The fourth chapter of the video documentary series can be viewed here. The series can also be viewed in its entirety on Netflix, or purchased directly at untoldhistory.com. Below is our transcribed text, written by Peter Kuznick, Matt Graham and Oliver Stone.
From a 1945 newsreel:
"Pushing through Germany, the United States and Soviet armies met at the river Elb. Americans and Russians joined hands in celebration of victory. Successful partners in war, the hope reigned among all men that the United States and the Soviet Union, with their allies, would form a successful partnership against any future threat of aggression. The news of final surrender, the news that peace had at last been won, penetrated to every corner of the globe. Peace, the hope of mankind, had arrived. Men rejoiced, cheered the end of World War II."
narrated by Oliver Stone...
There was a brief moment in time when the United States, alone among the victors, was on top of the world.
Its death toll was 405,000, compared to the Soviet Union's 27,000,000. The economy was booming, exports more than doubled pre-war levels, industrial production had grown 15% annually. The U.S. held two-thirds of the world's gold, and three-fourths of its invested capital. It was producing an incredible 50% of the world's goods and services.
In 1945, at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, the U.S. established the two new major economic institutions of capitalism, The World Bank and The International Monetary Fund, each budgeted at approximately $7 to $8 billion. President Harry Truman, who had made his name investigating excess spending in the Senate, was overseeing a gigantic demobilization.
And yet, there was a lingering unease in a new society where the home front had prospered while the servicemen were away.
World War II left as many as seventy million dead in Europe and Asia, two-thirds of them civilians. Hiroshima was an ominous forewarning. The Depression was perhaps over, but America's business and social planners feared a relapse, and fretted over the consequences with populations uprooted, homeless and unemployed. Would revolution sweep the globe? What would happen to American trade and investment?
In France the Communist Party, which had half a million members and had fought bravely in the resistance to the Nazis, won 26% of the vote in 1945. In Italy, 1.7 million people joined the Party. Even in Britain, the people, exhausted and broke from two world wars, were uncharacteristically turning to the State to make their lives tolerable. And fortune, which had made Winston Churchill one of the most respected statesmen of his era, now cast him aside with a reversal befitting Greek tragedy.
[New Labor Prime Minister, Clement] Attlee embodied the new socialist European, promising to build a free healthcare system for all, and advocating the complete nationalization of many of Britain's oldest industries - a man preoccupied not with Empire but with a massive social welfare state. By contrast, Churchill was offering Empire. He had said in late 1942 at at time when England's very existence was threatened:
"I have not become the King's First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire."
But dismemberment was exactly what he would live to see. Attlee would administer the independence of India, Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, Jordon and Palestine. Attlee understood that there was a new American world order. The U.S. extended an almost $4 billion loan to Britain, not to be repaid for fifty years, and was now leasing military bases on English soil. Britain in essence was to become a new client state of the U.S.
Franklin Roosevelt, who had always disliked the concept of king and empire, and reflected much of American disapproval of its repressive policies in India, Greece, and throughout the world, had successfully steered a middle course between Great Britain and the Soviet Union. The prospect of a large American credit to help the Soviets rebuild had been encouraged and discussed openly during the war. But Harry Truman showed none of Roosevelt's dexterity, as he tacked at a time of maximum U.S. strength increasingly towards the British camp. When the Soviet Union did not receive anything close to the aid package given the British, they were greatly disappointed. They already sensed the wartime alliance would be the first casualty of the post-war era.
Groves had advocated a preemptive attack "against any potential rival attempting to make or possess atomic weapons."
In mid September 1945, at a foreign ministers' meeting in London, Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes berated Soviet policies in Europe. Foreign Minister Molotov pointed to exclusionary U.S. policies in Italy, Greece and Japan and, tired of Byrnes' belligerence, asked if he was hiding an atomic bomb in his pocket. Byrnes actually replied:
"You don't know Southerners, we carry our artillery in our pocket. If you don't cut out all this stalllin' I'm gonna pull and atomic bomb out of my pocket and let you have it."
In December, Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace pressed Truman to take control of America's atomic weapons away from Soviet hater Leslie Groves, who still had unilateral control over them. Groves had advocated a preemptive attack against "any potential rival attempting to make or possess atomic weapons."
