jueves, 31 de enero de 2008

Lecture 28: The End of the Cold War, 1961-1991

In the lecture on the Cold War’s origins and course during in the 1940s and 50s, we noted that it must be understood as a strategic competition rather than a shooting war. Two mutually exclusive economic and political systems confronted each other and began competing for influence around the world. This competition began with the occupation and reorganization of Europe after the Second World War and then extended to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Although the United States and Soviet Union did not engage in a shooting war, the essence of their conflict was military. Both sides occupied large areas outside their respective countries. The Soviet Union controlled Eastern Europe and the United States had troops in Western Europe and Japan, as well as an array of military bases around the globe. In addition, by the late 1950s both sides had nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them on ballistic missile platforms. This strategic balance of terror made the Cold War possible, in that it restrained both powers from engaging in direct conflict. This was good, in so far as it helped to avoid another world war, one that would have been more destructive than both of the World Wars combined. Nonetheless, it also brought with it other problems that would not be resolved for fifty years.
In order to understand the Cold War’s rise and decline more clearly, we must divide it into two stages: 1945-1961, and 1961-1991. We covered the first period in the lecture on the Cold War’s origins. In this lecture we will consider mostly the second period. 1961 was a crucial year in many respects. First, it marked Soviet Communism’s high-water mark politically. During the 1950s, it seemed that the Soviet Union and its allies, including China, were slowly taking over the world. To those living in the United States and Western Europe, their countries appeared as outposts in a hostile sea. The Soviets had gobbled up all of Eastern Europe after World War II and used force to keep their economic system in place. In 1953, Soviet tanks crushed riots in East Berlin. In 1956, the Soviet military also put down an anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary. In 1949, Mao Zedong led his Communist Party to victory and then promptly signed an alliance with the Soviets. In 1950, Communist North Korea launched a surprise attack on South Korea, and China also invaded Tibet. In 1959, Fidel Castro and his small band of followers overthrew the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista and promptly allied with the Soviet Union.
The United States responded to Soviet activity with a system of alliances that included NATO, SEATO, and CENTO, as well as a massive aid programs such as the Marshall Plan and other forms of direct aid to countries around the world. Although the United States had resisted Soviet attempts to increase its influence around the world throughout the 1950s, it was clear by 1961 that a national consensus against the Soviets had emerged. In his inaugural presidential address John F. Kennedy set the tone, saying, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to ensure the survival and success of liberty.” The bi-polar world of the superpowers was now the stuff of daily politics.
Second, 1961 was also the highpoint of Soviet science’s world leadership. In 1949, the Soviets had exploded their own atomic bomb and a hydrogen bomb followed in 1953. The rapidity of these Soviet advances was impressive. In atomics the United States had had the lead for four full years from 1945 until 1949. The gap between the two superpowers narrowed more rapidly, however, with the hydrogen bomb: the US exploded the first hydrogen bomb in 1952, and Soviets caught up almost right away. When both acquired the H-bomb, the world entered an even more dangerous phase, since the destructive capacity of a hydrogen bomb was orders of magnitude greater than ordinary atomic weapons. (The United State’s explosion of an H-bomb in the south Pacific blew a hole in the ocean that was seven miles deep.)
In addition, the Soviets clearly had the lead in ballistic and space technology. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik into orbit. Sputnik II, which carried a dog inside, went up only a month later. These launches gave the Soviets valuable experience in understanding space flight’s effects on living bodies. The United States responded quickly, if frantically, launching its first ballistic missile at the end of the year, and putting its first satellite, Explorer I, into orbit on January 31, 1958. The race for space was on, but the Soviets seemed to be winning. On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth, spending 1 ½ hours in space. The United States responded on May 5 by sending Alan Shepard into space for a brief 15 minutes, and then only on a sub-orbital path. Once again, the United States was behind. The first American to achieve full earth orbit was John Glenn in 1962, and it is in this context of perceived backwardness that we must understand John F. Kennedy’s famous call on May 25, 1961 to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. The Americans feared losing the technological edge to the Soviets and were willing to spend a lot of money to make up the distance. The difference between the two powers was that, ultimately, only the Americans had the money to wage this technological war.
Finally, the Soviet Economy seemed to be outperforming the American one during the 1950s. Although we now know that Soviet growth rates were not real, there was great anxiety over Soviet Economic performance in America at the time. Whatever its limitations, the Fifth Five-Year Plan (1951-55) increased national income by 71%. The Sixth Five-Year Plan (1956-60) shifted some of the traditional emphasis on heavy industry toward consumer goods, though a subsequent Seven-Year Plan (1957-1962) rearranged these priorities yet again. This latter plan emphasized chemical industries and heavy investments in farming in the eastern Soviet Union and seemed to enjoy some initial success. National income increased 58%. Gross industrial production rose by 84%. Producer goods production went up 96% and consumer goods 64%.
Overall, Soviet annual growth rates between 1928 and 1955 were, supposedly, over 12%. Comparable western figures were 10%. By 1960, official Soviet statistics showed an annual growth rate of 10%, though those rates dropped steadily through the succeeding decades. These rising numbers even led the General Secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev to predict that Communist economies would, one day, surpass the capitalist ones in wealth. By the mid-80s, however, growth rates were officially estimated at 2.2%, with GDP coming in at $2.4 trillion. Just for comparison, in 1985 the American economy grew at 7.3% (4.1% in 2000 dollars) and its GDP was over $ 4.2 trillion. Moreover, it was becoming common knowledge that Soviet numbers were a lie. In 1988, the General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev reported to the Central Committee that the Soviet economy had in reality not grown in twenty years.
In retrospect we can see, however, that by 1961 the Soviet Union’s rise was over. Economically, its main problem was that it could not match capitalist economies in the production of wealth, which was increasingly measured in terms of consumer goods. This was already clear in 1959, when then Vice-President of the United States and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev debated the relative merits of their respective economic systems in a mock-up of an American kitchen in Moscow. However silly the debate may appear to us today, it is clear that people living behind the iron curtain not only had few consumer goods at their disposal but also less vacation time. Moreover, at the same time that the Soviet people had to work harder just to fall behind, the Soviet economy had to make huge sacrifices to its military budget. In today’s dollars the US spent about $320 billion per year on military defense to defeat the Soviet Union, which comes to about 8% of its GDP for 30 years. By the mid-80s, the Soviet Union was devoting 15-17% of its GDP to defense and could not increase its expenditures any further, when Ronald Reagan increased the American defense budget in the 1980s. In this sense, the Cold War military competition between the two societies had a disproportionately negative effect on the Soviet Union, since it had to compete against the United States with fewer overall resources at its disposal.
The success of NASA is an example of the gap that emerged between the two powers after 1961. NASA was created in 1958 in response to Sputnik, as an organization devoted to space exploration and to catching up to the Soviets. Although the program existed before John F. Kennedy entered office in January 1961, this president’s unwavering support for it, both in words and money, gave the program a significant boost and it began feverishly to build space vessels with the intention of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The progress toward a moon landing was deliberate. From 1961 until 1963, NASA pursued Project Mercury, which put a one-man capsule into space and then retrieved the pilot and capsule after a splashdown in the ocean. Mercury was succeeded by Project Gemini, which ran from 1964 to 1967. The Gemini system put a two-man capsule into space and recovered it and the pilots from the ocean. NASA’s world historical moment came, however, with Project Apollo, which was announced in 1961, but actually began in 1967. The Apollo Program sent a three-man capsule to the moon on top of the world’s most powerful rocket, the Saturn V Booster. On July 20, 1969 NASA put the first human beings on the moon with the Apollo 11 flight. The last moon landing occurred in December 1972, with Apollo 17. In this respect, the Soviet Union never matched America’s success.
The Apollo Program is an important example of the difficulties that the Soviet Union faced in trying to keep up with the United States. Overall, the program cost $ 25.4 billion, a sum of money that only the United States could afford, given the growing economic differences. In 1971, for example, US per capita income was the highest in the world at $18,842. For the Soviet Union the figure in that year was $1,385. Moreover, the space program spun off a series of important skills and inventions that the American consumer industry rapidly took over. For example, much of the impetus for miniaturization stemmed from NASA’s need to stuff as much electronic gear into as small a space as possible. America also gained vital experience in writing complicated computer programs. The codes that were loaded into the Apollo computers would have extended for miles, had they been printed out and laid end to end. The transfer of these programming skills to industry is an essential backdrop for the software revolution that undergirds modern computing.
In addition, the US space program’s relative success continued. The Soviets made a big push in the 1970s to surpass the United States by building a space station, and enjoyed great success in keeping the station working. The US matched the Soviets in 1973, though only barely, by building its own orbiting space lab. US superiority in space technology became clear, however, when it built the Space Shuttle, the world’s first reusable space vehicle, which was first launched in 1981. The latter two NASA programs were both scientific and business failures. Skylab, the American space station, never produced the kind of scientific breakthroughs that some scientists originally promised. In the end, it fell into the earth’s atmosphere and burned, due to an unforeseen problem in its orbital trajectory. The Space Shuttle, in particular, was supposed to be paying for itself by now by launching satellites into space, though it is now clear that the program is too expensive to cover its costs. Still, the Soviets were never able to do more in space than force their Cosmonauts to spend a lot of time in orbit. In the end, their technical abilities were always limited by their economic weaknesses.
