Howdid the Cold War shape the American economy, society and politics from 1945 to1992? TheCold War between the United States and the Soviet Union emerged and developedafter World War II, though its origins go back in history to the BolshevikRevolution in 1917. The Cold War was an ideological, economic, political andmilitary confrontation, but it never actually was fought between these twonations on a battlefield. It was a war of tensions and hostilities where thebelligerents engaged each other around the world but avoided direct conflictbecause of the dire consequences of such actions.
As the Cold Warprogressed until the collapse of the Soviet Union, it had significant impact onthe American society, economy, and politics. The Cold War prompted stronganti-communism within the American society. The hatred towards Communism was sogreat that it eventually led to McCarthyism. During McCarthyism,Americans were obsessed with the process of identifying the Communists andremoving those Communists from American society. The purpose of organizationssuch as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the House Un-AmericanActivities(HUAC) became the ‘removalof Communists’ and laws such as the Communist Control Act were passed toidentify, capture and remove Communists. The McCarran Act was also introduced,which forced all Communist organizations to be registered within the USgovernment and banned Communists from carrying US passports and working in the defenseindustry.
Many were questioned without having done anything wrong, many losttheir jobs and some even lost their lives. This red scare, which was the fear of communist rebellion, continued to leadAmerican society up until the late 1950s. The Cold War also made many Americansfearful of war. This fear of war was prompted by the arms race. One example is theCubanMissile Crisis, which caused high tension within the USA. It was a13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union involvingAmerican ballistic missile deployment in Italy and Turkey with resulting Sovietballistic missile deployment in Cuba.
NikitaKhrushchev began toship ballistic missiles to Cuba and technicians to operate them. After discussingwith his foreign policy and military advisers, Kennedy blockaded Cuba onOctober 22, 1962. The two sides stood on the edge of nuclear war, butKhrushchev surrendered six days later and the missiles were dismantled. Inreturn, Kennedy dispersed its own missile sites in Turkey. Apart from Cubanmissile crisis, Americans lived in constant fear as the Cold War could turninto a hot war at any time. TheCold War affected many aspects of American social and cultural life, from thecivil rights movement to survivalism, from Hollywood to American universities.
The Cold War also had an impact on theAmerican people economically. The United States used to adopt isolationismpreviously, meaning that the USA did not intervene in any other foreign mattersto only concentrate on the domestic issues. As soon as the USA decided tointervene in foreign matters, Americans had to pay more taxes to support theUSA’s actions.
These actions, including the arms race and other wars, requiredmassive amount of capital. For instance, the Vietnam War was one ofthe factors that used up massive amount of capital. American involvement inVietnam dated back to the end of World War II, when Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamesenationalist, asked for American support for Vietnam’s independence. The USrebuffed the Vietnamese leader at that time and went on during the late 1940sand early 1950s to provide military aid to the French government to reassertits authority over Vietnam, which it had colonized almost a hundred yearsearlier. In the wake ofthe Cold War, Americans felt it was their patriotic duty to buy consumer goodsto help the economy grow. In turn, the U.S. became the world’s dominanteconomic power and continues to be so today.
This “Consumer culturedemonstrated the superiority of the American way of life to communism andvirtually redefined the nation’s historic mission to extend freedom to othercountries” (Foner 878). The United States used its economic might as a weaponagainst the Soviets in the Cold War. In the 1980s, President Reagan helpedstimulate massive economic growth with his tax cuts and deregulation. In thewindfall, federal tax revenue increased dramatically as the economy grew.President Reagan directed much of this money to military spending. Much of thiswent to the lofty Strategic Defense Initiative and to military aid for Americanallies all over the world (Foner 991).
In response, the Soviets felt obligatedto increase their military spending and eventually went bankrupt trying to keepup with the Americans. To try and prevent collapse Soviet Premier Gorbachevattempted to reinvent his country’s brand of communism introducing reforms andopenness known as perestroika and glasnost. A domino effect of these policiesspread across Eastern Europe. Within six years the Soviet empire haddisintegrated and the Cold War was over.