The joy that accompanied the defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945 quickly turned to consternation as America's wartime ally, the Soviet Union, suddenly became its enemy in what would be a forty-year-long Cold War.

The Cold War put great strains on American society and government. It required the nation to reassess certain priorities and assumptions, a process not always easy to accomplish. Americans are used to thinking of foreign policy matters in black-or-white terms: a nation is our friend or enemy, a policy is good or bad, a war can be won or lost. Harry Truman devised what would be the heart of American foreign policy for the Cold War, a policy known as containment. Its goal was to ensure that the Soviet Union did not expand further than eastern Europe, and when the communist forces pushed, the United States would push back, but only with measured force.

The war allowed Americans to be generous, as they showed in the Marshall Plan, but the Cold War also led to some serious strains upon the body politic. In the midst of a war, an unpopular president had to fire a popular general in order to reassert civilian control over the military. The Supreme Court had to declare a presidential action taken under the war powers as unconstitutional, something not done since the Civil War. And the ugly side of democracy, the face of the mob, made a brief but fearsome appearance in the form of McCarthyism. But the nation survived the Cold War, and in doing so actually strengthened a number of democratic principles.

  1. The Marshall Plan (1947)
  2. Recall of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1951)
  3. Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952)
  4. Censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy (1954)
  5. Democracy and Foreign Policy (1990)

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