In politics the first clear sign of the Soviet Union’s limits came with the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1960, Nikita Khrushchev promised to defend Cuban sovereignty with nuclear arms. Given the tensions that existed between the two powers, this was a dubious policy move. Had the United States promised to defend Hungary with nuclear weapons after it rose up against the Soviets in 1956, there could very well have been a nuclear war. Nonetheless, in 1962, Khrushchev took the Soviet Union on what can only be described as a foreign policy adventure, sending nuclear missiles to an island that was only 90 miles off the coast of Florida. The missiles’ proximity to the US border meant that United States would have had no warning of a nuclear attack, were the missiles ever launched. The only proper military posture in this case would have been a higher alert status that brought with it, in turn, a greater likelihood of an accidental launch against the Soviets. To understand how foolish Khrushchev’s policy was, consider how the Soviets would have reacted had the United States put nuclear missiles in Japan. They would rightly have seen this as a provocation and would have increased their alert status. President Kennedy was, therefore, right to respond forcefully to Khrushchev’s provocation and did so by blockading Cuba and forcing the Soviets to back down. In exchange for this retreat the United States agreed never to invade Cuba.
In 1964, Nikita Khrushchev was removed from power. This was due mostly to the dramatic failure of his agricultural policies, though the Cuban Missile Crisis had not helped matters. Under Khrushchev’s “Virgin Lands Campaign,” the Soviets invested huge sums of money in planting uncultivated land in the eastern Soviet Union. The plan was a fiasco, as the farms never produced much food, due to bad weather and even worse management. Khrushchev was replaced by a much more cautious man, Leonid Brezhnev, who became First Secretary of the Communist Party. Brezhnev was more business-like than Khrushchev and less prone to silly outbursts. Khrushchev had once said that the Soviets would give up their revolutionary ambitions only when shrimp learned how to sing. Brezhnev, however, resisted the temptation to rock the diplomatic boat.
Although Brezhnev ruled with an iron fist within the Communist world—he put down a mild reform movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968—he also tried to normalize relations with the West. The diplomatic result was a series of meetings and agreements that are now called détente. Brezhnev’s desire to bring more realism and less tension to the competition between the two great powers was mirrored in the United States by President Richard Nixon and his close adviser Henry Kissinger.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union had sound fiscal reasons for wanting to negotiate rather than to compete. The Soviet economy had ceased to grow and the United States had dramatically increased its public spending in the 1960s. On the one hand, President Lyndon Johnson’s domestic expenditures increased with the passage of a series of social initiatives that are known collectively as “the Great Society.” On the other hand, Johnson’s expansion of US involvement in the Vietnam War led not only to an increase in deaths but also to a major increase in military spending. By Richard Nixon’s election as president in 1968, Americans had grown weary of paying for the war, and Nixon began winding down US involvement in order to cut American losses. By 1973, the United States had signed a cease-fire with the North Vietnamese. This policy change came too late, however, for the American economy, as Nixon’s own fiscal policies combined with those of his predecessor to overheat the US economy, bringing nearly a decade’s worth of double-digit inflation.
Nonetheless, the Nixon administration also brought with it a new foreign policy realism to match Brezhnev’s. Both Nixon and Kissinger were willing to climb down from the traditional binary US-Soviet opposition out of practical concerns, and Nixon’s history of vocal anti-Communism gave him sufficient domestic political cover to pull this change off. We have already discussed Nixon’s famous visit to China; his negotiations with the Soviets over nuclear arms limitations were equally historic.
Between 1969 and 1972, both sides began to negotiate with each other in earnest to lessen political and military tensions. The American idea was that it would get the Soviets to moderate their international behavior by offering favorable economic deals. This came to be known as linkage in the West. Access to US money was deliberately linked to Soviet internal and international policies. The Soviet side, for its part, also wanted to restrain American military spending and fell back on an idea that had originated with Khrushchev, “peaceful coexistence.” The diplomatic result of these trends was the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, or SALT. First suggested by Lyndon Johnson, these talks produced two agreements on the limitation of strategic weapons, SALT I and SALT II. Signed on May 26, 1972 in Moscow, SALT I was a complicated collection of agreements, the most important of which were the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) and the Interim Agreement and Protocol on Limitation of Strategic Offensive Weapons. The ABM treaty limited both sides in the development and installation of anti-ballistic missile systems. The fear was that if either side were to have such a system, the other side would have no choice but to produce more missiles in order to overwhelm the system. The Interim Agreement froze both sides’ inter-continental (ICBM) and sea-launched (SLBM) missile systems. This was thought to be fair, since the Soviets had the lead in ICBMs and the United States in SLBMs.
President Nixon submitted SALT I to the United States Senate, where it was ratified. SALT II, which was negotiated by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, suffered a different fate. Signed in June 1979, this agreement expanded SALT I’s reach, limiting the number of MIRVs (Multiple Impact Re-entry Vehicles), heavy bombers, and the total number of ballistic missile launchers. President Carter was forced to withdraw the treaty from Senate consideration after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, however. Nonetheless, both sides voluntarily observed the limits until the signing of subsequent agreements.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on December 24, 1979 soured superpower relations for the next decade. First, the invasion raised again the specter of an aggressive Communist ideology that was bent on world domination. Public opinion in the United States rapidly turned against any further negotiation with the Soviets. President Jimmy Carter famously responded by boycotting the Olympics in Moscow and stating that he had learned a lot about the Soviet Union. Second, and at a much deeper level, technological change had overwhelmed SALT I and II’s basic premises.
During the late 1970s the Soviets developed a new intermediate-range ballistic missile called the SS-20, which could deliver a nuclear warhead about 5,000km. It then stationed these new missiles east of the Ural Mountains, which meant that the Soviet Union could blow up all of Europe in less than ten minutes. Some of America’s European allies responded by pressuring the United States to develop its own intermediate-range ballistic missiles and to station them in Western Europe. The results were the Pershing II and the Tomahawk Cruise missile, both of which could reach Moscow from Western Europe within 10 minutes. In spite of tremendous protests across Western Europe against their deployment, NATO put Pershing IIs on the Continent in the early 1980s. Taken together these weapons systems destabilized the fragile agreement between the two superpowers. The result was further talks and the signing of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, in which both sides pledged to eliminate their IRBMs.
American technological superiority also undermined the rough parity in inter-continental ballistic systems enshrined in SALT I. Until the 1980s, the United States had relied on two sea-borne missile systems, the Poseidon and Polaris, which were based on 1950s-era technology. After roughly 30 years in service, however, these systems needed to be updated, if for no other reason that they could no longer be maintained properly. During the late 1960s, the Americans began designing a new SLBM called the Trident I. This system was deployed during the 1980s and 90s. The Trident system was problematic for the Soviets for two reasons. First, the Soviets had no idea where American ballistic missile submarines were. The new Ohio-class submarines, which first appeared in 1981 were not only too quiet to be tracked by the Soviets, but they also carried 24 Trident missiles, each of which had eight MIRVed warheads. Since each warhead had an explosive capacity of 100 kilotons, only one submarine parked off the Soviet Union’s eastern coast could have wiped out half of the country. Second, by the time the Trident II was deployed in the early 1990s, American SLBMs had become so accurate that they had not only great range (7400km) but also hard-target kill capabilities. Each Trident II missile had ten 475-kiloton nuclear warheads, which meant that the United States could obliterate most of the Soviet Union’s land-based missile silos from just about anywhere in the Atlantic or Pacific, while keeping its own land-based forces in reserve.
What this meant for arms control was that the United States needed fewer launchers and fewer land-based missiles to threaten the Soviet Unions ICBMs. Thus, the basic logic of arms limitation was no longer applicable to the strategic situation, and one sign of this was the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks. Begun under President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and completed in 1991 by President George Bush and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, these talks led to a treaty that reduced strategic stockpiles in both sides for the first time.
Against these various backdrops we now need to consider two of the most significant among the Cold War’s many leaders, President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Ronald Reagan swept into office in November 1980 with a landslide election victory over the incumbent Jimmy Carter. The US economy’s dismal performance during the late 1970s sealed Carter’s fate, but dissatisfaction with his foreign policy was also a significant factor in the defeat. America wanted a more assertive leader, and Reagan entered office promising tax cuts, cuts in social programs, and an increase in defense spending. He delivered on all these promises, though there is much disagreement about their effects on the US economy.
Some people hold that Ronald Reagan jeopardized America’s financial health by increasing annual federal deficits. Others hold that his tax cuts liberated the American economy and made growth possible. Regardless of which side is right, by 1983 the American economy was growing rapidly. In 1984 the American voters gave Ronald Reagan credit for it, sweeping him back into the White House in another landslide victory and this time with an astonishing 59% of the popular vote. Thus, during his second term, Reagan not only had the support of the American people, but also a growing economy that boosted America’s spending power. The Soviets could not keep up with America’s increasing military spending and eventually had to bow out of the game entirely.
Mikhail Gorbachev confronted a decidedly different political and economic situation. In 1985, he became the Soviet Union’s leader amidst complete stagnation. The Soviet economy was not growing, and things such as alcoholism and infant mortality were on the rise. Recognized as a reformer, he instituted deep-seated structural reforms in Soviet public life and the economy. These reforms fell under two rubrics glasnost, which means openness, and perestroika, which means restructuring. Gorbachev opened the economy to more individual initiative and public life to more debate, in an attempt to compete more effectively with the United States.
Unfortunately for Gorbachev, his measures merely succeeded in destroying the old Soviet Union. Russians began to demand more freedom and democracy than Gorbachev was willing or able to give--for even Gorbachev’s limited reforms were outraging old-line Communists in the government and army. The apparent softening of Soviet politics led events very rapidly to get out of control. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and most of Eastern Europe declared its independence from the Soviet Empire. Gorbachev allowed these states to go their own way, even negotiating the former German Democratic Republic’s absorption into the Federal Republic of Germany. Gorbachev’s perceived weakness, however, spelled the end of his regime.
In 1991, old-line Communists held an unsuccessful coup, which not only broke Gorbachev but also the Soviet Union. Within a few months an imperial tradition that dated back to Peter the Great disintegrated, as peripheral Soviet Republics became independent states for the first time. Unable to muster enough strength to compete with the United States, the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving a poor and sick Russia in its wake.
