The Cold War Era was a period of political conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States from 1945 to 1991. The conflict began after World War II when the two countries embarked on aggressive global campaigns to expand their power and political ideologies. The United States carried out more than 70 interventions during the entire Cold War – some military and some diplomatic. The primary purpose of American intervention in foreign affairs during this period was to contain the expansion of communism in the world.
Immediately after World War II, U.S. policymakers recognized that China's political struggle between the nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese communists would lead to a civil war. President Truman named Gen. George Marshall as Ambassador and head of the U.S. Mission to China and sent him to China to create a peace agreement between the two factions and prevent civil war (see References 1). American diplomatic intervention ultimately failed to prevent the rise of communism in China. In 1949, Mao Zedong's Chinese Communist Party established the People's Republic of China and Chiang fled to Taiwan.
The United States intervened in Korea from 1945 to 1953 in an effort to contain the spread of communism in Asia. After the Soviet-led invasion of Korea in August 1945, the U.S. immediately moved troops into the south to block the communists from dominating the entire Korea peninsula. Truman decided to fight a war to defend the noncommunist south from the invasion. In a June 27, 1950, statement, Truman said he believed the invasion by North Korea was part of a larger communist plot, sanctioned by China and the Soviet Union.
America officially intervened in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s in another attempt to prevent the success of communism in Asia. The South Vietnamese and U.S. militaries suffered heavy casualties in their attempt to defeat Ho Chi Min and the communist North Vietnam. The Vietnam War proved to be the longest war in American history, costing 58,000 American troop deaths.
The Soviets were able to gain a strategic position in the Western Hemisphere by placing ballistic missiles in Cuba, a country headed by the Marxist-Leninist leader Fidel Castro. President Kennedy authorized an invasion at the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast of Cuba in April 1961. The U.S. government determined Cuba to be an important intervention point in the Cold War because it is located only 90 miles from the Florida coast. The invasion, which called for two airstrikes against Cuban air bases and a 1,400-man invasion force, turned out to be a major disaster with Castro's forces defeating and imprisoning the invaders.
- George C. Marshall Foundation: Timeline of George C. Marshall's Life: WWII: Preparing for Battle
- Archives: Teaching With Documents: The United States Enters the Korean Conflict
- PBS: Global Connections: the Middle East
- Department of State: Office of the Historian: U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War: The Tet Offensive, 1968
- Digital History: Overview of the Vietnam War
- PBS: American Experience: Castro and the Cold War
- JFK Presidential Library and Museum: The Bay of Pigs
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images