APUSH Essay Prep Unit IX: Cold War

We got only got five essay prompts for this unit.

(1) Analyze the impact of TWO of the following on Soviet-American relations in the decade following the Second World War, 1945-1955.

The Yalta Conference    Communist Revolution in China

Korean War    McCarthyism

Synthesis: US-Soviet relations were never good to begin with. Then, with the Cold War came the Red Scare and America’s refusal to recognise the USSR as a legitimate nation. Then, in 1933, President Roosevelt ended this non-recognition in hopes of bettering the US’s economic situation during the Great Depression.

Contextualisation: You can use the Communist Revolution in China and how that excited more fears of communist expansion and power.

  • American efforts to prevent a civil war in China and the expansion of communism failed.
  • In 1949 the Communists won the battle against the Nationalists and Mao Zedong declared the existence of the People’s Republic of China, showing how he would align the country with the Soviet Union.
  • On February 15, 1950 a treaty of alliance between the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union was signed. It was called the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance. – The Soviet Union recognised the People’s Republic of China while the United States did not as easily want to recognise the new regime.
  • The Communist Revolution in China affected Soviet-American relations seeing as though there was another communist world power when America was trying to obstruct the expansion of communism


Yalta Conference —

  • Stalin wanted postwar economic assistance for Russia and British and U.S. recognition of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. Churchill wanted the protection of the British Empire but also clarify what would happen to Germany after the war. The United States wanted an agreement on the United Nations and Soviet agreement to enter the war on the Pacific Theatre after Hitler was defeated.
    • Churchill and Roosevelt promised the Soviet Union concessions in Manchuria and the territories it had lost in the Russo-Japanese War.
    • They also accepted Stalin’s pledge to include pro-westerners in the new Polish government and to allow elections as soon as possible. (in reality, Stalin installed a pro-communist regime and brutally subdued the anti-communist Poles)
  • The outcome of the Yalta conference did not satisfy all three leaders. None were able to reach an agreement on the future of Germany, but Stalin vowed to declare war on Japan after Germany’s surrender.
  • After Germany was defeated, Truman grew tired of waiting for the Russians to allow free elections in Poland and threatened to cut off lend-and-lease aid; on the other hand, Stalin strengthened his grip on Eastern Europe, ignoring the promises he made at Yalta.
  • The Yalta Conference brought to light the issue of postwar Poland. The Poland issue created mistrust and animosity between the Soviet Union and the United States. Roosevelt was later accused of “giving away” Eastern Europe to Stalin. (Very important)
  • The lack of peaceful agreements that satisfied all three Allied leaders during the Second World War led to Soviet-American relations suffering, which would eventually lead to the Cold War.

Korean War —

  • After WWII, U.S. and the Soviet Union temporarily divided Korea.
  • America supported South Korea and the Soviet Union supported North Korea; both wanting the sole right to rule all of Korea.
  • North Korean troops attacked South Korea, so Truman fought back seeing the attack as a Soviet test of U.S. will and containment
  • Truman did not want to be accused of “selling out” Eastern Europe as FDR had been before. He needed to stand up to the Russians and prevent the spread of communism.
  • As U.N. forces were crossing the 38th parallel, the Chinese intervened and at the end of the war, Korea had the same boundary as before. The war caused 800,000 Chinese casualties, more than 50,000 American lives along with thousands of U.N. troops, and the death of millions of Koreans.
  • The Korean War further showed how the United States had a commitment to prevent the spread of communism, further angering the Russians and causing American-Soviet relations to worsen.
  • Added “fuel to the fire” during the Cold War

(2) Analyze the successes and failures of the United States Cold War policy of containment as it developed in TWO of the following regions of the world during the period 1945 to 1975.

Southeast Asia    Europe    Middle East    Latin America

Synthesis: Wilson’s “Make the world safe for democracy” and “end all wars” in WW1→ failure due to idealism

Contextualisation: The failure to contain Communism was accompanied by a growing fear and suspicion of Communism within the nation, which eventually led to the McCarthyism and the Red Scare, where many, especially those working in government offices, were accused of being Communists.