It was believed at the time that the Cold War’s end marked the end of history. The two great adversaries had finally become friends. The new Russia would now become capitalist and prosperous, and the world could now live at peace. This dream was not to be fulfilled.

Lecture 27: China in the 20th Century

China began the 20th century in disarray and ended it as world’s second most important power, behind the United States. That is quite a journey in only a century, and to understand how this came about we need to look back. China boasted the world’s most advanced civilization through the seventeenth century. In technology, philosophy, statecraft, and trade, the world had much to learn from China, and the Chinese knew it. By the eighteenth century, however, Europe had caught up. Developments in this area between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries particularly in science, technology, and economic life made even single European states such as Britain more capable of projecting power around the globe than the vast Chinese Empire. This may have been due to growing Chinese introspection: they thought there was nothing to learn outside their borders. Thus, although China invented steel and gunpowder centuries before anyone in Europe, the Chinese did not consider the ways those inventions could be put to use. Moreover, the Chinese navy and merchant fleet were extremely advanced, and China never struck out into the wider oceans, seemingly happy to remain the center of world civilization.
China began to lag well behind European states by the middle of the nineteenth century. Between the rise of industry and the centuries-old imperial competition among states, Europeans proved able to project power around the globe. The British and French, for example, first began exploiting China fully in the wake of the Opium Wars. The British fought the first war alone from 1839 to 1842. The second, which saw the British and French allied against China, went from 1856 to 1860. After losing these wars, China essentially lost control of its borders, as French and British merchants controlled the terms of China’s trade with the outside world. More powers soon joined Britain and France, and by the end of the nineteenth century, China had essentially been dismembered into multiple spheres of influence.
As I noted in a previous lecture, only Japan among the Asian states proved able to resist the onslaught of Europe’s aggressive, industrialized powers. Unfortunately for Asia, Japan soon behaved just as badly as the rest and also carved out its own sphere of influence in China. Seen from the perspective of Japan’s growing power, the two world wars were Japan’s attempt to evict western powers from its perceived sphere. Japan, ultimately, lost that competition, and it was not until after 1945 that China determined its own destiny again and asserted itself as a world power.
In this lecture, I am going to divide Chinese history in the twentieth century into two parts. The first will cover the period from 1911 to 1949. The second will begin with 1949 and end in 1989. I begin with 1911, the year of China’s first revolution. In 1911, the weakened Imperial Regime decided to nationalize China’s railway system. This inspired revolts throughout China, and large regions of the country became independent of the central authority. This revolution marked the end of an epoch, as roughly 2,000 years of imperial Chinese tradition came to an end. The nineteenth century had stripped the monarchy and Chinese tradition of its authority, and many Chinese began to feel that the only way to save China was to follow western examples. The revolution’s main problem, however, was that it soon descended into factionalism.
On February 12, 1912, the last Chinese Emperor abdicated and Yüan Shih-k’ai, a powerful imperial minister was elected president. A Chinese parliament was set up and in the next year China’s nationalist party, the Kuomintang, was formed. Sun Yat-sen, a powerful member of the Kuomintang who is today considered the father of modern China, collaborated with Yüan until 1913, when the latter attempted a coup d’etat, and Sun had to flee to Japan. In response, Sun reorganized the Kuomintang on the model of a secret society and later a revolutionary party. Yüan remained in power until 1916, when political pressures defeated him. Yüan was never able to solve China’s biggest problem: in the absence of a strong central authority, warlords had taken over much of China. Between 1912 and 1928, for example, there were over 1300 of them controlling various parts of the country.
For the next decade the regional warlords divided China up. There was a government in Peking, but since it was made up of warlords, anyone outside the ruling clique did not have to listen to it. Sun returned to China in 1917, but was chased out again by a warlord. He returned again in 1923 and was able to make himself China’s de facto leader, thanks to the increasing power of the Kuomintang, though he died of cancer in 1925, leaving China in a state of flux.
Sun was important in popularizing the nationalist cause in China, but its intellectual leadership and the future came from elsewhere. Whereas, Sun spent most of his time in exile, fomenting revolution, new ideas and currents were beginning to appear in Peking. In 1916, a Chinese intellectual Chen Duxiu founded a journal called New Youth that preached the rejection of Chinese culture and the acquisition of western skills. Chen’s magazine was not a notable success. Chinese nationalism was as likely to turn on the west, as it was to embrace it. And Chen never had a solution to China’s real problem that the peasants could not have cared less one way or the other. The strongest impetus for change in change came with the end of World War I, with Japan’s acquisition of a mandate in China’s Shantung province. As you will recall from the lecture on Japan, Germany had controlled this province, but the Japanese took it from them. Given Japan’s strength, there was little that the European powers could to dislodge them. The Chinese government was so outraged by Japan’s mandate that the government refused to sign the treaty.
Public opposition to Versailles sparked a national movement that became know as “The May 4th Movement.” Beginning with students in Peking, this movement spread across China and morphed into a series of strikes and boycotts against Japanese goods. All sorts of city dwellers, from intellectuals, to politicians, to workers joined the movement. The movement failed to dislodge the Japanese, but it showed that new intellectual currents were forming.
It is in this context that we must consider the rise of Communism in China. In 1918, a Marxist study group appeared at the University of Peking in response to the Russian Revolution. Many members of the May 4th Movement joined this group, and one important name among them—though he was not important at the time—was Mao Zedong. By July of 1921, the group of intellectuals in Peking founded China’s Communist Party in Shanghai. This party actively fought Chinese inertia, and it became an important weapon against the west, since it was officially against capitalism, which was a western import.
During the 1920s, China slowly reacquired control over its territory. The western powers and Japan gave back their mandates, though they retained their commercial rights. Still it appeared that China was emerging again as an independent state. China’s new status was, however, only as good as the United States’ willingness and ability to guarantee it. And after 1919, the United States spent more energy disengaging from the world than engaging in it. In this context, Marxism became an ever more powerful force in China. Even Sun Yat-sen began moving closer to Marxism, believing that its collectivist vision was appropriate for China’s history and economy. Sun was fond of saying that the nation always had to be more important than the individual.
Sun Yat-sen’s attitudes and his willingness to take advice from the Soviet Communist Party made cooperation with the Chinese Communists possible. China was not yet united, and for dogmatic reasons, the Soviets did not want a Communist revolution in China at that point. Believing that a nationalist bourgeois revolution was necessary first, the Soviets ordered the Chinese communists to make common cause with the Kuomintang. The Kuomintang accepted members of the Communist Party in their ranks. One of them was Mao Zedong. And Sun’s chief deputy Chiang Kai-shek went to Moscow to study. Sun also founded a military academy that created soldiers for the new China.
Sun’s death in 1925 changed the fundamental situation. Sun’s lieutenant, Chiang, accepted Soviet help, but was determined not to allow the Soviets to interfere in Chinese politics. Unity persisted initially, as the Kuomintang’s army had eliminated most of the warlords by 1927. Indeed, as the Kuomintang became more powerful, the British even gave up their trade concessions in China, and the United States gave up its share of the indemnity from the Boxer Rebellion. The nationalists seemed to be winning the day.
Nonetheless, while Chiang was organizing the army and the cities, the Chinese Communists were busy in the countryside. Mao Zedong, one of the party’s leaders wanted the Communists to organize the peasants, because he believed that they were an untapped source of power. This required a break with Marxist dogma, since only the proletariat could lead the revolution according to Marx. Peasants were out of the picture. Nonetheless, by 1927, the Communists had organized over 10 million peasants. They gained peasant loyalty through practical things such as forcing landlords to lower the rents and forgive excessive debts.
The differences in emphasis between Chiang and Mao led to new conflicts. Chiang had allied himself with capitalist and merchant powers within Chinese cities. With access to money and having control of China’s finest military forces, by 1927 he felt that it was time to deal with the Communists. He attacked the Communists militarily, decimating their armies, and outlawed the Communist Party. This put the Soviets in an interesting position. They wanted a state that was hostile to Britain, but also had to follow Marxist dogma. After the Kuomintang appeared to win, the Soviets withdrew their advisers from the Chinese Communists.
Chiang’s attack merely led to a Civil War, as the Communists retreated to the countryside. This had two important consequences. First, the war allowed the remaining Chinese warlords to flourish, as Chiang did not have sufficient forces to take on all his enemies at once. Second, the war weakened China just as Japan embarked on its policy of aggression. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria. In 1932, Japanese forces invaded Shanghai. In 1937, Japanese forces took much of China’s coast and began moving inland. The Kuomintang retreated to Nanking. At this moment, however, the Nationalists became more conservative and authoritarian, reaching back into Chinese traditions to justify their policies. This led China’s intellectuals to withdraw their support.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party continued its work in the countryside, deposing warlords and organizing peasant soviets. By 1930, the Communists had organized a large peasant army in the province of Kiansi and declared the foundation of the Chinese Soviet Republic. The Kuomintang responded in 1934 by attacking the Communists in their sanctuary in Kiansi and forcing them to flee south. This is the famous “Long March,” during which Mao Zedong led a few thousand followers on a difficult retreat to Shengsi. The Chinese Communists seemed to be finished as a force, but the march made Mao a hero to his movement and cemented his authority. The in 1937, the Japanese attacked and China was once again thrown into chaos.
The war was a disaster for the Chinese economy and the Kuomintang. By 1940 the Burma Road that the British and Americans had been using to supply the Kuomintang was closed. By 1941, inland China was completely cut off from the outside world. The basic problem was that Chiang refused to use his troops against the Japanese invaders. He expected the United States to defeat Japan and wanted to keep his army whole for the fight against the Communists. This was a stupid policy on two levels. First, his army got soft. So when the battle did come, his soldiers did not fight well. Second, Communist guerilla activity against the Japanese gained them enormous national prestige in China. When the Japanese were finally defeated, the Communists looked like national heroes.
