Hi, I'm John Green, this is Crash Course, U.S. history, and today we're going to talk about the Cold War. The Cold War is called cold because it supposedly never heated up into actual armed conflict, which means, you know, that it wasn't a war.
Mr. Green. Mr. Green. But if the war on Christmas is a war in the war on drugs is a war, you're not going to hear me say this often in your life, me from the past.
But that was a good point. At least the Cold War was not an attempt to make war on a noun, which almost never works because nouns are so resilient. And to be fair, the Cold War did involve quite a lot of actual war from Korea to Afghanistan as the world's two superpowers, the United States and the USSR sought ideological and strategic influence throughout the world. So perhaps it's best to think of the Cold War as an era lasting roughly from 1945 to 1990.
Discussions of the Cold War tend to center on international and political history. And those are very important, which is why we've talked about them in the past. This, however, is United States history. So let us heroically gaze, as Americans so often do at our own naval.
Stan, why did you turn the globe to the green parts of not America? I mean, I guess to be fair, we were a little bit obsessed with this guy. So the Cold War gave us great spy novels, independence movements, an arms race, cool movies like Dr. Strangelove and war games, one of the most evil mustaches in history. But it also gave us a growing awareness that the greatest existential threat to human beings is ourselves. It changed the way we imagined the world and humanity's role in it.
And his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, William Faulkner famously said, Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question, when will I be blown up? So today we're going to look at how that came to be the dominant question of human existence and whether we can ever get past it.
So after World War Two, the U.S. and the USSR were the only two nations with any power with the United States was a lot stronger. We had atomic weapons, for starters. And also the Soviets had lost 20 million people in the war and they were led by a sociopathic, mustachioed Joseph Stalin.
But the US still had worries. We needed a strong, free market oriented Europe and to a lesser extent, Asia, so that all the goods we were making could find happy homes. The Soviets, meanwhile, were concerned with something more immediate a powerful Germany invading them again, Germany. And please do not take this personally. Germans was very, very slow to learn the central lesson of world history. Do not invade Russia unless you're the Mongols.
So at the end of World War Two, the USSR encouraged the creation of pro communist governments in Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, which was a relatively easy thing to encourage because those nations were occupied by Soviet troops. The idea for the Soviets was to create a communist buffer between them and Germany. But to the US it looked like communism might just keep expanding. And that would be really bad for us because who would buy all of our sweet, sweet industrial goods?
So America responded with the policy of containment as introduced in diplomat George F. Kennedy's famous long telegram.
Communism could stay where it was, but it would not be allowed to spread.
And ultimately, this is why we fought very real wars in both Korea and Vietnam. As a government report from 1950 put it, the goals of containment were one block further expansion of Soviet power to expose the falsities of Soviet pretensions. Three induce a retraction of the Kremlin's control and influence and for in general, foster the seeds of destruction within the Soviet system. Harry Truman, who, as you'll recall, became president in 1945 after Franklin Delano Prez's for life Roosevelt died, was a big fan of containment.
And the first real test of it came in Greece and Turkey in nineteen forty seven. This was a very strategically valuable region because it was near the Middle East. And I don't know if you've noticed this, but the United States has been just a smidge interested in the Middle East for the last several decades because of oil, glorious oil.
Right. So Truman announced the so-called Truman Doctrine because, you know, why not name a doctrine after yourself in which he pledged to support, quote, freedom loving peoples against communist threats, which is all fine and good, but who will protect us against peoples, the pluralization of an already plural?
Now, anyway, we eventually sent 400 million dollars in aid to Greece and Turkey and we were off to the Cold War RAICES. The Truman Doctrine created the language through which Americans would view the world with America as free and communists as tyrannical.
According to our old friend Eric Foner, the speech set of precedent for American assistance to anti-communist regimes throughout the world, no matter how undemocratic, and for the creation of a set of global military alliances directed against the Soviet Union. It also led to the creation of a new security apparatus the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, all of which were somewhat immune from government oversight and definitely not democratically elected. And the containment policy in the Truman Doctrine also laid the foundations for a military buildup, an arms race which would become a key feature of the Cold War.
But it wasn't all about the military, at least at first. Like the Marshall Plan was first introduced at Harvard's commencement address in June 1947 by Get this, George Marshall in what turned out to be like the second most important commencement address in all of American history.