Europe —

  • Stalin broke the promise he made at the Yalta Conference of 1945 that he would let Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria have democratic elections by establishing Communist governments in all three. This was the beginning of tensions between the USSR and the US through the lens of communism and democracy.
  • There was an “Iron Curtain” as termed by Churchill which divided Europe in two
  • We joined the UN in 1945 to be active in world affairs, especially to combat Communism
  • In the Truman Doctrine of 1947, it was established that the United States would support democracies in order to deter the Communism that the Soviet Union was spreading in Europe. Although it began by referring only to Greece and Turkey, it was later accepted generally and became the basis for the American containment policy.
  • The Marshall Plan (1948) later passed to help economies of countries in Europe in order to fend off the Soviet Union’s potential attempts to spread Communism
  • We believed that a European country with a stronger economy was less likely to fall under the communist pressures exerted by the USSR
  • There were two Germanys divided both physically as well as ideologically, which was made a physical division by the Berlin Wall in 1961; the West was democratic and had American support
    • Blockade and airlift
      • “The Berlin Blockade was an attempt in 1948 by the Soviet Union to limit the ability of France, Great Britain and the United States to travel to their sectors of Berlin, which lay within Russian-occupied East Germany.”
      • US Response: “Berlin airlift, 1948–49, supply of vital necessities to West Berlin by air transport primarily under U.S. auspices. It was initiated in response to a land and water blockade of the city that had been instituted by the Soviet Union in the hope that the Allies would be forced to abandon West Berlin.”
    • Led to NATO to establish collective security
  • We signed NATO in 1949 with Canada, Great Britain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Portugal
    • Greece, Turkey, and West Germany later joined
    • The alliance successfully strengthened defences against the Soviet Union
    • Strengthened our security and prevented us from reverting to being isolationist
    • Therefore, it was a success

Southeast Asia —

  • Much of SE Asia was becoming Communist-for example, Mao Zedong led the Chinese Revolution and turned it “red”. As Communism grew, we became more and more vigilant and anxious to deter it.
    • We sent the Nationalists 2 billion dollars to support their cause
    • No avail
  • We demilitarised/disarmed Japan
  • Korean War
    • Americans saw the North Korean attack as a Communist campaign that could continue all over the world, and thought to help to fight against them was to prevent the spread of Communism
    • “If we let Korea down, the Soviet[s] will keep right on going and swallow up one [place] after another.” –President Truman
    • Our war aims were that we wanted to free North Korea of Communism as well
    • In the end, there we were not able to make any gains for South Korea and the communist North stayed communist, and there was status antebellum, but we did succeed in stopping possible spread of communism from North Korea at the expense of countless lives
  • Vietnam War
    • North Vietnam was Communist, unlike South Vietnam, and so we entered on the side of the South
    • Domino Theory
    • Involvement seemed logical and there did not seem to be any reason to think we could not “win”. That we did not was a consequence of overestimating what U.S. power could accomplish and underestimating the will of the Vietnamese communists.
    • Was generally unpopular among the public, and we withdrew troops in 1973 (effectively surrendering)
    • 58,000 Americans were killed and South Vietnam lost, so the Communist North Korea (with support of the Viet Cong) took over and united Vietnam
    • Was a failure

Analysis —

  • There were better results in Europe than in Southeast Asia: rather than losing innumerable lives only to bear little fruit, we strengthened ties with other democracies and supported them so that USSR efforts would not be effective.
  • In Southeast Asia, there was more violence involved whereas European dealings are mostly treaties, agreements, and support networks (though there were still some conflicts). In both major wars in Southeast Asia, we did not emerge as clear winners although the loss of life and other costs were enormous.
  • In Southeast Asia, we overestimated our military power
  • For these reasons, it can be said that we succeeded in our policy of containment in Europe but failed in Southeast Asia

(3) While the U.S. appeared to be dominated by consensus and conformity in the 1950’s, some Americans reacted against the status quo. Analyze the critiques of U.S. society made by TWO of the following:

Youth    Civil Rights Activists    Intellectuals

Synthesis: U.S. dominated by consensus due to prosperity during the 1920s but some Americans reacted against status quo by criticising America’s materialism (“Lost Generation”).

Contextualisation: Intellectuals rebelling against society (i.e.: Rachel Carson in “Silent Spring”). Until publication, few Americans knew about effects of pesticides on humans, plants, animals, etc and how they poisoned the environment. It warned of the dangers to all natural systems and questioned the direction of modern science.

Civil Rights Activists —

  • Jackie Robinson (first black MLB player) broke race barrier and triumphed despite racial abuse.
  • Truman, pressured by African-American supporters, ordered Executive Order 9981 which banned racial discrimination in the military and thus went against “Solid South’s” insistence on white supremacy.
  • Activists demanded perm FEPC (Fair Employment Practices Commission), outlawing of lynching, and poll tax
  • The FEPC was established in 1941 to enforce the order signed by Franklin Roosevelt that banned “discrimination in the employment of workers in defence industries or government because of race, creed, colour, or national origin.”
  • Thurgood Marshall helped end segregation in schools as Supreme Court ruled “separate but equal” (Plessy v Ferguson) unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. began civil rights crusade and advocated for justice but through nonviolent means in order to demonstrate evils of racism.
  • African Americans followed Dr. King and Rosa Park’s lead and boycotted segregated Montgomery buses and Supreme Court agreed by outlawing segregation on buses.