After Japan’s defeat in 1945, China was plunged into another civil war. This time, however, the Communists had the better of it, inflicting a series of defeats on the Nationalist forces. By late 1948, Chiang was forced to flee the mainland for the island of Formosa. He took with him most of China’s gold reserves and the artifacts in the National Palace Museum, promising to continue the fight against the Communists from the island. (The appropriation of the national museum collection remains a major sticking point between the two countries.) In the end, Chiang was merely able to found a small authoritarian state with an incredibly productive economy that is now called Taiwan. It has had the military support of the United States since 1955, when President Eisenhower gave Taiwan a military guarantee. Taiwan occupied the Chinese seat in the United Nations until 1971, when the People’s Republic of China was admitted and Taiwan was expelled.
Mainland China’s modern history begins with Mao Zedong’s declaration on October 1, 1949 of the People’s Republic of China. This marked the end of multiple historical epochs. First, it represented the final end of the Confucian bureaucratic tradition. The Communists, borrowing from Europe, developed a wholly new vision of the individual and his or her relationship to the state. Second, the industrialized, imperial powers were finally thrown out of China after 150 years of interference. Europe, the United States, and Japan no longer had any influence over China’s internal politics. Of course, the irony is that China was now ready to interfere in everyone else’s business.
The Communist Party’s radical program for social and political change required it to monopolize power. A Central Committee controlled the People’s Congress and the Politburo controlled the Central Committee. On top of that, the people who controlled the Communist Party controlled the Politburo. The man who controlled the party was, of course, Chairman Mao. An example of how important this position was is that Mao was Chairman of the People’s Republic of China only until 1959, but he controlled the Party until his death in 1976. His influence on policy making will be apparent throughout this lecture. Mao created a top-down, dirigiste system, in which dissent and individual rights were not respected. Between 1948 and 1951, he and the Communists instituted a vicious purge of all Nationalist elements, sending tens of thousands of their enemies to work camps, where they usually died. In economic and social terms, the government insisted on rapid collectivization of the land and industrialization. In 1955, following Soviet models, the Chinese instituted the first Five Year Plan, which set priorities for the entire Chinese economy.
China decided to spend its money on developing infrastructure, building roads and power plants, as well as heavy industrial plants that produced steel and chemicals. In this project they received valuable assistance from the Soviets, who sent advisers and built entire plants for the Chinese. Unfortunately, China also reorganized farming along Soviet lines, taking over all land and controlling the food market. In 1958, Chairman Mao announced what he called the “Great Leap Forward.” This policy was as big a disaster as Stalin’s collectivization had been. Taking away the peasants’ land and controlling the food market meant that less food was produced. Perhaps 20 million people died as a result of this policy and a series of floods that made a critical situation worse.
The Communists break with the past was not all bad. There were some policy changes that seem advanced to modern eyes. The government extended healthcare and education deeply into the countryside. Millions of people now had access to doctors and books. What was in those books may not always have made sense, but to the people experiencing the change it seemed like a gain. In addition, the Communists officially extended equal rights to women—theoretically, at least. They also outlawed the tradition of forced marriages and the ancient practice of food binding, and legalized divorce and abortion. The latter policy would have its dark side, too, as later Chinese governments practiced forced abortions as part of their population policy.
At the same time as these domestic changes were going on, the Chinese government changed the foreign policy landscape in Asia. China and the Soviet Union immediately moved closer after the revolution. In 1950, the two powers signed a Sino-Soviet Treaty that guaranteed thirty years of aid and friendship. In this context, China accepted a secondary role in the Communist hierarchy, in exchange for Soviet military and industrial equipment. Much of this equipment then made its way to Korea, where the Chinese troops pushed a US-led UN force out of Communist North Korea. For their part, in addition to giving aid, the Soviets promised to campaign for China to receive the UN seat that Taiwan was occupying.
Troubles soon began, however, as the Soviets often subordinated their friendship to China to other foreign policy concerns. China routinely felt slighted. They were sending 50% of their exports to the Soviets and seemed not to be getting as much as other powers were. For example, the Soviet Union arranged a loan for the Indian government that dwarfed the size of the loans they had extended to China. In addition, the Soviets often acted arrogantly toward the Chinese, telling them what to do, rather than providing technical advice. Part of the problem was ideological differences. Mao’s revolution had been based on the peasants. The Soviets believed that revolution had to come from the proletariat. Chinese hurt feeling became important as a border dispute arose between the People’s Republic and India.
In 1951, Chinese troops re-occupied Tibet. The Tibetans had won their independence early in the twentieth century thanks to the force of British arms. This period was now over. In response, the Tibetans started a resistance movement, and the Chinese blamed the Indians for supporting it. The Soviet Union declared its neutrality in the dispute, and this angered the Chinese even more. In 1959, the dispute degraded into border conflicts. To make matters worse, in 1960 the Soviet Union withdrew its aid from China. So now China was confronting famine and a border conflict. In 1962, a war broke out that the Indians lost very badly. By 1964, China had become openly hostile to both India and the Soviet Union.
China’s shift was crucial on two levels. First, India, which had claimed some leadership over the Third World, now had a Chinese rival, as the Chinese offered their support to resistance movements everywhere. Second, China challenged the Soviet Union in the Cold War, even going so far as to explode a nuclear device, also in 1964. The way was now open for one of the biggest diplomatic shifts of the post-war period, the rapprochement between China and the United States. That would come a little later. First, there was more killing to do.
The Great Leap Forward hurt Chairman Mao’s reputation badly. Voices began to rise within the party to allow more competition and reward for initiative within the system. Mao dealt with the problem by removing the dissenting voices from power and instituting what he called the Cultural Revolution. This Revolution ran from 1966 to 1969 and it involved the complete denigration of intellectuals as a class, lest they think differently from Mao. Mao closed the universities and made everyone engage in physical labor, as a way of enforcing solidarity. He also unleashed his Red Guards on society, which were essentially a group of thugs that went around knocking the heads of anyone who might think differently. All thought was to be subordinate to Mao’s, who had become something of a communist prophet. By 1969, even Mao realized that the campaign had gone too far and he shut it down.
At this point, we must return to the level of international relations. Tensions between China and the Soviet Union opened a door for the United States. The United States had been opposed to the People’s Republic from the beginning. The government was, after all, Communist. Indeed, there was a vicious fight within the US government over who had “lost” China to the Dark Side that ended a few government careers. The rapprochement between China and the US was the product of two important diplomats, Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger. Zhou was a long-time Mao ally and an important figure in the Communist hierarchy. Only he had the social and political standing to reach out to the United States. Henry Kissinger was the US Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon. Here the president was most important. As an ardent anti-Communist in the 50s and 60s, only he had sufficient prestige to reach out to the Chinese. In July of 1971, Kissinger visited China to negotiate the President’s subsequent visit. In February 1972, Richard Nixon made his dramatic and historic visit to China. The Soviets hated this, and it was an important backdrop to what was called Détente between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1970s. We’ll talk about that in another lecture.
Zhou Enlai was an important figure not only for his diplomatic role but also for his activities within the party. Zhou was never quite as doctrinaire as Mao, and he worked hard to rehabilitate some of the party leaders who had crossed Mao by calling for economic reform. One of the rehabilitated was Deng Xioaping, the architect in effect of today’s China. Deng was a long-time Communist. He had studied in France during the 1920s, where he joined the Communist movement. He participated in the Long March, and served in many key Party offices during the 1940s and 50s. He was, however, something of a pragmatist on policy and his response to the Great Leap Forward led to conflict with Mao. Deng was one of those people who wanted more incentives for production. Deng came under attack during the Cultural Revolution and lost all his high party posts. In 1973, Zhou rehabilitated him, and Deng rose to join the Politburo. When Zhou died in January 1976, however, Maoist elements purged Deng again. He was out until September 1976, when Mao, died. At this point, the establishment turned on the remaining Maoists and the path was clear for Deng. By 1980, Deng had assumed Mao’s former position of Chairman. Deng’s supporters became Premier and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.
Deng instituted a number of fundamental reforms in the economy. He decentralized economic management and made centralized planning more flexible. Essentially, regional managers and factory heads now had more freedom to institute policies and seek profits. China’s farmers got control over their own production and were allowed to keep their profits. Food production promptly exploded. Deng also expanded cultural contacts with the west and allowed foreign investment in Chinese enterprises. Not everything was now rosy in China, however. Deng was also responsible for the most aggressive population control policy in the world, which included forced abortions for those women who wanted to have more than one child. In addition, when Deng’s policies created a yearning for greater freedoms among the young, he supported the traditionalists in cracking down. Although Deng stepped down from the Chinese Central Committee in 1987, he gave his blessing to the use of forces against student demonstrators in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
So Deng has created, in no small measure, the China that we are left with. Economically prosperous and militarily powerful, China now plays a full role in the international game. Their recent launching of a man in space suggests that they will be the next great rival for the United States. The United States vanquished the last one. We will see how things go with this one.

Lecture 26: The End of European Dominance and

The year 1945 marked the end of European world dominance. In the sixteenth century, Europeans established colonies around the globe. By the nineteenth century, they had turned much of the world into a European Empire. By 1945, however, both the power and the self-confidence on which Europe’s world-wide empires had been built were completely shattered. Two world wars and Nazi Germany’s savagery reduced the continent to the second rank of powers, and real power shifted to the United States and the Soviet Union. (It was, of course, ironic that these two states were, in many ways, created by Western Europe. The United States had been a British colony, and Russia became a European power largely through borrowing heavily from Europe.)
