As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 111 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
The Cold War in the International Arena

Today, we leave our discussion of the two so-called "hot wars" of the 20th Century - World War I and World War II. For the next two weeks we will discuss the international and domestic effects of the so called "Cold War" era.   Broadly speaking, this period can be divided into 2 phases:

As we will see, each of these two phases included both cold and hot wars and these international crises, in turn, greatly influenced the domestic affairs of the United States.

The Cold War in the International Arena
Discussion Goals:

  1. To define the term Cold War and explain its various phases.
  2. To examine the Soviet and American actions that led to the Cold War.
  3. To study the significant foreign events of the first Cold War phase: the Berlin Blockade and Airlift, NATO, Chinese Civil War,  the Korean Conflict, and the Cuban Missle Crisis.
  4. To understand the buildup of what became known as the military industrial complex.

 Discussion Goal #1: Defining the Cold War

Within just one year after the end of WWII, the world's two most powerful nations - the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. - emerged as arch-adversaries, and in so doing, they shaped the postwar order.

Thus, began the Cold War - but just what was the Cold War?Cold War Cartoon

Common Belief - The Cold War was the postwar economic and ideological global rivalry between the United States and the Soviets during which each side fought - without engaging in declared military warfare - to reshape the world to conform to its own image.  Both sides used all their resources - short of a declared war against each other - to keep the other side from achieving its postwar goals.

In reality - During the 45 year-period of the Cold War, the Americans and Russians were involved in dozens of "hot wars" around the globe (Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, El Salvador, Honduras, etc.)  But because these were not wars in which the U.S. and Soviets were officially at war with one another, each nation could use the Cold War rhetoric to justify their involvement elsewhere.

Thus, the Cold War witnessed a political, social, economic, and military rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union - a rivalry that dramatically affected American foreign policy as well as American domestic policy. Or as Eric Foner tells us, the Cold War "was a world wide struggle over the future of freedom."

Discussion Goal #2: Soviet and U.S. Actions contributing to the Cold War

Map of Soviet Union and surrounding countries

Soviet Actions Contributing to the Cold War

American Actions Contributing to the Cold War

Discussion Goal #3: Discuss the Significant Foreign Events of the First Cold War Phase,


Discussion Goal #4: To understand the buildup of what became known as the military industrial complex

Cartoon about the Military Industrial Comples

In his January 1961 Farewell Address to the nation, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the American people about the evolution of what he called the "military-industrial complex." He explained that the American defense establishment since World War II had dramatically changed. He continued by saying that ...

In essence, Eisenhower was telling the American people that we had developed a large and powerful defense establishment - a military industrial complex - which comprised an informal alliance of the arms industry, military officers, and members of Congress that could greatly influence government policy. He feared that this informal alliance would lead the country to building unnecessary weapons. This military-industrial complex might inappropriately shape national priorities and dictate the direction of American foreign policy. Thus, he was warning the American people to not let the military-industrial establishment dictate America's actions at home or abroad because such unchecked power would begin to take away the freedoms found in the institutions and principles it was designed to protect.

A Final Note about War - Declared and Undeclared Wars in U.S. History

Chart of declared and undeclared wars throughout U.S. history

The Cold War in the International Arena

  1. The U.S. consciously decided to become involved in a global struggle to contain communism and foster democracy and capitalism in war-torn Europe.  The  Containment policy began with suppressing economic and ideological factors favorable to communism and, after Korea, was broadened to include supporting military frontiers behind which communismís spread would be discouraged.
  2. The U.S. adopted new a foreign policy - collective security - in which the nation became involved in defense pacts with other countries that shared mutual defense interests with Americans.
  3. The U.S. consciously promoted a military industrial complex not only within America, but overseas. 
  4. By the 1960s, the US had military bases on every continent.
  5. The U.S. consciously embarked upon a nuclear arms race with the Soviets.
  6. The Korean War marked an important transition in foreign policy by helping to make the US into a national security state. After the war, the US emerged as the most powerful military in the world, with the largest military budget in the world, and with a highly-organized and mighty national security apparatus in place.
  7. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the US closer to a nuclear war than any other confrontation before or sense. There are two very important sides to this crisis, not just the American side.
  8. These Cold War  foreign policies encouraged the growth of anti-communist hysteria within the borders of the US.  Thus, Cold War foreign policies dramatically influenced Cold War domestic policies.