The Soviet Union, with the largest army in the world, having played the leading role in the anti-fascist movement, was now a frightening prospect for some U.S. officials. In early 1946 a Gallup Poll found that 26% of Americans thought the Soviets sought world domination, 13% thought the British did.
The Soviets, though aware of the right-ward shift in the Truman administration, were hoping still to maintain the wartime alliance, and actually went out of their way to restrain their frustrated communist allies in China, Italy, France and Greece. Stalin, whose major foreign policy goal was to make certain Germany or Japan never again posed a threat to his country, had enormous problems at home. His nation was in the grip of a crushing poverty, engaged still in extensive ongoing partisan warfare in its western sectors, particularly Ukraine, which was soon to be wracked with famine. The Soviets were isolated at the UN, and the U.S. had a monopoly on the bomb. Yet, [it was] the U.S. [that] was building an image of the Soviet Union as being out to conquer the world.
In Germany the two systems were already at odds. Roosevelt's policy of pastoralizing Germany was reversed, to one revitalizing the German economy as a key to an overall European recovery. This was not in itself a bad decision, given what happened to Germany in later years, but at the time it was highly insensitive to the concerns of a country that had been twice cornered in ruthless wars with Germany. There was in fact a profound conflict of interest, and the stark images of the Soviets stripping the Eastern zone of everything to ship back to its own impoverish land was, to most Americans, perceived - not incorrectly - as looting.
As far back as the 19th century, the pre-communist empire had been in conflict with the British Empire, both seeking influence in Turkey and Iran. Russia had repeatedly sought access to the warm water ports of the Mediterranean. In the 1917 Russian Revolution, Churchill, as Lord of the Admiralty, had been a fierce foe of communism, which he proclaimed "ought to be strangled in its cradle". He wanted to draw the United States into a military engagement with the new communist regime. And in the fierce counter-revolution against it, forty thousand British and fifteen thousand American troops actually participated, poisoning relations from the start. It had been Roosevelt who finally recognized the Soviet Union in 1933.
Churchill, out of office and favour, was now itching for a confrontation. It would happen, not unsurprisingly, in the Middle East. Great Britain controlled 72% of Middle Eastern oil, the U.S. controlled 10% and wanted a bigger share. The Soviet Union wanted a piece too. Having stationed its troops during the war across its border in Northern Iran to keep oil supplies out of Nazi hands, the Soviets now came into conflict with Britain in the south. Churchill additionally felt threatened by Soviet probes in Turkey, threatening Britain's sphere of interest in the Middle East. The exposure of a Soviet espionage ring in Canada in early February added credibility to his warnings. In a speech by Stalin, in which he proclaimed a new post-war five-year plan to rebuild the Soviet Union, was misunderstood as incendiary and predicting the inevitability of a war between the two systems, which it had not.
This was a quantum leap in belligerence towards the Soviet Union.
It was in this context, in early March 1946, that Winston Churchill would remind the world that he was still a power to be reckoned with. He traveled to Truman's home state, Fulton Missouri, to make one of the most devastating speeches of the Cold War, words that would condemn for ever, in the minds of many, the Soviet Union:
"From Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Adriatic, an 'iron curtain' has descended across the continent. In a great number of countries...the communist parties, or fifth columns constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilization. I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war, and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines."
This was a quantum leap in belligerence towards the Soviet Union. The New York Times applauded the speech, saying "it was spoken with the force of a prophet proved right before".
Visibly upset, Stalin accused Churchill of being in bed with the "war mongers" who followed the "racial theory" that only English speakers could "decide the fate of the whole world". The Chicago Tribune, although agreeing with his assessment of Eastern Europe, sharply questioned Churchill's "begging assistance for that old and evil empire...to maintain British tyranny throughout the world. We cannot become partners in slaveholding." Florida Senator Claude Pepper observed that Churchill was:
"...as much opposed to Russia as to a Labor Government in his own country. It is shocking to see Mr. Churchill align himself with the old Chamberlain Tories, who strengthened the Nazis as part of their anti-Soviet crusade."
