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The Modern Age 1946 – 1965


1946 Beginning of the “cold war” and the modern age.

1947 NATO is formed; Berlin blockade; Tito defies Stalin; Russian purge trials.

1949 US. Spy trials initiated; communists gain control of China.

1950 War breaks out in Korea.

1952 Eisenhower elected President .

1953 Death of Stalin; he is succeeded by Malenkov; East Berlin revolt put down by Russian troops; a truce is signed in Korea.

1954 The French withdraw from Indochina; the Army-McCarthy hearings mark McCarthv’s decline in influence: the U.S. Supreme Court rules that school segregation is unconstitutional.

1955 Bulganin succeeds Malenkov.

1956 Martin Luther King leads Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott; Gomulka becomes premier of Poland; Khrushchev severely criticizes Stalin; the Suez crisis in Egypt; Hungarian revolt suppressed by Russian troops; President Eisenhower is re-elected.

1957 Russia launches Sputnik I, first successful space satellite.

1958 Khrushchev succeeds Bulganin as premier of Soviet Union; first American satellite is launched; Castro ousts Batista from Cuba.

1960 Belgians leave the Congo, causing turmoil; John F. Kennedy is elected President.

1961 Cuban exiles land at Bay of Pigs but are defeated; Kennedy increases role of U.S. in Vietnam; Berlin crisis; civil rights demonstrations in the U.S.; Russia puts a man into space.

1962 Kennedy confronts Khrushchev in Cuban missile crisis; East Germans build Berlin wall; Pope John calls Ecumenical Council; U.S. sends astronaut into space.

1963 The U.S. and Russia sign a test ban treaty; President Kennedy is assassinated and is succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson.

1964 The Civil Rights Act is passed by the U.S. Congress; Johnson is elected President by a huge majority; Khrushchev is deposed.

1965 Russian cosmonaut floats in space; Civil Rights voting act is passed in U.S.; President Johnson advances the concept of the “Great Society.”

Man Faces the Future 1957-1965


On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union announced to an astonished world that its scientists had launched into orbit an artificial satellite of the earth. The Russians called the satellite “Sputnik,” or little moon. With the invention of the air plane, man had broken the bonds that confined him to the earth; now he could go beyond the ocean of air that surrounded the earth and explore the wonders of space. The way was open for discoveries that promised to surpass those of the age of exploration of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The United States sent up its first satellite, Explorer I, on January 31, 1958. It weighed only three and a half pounds, but three months later the Russians launched a Sputnik that weighed 3,000 pounds. By the end of 1960, the Russians were launching space ships and on April 12, 1961, they sent up the first man in outer space; he landed successfully after making one orbit around the earth. The next year, two more “cosmonauts,” as the Russians called them, made space flights, to be followed by three more in 1964. One of Russia’s most spectacular feats in space came on March 18, 1965, when a cosmonaut left his space ship and floated in space for ten minutes while traveling at a speed of 17,000 miles an hour. Meanwhile, the United States was also making extraordinary progress. The first American “astronaut” went into space on February 20, 1962. Other astronauts soon followed, although they did not remain in orbit as long as the Russian space men. Whilst the United States still lagged behind the Soviet Union in the size of its spaceships and the thrust of its rockets, it was ahead in other forms of space exploration. By 1965, American satellites were transmitting radio and telephone …

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The Great Society 1964 – 1965

