Documents: Cold War

fter John F. Kennedy became the nation’s youngest elected President as a result of the 1960 election, he delivered his Inaugural Address in January,1961. This was during what is called the Cold War between the U. S. and the Soviet Union when the American public’s fears of a nuclear attack were high. Kennedy spoke of “the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science [that could] engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.” He urged his fellow Americans to feel honored in having the opportunity to courageously defend freedom and work for peace. He said: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate….” He concluded his Inaugural Address by referring to the responsibilities of citizenship. In doing so, he uttered the following, one of the most memorable and often quoted sentences from any presidential inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
General Douglas MacArthur delivered this Duty, Honor, Country speech in 1962 to West Point graduates when he received the Thayer Award which is given to a citizen whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto. In his address, MacArthur described the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country,” and the code of perseverance and responsibility and “conduct and chivalry” of the American soldier. He said, "Duty, Honor, Country – those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”
On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that he had been informed by American armed forces personnel that North Vietnam had fired on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin near Vietnam. He ordered retaliatory bombing of targets in North Vietnam and asked the U. S. Congress for a resolution supporting his actions. On August 7, 1964, with very little debate, Congress responded by adopting the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of 1964 by a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives and by an 88-2 vote in the Senate. It contained the following key language which expanded the war power of President Johnson, and later President Richard Nixon, and was used to legally justify their actions leading to greater American involvement in Vietnam: “To promote the maintenance of international peace and security in Southeast Asia, Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attacks against the forces of the U. S. and to prevent any further aggression.” In the undeclared war that followed, the Resolution became the subject of much controversy. At the peak of U. S. involvement in Vietnam in 1969, more than 500,000 U. S. military personnel were involved, and opposition to American involvement grew. The Resolution was finally repealed in January, 1971, and American involvement in Vietnam ended in 1973 even though the war continued until 1975. It is estimated that from 1965-1973, the U. S. spent more than $120 billion on the conflict. Over 50,000 Americans and over 2,000,000 Vietnamese died. In 1975, the Communists seized control of Saigon, ending the Vietnam War, and the country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The nation’s involvement in Vietnam drew attention away from Johnson’s Great Society programs for social reform and civil rights. The unpopularity of the war with many Americans also took a toll on Johnson personally, so much so that he eventually decided not to seek re-election as President in 1968. As time passed, doubts arose as to whether or not the North Vietnamese had launched an attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin or at least whether the Johnson administration had exaggerated or inflated what had happened.

Europe in the summer of 1945 has been described in the following way: “Much of Europe lay in ruins. In the hardest hit areas, cities were reduced to rubble, bridges destroyed and highways made impassable, crops could not be planted; factories were either crippled or demolished, and production fell to dangerously low levels. Everywhere in areas hit hardest by war, there were refugees and displaced people, many having lost everything but the clothes on their backs.” … “Then came the winter of 1946-1947, the worst in memory, hitting Britain and Western Europe particularly hard, blanketing much of the area with massive snow drifts, downed power lines, and disruption of transportation; an alarming number of people suffered from frostbite and many thousands were on the verge of starvation.” As if all of this were not enough, historians point out that “these hardships were accompanied by political and social upheavals throughout the world. China was on the brink of civil war; the Middle East was in turmoil with the agitation for a new state of Israel; the government of Greece was challenged by insurrectionists; Iran and Turkey were threatened by the Soviet Union; communist parties were growing in strength and number in France and Italy; and France, Britain, and the United States were at odds with the Soviet Union over the division and destiny of Germany. Eastern European countries fell under the political and military control of the Soviet Union, and shortly the world was talking about an ‘iron curtain’ drawn between East and West in Europe and a ‘cold war’ between the Soviet Union and the West.” The United States, like it or not, had been thrust into the role of a world leader, and, for an important moment in American history, the Republican-controlled Congress and the Democratic administration, bitterly scrapping against each other on many domestic fronts, came together to create a bipartisan foreign policy. In a short speech at Harvard University in June 1947, President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State George Marshall outlined what became popularly known as the Marshall Plan. Marshall was highly respected by members of both parties in Congress and by world leaders as well and, perhaps most important, he was not a partisan politician. The legislation provided a little over $6 billion in economic assistance ($13.5 billion over a four-year period): sixteen nations in Western Europe plus West Germany received $5.3 billion, and China, Greece, and Turkey received $700 million in economic and military aid. The Act had to go through annual reauthorizations to fulfill its full $13.5 billion in assistance. Great Britain, France, Italy, and West Germany were the greatest recipients. The Marshall Plan ended in June 1952. In 1955, former President Harry Truman wrote: “The Marshall Plan was one of America’s greatest contributions to the peace of the world. I think the world now realizes that without the Marshall Plan it would have been difficult for Western Europe to remain free from the tyranny of Communism.” Speaking in 1997, the former West German leader Helmut Schmidt said: “The United States should not forget that the emerging European Union is one of its own greatest achievements: it would never have happened without the Marshall Plan.” The plan helped stabilize democratic governments, assisted European countries to begin the first steps toward economic and political integration, and demonstrated to both former ally and foe, that the United States was willing to provide much-needed assistance at critical times. The plan thrust the United States into the role of international leader.
Until just before World War I, road building was almost exclusively a county or state government enterprise. Since 1916, the federal government has provided financial assistance and technical support for state primary, secondary and urban highways, and in 1944, after many years of hesitation, Congress enacted legislation to develop an interstate highway system yet failed to appropriate funds for its construction. A few years later, President Dwight Eisenhower played a key role in the passage of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956. An experience which then Lt. Colonel Eisenhower had in the summer of 1919 had a lasting impression on the future President and led him later to become an enthusiastic advocate for an interstate highway system. Eisenhower was an officer in an expedition which the War Department undertook to demonstrate the need for better roads. A caravan of seventy-five trucks, cars, ambulances, and repair cars began a trip across the United States on July 7 at a location near the White House in Washington, D. C. and sixty-two days later ended in San Francisco on September 6. The other experience which left a lasting impression on Eisenhower, was his exposure in World War II to the Autobahnen, the advanced highway system of Hitler’s Germany. These experiences led Eisenhower to make improvement of the nation’s highway system a major domestic priority of his years as President. The Interstate Highway Act provided $31billion ($26 billion federal) for interstate highways with a funding formula of 90% federal and 10% state. A Highway Trust Fund was created to raise $14.8 billion over a sixteen-year period from increases in taxes on gasoline, diesel, and special motor taxes. The interstate highway system was to be completed by 1969, and was to be at its inception the most complex and expensive public works project ever undertaken in the United States, meeting the burgeoning demand for safe, dependable limited access highway transportation for a growing, increasingly prosperous nation. The project took much longer than expected, cost far more than planned, and was twenty years behind the original schedule. However, it must be noted the interstate highway system has proven to be a remarkably efficient means of transportation and a catalyst for economic growth and prosperity. It comprises less than 1 percent of all highway mileage in the United States, yet transports nearly a quarter of all road traffic. It has spurred lower freight transportation costs, has permitted productivity gains through just-in-time shipping methods, and has been a critical boost to businesses dependent on safe, reliable, highway transportation. Suburban economic growth has been greatly assisted by the interstate system and urban nodes, created around interstate beltways and corridors, have blossomed miles away from downtown. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been spared major injury or death because motorists use the far safer interstate system. It is difficult to imagine what America’s transportation network would look like, or how it would function, without the limited-access multi-lane highway system established by Congress in 1956.