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Early Cold War: 1945–1962



The early Cold War years after World War II were shaped by many changes. The Truman Doctrine, designed to contain communism, pledged American economic aid to nations resisting communism and positioned the United States as the leader of the free world. As the Soviet Union worked to expand communist influence and control, the United States developed the Marshall Plan to help Europe rebuild and formed NATO. A space race and arms race evolved as part of the Cold War on an international level. Domestically, American cities and landscapes changed with the passage of the Interstate Highway Act when superhighways were built to connect the country's coasts and major cities.

At A Glance

  • In May 1945 Churchill, Stalin, and Truman met in Potsdam, Germany, to finalize plans for dealing with Germany after its surrender.
  • The Allied forces agreed at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 to jointly occupy defeated Germany.
  • The purpose of the Truman Doctrine was to support faltering free countries who resisted communism.
  • The Marshall Plan was a program designed to help European countries rebuild after the destruction of World War II.
  • The Soviet Union blocked the Allied powers' access to Berlin. In response, the Allies organized the Berlin airlift.
  • As the Cold War intensified, the United States developed new foreign policies, including the domino theory, which became a foundation of American foreign policy.
  • U.S. foreign policy expanded to include the strategies of containment—preventing the spread of communism to noncommunist countries—and rollback—removing the communist presence from countries where it had already taken root.
  • To counter the growing Soviet threat, the United States began a strategy of collective defense.
  • The Korean War was fought between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies over the 38th parallel, the line dividing Soviet-supported North Korea and U.S.-supported South Korea.
  • Over a span of three years, U.N. forces led by the United States fought a series of battles against the Soviet and Chinese allies of North Korea, with neither side gaining the advantage. The armistice guaranteed the preservation of the 38th parallel but as a demilitarized zone.
  • The Interstate Highway Act created a federally funded superhighway system connecting America's cities and coasts.
  • The Interstate Highway Act had negative consequences, including an increase in smog and congestion and a decrease in the population of major cities.
  • The Cold War spawned a race in space technology and exploration between the Soviet Union and the United States.
  • The arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States quickly escalated and lasted until the end of the Cold War in 1991.
  • The Cuban missile crisis, a 1962 confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States over nuclear missiles, brought the two countries to the brink of a nuclear war.