The new power relationship created a new rivalry. The two superpowers divided the world between them, competing for every possible advantage, whether it was in politics, economics, science, or even sports. This competition was regulated, however, in a way that Europe’s conflicts had never been. First, there were only two superpowers. Each watched the other jealously; each had the power to annihilate the other. The United States became the first and only country to use nuclear weapons in war, when it obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945. The Soviet Union exploded its first atomic weapon in 1949, and in 1957, it became the first country to launch a satellite, called Sputnik, into space. Sputnik’s launch announced the arrival of a new world, as thereafter both the Soviet Union and the United States were able to put nuclear weapons onto missiles that could strike any point on the globe. The world soon entered the grips of a new strategic vision called M.A.D., or Mutual Assured Destruction. Also called “the balance of terror,” the theory was that each side’s nuclear arsenal checked the other, with the result that both sides now had to be cautious on security matters.
Although the US-Soviet competition was fierce, both sides’ need for security ensured their minimal cooperation in a new international institution, the United Nations. Created in 1945 by the Treaty of San Francisco, the United Nations Organization was meant to address the weaknesses that had been so obvious in the League of Nations. Where the League had no enforcement power, the United Nations Organization had a Security Council that could use force to keep the peace. The lessons of Munich had been learned well. The Security Council originally had 11 members, five of which were permanent. (Since 1965, the council has had 15 members.) The permanent members—the United States, Soviet Union, China, France, and the United Kingdom—each held a veto on the council. The other members are elected to the council for two-year terms. With the two superpowers sitting in the Security Council, it was virtually assured that no fundamental threat to post-war arrangements could arise. Hence, the balance between the US and the Soviet Union was essential for keeping revisionist powers in line.
The post-war situation leaves us with a fundamental paradox: both sides competed fiercely with each other, while also needing each other to maintain the rules of the game. We can understand the general rules by considering Poland and Germany. For the Soviets Poland’s fate was non-negotiable. Not only had the Soviets liberated the country, but it was also an historic invasion route into the Russian heartland. Both Napoleon and Hitler had traversed Poland to strike deep into Russia, with the most recent attack leaving behind 20 million dead. For its part, the United States also had an historic interest in Poland. Woodrow Wilson had insisted on an independent Poland after World War I, and the country was carved out of both Polish and German territories. The United States also hosted many Polish immigrants, who were deeply concerned about the fate of their homeland. Moreover, at the level of policy, a democratic Poland would be less likely to follow Soviet orders. Hence, both general historical situation and the strategic realities guaranteed the two sides would be at loggerheads.
On no country was the superpower conflict written more indelibly than Germany. Germany had invaded the Soviet Union and the Communist government was determined to prevent another such attack. A long-term Soviet occupation of German soil was, therefore, inevitable. The Unites States, for its part, was tired of coming to Europe to end Europe’s wars and wanted to ensure that Germany became a stable, prosperous, democratic, and peaceful state. (It was believed, of course, that these things went together.) Also convenient from the American point of view was that a democratic Germany would be less likely to follow Soviet orders. Overall, therefore, both ideology and security concerns guaranteed not only a partition of Europe in general but also Germany specifically. Ironically, however, the fact of partition exacerbated the basic tension. The two powers peered suspiciously at each other from their respective positions on the border, each waiting for a surprise attack from the other. That both sides had nuclear weapons after 1950 only intensified the mutual suspicion.
Against this backdrop we can begin to consider Cold War’s nature and history. The basic problem of the Cold War was its status as a zero-sum game. The Soviet Union and the Unites States had few common interests, beyond defeating Nazi Germany. After V-E Day two countries with radically different economic systems, political systems, and security concerns now confronted each other. Europe was divided in half, with the Soviet Union setting up a host of client states in the east. Still, although there were many crises after 1945 between the two powers, none of them degenerated into war, as every weapon short of open hostilities between the two superpowers was put to use. For example, in 1947 the Soviets’ desire for absolute security led them to support insurgencies in Greece and Turkey, and the United States began to send money to both governments in response. In 1948, there was a Soviet-sponsored coup in Czechoslovakia, which put that country firmly behind the iron curtain. Also in 1948, the Soviet Union blocked allied access to West Berlin. These heavy-handed tactics unnerved Western Europe, which led to the development of the mutual defense alliances called NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
So who is to blame for this situation? It has been fashionable for some time among scholars in Europe and the United States to confidently affix blame to one side or the other. Left-wing academics claim that United States was at fault. Right-wing academics blame the Soviets. The arguments between the two sides can be lots of fun. However, as was the case with our discussion of World War I, the blame game is unhelpful, since it obscures the fundamental role of national interest in all states’ behavior. Friends and enemies are determined by the strategic situation. There were, for example, deep tensions between all the allies during and after the war. Great Britain and France both had interests different from the United States and the Soviet Union, which created problems right through the Cold War’s end. The situation was, of course, worse between the Soviet Union and the United States, who had almost no common interests before the war; it was only Nazi Germany that united them, and after the German defeat, no common vision united the two sides.
Having set the general context, I will now consider the problem of the Cold War through two conflicts, the Cold War in Germany and the “hot” war in Korea, since these events shed light not only on the basic situation I have outlined, but also point to tensions that affected world politics from the 60s through the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.
Germany was a problem even in defeat, because of the war’s tremendous destruction and dislocation. Initially, the problems were largely practical. How was one to manage an area that had been so thoroughly devastated? Germany’s big cities were almost completely destroyed. In the case of Dresden, for example, which had been one of Europe’s most beautiful cities before the war, 95% of all the city’s buildings were mostly or completely destroyed. Seven million Germans also died in the war, with a full 25% of the generation that had been born in 1924 killed. Without young men, how was the country to rebuild? There was also a massive refugee problem, as some 10 million Germans were sent to Germany from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, and Russia. And then there were also millions of non-German refugees, many of them Jews, whom the Allies had put in camps in Germany for processing. The Jewish refugees often wanted to go to the United States, though the Americans would not take them. And getting them to Israel was problem best put off to another time, since other questions beckoned. Where were all these people to be housed? How would they be fed? (In one of history’s great ironies, many of the Jewish refugees settled in Germany, because they were initially not allowed to leave the country.) In short, Germany had become the victorious allies’ problem.
The problem of defeating Germany turned into the problem of occupying it. Soviet, American, British, and French troops divided what was left of Germany into four zones of occupation. This division had been planned during a series of conferences that the Allies held during the war, and the various negotiations point directly to the Cold War. On January 14, 1943, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met in Casablanca and announced the Allied policy of unconditional surrender. This war was not to end like the last one. In October 1943, the foreign ministers of the various Allies met to discuss Austria’s fate, which they decided would remain an independent state. They also announced that an Advisory Commission would be set up to coordinate post-war policies and to try war criminals. In November and December of 1943 Roosevelt, Churchill, and Josef Stalin met in Teheran, where they agreed on Poland’s future borders, with the so-called Curzon Line marking the border between Poland and the Soviet Union, and the Oder-Neisse line the new border between Germany and Poland. (Poland, as a result, moved about 200 miles to the west.) In January 1944, the Advisory Commission decided on three post-war zones of occupation.
In February 1945, another conference was held at Yalta that essentially finalized the post-war picture. Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed that Poland would come under Soviet domination. Some people, later, argued that Roosevelt and Churchill had betrayed Poland. This charge was unfair, since no other outcome was possible. The Soviets had troops in Poland, and that fact was not going to change. It was also agreed at this conference that Germany would be partitioned, though an Allied council was set up to manage the occupation. The Allies asked that a French zone be added, but the Soviets rejected the request, since they did not believe the French had earned one. The French zone of occupation was, however, carved out of the existing British and American ones. It was agreed that Berlin would be jointly administered by the Allies. In addition, it was also agreed that all the liberated populations should be allowed to choose their own governments. This was, of course, a joke, since the Soviet Union was not going to allow elections in any country that it deemed essential to its security.
The Yalta Conference set the stage for the ultimate post-war conference, even though the major political players had changed by then. On April 12, 1945, President Roosevelt died and was succeeded by his Vice President Harry S. Truman. (The “S” stood for nothing. Truman was never given a middle name, and he added the initial, because he thought it made his name sound better.) In July 1945, Clement Attlee became Prime Minister of England, after the British people made his Labour party the majority in Parliament. Hence, when the three major powers met in Potsdam from July 17 until August 2, 1945, only Stalin remained from the original negotiators. Now, however, the problems of the post-war divergence in interests loomed. The Potsdam agreement represented nothing more than the most minimal consensus that could be achieved under the circumstances. It was agreed that Germany would be considered an economic unit, and that the Allied Control Commission would oversee future German governments. These points were meaningless, of course, as their application depended on whose troops were in control. The only policies on which all were in agreement were the final drawing of the Oder-Neisse line and the permanent removal of Germans in Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, these things would have happened anyway, since the Soviets controlled the East and had no desire to encourage German irredentism. (The Soviets also had old German communities that lived on the Volga. These “Volga” Germans had come to Russia in the eighteenth century at Catherine II’s invitation. They no longer had a strong connection to German culture and, in fact, no longer spoke German, but the Soviets sent them to Siberia anyway.)
The United States and the Soviet Union had few mutual interests, and this is why the post-war settlement was so minimal. In order to understand the gap between the two powers, we need to look back to the summer of 1945, which was when the new Cold War realities first appeared. On August 6 and 9, the United States used nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The atomic bombs used in these attacks were the direct result of the Manhattan Project, a super-secret research program led by the American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. (Ironically, perhaps, Oppenheimer’s father was a German immigrant, and Oppenheimer himself had received his PhD in physics at the University of Göttingen.) The Manhattan Project began officially in 1942, but its origins dated to 1939, when the German-Jewish émigré physicist Albert Einstein warned President Roosevelt that German physics was advanced enough to build a nuclear weapon. Stalin knew of the program by 1943, thanks to his network of spies in the United States. In response, he also threw significant resources into an atomic research program, and when the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949, the danger that one side could annihilate the other became the central backdrop to the competition between the two superpowers.