Yes. Yes, Stan, OK, it was a great speech. Thank you for noticing. All right.
Let's go to the thought bubble. The Marshall Plan was a response to economic chaos in Europe, brought on by a particularly harsh winter that strengthened support for communism in France and Italy.
The plan sought to use U.S. aid to combat the economic instability that provided fertile field for communism. As Marshall said, our policy is not directed against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Basically, it was a new deal for Europe and it worked. Western Europe was rebuilt so that by 1950, production levels and industry had eclipsed pre-war levels in Europe was on its way to becoming a US style capitalist mass consumer society, which it still is kind of Japan, although not technically part of the Marshall Plan was also rebuilt.
General Douglas MacArthur was basically the dictator there, forcing Japan to adopt a new constitution, giving women the vote and pledging that Japan would forswear war in exchange for which the United States effectively became Japan's defence force. This allowed Japan to spend its money on other things like industry, which worked out really well for them.
Meanwhile, Germany was experiencing the first brewing crisis at the end of the war. Germany was divided into east and west, and even though the capital, Berlin, was entirely in the east, it was also divided into east and west. This meant that West Berlin was dependent on shipments of goods from West Germany through East Germany. And then in nineteen forty eight, Stalin cut off the roads to West Berlin. So the Americans responded with an 11 month long airlift of supplies that eventually led to Stalin lifting the blockade in nineteen forty eight and building the Berlin Wall, which stood until 1991 when Kuwait got.
No, wait, wait, wait, wait. That wasn't when the Berlin Wall was built.
That was in nineteen sixty one. I just wanted to give a thought bubble the opportunity to make. OK, thanks, thought bubble so right, that wall wasn't built until nineteen sixty one, but nineteen forty nine did see Germany officially split into two nations and also the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb and NATO was established and the Chinese revolution ended in Communist victory.
So by the end of 1950, the contours of the Cold War had been established west versus east, capitalist freedom versus communist totalitarianism, at least from where I'm sitting.
Although now apparently I'm going to change where I'm sitting because it's time for the mystery document.
The rules here are simple, I guess the author of the mystery document. And about 55 percent of the time I get shocked by the shock pain. We must organize and enlist the energies and resources of the free world in a positive program for peace, which will frustrate the Kremlin designed for world domination by creating a situation in the free world to which the Kremlin will be compelled to adjust. Without such a cooperative effort led by the United States, we will have to make gradual withdrawals under pressure until we discover one day that we have sacrificed positions of vital interests.
It is imperative that this trend be reversed by a much more rapid and concerted buildup of the actual strength of both the United States and the other nations of the free world. I mean, all I can say about it is that it sounds American and like it was written in like nineteen fifty one and it seems kind of like a policy paper or something really boring.
So I, I mean, yeah, I'm just going to take the shock stuff.
National Security Council report to NSC 68. Are you kidding me, Stan. Not not sixty four. Eighty one 68. Ridiculous. I colgin.
Just as anyway as the apparently wildly famous NSC 68 shows, the US government cast the Cold War as a rather epic struggle between freedom and tyranny, and that led to remarkable political consensus. Both Democrats and Republicans supported most aspects of Cold War policy, especially the military buildup part. Now, of course, there were some critics like Walter Lippmann, who worried that casting foreign policy in such stark ideological terms would result in the US getting on the wrong side of many conflicts, especially as former colonies sought to remove the bonds of empire and become independent nations.
But yet, no, nothing like that ever happened. Yeah, I mean, it's like that happened in Iran or Nicaragua or Argentina or Brazil or Guatemala or Stan, are you really going to make me list all of them fine. Or Haiti or Paraguay or the Philippines or Chile or Iraq or Indonesia or Zaire. I'm sorry. There are a lot of them. OK, but these interventions were viewed as necessary to prevent the spread of communism, which was genuinely terrifying to people.
And it's important to understand that, like national security agencies pushed Hollywood to produce anti-communist movies like The Red Menace, which scared people and the CIA funded magazines, news broadcasts, concerts, art exhibitions that gave examples of American freedom. It even supported painters like Jackson Pollock in the Museum of Modern Art in New York because American expressionism was the vanguard of artistic freedom and the exact opposite of Soviet socialist realism.