Youth —

  • Juvenile delinquency skyrocketed and embraced other “scandalous” activities like rock n’ roll.
  • Yet youth continued to listen to music and rock n’ roll sales skyrocketed thanks to the rise of Elvis Presley.
    • Rock and roll music dropped allusions to ideas such as disobedience and crime and was met with much opposition from older generations, calling the genre anything from “a plot to corrupt the youth” to “the devil’s music”
  • Beats (nonconformist writers) expressed revolt against middle-class society by scorning materialism and conformity.
  • Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road showed disdain towards the conformity and materialism seen in the United States. They mocked the “square” America.
  • Students protested capital punishment and demonstrated against HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee). Others decried nuclear-arms race. (i.e.: in ’58-59, thousands participated in Youth Marches for Integrated Schools in Washington).
  • Salinger wrote “Catcher in the Rye”, a prominent book that was controversial due to it involving vulgar language, discussing sexuality in an open way, etc and thus sparked debate over censorship. However, it was applauded for showing a teenager’s alienation from the world and thus many saw Holden as a symbol of pure individuality in face of conformity imposed by society.

Because this is a complex theme, I will break away from the usual points system and just provide context and events in which case you need to determine what you need to write your essay.

(4) How do you account for the appeal of McCarthyism in the United States in the era following the Second World War?

Synthesis: First Red Scare

Contextualisation: Around the same time (the 1950s), a new wave of feminist and (especially) civil rights movements were starting to build. The US economy was the largest in the world. Communism also means fewer economic opportunities for the US which would limit capitalism expansion and many people were resentful because of that.


  • Origins
    • Red Scare
      • Reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution in the USSR and the emergence of Communism
      • Suspicions of leftist movements b/c of labor unrest, bombings attributed to unions and anarchists, and the incoming immigrants with socialist and anarchist ideas
      • Resulted in “aggressive Justice Department investigations, severe violations of civil liberties [Espionage and Sedition Acts], mass arrests and deportations, and several high-profile convictions”
  • Key Perpetrators
    • Dems vs Repubs
      • Dems have been in power for over a decade under FDR and the Repubs tried to link his New Deal with communist ideas while Dems fired back that the Repubs were linked with fascism. But during 1946 midterm elections, fascism is no longer a threat and by “red-baiting”, the Repubs managed to start winning back seats in Congress and also in the White House
    • FBI Under pressure for being soft on Communism, Prez Truman initiated a loyalty review program that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover presided over. With strong anti-communist views and loose standards of evidence, many people were accused without sufficient evidence. Hoover’s insistence on keeping sources secret meant that there was no way to verify the integrity of accusations and many didn’t know what they were being accused of or by whom. This apparent abundance of Communist sympathisers in the gov’t only fed into the fear of a Communist takeover of America.
    • HUAC (House Un-American Committee) conducted an investigation into Hollywood to see if their films secretly endorse communist ideas. The Hollywood elites have been supporting liberal policies and this was a way for conservatives to discredit them. Ten were singled out for resisting investigation by HUAC and tried before the House (the Hollywood Ten). All ten of them were cited for contempt of Congress and were either fired or suspended without pay (effectively blacklisted from Hollywood) by their company and jailed for one year.
      • This sort of attack on media figures saw the arrest of many writers, broadcast journalists, musicians, actors etc later on. It only intensified with the advent of Red Channels, a rightwing journal, that listed names of entertainers that were supposingly Communist. Red Channels had a lot of influence. People who were named lost their jobs and no one dared to hire them.
    • Sen. Richard Nixon Played a large role in the Alger Hiss Trial that helped reinstate the Republican majority in Congress that they had lost by 1948. The trial involved a gov’t official named Alger Hiss whose work primarily concerned liberal causes. A guy named Whittaker Chambers accused him of being a Communist. The HUAC held a hearing for Hiss and was satisfied with his presentation but Nixon pushed for deeper investigation. Information afterwards came out that Hiss had copies of official papers and in a later court case, he was convicted, giving Nixon and the Republican agenda a huge boost. With the success of the Alger Hiss Trial, Republicans pressured Truman and other Democrat officials into cracking down on communist sympathisers in the gov’t and suggested that Democrats were in league with Communists
    • Sen. Joseph McCarthy McCarthy gave his fateful speech Feb 9th 1950, where he claimed to have over 200 names of people who were “bad risks” working in the State Dept. When the gov’t denied such charges and demanded to see McCarthy’s source, McCarthy told them that he would let them see his list of names if they opened their loyalty files. In reality, he had an outdated list of names from previous investigations that were already known to the public but the public ate it up and bought into it, really believing that the State Dept had been filled with Communists. He used more outdated, biased and outright made-up information to sway people to his side and used his influence and his all-powerful list of names to get himself and his party more power by accusing more people. The media gobbled it up and printed headlines. This continued for four years.
      • Both Nixon and McCarthy were paranoid and insecure. They loved power and was very afraid that someone would take it away from them. These attributes would be part of the reason why they were driven to do all this.
  • Outside Threat
  • The military threat of the USSR along with the hostility between the US and the USSR meant that war had to be prepared for and the shoring up of the military, as a result, threatened the US
  • The takeover of western Europe by the USSR meant that people were disillusioned about the result of WWII, that is, the freeing of the people of Europe and this made people angry and afraid at the same time
  • The news of Russian spies surfaced (eg Elizabeth Bentley, who gave American intel to the USSR about Germany & Claus Fuchs, who leaked details of the Manhattan Project which helped to make the USSR a nuclear nation) to obvious result
  • Within months, the USSR successfully tested an atomic bomb (Aug 1949), the Chinese communists won their Civil War, forcing the (US-backed) Guomindang into modern Taiwan and instituted a communist gov’t in China (late 1949) and communist North Korea invaded South Korea (June 1950).
  • People feared the worst, that communism was spreading and can threaten their “democracy” or worse, their capitalism and contributed to the appeal of McCarthyism by giving them a physical enemy in front of them that they can accuse and attack for why Communism is spreading
  • Political Gain
    • The Republican party, though not as severe or flippant as McCarthy, nevertheless did nothing to stop his tirade. They allowed McCarthy to do their dirty work for them and they themselves took the high road and benefitted from the political gain.
    • The Democrats had both the presidency and Congress since 1930 and Republicans wanted a way to weaken them so the best way at the time was to sow suspicions that their more liberal policies meant that they sympathised with Communists.
    • This also gave Republicans the ground to attack progressive policies like the New Deal and connected them to Communism, also Truman’s various internal improvement plans were struck down in the same way

