Prelude to the Cold War
During the 1940s, President Truman ordered the investigation of applicants for government jobs for fear of communist infiltration. Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council were created to focus on new security and intelligence issues.
Yet Truman faced criticism that he hadn't gone far enough. In 1948, American writer and editor Whittaker Chambers testified before Representative Richard Nixon and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee that he'd been a Communist in the 1920s and 1930s, and that he'd transmitted secret information to Soviet agents. He charged that Alger Hiss, a member of the State Department, was a Communist and that Hiss turned over classified documents to him. Although Hiss denied the charges, Chambers produced document copies implicating Hiss in the matter. After a probe by the Department of Justice, Hiss was indicted for perjury. His first jury failed to reach a verdict, but his second trial in January 1950 handed him a conviction.
The Spread of Communism
Communism was taking hold in China as well, where the Nationalist government of Chiang Kaishek (which the United States had supported) could no longer withstand the onslaught of Communist forces led by Mao Tsetung (now often spelled “Mao Zedong”). By the end of 1949, government troops had been defeated, forcing Chiang into exile on Taiwan. Elated by victory, Mao formed the People's Republic of China. Truman's critics charged that the administration failed to support the anti-Communist movement in China to its fullest ability. It didn't make anyone less nervous when Truman also announced that the Soviet Union had developed its own atomic bomb. Soon, fallout shelters were built and stocked with provisions in the event of atomic attack.
Twenty-three nuclear tests were carried out at Bikini Atoll (a coral reef island) between 1946 and 1958. The original natives were granted $325,000 in compensation and returned to Bikini in 1974. But they were evacuated four years later when new tests showed high levels of residual radioactivity in the region. They sued the United States and were awarded $100 million in compensation.
In 1952, in the Marshall Islands, the United States conducted tests on a weapon of even greater magnitude. In fact, the hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb, was 500 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This thermonuclear device was powered by a fusion reaction rather than the fission reaction of the A-bomb.
Things Start to Get Out of Hand
Many opposed the H-bomb's development, including well-known scientists, but it was thought that the Soviets would produce their own. Although it was terrifying, this new superbomb equipped the United States with a powerful deterrent — or, heaven forbid, weapon — in any future conflict.
In 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched the first man-made object placed in orbit, which they called
What is the origin of the term “Iron Curtain”?
In a speech given in 1946, President Harry Truman introduced the great wartime leader of Great Britain, Winston Churchill. After receiving an honorary degree, Churchill used the term “Iron Curtain” to describe the line in Europe between self-governing nations of Western Europe and those in Eastern Europe under Soviet Communist control.