Exploring The Cold War, Its Root Causes, and How It Led To McCarthyism

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¨Initially, it seemed to many that the three victorious World War II powers…would cooperate to maintain the peace that they had bought at, so dreadfully, a cost in blood and money¨. In February 1945, world superpower leaders Truman, Churchill, and Stalin met in Potsdam to discuss how to unite the nations of the post World War II world while, secretly, representing the interests of their own countries, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, respectively. Nobody could have predicted that this would be the last time these three leaders would peacefully unite for a common goal. This meeting marked the beginning of what would come to be known as the Cold War. In his book, The Cold War: Threat, Paranoia, and Oppression: From the Iron Curtain to the Collapse of Communism, Norman Friedman describes the root causes, progression, and political struggles of the Cold War, while The New York Times Front Pages reveals the fine details about the key moments in the Cold War as they were reported by the press.

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Unlike the two World Wars that preceded it, the Cold War was a war fought not by bloodshed and weapons of mass destruction, but rather by politically charged standoffs, threats, and paranoia as well as economic status. This was a war of competing principles and government systems. The two competing superpowers were the USA and USSR, fighting for free-market Capitalism and government-enforced Communism, respectively. When it is taken into perspective that these rivaling political views almost, in various circumstances, brought the world to the brink of an all-out nuclear war, destroying everything both sides were fighting for, one cannot help but wonder how such a rivalry started. The ideologies of capitalism and democracy were not anything new to many countries at the time. 

In fact, many of them exercised this form of government. However, in many of these countries, citizens were forced to live in poverty while others gained mass wealth. It was this social class divide that prompted Karl Marx, an infamous philosopher, and political sociologist, to devise a new government system that could unite all social classes under the principle of equity that could be enforced by a strict government regime. Thus, communism was born as a result of unbalanced capitalism, and, therefore, became its direct opponent. Countries who adopted the communist ideologies ruled over their populations with an iron fist and justified doing so by ensuring widespread equity among their citizens. However, rather than elevating the poor and demoting the wealthy classes to a common middle class, communist governments almost always united their populations by ensuring that their entire population was poor. They were able to do so because every citizen of a communist nation was employed by their government. Capitalism may not be perfect by any stretch of the imagination and some people do not always prosper in a free market like others, but it is surely better than the alternative. Communism, at its core, might sound like a universally fundamental ideology of morality. However, in the real world, a truly sovereign nation for the people and by the people cannot flourish through the tight grip of their government’s iron fist.

Most tragically, the Cold War resulted in one of the biggest witch hunts in American history since the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Early on in the war, the communist governments of the world dispatched spies into America to report intel on American activities and government secrets. It was the use of loyal spies and generously paid traitors that ultimately led to the Russians gaining access to the atomic bomb, locations of secret American military bases, and other intel on various plans to combat their regime. The Americans soon became paranoid that spies were watching them, recording their every move, and monitoring their families. When the Russians sent the first satellite, Sputnik, into space, the Americans thought for sure the Russians were using it to spy on them. As it turns out, the satellite was nothing more than an oversized radio device designed to release regularly occurring beeps to increase the paranoia in America, and it worked. Senator Joseph McCarthy, elected in 1946, manipulated the paranoia in America to spread his own agenda once he was placed in office. After three years in Congress, McCarthy had failed to keep the promises he had made to his voters when he ran and showed no signs of being able to keep them before his time in office was over. Because of this massive failure to practice the very principles in which he preached, the voters and press ¨…voted him the worst — most useless – senator…¨. Luckily for him, McCarthy found a way out to ensure that he would get reelected in the 1952 election. He decided to use the paranoia in America against citizens by falsifying information and slandering his enemies. For the next four years, McCarthy waged a series of witch hunts for an enemy that did not exist. 

Like all witch hunts before it, the McCarthy Trials ruined many Americans’ lives. The word ¨communist¨ became a slur used to describe anyone society perceived to be odd, weird, unusual, and/or antisocial or anything that was considered obscene. If one was accused of being a communist, they were, for all extensive purposes, guilty in the eyes of the law. The government took accusations of communism seriously. Defendants were given a biased trail that more times than not, led to an automatic conviction no matter how they pleaded. Many innocent people lost their jobs, families, and even property because of this tragic mistake. Many famous writers, actors, tv personalities, and media influencers were permanently blacklisted across the nation, meaning that they could never be associated with any production company ever again, even after they were proven innocent. McCarthy is known as the national hero who rescued America from the communists and won the popular vote in 1952 by a long shot. At the time, he seemed bulletproof, untouchable really. However, in 1953, McCarthy made the fatal mistake of accusing the US Military of being ¨full of traitors and communists in disguise¨. ¨Final vote condemns M´Carty, 67-22, for abusing Senate and Committee…¨ the headlines exclaimed over a year later, on December 3rd, 1954. Even though McCarthy had finally been silenced, by the Senate, for his crimes, the irreversible damage he caused would haunt the United States for decades.

Therefore, one may conclude that between McCarthyism in America and the cruel, oppressive dictatorship in the Soviet Union, civilians were negatively impacted no matter what side they belonged to. The novel, The Cold War: Threat, Paranoia, and Oppression: From the Iron Curtain to the Collapse of Communism, was eye-opening. The bulk of the book described the threats facing both sides of the war. This novel is recommended to anyone who finds the Cold War fascinating and would like to learn more about this event. The New York Times Front Pages provided information from first-hand sources. Since the articles in the book were written, by journalists, during the war itself, many of them revealed minor, often overlooked details about certain events during the Cold War. This book is suggested for any scholar in need of first-hand sources on any event taking place between 1851-2017 or any fan of history in general. Every article in the collection is an important news headline from a historic moment worth reading about. Overall, these books were very great reads and are guaranteed to leave the readers with a fascination for this unique point in American history. 

29 April 2022

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