Summary: Basically, this threat of accusation was all-pervasive and God help you if you get accused and named in the Red Channels because your reputation will be ruined and no one will listen to you even if you don’t get convicted by the HUAC. The Republican Party used this to intimidate and discredit their opponents and one of the ways you can get immunity is to name more names. Any protestation against the govt was seen as being traitorous and if anyone dared propose reforms, then they were communistically-inclined and would be under suspicion and possibly accused. No one knew if and when their name would come up and no one knew who they could trust… Sounds Stalinesque, doesn’t it?

(5) Compare and contrast United States foreign policy after the First World War and after the Second World War. Consider the periods 1919-1928 and 1945-1950. 

Not much to compare so I chose to just say straight out that foreign policy changed a lot between the two time periods and focused on the changes.

Synthesis: George Washington’s Farewell Address establishes the precedent of remaining neutral and staying out of world affairs, isolationists who advocated for staying neutral after WWI supported this

Contextualisation: The Red Scare after WWI and McCarthyism after WWII – people became more increasingly afraid of communism and believed that the US had to intervene as a “policy of containment”, similar to the fear of foreign ideas during WWI


After WWI — 

  • Neutrality and Isolationism during the 20s and 30s – Americans had felt like WWI had been a mistake
  • International financing (Dawes and Young Plan for Germany)
  • Washington Naval Conference with Japan, Great Britain and France and Italy- an attempt to keep some power since the US was not part of the League of Nations
  • Kellogg-Briand Pact – wanted US help if Germany attacked France but the US didn’t want that. This act took 60 nations to not turn to war as a solution.

After WWII —

  • US becomes more involved in world affairs after WWII – as the founding member of the UN and participating in the Yalta Conference
  • More aggressive and intrusive
  • Truman Doctrine – the US would provide political, military, and economic assistance to other democratic countries that were threatened by communism
  • Cold War, Korean War – US supports democracy and comes to South Korea’s aid when North Korea invades (The US is an interventionist)
  • Marshall Plan (European Recovery Program)-try to keep countries from falling to Communism

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