To what extent was American foreign policy successful in containing communism between the years 1945-1970?

The United States was a phenomenal success at containing communism after 1945, as long as one considers success as not falling to communism itself. I maintain, however, that the measure of success we should expect is the quarantine of communism to its’ component initial member, the Soviet Union. But in the years after World War II to the age of the Nixon presidency, the US failed to stop the expansion of communism to any efficiency. The whole of Eastern Europe fell to communism. The most populous nation on Earth, China, also went communist indirectly taking with it N. Korea and Vietnam, and making the countries of Cambodia and Laos quasi-communist. The United States even gained a communist satellite 90 miles out of its’ boundaries, Cuba. It is clear that American foreign policy with its’ banner of containment was a miserable failure. 

    Soviet aggression in Greece and Turkey was the first major event that would force America to react to Soviet activity. In 1947, Truman met this aggression with the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine, delivered to a joint session of Congress, was basically an open pact to any group willing to stand against communism, guaranteeing them military and financial aid. This was the beginning of American efforts at containment, a concept dreamed up by State Dept. member George Frost Kennan. This is also the beginning of an embarrassing an unprecedented series of foreign policy blunders on the part of the United States. The Truman Doctrine would later be used to “justify” shady actions in Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. 

    American containment was backed up by earlier efforts to consolidate the Western democratic powers against the spread of Red. The United Nations was the first materialization of this in 1945. The second, and perhaps most dramatic, was the call to arms by Britain’s moral saint, Winston Churchill. He gave a speech in 1946 encouraging active endeavors to curb communism, and avoid a third world war. He spoke of an “Iron Curtain,” the dangerous separation of East and West Europe where no one could see in or out. This mentality contributed greatly to the paranoia of the Cold War. The United States also promoted and joined NATO; a big step toward deterring communist expansion came in 1949. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as it stood for, was comprised of the major W. European powers and the United States. The treaty provided for collective defense of the member nations, and considered an attack against one an attack against all. This also provided a presidential loophole for military intervention by America in any foreign struggle without Congress declaring war (i.e. Korea, Vietnam, Bay of Pigs). Unfortunately, this backfired, and instead of deterring communist expansion, forced a paranoid Soviet Union to flex its’ muscles. In 1955, to counter the NATO buildup, the USSR formed an equally conglomerate alliance with Eastern European nations. The Warsaw Pact, as it was known, shrouded virtually all of Eastern Europe in the Iron Curtain. Poland, Bulgaria, E. Germany, Romania, and many others were now no more than puppet nations held by the Grand Puppeteer, Russia. In one fell swoop the Soviet Union gained almost as much land as Napoleon or Hitler; but without a war. America’s idea of a united effort at the containment of Communism had boomeranged into a united expansion of communism.

    The end of World War II brought the redrawing of boundaries all over the world. Korea, conquered by Japan during the war, was divided at the 38th parallel then given to the USSR in the north and the US in the south. The Soviets pulled out of N. Korea in 1950, leaving a communist regime behind. That regime, funded and equipped by The Peoples Republic of China, invaded S. Korea. The United Nations (led, of course, by the United States) raised an army to restore peace and expel the aggressors. The “conflict” lasted three years and victory changed hands twice before the bloodied United States established a cease-fire zone on the familiar 38th parallel. Some might say that communism in this case was successfully contained, however, the loss of 53,000 American lives in a fruitless attempt to topple a regime is hardly a victory. 

    A similar yet more gruesome failure of the United States would materialize in Vietnam. Vietnam declared independence from France in 1945, which the French did not recognize. A war broke and after 8 years of fighting the decision came in 1954 to split the country in two, North Vietnam being Communist and South Vietnam led by the Vietnamese who supported the French. Diem, the South Vietnamese leader was assassinated in 1963, causing the U.S. to send over American troops to try to support the non-Communist regime in the South, in accordance with the Truman Doctrine. The consequent struggle would prove to be the most agonizing and long defeat of the American military in history. Fighting a traditional war in a guerrilla setting and the insistence that we could win the war without popular support of the South Vietnamese were two key elements of our failure. The United States suffered 68,000 dead along with 400,000 S. Vietnamese allies. It was 1973 when we first started to withdraw our troops, and in 1976, all of Vietnam came under rule by the Communist North. Later, Vietnam would occupy Laos and Cambodia in part of an Asian Soviet bloc.

    The expansion of communism to the chagrin of the United States was not over, even after the Korean Conflict and the establishment of the Warsaw Pact. In 1959, the government of Cuba fell to the charismatic Fidel Castro and his regime. The establishment of communism less than 100 miles outside of the United States was achieved by a rag-tag band of guerrilla warriors. The American machine of democracy was unwilling or unprepared to stop this, either for fear of judgment from the international community or of the shortsightedness caused by a general distaste for Cuba’s previous Batista government. This would later come back to haunt them, in both the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    The United States government, realizing the problem Castro’s Cuba could be, planned a literal exertion of the Truman Doctrine. The Bay of Pigs was initiated and “organized” by the late Eisenhower administration. When JFK came into office, the plan seemed rather an attractive display of power to the new administration. Although the plans themselves were not fully organized and the timeframe was horrible, JFK through the CIA ordered the execution of the operation. On Apr. 17, 1961, an armed force of about 1,500 Cuban exiles landed in the Bay of Pigs. The plan backfired as the exiles were ambushed and gunned down mercilessly; American air support never arrived. Containment was dashed once again.

    A year later, the “chilliest” moment of the Cold War broke out, again in communist Cuba. The Soviet Union had made a deal with Fidel Castro to place nuclear weapons on the island of Cuba. These missiles gave the Soviet Union the chance to hit American targets without an air offensive. The range of these missiles was 3,000 miles, enough to demolish all the eastern seaboard of the US, Washington DC, Dallas, Miami, and Houston. Only after a U2 flight over the island captured the Soviets in the midst of building silos was the United States aware of these proceedings. On October 22, JFK announced a “quarantine” (blockade) of Cuba, and said that any further attempts to arm Cuba would be an act of war requiring a full retaliatory strike of the US nuclear arsenal. This was the closest the world had ever come to the much-speculated Dooms Day. “Assured Mutual Annihilation,” as it was known formally by the Pentagon, was some say no more than 6 minutes from materialization at the height of the Crisis. On October 28, Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev “backed down” from the crisis and removed the silos from Cuba. Later revelation revealed that Khrushchev didn’t so much back down as he had made a deal. The United States secretly agreed to take out similarly installed Jupiter missiles from Turkey for the exchanged removal of Cuban silos. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a propaganda victory for the United States and an undisclosed blow to containment.

    Some may contend that since the Soviet Union ultimately fell, the policy of containment was successful. This is an overly generous statement. The Soviet Union fell under its own weight; its’ robust military expenditures, and the cost of administering to such a large country could not be sustained, and the Union was lost in bankruptcy. Even though 1989 marked the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union is still not completely dead. Russian “President” Putin has strong socialist leanings and, today, most eastern European countries, (Albania, Romania, Hungary, Germany, and others) have active and moderately strong socialist/communist parties. As another symbol of the United States failures to contain communism, nations aside from those under the Soviet bloc remain to this day. Vietnam, Laos, North Korea, Cuba, and China (1.3 billion Red Chinese strong) are still completely Communist nations. Not only was American containment in the height of the Cold War a failure, but its’ failures can be seen to this day.


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