The following month on the first anniversary of Roosevelt's death, Wallace offered a different vision:
"The only way to defeat communism in the world is to do a better and smoother job of production and distribution. Lets make it a clean race, a determined race, but above all a peaceful race in the service of humanity. A source of all our mistakes is fear. Russia fears anglo-saxon encirclement, we fear communist penetration. Out of fear great nations have been acting like cornered beasts, thinking only of survival. The common people of the world will not tolerate imperialism, even under enlightened anglo-saxon atomic bomb auspices. The destiny of the English-speaking people is to serve the world, not dominate it."
Following Churchill's speech, conditions deteriorated rapidly. When Soviet troops stayed in northern Iran beyond their March deadline, Truman threatened war. He wrote:
"If the Russians were to control Iran's oil, directly or indirectly, it would be a serious loss for the economy of the Western world."
Truman later privately ...he claimed in '24. The Soviets did withdraw, though probably for reasons other than atomic blackmail. Less than two months later the U.S. cut off disparately needed reparation payments from West Germany to the Soviet Union, and in July of '46, sending another chilling message about its intentions, the U.S. decided to proceed with an atomic bomb test in the Marshall Islands.
Truman fired Wallace, and with his departure the chance to avert a nuclear arms race was gone.
In September '46, in front of twenty thousand people at New York's Madison Square Garden, Henry Wallace tried to put a stop to the growing madness:
"The tougher we get, the tougher the Russians will get. We can get cooperation once Russia understands that our primary objective is neither saving the British Empire, nor purchasing oil in the near East with the lives of American soldiers. Under friendly peaceful competition, the Russian world and the American world will gradually become more alike. The Russians will be forced to grant more and more of the personal freedoms, and we shall become more and more absorbed with the problems of social/economic justice."
The speech became world news, deeply embarrassing to Secretary of State, Jimmy Byrnes, who told Truman either he or Wallace had to go. Support for Wallace poured in throughout the ensuing controversy from such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein, but not from the Truman administration. James Forrestal regarded Wallace as, at best, a security risk, and secretly had his Naval Intelligence Unit monitoring the Secretary of Commerce, and shared information with the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover, who, harboured deep suspicions about Wallace's loyalties. Wallace, in turn, considered Hoover an American Himmler.
Truman later denied that he had read and approved the entire speech in advance, which he had. He wrote in his diary:
"Wallace is a pacifist, one hundred percent. He wants us to disband our armed forces, give Russia our atomic secrets, and trust a bunch of adventurers in the Kremlin Politburo. I do not understand dreamers like that."
Truman fired Wallace, and with his departure the chance to avert a nuclear arms race was gone.
1947 would be the turning point, as the U.S. plunged headlong into the Cold War, at home and abroad. Behind the ongoing liberation movements in places such as British Malaya, French IndoChina and Dutch Indonesia, U.S. leadership painted a dire picture of Stalin spreading world revolution, ruling out negotiation and ignoring any greys in its black and white conclusions.
In Greece, the British army toppled the popular leftist National Liberation Front and restored the monarchy and right-wing dictatorship, sparking a communist-led uprising. Following the severe winter of 1946/7 the financially strapped British could not control the revolt and asked the US to take the lead in defeating the Greek insurgents and modernizing the Turkish army. One State Department official later summed it up:
"Great Britain had within the hour handed the job of world leadership to the United States."
The Greek Civil War was savage, with tactics that previewed those later used in Vietnam.
A war-weary public had no appetite for costly initiatives, but Truman, addressing both Houses of Congress, appealed for $400 million, laying out a new vision for America as the world's policeman [in what came to be known as The Truman Doctrine]:
"The very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists. At the present moment in world history, nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one. I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."
Truman, in not distinguishing vital threats from peripheral ones, and by linking the fate of people all over the world to the security of the United States, was making a momentous statement. His words could, in fact, be transposed to Korea, to Vietnam, to Iraq and Afghanistan. After a heated debate, Congress fell into line.
Moscow was stunned by this warlike language, accusing the U.S. of imperialist expansion under the guise of charity and trying to expand the Monroe Doctrine to the old world. From outside the government Henry Wallace led the opposition, decrying the "utter nonsense of describing the Turkish or Greek governments as democratic", and accusing Truman of betraying Roosevelt's vision for world peace:
"President Truman cannot prevent change in the world, any more than he can prevent the tide from coming in, or the sun from setting. But once America stands for opposition to change, we are lost. American will become the most hated nation in the world."
