I have several essays from my college years sitting around gathering dust. Instead of trashing them, I am editing them and putting them online. The following is one such essay. I wrote this one for a U.S. History class.
The results of World War II have a significant effect on the United States foreign policy in modern times. Between the Second World War and the Vietnam War, communism has been a factor in deciding American foreign policy issues. The collapse of the communist USSR triggered the resolution of many controversial issues and concerns from this era.
Cold War era foreign policy began in World War II and the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like in most wars, many events during World War II were controversial. The war had changed the lives of millions and people needed scapegoats. Was the United States government hypocritical? Should we have treated the Japanese so harshly? Are there rules for wars? We needed to answer all these questions after the war.
Harry S Truman was the president after the war when the people needed answers to the issues of World War II. Some saw the United States government as hypocritical for its actions during the war. The country that was once an international haven had turned away war refugees and imprisoned thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans. The government should not have turned away refugees and imprisoned Japanese-American civilians. These were thoughtless actions by a paranoid nation. Truman had a tough job of settling disputes and offering apologies after the war.
War should not have rules because rules only benefit the most dominant side. The weaker side in any war often has to use more extreme and unpredictable tactics to win, which usually means violating the rules. Ideally, nobody should use the Lieber Codes for war because war should not exist in an ideal society. War itself is an excuse to violate every basic law of humanity. The atrocities, the bombing, and the killing of World War II might have been necessary. But the people responsible must also be prepared to face the consequences of their actions after the war. The government must give apologies, imprison war criminals, and repay all the victims.
The United States’ treatment of the Japanese was another matter. The bombing of Pearl Harbor and World War II propaganda fueled hatred for the Japanese. The government interned thousands of Japanese-Americans into concentration camps. Some even speculated that Roosevelt intentionally provoked the Japanese to attack. If that is true, then the anti-Japanese sentiment that followed worked well for him in making war with Japan.
Besides dealing with the aftermath of World War II, Truman had to deal with his own war. Russia preached world revolution with communism. It horrified the United States. The United States was afraid of communism because it violated the most basic principles of American democracy. To the American people, communism meant the possible downfall of capitalism, religion, and world domination for the United States.
In 1950, Truman sent troops to Korea in an attempt to stop the expansion of communism. Truman didn’t have much choice on this issue. He had issued the Truman Doctrine three years earlier. It stated that the United States would attempt to suppress any foreign communist revolution.
Korea was America’s first taste of what it would be like to fight against communism. The Korean War became a back-and-forth war with some gains and some losses, but no win in sight. When faced with a possible escalation of the war, Truman opted out by firing Douglass MacArthur and arranging a ceasefire. It was a wise decision because escalating war with both Russia and China would only have led to a nuclear disaster or an all-out war with massive casualties. Though many people thought that the United States could have won the Korean War, the consequences of underestimating an enemy can be tremendous.
Another conflict that Truman was watching was the Vietnamese revolution against French imperialism. Truman had been backing the French by sending them money to aid in their fight against Vietnamese revolutionaries. By the time the French were defeated, Truman’s second term of office was over. Eisenhower was now president.
Eisenhower’s years as president were peaceful, but tensions between the United States and Russia increased towards the end of his term. In 1959, Fidel Castro led a Communist revolution in Cuba, which is less than a hundred miles away from America. A year later, an American U2 spy plane was shot down over Russia, which set up a complicated presidency for John F. Kennedy.
John F. Kennedy came to office in 1960 amid tense relations with the communist Russians. Kennedy called his military plan “Flexible Military Response.” With this program, Kennedy increased spending on the armed forces to produce several specialized divisions to take on specific problems. But the first military action Kennedy approved was the Bay of Pigs fiasco. In April of 1961, America sent over a thousand Cuban-American exiles to Cuba to lead a revolution against Castro. The CIA’s prediction that Cubans would rally around the revolution to topple Castro proved to be a gross miscalculation. The American-backed Cuban revolutionaries were killed or taken prisoner as they landed on the beach. Instead of rallying around the revolutionaries, the Cubans saw the invasion as an attack by imperialist Americans. They rallied around Castro to defend their country.
Kennedy’s first real test came during the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. Aerial photographs of Cuba taken by a U2 spy plane revealed Russia transporting nuclear missiles into the country. Kennedy responded by opening up communications with the Russians and trying to talk them into removing the weapons. Just talking wouldn’t sway the Russian leaders. Kennedy then ordered a naval blockade of Cuba to stop Russia from bringing in any more weapons. This maneuver was the highlight of Kennedy’s foreign policy. It defused a situation that could have cost millions of American lives.
The next major event of American foreign policy was the Vietnam War. President Kennedy had begun to send military advisors to Vietnam to support the democratic regime. The war escalated after Lyndon B. Johnson came into office. By 1968, over half a million American troops were in Vietnam. There were violent anti-war demonstrations across the United States. Because of the Vietnam War, Americans are now cautious of any foreign war.
The Vietnam War was America’s first unpopular war, and also the only war America has lost. The veterans of the war did not come home to a heroes’ welcome as in other wars. Vietnam was a reality check for Americans. Before the war, Americans were arrogant with pride that the United States was the most powerful country in the world. The Vietnam War proved that without widespread support, you could lose a war even when you have the superior military technology. It also showed that the United States could not solve all the problems in the world.