The Cold War’s intellectual foundations were built between 1946 and 1947. During this time, both sides maneuvered to extend their political control as far across Europe as possible. This scramble for influence convinced each side that the other was an enemy, and in 1946, both Truman and Stalin gave hard-line speeches that established the mutual incompatibility of their respective systems. The next year, the Soviet Union set up a series of militarized satellite states, whose existence worried both the United States and the other Western powers. The reactions in the west were severe. In March 1946, for example, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” Speech in the United States, in which he argued that the Soviet Union had established its hegemony over Eastern Europe by dropping an “Iron Curtain” that extended from Stettin to Trieste. In the United States the key reaction was the so-called “Long Telegram,” an 8000-word report written by George Kennan, an American diplomat who worked in Moscow. Kennan argued in this note that the Soviets would only understand force and the only way to combat them was with equal force at their point of expansion. Kennan’s ideas gave birth to the policy of “Containment,” which was fundamental to American foreign policy until 1991. The idea was that the US would use money and troops at whatever point the Soviets expanded. The US would not attack the Soviet Union but would combat the spread of its influence point by point.
The first clear policy to emerge from Containment was the so-called Truman Doctrine, which called for the US to support any government that was menaced by Communism. On March 12, 1947, President Truman offered the governments in Greece and Turkey over $400 million in aid to prevent the spread of Communism there. Greece had been fighting since 1944 against a Communist insurgency that was being funded by Yugoslavia, while the Turkish government had been under pressure from Soviet activity in the Mediterranean. The massive aid prevented both governments from falling, and henceforth money would be the United States’ most significant weapon. The next great policy to emerge from Containment was the Marshall Plan. On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall gave a speech at Harvard University that outlined massive foreign aid plan for Europe. All the nations of Europe, including the Soviet Union and its satellite states, were invited to apply for the funds. In the end, the U.S. disbursed $13 billion dollars over the next four years for the European reconstruction effort, and the result was a powerful economic recovery in the west, as by 1951 industrial output in Europe had hit prewar levels. Things were different in the east, as the Soviet Union refused to apply for the funds and forbade its satellites from doing so as well. It saw both the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine as capitalist plots to interfere in its zone of authority. The Soviets responded in January 1949 by founding an economic development program called Comecon, to which all its satellites had to belong.
American attitudes toward the Soviets were no less paranoid, which accelerated the great division between the two. The Communist coup in Czechoslovakia (1948) and Mao Zedong’s declaration of a Communist Chinese state on October 1, 1949 transformed US concern into paranoia, and this had effects on Europe, for it accelerated the US policy of creating a separate German state. Already on January 1, 1948 the United Kingdom and the United States merged their two zones of occupation into one economic unit, giving the new entity the catchy name Bizonia. In March the French merged their zone into Bizonia, and the Germans received control of daily administration. By June of 1948, the Allies were beginning to talk of an independent West Germany, and this state was essentially created on June 18, 1948 with the issuance of a new currency, the Deutsche Mark. The moribund post-war German economy sprang to life almost immediately, a moment that marked the start of an almost two-decades-long economic recovery. The creation of the Deutsche Mark was, however, a clear violation of the war-time agreement to treat Germany as an economic unit. The Soviet Union responded by trying to push the Allies out of Berlin and on June 24 announced that the four-power administration had ended. A blockade of West Berlin was the next logical step. In addition, the Soviets walked out of the Berlin Commission and did not return until after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
The Western powers refused to be pushed out of Berlin, and an awkward non-war ensued. The US could not shoot its way to Berlin, since the Soviets had seventeen divisions in Eastern Europe to the US’s four. (During the blockade the Soviets would bring their troop strength to forty divisions. The US increased its commitment to eight, and added three bomber squadrons.) An idea came up for an airlift to supply the city. On July 1, 1948 the United States and the United Kingdom committed to feed the city by air. Berlin needed about 4,500 tons of food per day to survive. That July the Allies shipped an average of 2,226 tons of food per day. In August the average increased to 3,830 tons. By October the number was up to 4,760 tons. This contest was a test of wills, and the US won by showing both its resolve and old-fashioned American pluck. In order to impress on the Soviets how serious they were, the Americans planned and executed a special “Easter Parade” in April 1949. From noon on Saturday until noon on Easter Sunday American planes flew 13,000 tons of supplies into Berlin and made certain that the Soviets knew about it. This show of western resolve and an Allied embargo on Eastern European products brought the blockade to an end by May 12, 1949. The post-war division of Germany was set for the next forty years.
Post-war tensions, mutual provocations, and growing paranoia extended the US-Soviet split through the rest of Europe. The result was the creation of two new defensive alliances, each headed by a superpower. On April 4, 1949, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France founded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which held that “An armed attack on one shall be construed as an armed attack on all.” West Germany, Greece, and Turkey joined the alliance later. The eastern states responded on May 1, 1955, with the Warsaw Pact Treaty, which organized a common defense against the West. The treaty included the People's Republic of Albania, the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the Hungarian People's Republic, the German Democratic Republic, the Polish People's Republic, the Rumanian People's Republic, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the Czechoslovak Republic. These two alliances faced each other down in Europe until the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991. NATO still exists, though its role in the world remains unclear.
Europe’s division into mutually hostile alliances paralleled Germany’s division. The former cannot be understood without the latter. In Germany, the years 1945 to 1949 saw a slow rebuilding of the political party system that had been destroyed by the Nazi era. In 1946, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) was founded. The FDP (Free Democratic Party) appeared in 1948. Meanwhile, the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) and the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) returned from exile. On May 23, 1949, the western German parties met in a conference to promulgate the Germany’s Basic Law (Grundgesetz), and on September 15, 1949, Konrad Adenauer of the CDU was elected Germany’s first post-war chancellor. This new state then rapidly gained international legitimacy by tying itself to the west. In 1950, it became part of the European Coal and Steel Community, the ancestor to today’s EU. In 1952, it joined the European Defense Community, which was the Continental antecedent to NATO. In 1954, West Germany joined NATO. And on May 5, 1955, the Federal Republic of Germany declared itself a sovereign state.
Accompanying these political changes was a great economic revival. In 1955, the Federal Republic of Germany’s gross domestic product exceeded that of all Germany in 1936. Average real wages had already reached pre-war levels in 1950. In that year, Germany’s industrial growth rate was 25%. In 1951, it was still a stunning 18%. By 1960, overall industrial production was 25-times what it had been in 1950. By 1962, West Germany’s total foreign trade was $25.4 billion, which ranked it second in the world. This tremendous rise in production was due to a number of reasons. First, the Marshall Plan gave Germany $4 billion, which it used to rebuild its devastated infrastructure. Second, the Korean War (1950-53) increased demand for German products. Third, the war had not fully destroyed Germany’s industrial plant, since so much of it had been moved underground. Finally, the ten million refugees were immediately absorbed into an economy that was desperately short of labor, which helped to keep labor costs low. When Konrad Adenauer resigned in 1963, Germany was a stable, prosperous, and democratic state.
East Germany’s history was quite different. Free political parties were not welcome there. On April 21, 1946, the KPD and the SPD were forcibly merged into the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany), a party that existed only to follow Soviet orders. Other parties were allowed to exist, but suffered constant harassment. On October 7, 1949, the Democratic Republic of Germany was founded in direct response to the appearance of a German state in the west. Another dictatorship had appeared in German soil. For all its political limitations, however, the new GDR was the jewel in the Soviet Bloc. Eastern Germany had a long industrial tradition, and its optics and weapons were always the best in the east. Nonetheless, the East German economy also had severe handicaps. First, the Soviets spent the first few years after the war removing all the industrial equipment that was undamaged. Unlike its sibling state, East Germany really had to start from rock bottom. Second, the GDR was not allowed to accept Marshall Plan funds, which slowed any future recovery. Finally, the East German economy remained centralized and state-planned. As a result, by 1960, the East German economy was lagging well behind the FRG in both general wealth and overall productivity. By 1989, the East German economy no longer belonged to the first world.
The picture I have just painted of German history is one of general stability within the superpower conflict. Although both sides were suspicious of each other, they had more to gain by avoiding war in Europe than in starting one. This new situation helped Europe avoid another war, but it also shift the US-Soviet competition to other areas, especially Asia. In 1950, for example, the conflict that everyone feared would start in Europe broke out halfway around the globe in Korea, when North Korea launched an unprovoked attack on South Korea. Korea had been a victim of a brutal Japanese invasion and occupation during the Second World War. During the war, the Allies agreed that Korea would be freed, and peninsula-wide elections would be held. This never happened, since the Soviets occupied the North and set up an undemocratic puppet state.
On August 10, 1945, the United States unilaterally decided to make the south an independent state with its capital in Seoul. This maneuver irritated the Soviets, the Chinese—who had recently become Communist—and the Communist government in the North. On June 25, 1950, the Communist North shocked the world by invading the capitalist south, calculating that the world would do nothing in response to their attack. In doing so, however, the North Koreans surprised their Soviet and Chinese sponsors, and this created an opening for the west. (There is evidence that Josef Stalin knew of the invasion plan and approved of it, but he did not know that it would be launched so soon.)
On June 27, 1950, UN Security Council called for a cease-fire and requested that its member states provide assistance to the beleaguered South. It was here that the North’s secrecy cost it dearly, for the Soviets were at that point boycotting the UN Security Council meetings to protest mainland China’s exclusion from the UN. Taiwan had been occupying China’s seat, since the revolution. Hence, when the Security Council called for a vote, the Soviets were not there to veto it. This mistake would never be repeated. Nonetheless, on the same day, President Truman ordered US forces into Korea. Together with a smattering of allies, the US forces pushed the North’s army back not only to the 38th parallel, but also to the North Korean border with China. However, as American forces advanced to the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China, China was forced to respond. On October 26, 1950, Chinese forces crossed the Yalu River basin, and with Soviet military aid, pushed the allies back to the 38th parallel. On July 27, 1953, the two sides signed an armistice. A peace treaty has yet to be signed.