Anticipating that the Soviets would reply in kind, Wallace warned:
"Truman's policy will spread communism in Europe and Asia."
Two months later the Soviets sponsored a communist coup overthrowing the democratically elected government of Hungary. The New York Times wrote: "the coup in Hungary is Russia's answer to our action in Greece and Turkey", and it clearly contributed to the Soviet decision to impose a new stricter order across Eastern Europe.
The Greek Civil War grew bloody, and U.S. personnel identified as "advisors" arrived in the war zone in June of '47. The United States amply armed the right-wing monarchy and tolerated their client's mass political arrests and executions. It was an especially savage conflict, with tactics - some old, some new - that previewed those later used in Vietnam such as mass deportations to camps, mass imprisonment of wives and children of subversives, executions, destruction of unions, torture, and napalming villages. Greece was kept in the hands of wealthy businessmen, many of them Nazi collaborators, and the victims were primarily workers and peasants who had resisted the Nazis.
The Soviet Union temporarily assisted the left-wing forces, but in February of '48 Stalin ordered Yugoslavia's Josip Tito, as well as neighbouring Albania and Bulgaria, to stop supporting the guerrilla movement. Stalin:
"What do you think, the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, will permit you to break their line of communication in the Mediterranean Sea? Nonsense! And we have no navy. The uprising in Greece must be stopped as quickly as possible."
The tough Tito, who had fought his own gruelling war against the Nazis, and had no fear of Stalin's assassins, refused, and Stalin excommunicated him from the international communist movement, antagonizing hardline allies like Mao in China.
The State Department reported, "For the first time in history we may now have within the international community a communist state independent of Moscow". But despite providing covert support for Tito, the United States never adjusted its rhetoric to reflect that. In the public's mind the Soviet Union remained at the centre of a communist conspiracy to dominate the world. In 1956, out of office a second time and now in retirement, the old lion, Churchill confirmed in an interview:
"Stalin never broke his word to me. We agreed on the Balkans. I said he could have Romania and Bulgaria, and he said we could have Greece. We signed a slip of paper, and he never broke his word. We saved Greece that way."
Stalin's lack of support for the uprising doomed the rebels, and the war ended in victory in 1949 for the national government. Though U.S. officials cheered the victory, the Greek people weren't so sure - more than a hundred thousand died, and eight hundred thousand became refugees. Successive Greek governments would use the state apparatus, the police, military, decrees, and an intelligence agency, to systematically rule the country.
Domestically, pressured by the Republican right, Truman found it necessary to appease the public's growing unease with communism, thus he mandated loyalty checks on all government employees to root out "subversives" - having the wrong views on religion, sexual behaviour, foreign policy, or race, could make one suspect. Through 1952 Loyalty Boards reviewed more than twenty-two thousand cases, and more than four thousand employees were fired, or resigned.
In October 1947 the House UnAmerican Activities Committee held highly publicized hearings on communist influence in Hollywood - it was an easy target - "Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" Hollywood studio executives shamefully denounced those accused and pledged not to hire anyone with suspect affiliation. Although a great many stars publicly criticized the witch hunt, the black list gave way to the grey list, and hundreds more were denied work. Among the friendly witnesses who testified were Screen Actors' Guild President Ronald Reagan, actors Robert Taylor and Gary Cooper, and studio executive Walt Disney. Disney:
"I don't believe its a political party. I believe its an un-American thing. The thing that I resent the most is that they are able to get into these unions and take 'em over."
From 1948 through '54 more than 40 strongly anti-communist motion pictures were made, not including terrifying science-fiction parables like HG Wells' "War of the Worlds", which implied the threat of communism.
The FBI, under publicity conscious J. Edgar Hoover, whose single greatest obsession in life was communism, conducted most of the investigations into its existence in America. Those accused could not know the basis of the accusations. In his paranoia, Hoover distrusted even the White House, the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and hid what he did, both inside and outside the law, drawing up plans for mass detentions of communists in the event of an anticipated Soviet attack.
The CIA was truly the beginning of a new America, built upon a secret state that would grow exponentially over the following decades.
