There were a number of important reasons for why the USA believed it was losing the Cold War in the 1950s, it started shortly after the end of the second world war when the USSR established the ‘Iron Curtain’ over the now communist Eastern Europe. In early 1947 the British government said it could no longer support Greece and so many diplomats feared the USSR would try to spread its power throughout the Middle East, President Truman met this problem by giving $400million in aid money to Greece and turkey, this policy of aid became known as the ‘Truman Doctrine’.
The USA was becoming worried about the growing threat of communism affecting the liberties of capitalism in the rest of the world and so a policy of ‘containment’ was established to prevent aggressive communist countries trying to influence others. In 1949 in a case that shocked the world China’s civil war was coming to an end and Mao Zedongs communist forces were beginning to take control and eventually pushed the nationalists out of mainland China forcing Chang Kai Sheks remaining forces to flee to Cuba.
In early September Mao’s declaration of a Communists Peoples Republic of China sent shockwaves throughout the USA with people believing Stalin was spreading the word of communism and that the President Truman had been to ‘soft’ on the issue. Many American’s now felt that with such a large country falling to communism then the forces of freedom and capitalism seemed under threat.
To further add to the USA’s dismay in 1949 the USSR makes its first test of the A-bomb meaning it has once again caught up to the USA in the arm’s race leading to fears that the USSR would soon match and eventually take over the West in terms of arms production. In 1950 things went from bad to worse with the communist forces of South Korea launching a surprise attack on the recently divided South, within two weeks the North Korean forces had reached the capital of Seoul and the USA felt obligated to take action to prevent yet another country falling to communism.
This action in Korea was part of the USA’s policy of ‘roll-back’ as established in the NSC-68 policy which stated that the USA should do all it can to ensure non-communist regimes were viable as alternatives to communism and it should take military measures to meet the threat of communism as it was not an issue to be faced lightly. The policy of NSC-68 also lead to increased spending on defence, particularly for the USA to keep an edge on the missile gap.
Due to issue’s such as the USSR’s quick catch up in the missile gap there spread fears that communist spy’s existed in the US and as such a loyalty review board was established to check up on government employee’s leading to 3000 workers being sacked within 3 years, this anti-communist scheme was led by Joseph McCarthy and became known as ‘McCarthyism’, people’s fears were greater established when it was discovered a spy ring had been passing atomic secrets to the USSR all were found guilty and some were executed, the USA would not show mercy upon the threat of communism.
In February 1950 China and the USSR signed the ‘Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance’. This put much pressure upon the USA to look strong against the threat of two super powers such as this uniting. In the Geneva agreement of 1953 North Korea is recognised meaning the policy of ‘roll-back’ has failed. Because of this Eisenhower Imposes a ‘new-look’ policy which puts a new reliance upon Nuclear weapons and the act of brinkmanship, ensuring massive retaliation to all enemies of the USA however this put a threat upon all human existence.
This same year McCarthyism continues to spread with loyalty tests being introduced as paranoia of communism grows amongst the American people with the USSR revealing they now have A-bombs as well as a fleet of long range bombers meaning that nowhere is now off limits, this knowledge sparked much panic and uneasiness amongst Americans. However 1955 led to a brief ‘thaw’ in the Cold War at the Geneva Summit Conference as Eisenhower, Khrushchev and British Prime Minister Eden discuss disarmament and European security, Eisenhower proposes an ‘Open Skies’ policy which would allow aerial reconnaissance of each other’s territories.
In 1956 the Hungarian people revolt against Communist rule and make futile attempts to the USA for assistance but the USSR sends in tanks and the revolt is brutally crushed as the country falls to Communism, this further adds fuel to the flame amongst American people that the USA is losing the Cold War as the ‘roll-back’ policy is not enforced. Again in 1956 on July 26th President Nasser of Egypt nationalises the crucial trade route of the Suez Canal leading to a coalition of Britain, France and Israel attacking Egypt, but the refuses to help and instructs them to withdraw and so a cease-fire is established.
This leads to even more worry that the USSR is gaining an advantage in the Cold War. 1957 leads to further revelations as the USSR announces its first successful ICBM test meaning missiles from Russia can now reach America, which strikes fear into the hearts of the American people. This same year Sputnik launches Sputnik the first satellite to orbit the earth and Sputnik 2m which carries the first living creature (a dog) into space. So now the USA was not only winning the space race but had achieved superiority in long-range ballistic missiles leading to further fears of a ‘missile gap’.
Khrushchev becomes the Soviet Premier in 1958 in addition being the First Secretary of the Communist Party, he declares an ultimatum telling the allies to withdraw from Berlin allowing Germany to become reunified, neutral and denuclearised or f ace the permanent division of Germany leading to a very close game of brinkmanship, however Khrushchev soon backs down and once again tensions fall after yet another close call. China begins to put pressure on Taiwan and President Kennedy puts into motion a ‘Flexible Response’ policy putting more reliance upon diplomacy and conventional forces.
In conclusion US attitudes both domestically and internationally were becoming more raucous in the 1950s. Both as a consequence of the increasing vulnerability felt by Americans, which had been brought about by the apparent perceived strength of the Soviet Union compared to that of the USA. The reactions were based on exaggerations of reality, the strength of communist support within the USA was never of any significant strength, the supposed technological and military of the superiority of the USSR merely a misconception, despite this, the attitudes developed in this period were to have a long-term impact on the USA.
One of the key factors in this was the role of ‘McCarthyism’, which led to much dissention and finger pointing amongst the American people as there was much communist paranoia which did little to boost morale and faith in the government. With fears of communist spies everywhere, the threat of nuclear war, the Soviets taking the lead in both the space and the arms race, more and more countries falling to communism and the alliance of Russia and China things looked bleak for the USA which is why they held the belief that they were losing the cold war.