After three years of fighting and 3 million people dead—including 140,000 Americans—the war ended with a rigidly patrolled status quo ante bellum. Nonetheless, although nothing fundamental had changed in Korea, the war had worldwide effects. Since both the Soviet Union and Communist China were associated with this war, Communism came to be seen by many states as a world-wide menace. The effects were dramatic. First, the Korean War and the Berlin Crisis convinced many Europeans that the only way for NATO to be able to stand up to the Soviet Union was if Germany were to rearm. Given Germany’s recent behavior was quite a conceptual shift. By 1955, however, Germany had its first post-war military and was a member of NATO.
Second, the fear of Communist aggression pushed many states to seek collective security arrangements with the United States that were modeled on the NATO treaty. On September 1, 1951, the United States, Australia and New Zealand signed the ANZUS pact, which committed each to the defense of the others. This pact was in force until 1986, when opposition to nuclear weapons in New Zealand led the US to suspend its responsibilities under the treaty toward that state. On September 8, 1954, SEATO (Southeast Asian Treaty Organization) was formed. This treaty committed the Unites States to joint security arrangements with Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Republic of the Philippines, and Thailand. Pakistan withdrew from the organization in 1968. France ceased providing financial support in 1975, and the organization formally ended operations in 1977. On February 4, 1955, what became known as CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) was formed. Its history is complicated. It was originally composed of Britain, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq. In 1956, the US became an associate member. In 1958, Iraq withdrew from the group after a coup, and the group’s headquarters were moved to Ankara. It became inactive after the withdrawal of Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran in 1979.
By the end of the 1950s, the Cold War was in full swing. Two nuclear-armed superpowers competed for influence, acquiring allies as best they could to prevent the other side from getting to them. Much of the world was carved up into treaty alliances that made the post-war world ever more rigid and tense, and the world found itself in a situation that mirrored the pre-World War I arrangements in Europe. All it might have taken to spark another Great War was another futile act of stupidity in some overlooked part of the world. As we will see in the lecture on the end of the Cold War, there were many futile acts of stupidity, but none of them led to war. That this never happened is probably due to the “balance of terror” that the superpower’s nuclear arsenals created. Neither side had any incentive to try for major changes in the world’s security order, since the other side could always blow up the world in response. This situation constrained both powers, but it also guaranteed that their great power game would be played out in less developed parts of the globe. The results did not lead to a general conflagration, but were often a bloody disaster for the people actually involved.

Lecture 25: The Rise of Japan and War in the Pacific, 1850-1945

In order to understand Japan and the War in the Pacific, we need to approach the region’s history in much the same way that we have considered European history, namely as successive bids for hegemony. Until the mid-19th century, China had occupied the preeminent position in Asia, often controlling most of Asia and keeping other powers as tributaries. When the Europeans arrived in force, however, during the 19th century, China’s period of undisputed leadership was over, and every Asian society had to come to terms with the new power structure. The Europeans had better ships, better weapons, and powerful industrial economies, and they used these advantages to wrest economic and political concessions from the entire region. Among the Asian nations, only Japan rose to challenge the European powers on their own terms.
Nothing in Japan’s history suggested that it would be better able to withstand European aggression than any other country. In 1638, the third Tokugawa Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651) closed Japan to the outside world, with the exception of Nagasaki, whose trade with foreigners was strictly controlled. This policy stayed in effect until 1854, when American naval power cowed the Japanese into opening their ports to trade. In 1853, the United States sent Commodore Matthew C. Perry to open trade talks with Japan, which he did by threatening to blow up the Japanese port of Uraga. In 1854, he returned with a larger naval force and negotiated an agreement on better treatment for shipwrecked sailors, the rights of US ships to buy supplies, and opened the door to future trading privileges. In 1858, the Japanese were forced to sign a broader trade agreement with the United States that later also included Great Britain, France, Holland, and Russia. The repeated retreats by the Shoguns before the force of western arms made the Shogunate look weak and doomed the institution.
In 1867, a group of reformers held a coup in the emperor’s name and ousted the last Shogun. In the same year, Emperor Komei died and was succeeded by his son Meiji Tenno (1867-1912). Emperor Meiji was a driving force behind Japan’s rapid modernization. During his reign Japan abolished feudalism, founded a post office, developed newspapers, built a school system, and reformed the army. In addition, Japan industrialized very rapidly. The government funded new industrial concerns and then sold finished factories to the private sector, often at a loss. Thus, by the start of the First World War Japanese manufactured goods were competing well on the world market. In 1897, Japan put its currency on the gold standard, which was a ticket to economic respectability. In 1899, the Japanese negotiated a deal with the European powers to eliminate any special rights they had on Japanese soil. By the turn of the century, Japan had fully joined the industrialized club.
In joining the club of powerful nations, however, Japan also began to act like one of them. In 1895, Japan annexed the island of Formosa, right from under a weakened China’s nose. In 1902, the British thought Japan worthy enough of an alliance; this was really a recognition by the British that Japan had become powerful enough to threaten their interests. Japan’s power became clear in 1904, when the Japanese launched a surprise attack against the Russian fleet anchored at Port Arthur, China. The subsequent Russo-Japanese War went badly for the Russians, and only American interference restrained the Japanese and saved the Russians from complete embarrassment. The Japanese were not, however, sated and in 1910, they took Korea on account of its strategic value.
Thus, by 1910 Japan had clearly become an aggressive industrialized power. Then two important things happened. First, in 1911, the last Chinese emperor was deposed by a revolution and China descended into complete political chaos. Second, in 1914, war broke out in Europe. These two events had important strategic implications for Japan, as well as direct effects on its economy. Strategically, the lack of a powerful government in China invited further Japanese aggression, while the outbreak of war in Europe made Europe’s imperial settlements appear to be ripe for the picking. In 1915, Japan presented China with its famous “21 Demands,” which was merely a long list of concessions that would have made China a Japanese protectorate. In addition, Japan seized all German colonies in China, something that the Entente Powers could hardly have objected to. The war was also good economically for Japan, since Europe’s need for supplies kept Japanese factories busy. Overall, the war was good for Japanese interests.
American and British intervention checked Japan somewhat in China, but they still got most of their “21 Demands.” After the war, Europe and America concentrated more intently on Japan. This included limiting Japan’s wartime gains in the Treaty of Versailles and making Japan an original member of the League of Nations. Japan got to keep its Chinese colonies, for example, but only as League protectorates, not as conquered territory. The United States also tried to restrain the Japanese through further diplomacy. In 1921, the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and France signed the Four-Power Pact, which stipulated that all signatories would be consulted on any “Pacific Question.” In 1922, two more agreements were signed. The first was the Five-Power Naval Limitation Treaty, in which the United States, Britain, and Japan agreed to a formula of 5:5:3 for the relative size of each navy. France and Italy were also included, but their navies were not strategically important. Next came the Nine-Power Treaty, signed by the five powers plus the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, and China, which guaranteed China’s sovereignty and granted the nine signatories equal access to Chinese markets. Japan was boxed in diplomatically, for the moment, but it was never completely happy with the outcome and rapidly became a revisionist power like Germany and Italy.
Japan was not a sated power, and its subsequent aggression was a natural outcome of this situation. During the 1920s, Japan concerned itself mostly with internal reforms, and the Japanese economy grew along with the world economy. This period of expansion ended, however, in 1929 with the American Stock Market Crash and subsequent Depression. As the Depression deepened, 50% of Japanese factories shut down and national exports dropped by two-thirds, leaving Japan wholly dependent on its Asian markets. The next step was predictable. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria and set up a puppet state called Manchukuo. The invasion was ostensibly a response to the bombing of a Japanese-owned railway, though it turned out later that the Japanese had done the bombing themselves. The League of Nations was, as always, useless. In February 1933, it issued a report that called the Japanese invasion unjustified, but also proposed a settlement that would have made Manchukuo an autonomous state, theoretically under Chinese sovereignty, but under actual Japanese control. Offended, nonetheless, Japan left the League in March. Their behavior became a model for Italy and Germany. In 1937, Japan engaged in further aggression, invading China after a border skirmish and occupying most of the Chinese coast. The Chinese nationalist government was forced to retreat inland to safer country. By 1938, Japanese forces controlled Canton and much of central China.
Given Japan’s expansionist mood, the war in Europe provided an excellent opportunity to create more mischief. With the defeat of France and the Netherlands, and Britain’s strenuous efforts against Germany, much of Asia became a power vacuum. The situation was very tempting for the Japanese, for were they to take French Indochina, British Malaysia, and the Dutch East Indies, they would be self sufficient in almost every important raw material, especially oil. Japan’s only diplomatic problem was to figure out how to grab all of Asia while keeping the United States neutral. In September 1940, Germany, Italy, and Japan signed a pact of mutual aid that stipulated all would come to the aid of any power that was attacked by the United States. Included in this treaty was a clause that gave Europe to Italy and Germany, with Asia going to Japan. In April 1941, the Japanese also signed a neutrality pact with the Soviet Union. The United States was Asia’s only defender.