In July of '47 Truman pushed through the National Security Act, which created a vast new bureaucracy headed by the anti-Soviet hardliner James Forrestal as this country's first Secretary of Defence. The Act also created the Central Intelligence Agency, which was given four functions, three of them dealing with the collection, analysis and dissemination of intelligence. It was the fourth function that would prove the most dangerous - the vaguely worded passage that allowed the CIA to perform "...other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting national security", as the President saw fit. The CIA would use that vague wording to conduct hundreds of covert operations around the world, including more than eighty during Truman's second term.
The CIA's earliest success was to subvert Italy's 1948 election to ensure victory over the Communist Party. Democracy was apparently a virtue when it served U.S. interests. Sometimes referred to as Capitalism's Invisible Army, the CIA was truly the beginning of a new America, built upon a secret state that would grow exponentially over the following decades.
Despite his public face, Truman had feared from the start that the CIA could turn into a Gestapo or a military dictatorship. In 1963, shortly after John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, Truman surprisingly but explicitly called for the CIA to end operations and simply gather intelligence - his OpEd appeared in the Washington Post, but strangely generated little discussion in other media outlets and disappeared from public attention.
General George Marshall, having led the Allied armies to victory in the Second World War was named Man of the Year again by Time in January of '48 and planned a quiet retirement, but Truman, who'd had more than enough of Byrnes, forced his resignation and made Marshall his new Secretary of State. Privately believing that Truman's descriptions of a communist threat were exaggerated, Marshall's common sense dictated that the best way to win a war was to prevent it from occurring. What was needed in a ruined and destitute Europe was not a military response but a humanitarian one.
In that spirit, at Harvard University's graduation ceremony in June of 1947, America's most prestigious general invited European leaders to submit a plan for economic recovery. Out of this was born the famous "Marshall Plan". What the United States did after the Second World War was rare in imperial history; it restored its old rivals, Germany and Japan, and made them economically powerful satellites of the United States. The U.S. eventually spent $13 billion between 1948 and '52, with Britain, France & Germany being the largest recipients, adding greatly to Soviet fears of German power restored. The Soviets turned down an offer to join the Plan, as it called for too much American control over the Soviet economy.
When Czechoslovakia, a freely elected coalition government, headed interestingly enough by a communist party, accepted Marshall's offer of aid, that went too far for the mistrustful Stalin, who demanded the Czechs reject the plan. In February of '48 a Stalinist regime was imposed on Czechoslovakia. The U.S., and many liberals in Europe, were shocked. Famous actor, James Cagney, voiced the following explanation of the Western point of view:
"Subversion is, of course, an important technique of communist conquest. Czechoslovakia in 1948 is an established democracy in Eastern Europe. Suddenly, a rash of strikes, conservative elements resign from the Cabinet, but Jan Masaryk, son of the country's greatest hero, will not go along, and remains in the Foreign Office. Two weeks later, his dead body is discovered. Whether he was murdered or killed himself is not known to this day."
Masaryk's manner of death - falling out of his bathroom window - would come to particularly haunt Forrestal, and vindicated the darkest view of Soviet intentions.
Marshall, however, had told a Cabinet meeting the previous November that the Soviets would soon "clamp down" on Czechoslovakia as a "purely defensive move", but Truman seized on the outrage to press the Marshall Plan through Congress, as well as a rearmament program the Pentagon had long been pushing. Truman:
"The Soviet Union and its agents have destroyed the independence and democratic character of a whole series of nations in Eastern and Central Europe. It is this ruthless course of action, and the clear design to extend it to the remaining free nations of Europe that have brought about the critical situation in Europe today."
The U.S. also, at this point, made the fateful decision to press for an independent West German state.
Truman described the Marshall Plan and The Truman Doctrine as "two halves of the same walnut". Although the plan fuelled European recovery, much of the aid money was used to purchase exports from U.S. multinational corporations. Little aid was given to rebuild Europe's own indigenous refining capacity, allowing the American oil majors (Standard, Mobilgas, Chevron, Texaco, Gulf) to dominate the European market.
The Plan was secretly generous to the CIA, which diverted large amounts of Marshall aid money for covert operations. In the summer of '48 following the Czechoslovakian coup, Truman approved a dramatic escalation of global covert action to include guerrilla operations in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. One project went to creating a guerrilla army codenamed "Nightingale" in Ukraine, which had originally been set up by the Nazis in 1941 made up of ultra-nationalist Ukrainians. These groups now wrecked havoc in the famine wracked region where Soviet control was loose, carrying out the murder of thousands of Jews, Soviets and Poles who opposed a separate Ukrainian state.
