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The Cold War (1945–1963)


Key People

key-people Key People

Allen Dulles

The director of the CIA under Eisenhower, who advocated extensive use of covert operations. Most notable among Dulles’s initiatives were U.S.-sponsored coups in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, which installed pro-American governments in order to curb potential expansion of Communism. Although Eisenhower favored such covert operations because they were relatively low-cost and attracted little attention, the coups in Iran and Guatemala proved rather transparent and caused international anger toward the United States.

John Foster Dulles

Secretary of state under Eisenhower (and brother of Allen Dulles) who helped devise Eisenhower’s New Look foreign policy. Dulles’s policy emphasized massive retaliation with nuclear weapons. In particular, Dulles advocated the use of nuclear weapons against Ho Chi Minh’s Communist forces in Vietnam.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

A World War II hero and former supreme commander of NATO who became U.S. president in 1953 after easily defeating Democratic opponent Adlai E. Stevenson. Eisenhower expanded New Deal–era social welfare programs such as Social Security and passed the landmark Federal Highway Act to improve national transportation. However, he cut back funding to other domestic programs to halt what he called “creeping socialism. His New Look at foreign policy, meanwhile, emphasized nuclear weapons and the threat of massive retaliation against the Soviet Union in order to cut costs and deter the USSR from spreading Communism abroad. Eisenhower committed federal dollars to fighting Communists in Vietnam, resolved the Suez crisis, and authorized CIA-sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala.

Ho Chi Minh

The nationalist, Communist leader of the Viet Minh movement, which sought to liberate Vietnam from French colonial rule throughout the 1950s. After being rebuffed by the United States, Ho received aid from the USSR and won a major victory over French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. This French defeat forced the Geneva Conference of 1954, which split Vietnam into Communist-dominated North Vietnam and French-backed South Vietnam.

John F. Kennedy

The thirty-fifth U.S. president, who set out to expand social welfare spending with his New Frontier program. Kennedy was elected in 1960, defeating Republican Richard M. Nixon. Feeling that their hands were tied by Eisenhower’s policy of “massive retaliation,” Kennedy and members of his foreign policy staff devised the tactic of “flexible response” to contain Communism. Kennedy sent “military advisors” to support Ngo Dinh Diem’s corrupt regime in South Vietnam and formed the Alliance for Progress to fight poverty and Communism in Latin America. He also backed the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, which ultimately led to the Cuban missile crisis. In 1963, after Kennedy had spent roughly 1,000 days in office, he was assassinated, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson took office.

Nikita Khrushchev

The head of the Soviet Communist Party and leader of the USSR from 1958 until the early 1960s. Initially, many Americans hoped Khrushchev’s rise to power would lead to a reduction in Cold War tensions. Khrushchev toured the United States in 1959 and visited personally with President Eisenhower at Camp David, Maryland. The U-2 incident and 1962Cuban missile crisis, however, ended what little amity existed between the two nations and repolarized the Cold War. Party leaders, upset with Khrushchev for having backed down from the Cuban missile crisis, removed him from power in 1964.

Douglas MacArthur

Five-star American general who commanded Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, MacArthur led the American occupation in Japan, helped establish a democratic government there, and in large part rewrote the country’s new constitution outlawing militarism. He later commanded United Nations forces in Korea, driving North Korean forces back north of the 38th parallel after making the brilliant Inchon landing. He ignored Chinese warnings not to approach the North Korean–Chinese border at the Yalu River, however, and was subsequently driven back down to the 38th parallel by more than a million Chinese troops. President Harry S Truman later rejected MacArthur’s request to bomb North Korea and China with nuclear weapons. MacArthur’s public criticism of the president’s decision prompted Truman to remove him from command in 1951.

Joseph McCarthy

Republican senator from Wisconsin who capitalized on Cold War fears of Communism in the early 1950s by accusing hundreds of government employees of being Communists and Soviet agents. Although McCarthy failed to offer any concrete evidence to prove these claims, many Americans fully supported him. He ruined his own reputation in 1954 after humiliating himself during the televised Army-McCarthy hearings. Disgraced, he received an official censure from the Senate and died an alcoholic in 1957.

Gamal Abdel Nasser

The nationalist, Communist-leaning president of Egypt who seized the British-controlled Suez Canal in 1956, after economic aid negotiations among Egypt, Great Britain, and the United States fell apart. Nasser’s action precipitated the Suez crisis, in which Eisenhower uncharacteristically backed the Communist-leaning Nasser and cut off all oil exports to Great Britain and France.

Richard M. Nixon

Republican congressman from California who rose to national fame as a prominent member of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the late 1940s when he successfully prosecuted Alger Hiss for being a Communist. Nixon later served as vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1961. He lost his own bid for the presidency against John F. Kennedy in 1960 but defeated his Democratic opponent eight years later and became president in 1969.

Harry S Truman

Vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt who became president upon Roosevelt’s death in April 1945 and successfully carried out the remainder of World War II. Truman was instrumental in creating a new international political and economic order after the war, helping to form the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. His Marshall Plan also helped Western Europe rebuild after the war and surpass its prewar levels of industrial production. Determined not to let the Soviet Union spread Communism, Truman adopted the idea of containment, announcing his own Truman Doctrine in 1947. His characterization of the Soviet Union as a force of “ungodly” evil helped shape the Cold War of the next four decades. He also led the nation into the Korean War but eventually fired General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination.

The Cold War (1945–1963): Popular pages