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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cold war

Death of a Dictator 1946 – 1953

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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The United Nations and the End of Colonialism 1946 -1965

Even before the Korean War, the United Nations had proved that it could take effective action to control serious conflicts. It first took such action in the conflict over Palestine. During World War I, the British had ousted the Turks from Palestine. When the war was over, the League of Nations placed that land under the authority of Britain. The British then issued the famous Balfour Declaration, which promised the Jewish people that Palestine would someday become their homeland, but the Arabs of Palestine and the surrounding countries strongly objected to this and year after year passed without the British making good their promise. During and after World War II, Britain refused to allow Jewish refugees from Europe to enter Palestine. In 1946 Jewish terrorists began to stage raids against the British army and a year later Britain turned the Palestine problem over to the United Nations. The General Assembly set up a special committee to investigate the situation and make recommendations and several months later the committee delivered its report. It recommended that Palestine be divided into two independent states, one Arab and one Jewish. Although the Arabs, who formed a majority of the people in Palestine, said they would never allow the existence of a Jewish state, the General Assembly approved the committee’s report. Britain was expected to carry out and enforce the recommendations. Instead, the British suddenly left Palestine in the spring of 1948 and war broke out between the Arabs and the Jews. The Palestinian Arabs were supported by troops from the surrounding countries of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, but the Jewish army, which included many hardened veterans of World War II, won battle after battle. With every victory, the Jews added to the territory originally granted them by the United Nations special committee. Most …

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War in Korea 1945-1953

Although the cold war was the most important fact in the politics of the post-war world, few persons could have foreseen that it would lead to fighting in the small, remote country of Korea. Yet, as small and remote as it was, Korea had a strategic location. It was near three large powers — Russia, China and Japan — and the Japanese said it “points like a dagger at the heart of our country.” The Japanese won control of Korea in the Russo-Japanese War and by 1905 they ruled it as part of their empire. During World War II, the Allies promised that “in due course Korea shall become free and independent.” When Japan surrendered, they agreed that Russian troops would occupy Korea north of the thirty-eighth parallel and American troops would occupy Korea south of the thirty-eighth parallel. A provisional government would then be set up and after a period of no longer than five years, Korea would govern itself as an independent nation. The occupation of Korea was carried out as it had been planned, but the United States and the Soviet Union could not agree on a provisional government. Each set up a provisional government friendly to itself and in 1947 the United States brought the dispute before the United Nations General Assembly. The Assembly decided to hold elections in Korea, but the Soviet Union refused to allow United Nations representatives to enter its occupation zone. Elections were held outside the Russian zone and in 1948 the Korean Republic was established in South Korea. The city of Seoul was made the capital and Syngman Rhee was elected president. Thirty-two nations, including the United States, recognized the new government; the Russians and “their supporters did not. Instead, the Soviet Union helped to set up a new and separate …

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China and Revolution 1912 – 1962

Like Gandhi and Nehru in India, one of China’s greatest leaders, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, learned from the West as well as the East. Born in 1867 of a Christian family, he received most of his education in Hawaii; while an exile, he lived in Europe, America and Japan. Although Dr. Sun had been educated to be a surgeon, he soon gave up the practice of medicine to lead his people against their Manchu rulers. The Chinese were successful in overthrowing the Manchus and in 1912 they proclaimed their country a republic. Dr. Sun, who became known as the “father of the Chinese revolution,” was named president, but he turned the office over to Yuan Shih-kai, a general who had a number of followers. Dr. Sun believed that Yuan would be better able to keep order and unify the country. Instead, Yuan made himself a military dictator and when he died in 1916, China was more divided than ever. Local war lords, or military governors, controlled the provinces. Each of the war lords had his own soldiers, collected taxes and ruled his territory as he pleased. Seeking for a way China could become a free and independent nation, Dr. Sun worked out his “Three Principles of the People‚” or, in Chinese, San Min Chu I. The first of the three principles was nationalism. Chinese society had always been based mainly on the family; now the Chinese must think of themselves as a great and unified nation with a long history of civilization. They must rule themselves and have the same power as other nations. They must stop giving concessions and special privileges to foreigners and they must do away with the war lords. The second principle was democracy. The government and the people must be responsible to each other. The people …

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Independence for India 1920 – 1964

Even before the end of World War II, it was clear that Asia and Africa would soon be shaken by a great movement for independence. Everywhere the colonial peoples wanted to be free of the rule of other countries. The British, who controlled more colonies than any other nation, knew that they faced the break-up of their empire. Churchill was opposed to giving up any of Britain’s power. In 1942, he said, “I haven’t become the king’s first minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”  A number of Englishmen shared his view, including some members of the Labour party: As late as 1946, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, a leader of the Labour party, said, “I’m not prepared to sacrifice the British Empire, because I know that if it fell a great collection of free nations would go into the limbo of the past and would create disaster.” When, after the end of the war, Ceylon, Malaya and Burma demanded independence Britain agreed. Ceylon and Malaya remained within the British Commonwealth, while Burma cut itself off from Britain completely. The problem of India, the largest and most important of Britain’s possessions, proved more difficult to solve. The Indians were firmly determined to win independence. “Come what may,” one Indian leader said, “we will come out as a free nation or be thrown into the ashes.” Yet the Indians were not a united people; they were divided by religious differences. On one side were the Hindus, organized into the All-India Congress party, led by Jawarharlal Nehru. On the other side were the Moslems. They wanted a separate Moslem state of their own, to be called Pakistan and they had set up the Moslem League, under the leadership of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. The Hindus themselves were divided into numerous castes, …