Beginning in 1949, for five years the CIA parachuted Ukrainian infiltrators back into the region. To the Soviet mind it was as if they had infiltrated guerrillas into the Canadian or Mexican border areas of the United States, and signalled the lengths to which the US was willing to go dislodge Soviet control of their own border areas and sphere of interests.
The CIA was equally active in Germany, taking over the Gehlen Organization from the US Army. Gehlen, a former Nazi who had run intelligence in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union for Hitler, recruited a network of Nazis and war criminals, drawn in part from the Gestapo and SS, and in the ensuing years it painted the worst possible picture of Soviet actions. A retired CIA official acknowledged: "He fed us what we wanted to hear. We used his stuff constantly, and we fed it to everyone else, the Pentagon, the White House, the newspapers. They loved it, too, but it was hyped-up, boogey-man junk, and it did a lot of damage to this country."
When in June of 1948 the U.S. introduced currency reform in the three western sectors of Berlin, which was a hundred miles inside of Eastern Germany, in order to replace the popular blackmarket American cigarette, the Soviets saw this as a major step in establishing an independent West German state, as well as a betrayal of the U.S. promise to provide reparations from the inherently more prosperous western zones.
The Soviets cut off rail and road access to Berlin. Stalin said the Western powers had forfeited their right of access because they were shattering the postwar framework of a unified Germany. The Western media decried the savage cruelty of the Soviets Berlin blockade, trying to starve civilians into submission. But, contrary to this widely held view, the Soviets, for all their faults, guaranteed West Berliners access to food and coal from the eastern zone. U.S. military intelligence confirmed this. What most people do remember, however, is that over the next 15 months, in a heroic defensive maneuver against Soviet aggression, the massive Berlin airlift organized by General Curtis LeMay, delivered food and fuel to 2.2 million people in a besieged city.
Truman, who was willing to approve the use of atomic weapons, wrote in September:
"We are very close to war."
France had little enthusiasm for this U.S. initiative, fearing a remilitarized Germany. Nor did Britain, but the U.S. gambled its atomic monopoly would win out, rejecting Soviet attempts to compromise until it achieved both a basic law outlining a West German state, and the creation in April of 1949 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This, for the first time in its history, committed the United States to a peacetime military alliance with West Europe. Its objectives won, the U.S. now agreed to talks on the future of Germany, and it was then that the Soviets lifted the blockade.
In effect, the U.S. was declaring Western Europe the first line of defence and potential laughing pad for World War III.
Germany was now officially divided, and in return for its foreign aid, the US, with NATO, would militarize France, Britain, Italy, Germany and, later, station nuclear weapons on German soil. In effect, the U.S. was declaring Western Europe the first line of defence and potential launching pad for World War III.
As the 1948 election loomed, and the Republicans were heavily favoured, Henry Wallace declared himself the Progressive Party's candidate.
"The bigger the peace vote, the more definitely the world will know that the United States is not behind the bi-partisan, reactionary war policy, which is dividing the world into two armed camps. The people of the world must see that there is another America than this Truman led, Wall Street dominated, military backed group that is blackening the name of democracy all over the world."
Truman's political people unleashed a viscous red-baiting campaign, using liberals to accuse the former vice president of being a tool of Moscow. Although Wallace repeatedly denied any involvement with communism and warned charges of it were being used to undermine American freedoms, mobs broke up his rallies, universities denied him the right to speak on campuses, and his supporters were sometimes fired from their jobs.
Wallace's running mate, Idaho Senator Glen Taylor, was arrested and beaten by police in Birmingham, Alabama, for entering a gathering of the Southern Negro Youth Congress through a side door marked "Coloured". Wallace wired Taylor:
"This dramatizes the hypocrisy of spending $billions for arms in the name of defending freedom abroad while freedom is trampled on here at home."
The communist charges and the dismissive treatment of Wallace by the major newspapers took its toll. Wallace's campaign was a disaster - he came in fourth behind a South Carolina segregationist. But his progressive agenda on progressive issues, especially civil rights, seems to have influenced Truman. In the end there was a surprising last-minute rush to Truman by Democratic voters now fearing a Republican victory, allowing Truman to upset heavily favoured Thomas Dewey.
