon (118,000 votes, less than one vote per voting precinct), he won by an easy margin in Electoral College vote. The Texas (home of Kennedy=s vice presidential candidate, Lyndon Johnson) and Illinois votes were extremely close, and the morning after the election both states fell for Kennedy, giving him the election. Had those two states gone for Nixon, he would have won the presidency. Questions about voting irregularities in both states continue to this day. Kennedy, who successfully fended off the issue of his religion during the campaign, became the first Roman Catholic president.

4. The Assassination of Kennedy. President Kennedy, at the request of Vice President Johnson, traveled to Texas in November of 1963 to mend fences with Texans in anticipation of a difficult 1964 re-election bid for the Kennedy-Johnson team. On the afternoon of November 22, while traveling in an open-air convertible limousine, Kennedy was assassinated. Texas Governor John Connally, in the president=s car, was badly wounded. A suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, was quickly apprehended while in a movie theater, after he shot and killed a Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippitt. Oswald himself was shot and killed two days later by Jack Ruby, a night club owner and small time hoodlum, as he was being transferred by the Dallas police. Ironically, Oswald was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital, the same hospital where Kennedy had died.

A committee headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren was convened by new President Johnson to investigate the assassination of the beloved President Kennedy. Within the year, the Warren Commission issued its finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination. In the years that have followed, the Warren Commission=s findings have been smeared by many conspiracy theories that are mostly built around the idea that somehow an undertaking such as the assassination of the most protected man in the world, the president, could not have been done by merely one individual. Another conspiracy theory challenges the commission=s ballistic reports. Other wild theories abound which blame the CIA, the Pentagon, Lyndon Johnson, the Mafia, or Fidel Castro of Cuba for the execution of Kennedy. Without a trial of Oswald, we will never truly know whether he committed the crime of the century. Jack Ruby later died of cancer while in prison, which only added more questions for the conspiracy theorists.

The death of the young president left a void in many American hearts. With the disillusionment of the Vietnam War, the later assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the resignation of Richard Nixon from the presidency, the specter of Kennedy=s premature death has stayed with an entire generation since 1963 and what could have been, had he only lived.

The Election of Richard Nixon. After his narrow and personally devastating defeat in 1960, Nixon had returned home to his native California. Trying to resurrect his political fortunes, he ran for California governor in 1962, and was badly beaten. He bitterly announced in his 'last press conference' that his political career was over. There was talk of another run for the White House in 1964, but instead Nixon campaigned for other Republican candidates that year, a year when Goldwater and the Republicans suffered a massive defeat at the hands of Lyndon Johnson. Nixon again campaigned for fellow party members in the off year 1966 elections and, thanks to his loyalty and efforts, the party rebounded from the stunning disaster of 1964. Nixon earned many IOUs from young Republicans for his campaigning, and he used this support to engineer a political resurrection unlike any other in American history. He earned the nomination of his party for the presidency in 1968 and, in another hard fought and narrowly decided election, defeated Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace in a three man race for the Oval Office. The Democratic Party was badly split by Lyndon Johnson=s conduct of the Vietnam War, by his subsequent announcement not to run for re-election, and by the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the younger brother of the assassinated president, while he campaigned for the Democratic Party nomination. Humphrey, a life-long and leading liberal in the party, won the nomination at a raucous and violent convention held in Chicago and, though he made up much ground by Election Day, fell short of the votes needed to win. Wallace ran as an independent and tried to run on the basis that, "There isn=t a dime=s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats.@ Wallace won the electoral votes of five southern states, the best third party showing since Roosevelt=s run with the Bull Moose Party in 1912. Most of Wallace=s votes seemed to suggest he had the ardent support only of southern segregationists.


In June of 1972, eager supporters of Nixon from his campaign committee, CREEP (Committee to Re-elect the President), broke into the Democratic Party (DNC) headquarters office, located in the Watergate Hotel, in Washington D.C. Though Nixon won a huge victory over McGovern, winning 49 states, questions remained as to the president=s role in the Watergate break-in. Eventually, the cover-up of the events surrounding the Athird rate@ burglary led to the resignation of Nixon from the presidency in 1974 amidst charges of obstruction of justice.

Watergate Hotel - Site of DNC Headquarters in Washington DC and location of burglary by members of CREEP Plumbers on June 17,1972.
Saturday Night Massacre -
October 20, 1973 President Nixon ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus refused to fire Cox, and resigned in protest.  Cox was fired and replaced by Leon Jaworski.  Jaworski later successfully argued to US Supreme Court (United States v. Nixon, 1974), 8-0, that Nixon should be forced to release his audiotapes, which led to Nixon's resignation in disgrace in August, 1974.
The 'Smoking Gun' - Nixon audiotape of June 21, 1972 in which Nixon and his aids are overheard discussing 'hush' money payments to Watergate burglars.
Deep Throat - White House source of Watergate information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  His name kept secret for years, Deep Throat was identified in 2005 by Woodward and Bernstein as FBI Deputy Director William Mark Felt, Sr.
CREEP - Committee to Re-Elect the President (Nixon) in 1972.
Plumbers - CREEP dirty tricksters who fumbled the Watergate Hotel break-in of DNC Headquarters, June 17, 1972.
Senate Select Committee - Senate committee that investigated the Watergate Hotel burglary. Chaired by Sam Ervin (D-North Carolina, 'Senator Sam') with Howard Baker of Tennessee as ranking Republican ('What did the President know, and when did he know it?').
John Sirica - District of Columbia Federal Judge who investigated Watergate break-in.


Tindall, Chapters 31-37


U. S. Foreign Policy

The Cold War AThaw@ Containment Brinkmanship Mutual Assured Destruction Detente AEvil Empire@ New World Order National Security Act of 1947 Department of Defense/Secretary of Defense Joint Chiefs of Staff/Chairman JCS Berlin Blockade Who Lost China? Korean War Truman Doctrine Marshall Plan George Kennan (Mr. X) John Foster Dulles Hungarian Revolution U-2 Incident Fidel Castro Bay of Pigs Cuban Missile Crisis Vietnam War Robert McNamara Henry Kissinger Ho Chi Minh Tet Offensive Khe Sanh Green Berets SALT I & II Vietnamization Arab-Israeli Conflict

U.S. Domestic Policy

Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Election of 1960 Assassination of John F. Kennedy Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy Civil Rights Movement Anti-War Movement SNCC Watergate Impeachment of Richard M. Nixon Saturday Night Massacre Plumbers CREEP John Sirica Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski Archibald Cox ADeep Throat@ Senate Select Committee Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward John Dean Obstruction of Justice


Who was the Chairman of the Senate Select committee on the Watergate Break-in?

Who was the architect of the philosophy of Containment?

Who was the architect of the philosophy of Brinkmanship?

Which U.S. presidency governed during the Vietnam War?

Whose headquarters did the Republicans attempt to break into at the Watergate Hotel?

Who expanded the Vietnam War to include the introduction of American ground combat troops into South Vietnam and American air attacks against North Vietnam?

Who won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Vietnam War?