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The United Nations and the Nations Disunited 1943 -1949

So at last, in the Pacific as in Europe, the guns were silent; the nations that had brought so much death and destruction to the world had been defeated, but victory alone was not enough. Governments had to be set up for the defeated nations, the destruction of war had to be repaired, hungry people had to be fed, industry and commerce had to be set in motion. Even more important, a way had to be found to keep war out of the world, to settle disputes between nations by peaceful means rather than by violence. The League of Nations, which had been set up for such a purpose after World War I, had failed, but the attempt had to be made again, for a third world war might well destroy all of civilization. Even before World War II ended, President Roosevelt had been looking ahead to the future and the United States proposed the establishment of a new international organization. Her wartime allies were quick to agree. Meeting in Moscow in October of 1943, the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and China declared: “The four powers recognize the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security.” Representatives of the same four nations met at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington from August 21 to October 7, 1944, to discuss plans for the new organization. When Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met at Yalta in February of 1945, they agreed that the United Nations Conference on International Organization be held at San Francisco in April. The conference was held as scheduled and it was attended by representatives of fifty nations at …

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Victory in the Pacific 1941 – 1945

On June 25, 1940, the Japanese war minister said, “The present international situation is developing in a manner advantageous to Japan’s national policy. We should not miss the present opportunity. . . Japan’s national policy was scarcely a secret. It had already linked itself by treaty to the aggressor nations of Germany and Italy – for several years it had been fighting an undeclared war against China. Although Chinese guerrilla forces were fighting back the Japanese controlled most of the Chinese railroads and held such cities as Peiping, Shanghai and Canton. They planned to establish something they called the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” –actually a vast empire that would take in the South Seas as well as East Asia, an empire ruled by the Japanese. In July of 1941, as another step in carrying out their plan, they occupied Indochina. In trying to build up its new empire, however, Japan ran into certain difficulties. The Chinese, led by Chiang K’ai-shek were getting more and more aid from the United States and Britain. Even more important, Japan depended on trade with the United States and Britain for its war materials, especially scrap metal and oil. It was a serious blow when, in 1941, the United States and Britain “froze” all Japanese assets in the two countries, bringing trade to a stop. The Netherlands East Indies, which had been supplying oil to Japan, soon took the same action. In October, General Hideki Tojo became premier of Japan and the militarists were in full control of the government. Tojo sent a special envoy to Washington to negotiate with the United States. Japan demanded, among other things, that the United States stop all aid to China and again trade freely with Japan. The United States insisted that Japan withdraw its forces from China …

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world war 2

A World at War 1939 – 1941

Now the people of Europe began to hear a new sound, a sound that would haunt them throughout the years of war — the wail and shriek of air-raid sirens. At night, the lights of Europe went out and the “blackout” made familiar streets strange places of darkness. Street lamps were left unlit and windows were covered with heavy draperies. Any stray gleam of light might help guide enemy bombers to their targets. Hurrying about their wartime duties, the people of Britain and France began to wonder. They had not wanted war and yet war had come. Why? What had happened? It seemed mysterious and impossible to understand, but as they thought about it, certain things became clear. Some of the problems that led to World War II were left-overs from World War I. Germany and Italy had remained “have-not” nations. They needed more territory for raw materials and more markets for their goods. The Germans felt that the Versailles Treaty was humiliating, unjust and the Allies had done nothing to change it. The League of Nations, especially without the participation of the United States, had been weak and had not carried out its promise of real disarmament. The United States had not wanted to get involved in Europe’s problems and had followed a policy of “isolation.” These were some of the causes of the war; there were others as well. France had suffered greatly in World War I and was afraid of being drawn into another conflict. Her generals had hesitated to send troops against Hitler at a time when it was still possible to stop him and then there was the distrust of the Soviet Union and Communism. Many French and British statesmen, such as Chamberlain, had believed that Fascism would protect Europe against Communism. Unlike Churchill, they …

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“Peace in Our Time” 1938 – 1939

Czechoslovakia was a country of many peoples. The largest groups were the Czechs and the Slovaks, but in the region called Sudetenland lived 3,000‚000 Germans. Although Sudetenland had never belonged to Germany — it had once been under the rule of Austria — Hitler was determined to “bring the Sudeten Germans home.” The Nazis had been active in Sudetenland for some time and after Hitler took over Austria they became busier than ever. Throughout the spring and summer of 1938, the Sudeten Germans made demands on the Czech government. In Germany, there were threatening troop movements. Hitler also began the construction of what became known as the Siegfried Line — fortifications that ran along the Rhine River, stretching from Switzerland to the Netherlands. It seemed as if war would break out at any moment, but Hitler had France, the Soviet Union and Britain to reckon with. France and the Soviet Union had agreed to aid Czechoslovakia if it was invaded and Britain supported France, so at first, Hitler moved cautiously. Then, in August, danger of war flared up again. The German armed forces called up nearly a million and a half men for maneuvers. At the same time, the Sudeten Germans were carrying on negotiations with the Czech government. The government agreed to give them almost complete control of the Sudetenland, but would Hitler be satisfied? The answer would come on September 12, when Hitler would make a speech to the congress of the Nazi party at Nuremberg. As that day approached, Britain and France did what they could to strengthen their defenses. The day arrived and Hitler made his speech in a stadium packed with shouting Nazis. He demanded “justice” for the Sudeten Germans. They must have the right to decide for themselves whether or not to join Germany. …

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