Though it was one of the great come-from-behind miracle tales of U.S. politics, Harry Truman, like Churchill, would watch his presidency crumble. In the next four years he would see his support plummet, leaving office with historically low - George W. Bush level - ratings. In September 1949 came the first of three major events, none of them unforeseen by the laws of cause-and-affect.
Truman shocked the nation:
"We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the USSR."
In 1948 Robert Oppenheimer had said "our atomic monopoly is like a cake of ice melting in the sun." As Henry Wallace had warned in 1945 Truman and his group were terribly wrong to assume the U.S. would have an ongoing monopoly on the bomb. Americans felt more vulnerable than ever, and the nuclear arms race that Wallace and the scientists had so feared, now escalated as the US hastened development of a hydrogen bomb.
As 1949 needed, the world's largest and most populous nation, China, turned communist. When Mao Zedong routed the corrupt forces of Jiang Jieshe, it was unquestionably the most important revolution since Russia's 1917 overthrow of the Tzar. Time magazine warned of the "red tide" that threatened to engulf the world. General Douglas MacArthur wrote in Life magazine "The fall of China imperils the United States."
Acting outraged, as if the corrupt nationalist loss had not been anticipated, the conservative China-lobby in the U.S. found guilty not only the Soviet Union, Democrats, State Department China experts, but also Secretary of State George Marshall. These would prove to be false accusations. In subordinating world revolution to their own immediate security concerns, the Soviets had provided minimal assistance to the revolutionaries and little encouragement. Stalin did finally form an alliance with Mao in February 1950, but urged the radicalized Chinese leader to maintain cordial relations with the U.S. Both sides made exaggerated claims against each other, but China's commitment to revolutionary change and U.S. refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the new government with a seat at the United Nations - while recognizing dictator-run countries - doomed any efforts at peace.
In June of 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and the Cold War now turned hot for real. Both Soviet installed dictator Kim Il-Sung in the North, and U.S.-backed dictator Syngman Rhee in the South had been threatening to unify the country by force. Distressed America's rebuilding of Japan, with whom the Soviets had fought two bloody wars, Stalin gave Kim the green light to beat the South to the punch. Stalin told Kim Il-Sung the war was a way to get back at the arrogant behaviour of the United States in Europe, the Balkan, the Middle East, and especially its decision to form NATO. On the other hand, knowing the industrial power of the U.S., Stalin did not want a wider war.
Importantly, the Joint Chiefs and the State Department had openly acknowledged Korea to be outside the U.S. defence perimeter in East Asia, but with communist victory in China, and with revolutionary forces threatening to overthrow Western-backed regimes in Vietnam, Malaya and the Philippines, Truman felt he had to make a stand somewhere, and Korea was the newly appointed place. Truman:
"If we let Korea down the Soviets will keep on going and swallow up one piece of Asia after another. If we were to let Asia go, the Near East would collapse, and no tellin what would happen in Europe."
Despite deploying tens of thousands of troops, Truman refused to call the intervention a "war", labeling it instead a "police action". Although it was nominally a United Nations effort, the U.S. provided half the ground forces, and almost all the naval and air power. Most of the other ground forces were South Korean.
Truman opted as well to bypass Congressional authorization, setting the stage for future interventions. The war and its bloody indecisive three-year course would cost Truman dearly.
As for James Forrestal, though his views had helped shape the poisonous anti-Soviet view in Washington, he'd been on the losing end of several policy battles with Truman and was relieved of duty with a ceremony in March of '49. He was shattered. When friend and future CIA Director John McCone came to call, Forrestal, becoming increasingly paranoid, pulled down the shades and sat away from the window, so as not to give a sniper an easy target. Who he was afraid of, he never specified. Rumours hit the press and went worldwide that Forrestal was discovered in the streets in his pyjamas shouting "the Russians are coming!". The Pentagon announced that Forrestal had gone for a routine checkup at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. He was diagnosed with 'reactive depression'. Alone in his room on the 16th floor he suffered constant nightmares of persecution. He thought he would suffer the same fate as Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk - to be pushed out of a window. But his condition began to improve, and on the night of May 22 1949 he stayed up late copying Sophocles' the Chorus from "Ajax", where the hero ponders his fate far from home. At the word "Nightingale" he put his pen down - sixteen floors up, he jumped.