civil rights act

In the United States election campaign of 1964, President Johnson was the candidate of the Democratic party. His Republican opponent was Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who was known for his controversial stand on many issues. Goldwater called for a radical change in the Policies of the government. He opposed the reforms enacted since the early 1950’s, as well as attempts to match agreement with the Communist nations, arguing that Communists understood nothing but force. He deplored United States recognition of the Soviet Union and on occasion, even advocated that the United States withdraw from the United Nations. In answer to these attacks, Johnson began to speak of creating “the Great Society” in America. He did not give details of his plans, but what he meant, evidently, was a society in which poverty would not exist, the aged and the sick would be cared for and opportunity would be open to people of all races and nationalities. All men would be free to develop their minds and cultivate the arts and beauty would grace the cities and the countryside. The strategy of the Democrats was to show that President Johnson represented the broad centre of American public opinion, while Senator Goldwater represented a smaller group, mostly on the right. Democrats even denied that Goldwater was a genuine conservative, for conservatism, they claimed, meant ”to conserve” and not to retreat into the past. The returns of the election, in which President Johnson received forty one million votes to Goldwater’s twenty six million, gave the Republican party its most serious defeat since the great depression of the 1930’s. President Johnson received close to sixty two percent of the total vote — the highest percentage of any candidate in American history. The Democrats also won control of the House of Representatives and the …

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“We Shall Overcome” 1954-1965

civil rights act

On May 17, 1954, all was quiet and solemn, as it usually is, in the chambers of the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. on that day the Court handed down a decision in the case of Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka — a decision that burst on the United States like a clap of thunder on a fair day. Brown was the name of the man who represented the Negroes of Topeka, Kansas. They charged that Topeka’s board of education had violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which says, “No state shall…. deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Negroes of Topeka argued that the board of education was denying them “the equal protection of the laws” by assigning their children to separate Negro schools. These schools, they maintained, were inferior to the schools attended by white children. The Supreme Court agreed and ordered the board of education to integrate its schools. The decision had an effect that went far beyond Topeka. It re-interpreted the Constitution, giving new meaning to the law of the land. It did away with a ruling made in 1896, which had allowed the states to segregate public places and in general, to do as they pleased about civil rights. At that time, the Court said that “equal protection of the laws” could also mean “separate but equal protection of the laws,” thus officially approving segregation. The “Jim Crow” laws passed in the South, the Southwest and even parts of the North, excluded Negroes from places used by whites, while other laws prevented them from voting. The result was that by the early twentieth century most Negroes in the United States had become second-class citizens. Although the case of Brown versus the …

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A Time of Change 1948-1962

de gaulle

All times are, more or less, times of change, but the changes that took place in the 1950’s and 1960’s were extraordinary. This was particularly true in the part of the world dominated by the Soviet Union. During Stalin’s rule, the satellite countries — East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Albania — were like provinces of Russia. The one exception in Eastern Europe was Yugoslavia. In 1948, the Yugoslav government, headed by Josef Tito, refused to follow Stalin’s orders and insisted on maintaining its independence. This was possible for two reasons. There was no Russian army in Yugoslavia, as there was in other countries and Yugoslavia did not border on the Soviet Union. Tito’s defiance enraged Stalin, who boasted, “I will shake my little finger and there will be no more Tito. He will fail.” Stalin was certain Tito would fail because Yugoslavia carried on almost all of its trade with Eastern Europe and lacked the resources to be self-sufficient. Stalin had not reckoned with the United States. Realizing that it would be wise to support Tito in his struggle with Stalin, the United States gave military and economic aid to Yugoslavia. The little country prospered and gained complete independence from Russia. Stalin and not Tito, had failed. For five years the people of Eastern Europe were quiet. Then in June of 1953, three months after Stalin had died, the workers of East Germany rose up against the government of Walter Ulbricht, who had been hand-picked by Stalin. The Communist government might have been overthrown if the Russian army had not been called in. The troops crushed the revolt and Ulbricht remained in power — but the uprising was a warning of what was to come. Three years later, after Khrushchev’s famous “de-Stalinization” speech, Eastern Europeans asked themselves …