In September 1940, Japan occupied northern Indochina, inspiring protests from the America. The pressure became more intense in July 1941, when Japan moved through southern Indochina, occupying all French bases on the coast. This action was too much for the United States, which responded by freezing all Japanese assets under U.S. control and imposing an embargo on oil sales. The oil embargo was a major threat to Japan, since they had no domestic sources of oil and no colonies that produced oil. On September 6, 1941, the Japanese government decided that if an accommodation could not be reached with the United States within a few weeks, then war would be the only alternative. Japan had to have oil—war or no war. Talks continued through October 1941, though without success. The United States made unpalatable demands that included calling for Japan to renounce its treaty with Germany and Italy, to withdraw all Japanese troops from China and Southeast Asia, and to open trade in China. Given the situation, the demands were unreasonable, since Japan was not about to do any of these things. On November 26, 1941, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull made matters worse, sending a letter to the Japanese government bluntly telling them to evacuate China and Indochina. The Japanese saw no point in talking further.
Needing to eliminate the United States from Asia, Japan launched a surprise aerial attack on the United States’ largest Pacific naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941. The attack was devastating. Five of the Pacific Fleet’s eight battleships were sunk and the other three took significant damage. Three cruisers and three destroyers were also sunk. 180 aircraft were destroyed, and 2,330 troops were killed. At the same time, Japanese planes also attacked an American airbase in the Philippines, destroying more than 50% of the U.S. Army’s Pacific air fleet.
For all the destruction, however, the attack was a failure. First, it did not knock the world’s premier industrial power out of the war, but steeled its commitment to fight and win. On August 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked the U.S. Congress for a declaration of war against Japan, which promptly followed. On August 11, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini did the United States the favor of also declaring war. Now the United States was in both wars, and from that moment the outcome was decided. Second, in a bit of bad luck for the Japanese, the United States’ three Pacific aircraft carriers were out to sea on the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack and survived. These carriers became the foundation of the U.S.’s counter attack. Third, most of the ships that were sunk were repaired and returned to service. You see, it does no good to sink a ship in a harbor, where it can be raised easily. Only a direct hit on a gun magazine or fuel tanks can truly destroy a ship in this situation. This happened to the USS Arizona, which is still at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
One of the war’s biggest opponents in Japan was Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku (1884-1943), the very man who planned the Pearl Harbor attack. At the time the government decided on war, Yamamoto told his superiors that a successful attack would allow him to run wild in the Pacific for six months, but after that Japan faced defeat. Yamamoto was right on both counts. Japan did run wild for six months. By January 1942, Japanese forces had taken much of Burma, as well as Guam, the Gilbert Islands, and Rabaul in New Guinea. By February, it controlled most of oil-rich Indonesia, and the Philippines fell by May of 1942. Japan planned to take New Caledonia, the Fiji Islands, Samoa, and Midway, but by this point the United States and Britain had begun to recover their equilibrium.
Initially, things looked bleak for the Americans; most of their offensive fleet was sunk or under repair. Nonetheless, smarting from the Pearl Harbor disaster, the Americans were desperate to seem like they were doing something. So American forces planned and executed a daring, if symbolic, attack on Tokyo. On April 18, 1942, 16 U.S. bombers took off from aircraft carriers on a one-way mission to Tokyo. Let by the soon-to-be-famous Commander James Doolittle, they successfully bombed the city and flew on to an airbase in China, where most of the planes landed safely. The raid was of no strategic importance, since 16 bombers could only do so much damage. It was, however, a significant morale boost for the American side.
While the Americans were rebuilding their fleet, the Japanese made a few strategic blunders that helped to even the conflict. Japan desperately wanted to take the island of Midway, since its naval and air bases afforded strategic control of the central Pacific. The idea was that if Japan took Midway, it might knock the US out of the war. In June of 1942, seeking a final showdown, the Japanese attacked the island with the better part of their fleet. The Japanese did not know, however, that the United States had broken their codes and knew, thus, where and when the Japanese fleet would attack. The battle did not go well for Japan, and within three days, four of Japan’s six heavy aircraft carriers and one heavy cruiser went to the bottom of the ocean. This was the war’s turning point, since the Japanese had lost not only most of their first-line aircraft carriers but also their best pilots. From this point forth, the Japanese and American navies were on equal footing, and Japan could not hope to outproduce the United States’ industrial machine.
With Japan’s defeat at Midway began the great island-hopping march to Japan. The Japanese had spread their troops across many islands in the Pacific, trying to control as many points as possible. The United States responded with a strategy of only taking the most important islands. They would attack a strategic location that had an airfield or major port, but would leave less significant islands alone. The first true test of American arms in the Pacific came in July of 1942. On July 6, the Japanese landed troops on one of the Solomon Islands, called Guadalcanal, and began constructing an airbase. The Americans responded almost immediately, and a six-month battle ensued that was fought on land and sea. The Japanese lost more than 24,000 dead on the land to the United States’ 1,600. On the sea the losses were roughly equal, with each side losing multiple cruisers, battleships, and at least one carrier. This battle was important, however, because it stopped the Japanese drive south and meant that New Guinea and Australia were no longer threatened. There were also major engagements in Burma at this time, and many British soldiers faced serious opposition. These engagements were not, however, central to the course of the campaign, since the only way to end the war was to take Japan’s home islands.
The U.S. military had to claw its way across the Pacific in order to get to Japan. American forces took the Gilbert Islands in November 1943, the Marshalls in February 1944, the Marianas in July 1944, and the Philippines in April of 1945. The battle in the Marianas was both important and foreboding. It was important, because taking the island of Saipan, which was part of the Marianas, gave the United States an airbase that was within flight range of Japan. By this point, the United States had developed the most sophisticated four-engine bomber in the world, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. This bomber had more weaponry and greater range than its predecessor, the B-17 Stratofortress, which had been used in Europe to pummel German cities. American B-29s then began pounding Japanese cities regularly, reducing much of Tokyo to ashes with the resulting firestorms. The foreboding aspect of the fight for Saipan was the fanaticism of Japanese defenders. Almost 50,000 defenders were dug in so deeply that it took a division of Marines plus an army division to defeat them. (This was at least 40,000 people.) The Japanese defense was so fanatical that it ended with a suicidal counterattack on July 7, 1944, in which most of the Japanese soldiers ran willingly and enthusiastically into American weapons. Overall, the Japanese lost 46,000 killed in the Marianas to the United State’s 4,750.
The United States’ most important and difficult island battles were, however, at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Iwo Jima was important to military planners, because it was about halfway between the Marianas and Japan and would have provided a much better air base than Saipan. With a base at Iwo Jima, American fighters would be able to escort bombers to Japan and back, making the bombing runs more effective. The American attack on Iwo Jima began in February 1945, and the soldiers encountered stiff resistance. 20,000 Japanese defenders had dug in even deeper than in the Marianas. In spite of repeated pounding with naval artillery Japanese defenders held firm, and Marines had to land on the beach in the face of severe Japanese resistance. By March, the island was completely taken, but the U.S. had lost 6,000 men. The Japanese had fought to almost the last man.
With Iwo Jima in hand, the Americans turned to Okinawa, the last stepping-stone to the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu. After pounding the island for days with bombers, the Americans launched an amphibious assault in March of 1945. The resulting battle lasted until July and was the deadliest for American forces since Guadalcanal. The Americans lost 12,000 dead and 36,000 injured, along with 34 ships sunk and another 368 damaged. The Japanese lost the greatest battleship on earth, the 72,000-ton Yamato, along with 100,000 dead. The nature of the battle and Japan’s desperate measures are awful to comprehend. The Yamato had been sent on a suicide mission, with only enough fuel for a one-way trip and no air cover. In the end, repeated hits by American bombs and torpedoes sank her and her crew. Japanese kamikaze pilots repeatedly hit American ships. And then Japanese fighters also introduced a new suicide weapon, the Baka, which was a rocket-propelled glider full of explosives. Japanese bombers towed these gliders to the target area, where the pilot turned on the engine and directed his flying bomb to the target. The difficulties of this campaign had a strong effect on America’s military planners, as they comprehended what an invasion of the home islands would cost in men and material.
Throughout July of 1945 the Americans bombed Japan to rubble. Night after night, American napalm raids torched Japanese cities, often creating firestorms in which thousands of people died. (A firestorm occurs when the flames are so intense that the fire consumes all the surrounding oxygen. Thus, people asphyxiate, even if the fire never actually gets them.) Coastal defenses in particular were attacked repeatedly, as if preparatory to an American invasion. The Americans, however, had decided not to invade, hoping to end the war quickly by a massive show of destructive power.
Just two weeks before being sworn in as president of the United States, Harry S. Truman had learned of a secret American program call the Manhattan Project, which had successfully developed the world’s first atomic bomb. As the United States planned the invasion of Japan, its most conservative estimate for soldiers killed was 100,000. The United States had lost 170,000 dead to that point in the Pacific War. Given the casualty estimates and the emerging rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. This would end the war quickly and give the Soviets something to worry about.
On August 6, 1945 a single B-29 called the Enola Gay took off from the Marianas Islands and headed toward Hiroshima with only one bomb in its bay. When that bomb exploded over Nagasaki, it destroyed five square miles of the city and killed 70,000 people, while injuring another 70,000. With the war clearly in its final moments, the Soviets joined in, declaring war on August 8 and sending an invasion force into Manchuria. The Soviets may have won the war in Europe, but they were nothing more than vultures in the Pacific. The Soviets took the Kuril Islands as payment for their tremendous efforts in defeating Japan. This was justified to the extent that the Japanese had stolen them from the Russians in 1855. (Japan still wants the southernmost Kuril Islands back.) At this point, the United States confronted a problem: the Japanese did not respond to the bomb, and no declaration of surrender was offered. So on August 9, 1945, another B-29, this one named Bock’s Car, took off from the Marianas for Nagasaki. This bomb was different from the first; it was made with plutonium, rather than uranium. The results were, however, no different. 1.8 square miles of the city were obliterated and 40,000 more people were killed. On August 10, the Japanese government issued a letter, agreeing to the United States’ call for unconditional surrender. The formal surrender ceremony was held on September 2. The most destructive war in the history of the world was over.