During this postwar period it was the United States, with its atomic monopoly, not the Soviet Union, which bears the lion's share of responsibility for starting the Cold War.
Behind him, Forrestal left a newborn Pentagon establishment, which, faced with those struggling for a different world, saw only communist conspiracies. There is still today a fundamental misunderstanding that the United States entered the cold war in response to Soviet aggression world-wide. There is no doubt the Soviet leadership imposed repressive and, when challenged, brutal dictatorships on Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, East Germany, Albania and Czechoslovakia. But it is equally clear the Soviets were initially willing to accept governments friendly to them in these countries, until the West began to make threatening moves, both on their ideology and their security. During this postwar period it was the United States, with its atomic monopoly, not the Soviet Union, which bears the lion's share of responsibility for starting the Cold War.
The pacifist A.J. Muste wrote in 1941: "The problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proven that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?"
Beginning with Truman's first day in office, his receptiveness to the views of hardline anti-communists, his denial of Roosevelt's understanding with Stalin, the provocative and unnecessary dropping of the atomic bombs, his spreading a network of military bases around the world, Churchill's speech at Fulton, Truman's call for fighting communism in Greece, the division and remilitarization of Germany, the continued testing of bigger and bigger atomic and hydrogen bombs which he used to threaten the Soviet Union, his deliberate exaggerations of the communist threat, both oversees and at home, and his persecution and silencing of those who challenged these distortions, in all these matters, with few exceptions, the United States after successfully liberating Western Europe was now signalling fear and aggression.
Why this fear?
It has been said that, as Americans, we are an immigrant people to a new country, people who, in one way or another, have escaped persecution and poverty and fear and, though separated by two enormous oceans, are still subject to that incessant fear - even our sons and grandsons. North Americans have been taught and enamoured of the myth of starting over with a new purity in a new land, the myth of American exceptionalism, in a new Jerusalem, in a city on the hill.
Is it necessary, then, to exaggerate the fear of persecution from abroad, from the corrupt foreigner who would always represent the old and evil way?
In the early 21st century there would be almost three hundred million guns in American homes. We are the most heavily armed nation in the world. But when any nation goes to such an extreme degree to protect itself, it is inevitable that that protection will never seem psychologically to be enough. It is also often true that the image of the enemy will grow proportionate to the size of the defence, resulting in an overreaction and an accelerated spending of energies in a futile attempt to liquidate that fear which never seems to erode.
Fear and uncertainty are two inescapable elements in all human life since the beginning of time - they are to be accepted as one accepts birth and death. It was Alexander the Great who reportedly addressed the notion that, 'if you can conquer your fear you can conquer death'. And in co-enduring with, and containing our fear and uncertainty, we become naturally stronger. The irony of life, both personal and public, is that with the changing of time, the object of fear, the enemy, becomes, to the surprise of former enemies, a friend, often a best friend or ally.
Clearly, in hindsight, U.S. leaders had exaggerated the threat from an enemy they felt they needed, wanting to frame the world as an existential clash between two antagonistic social systems. Henry Wallace, who warned that the source of all our mistakes, is fear, had said it could be a healthy competition between those systems. But the hardliners of American society felt that this was impossible, and Henry Wallace was dismissed as naive. James Forrestal, one of those hardliners, the first Secretary of Defence, thus ended his life in a violent fashion that would become a strange omen for an American foreign policy that was increasingly terrified of its own shadow.
Fifty years into this century, halfway from 1900 to 2000, the United States had forged the foundation of a new mindset (13 bombs in 1947, 50 bombs in in 1948, 300 bombs in 1950). It had developed into a full-fledged, if not unique kind of empire, economically supreme and massively armed, policing the world while professing liberty and democracy. For a policeman, it is necessary to locate and arrest enemies of its social system.
Thus the story of the next 60 years of American history will resemble a pattern that has already occurred, in the shape of increasing covert activities unknown to the people of the empire, more and more regional wars, and a form of control that is imposed over and over again.
G.H.W. Bush: "If history teaches us anything, it is that we must resist aggression, or it will destroy our freedoms."