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A Time of Crisis 1960-1963


One of the sources of trouble was Cuba. In 1956 a small group of revolutionaries, led by a 29-year-old lawyer named Fidel Castro, rose up against the government of Fulgencio Batista. Batista was perhaps the most brutal dictator in all Latin America. Few people believed that Castro had much chance for success, for Batista was as efficient as he was cruel and his soldiers were well armed. Within two years, however, Castro had gathered around him a large, well-organized band of guerrillas. By January of 1959, Batista had fled the country and Castro had taken power. His amazing victory seemed a triumph of democracy and he was enthusiastically welcomed when he visited the United States later that year. The friendship between Cuba and the United States soon turned sour. Castro seized sugar plantations and industries owned by American companies and the Eisenhower administration demanded that he at least pay the companies for the property he had taken. Castro answered that these companies had been mistreating the Cuban people for more than fifty years and that Cuba owed them nothing. Even more disturbing was Castro’s increasingly close ties to the Communist countries. Soon he was calling himself a “Marxist-Leninist”– by which he meant a Communist and had set up a dictatorship on the Russian model. He allowed only one political party in Cuba and permitted no opposition or disagreement. Furthermore, he made Cuba into a base for revolutionary activity against the other governments of Latin America. By 1960, Castro was about to openly join the Communist camp and soon he would be receiving substantial aid from Russia to make up for the loss of trade with the United States. A conflict had arisen between the United States and Russia over a country that was only ninety miles from American shores. Another …

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The Thaw in the Cold War 1953-1959


Stalin had left behind him a world of suspicion, distrust and fear. Suspicion, distrust and fear were as great in his own country as anywhere else, for he had ruled as a dictator and had never set up a definite procedure for transferring power to another leader. Immediately after his death, a five-man presidium, or council, took over the rule of the Soviet Union. The presidium chose Georgi Malenkov, who had been Stalin’s right-hand man, as the new premier, but a number of factions were struggling for control of the government and one of them was led by Lavrenti Beria, the chief of the secret police. He was a serious threat that at one point tanks were called out to prevent the secret police from seizing the government. On July 10, 1953, Beria was charged with treason; six months later he was shot. In 1955, Malenkov himself was removed from office and Marshal Nikolai Bulganin became premier. It was plain that the real power in the Soviet Union was Nikita Khrushchev, the moonfaced, elderly chairman of the Communist party. On February 24, 1956, Khrushchev made a speech before the Twentieth All-Union Party Congress, a meeting of Communist party delegates from all parts of the Soviet Union. Representatives of almost every Communist party in the world were also present. It was the first such congress since Stalin’s death and the delegates knew they had been summoned to Moscow to hear something of great importance. Even so, none of them were prepared for what they heard that day. For Khrushchev’s speech was a direct and merciless attack on Stalin and Stalin’s policies. For years, Communists throughout the world had insisted that Stalin was a great teacher and humanitarian, a father of peoples, a leader who was showing mankind the way to a …

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Death of a Dictator 1946 – 1953

cold war

AS THE SKY darkened over Moscow on the evening of March 5, 1953, thousands of people waited in line before a building called the Hall of Columns. Some of them wept; some carried flowers. Moving slowly and silently toward the entrance, they could see a forty-foot portrait of Premier Josef Stalin, framed in gold, which hung on the side of the building. News of Stalin’s death had been announced late that afternoon and now he lay in state in an immense room whose marble columns were draped in flags of red and black. Four days later, Stalin’s body was carried to the tomb on Red Square where lay the body of Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. At twelve noon, when Stalin’s body was placed beside that of Lenin, cannon were fired in every city of Russia. Cars, trucks, busses and trains stopped for five minutes, while people repeated the phrase, “Proshe, oteytz”–“Farewell‚ father” and so the Russians took leave of the man who had ruled them for twenty-nine years. Those twenty-nine years had been among the most eventful and terrible in history, not only for Russia, but for the world. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union had been industrialized. It had fought off an invasion from Nazi Germany and after the war, had established a mighty Communist empire in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. A once backward country had become one of the greatest powers on earth, but the price, in lives and liberty, had been unbelievably high. Millions of people had been killed for resisting Stalin’s program of rapid industrialization, or for disagreeing with him on political issues — or simply because Stalin had suspected them of disloyalty. The older that Stalin grew, the more tyrannical he became. In 1946, when the cold war with the West began, …

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