In a special edition of This Week in History, we’ll be taking a look at three significant events that transpired during the Cold War. While the United States and the Soviet Union never went to battle directly against each other during this time, the Cold War can be characterized by a series of political standoffs, espionage and social unrest around the world.
As Americans, we remember the 1940s, 50s and 60s as a so-called “Golden Age,” yet throughout this era, the world was constantly on the brink of a nuclear war that could have easily resulted in the annihilation of the human species.
On Oct. 20, 1947, 73 years ago, Congress targeted the movie industry and investigated communists in Hollywood.
While Hollywood had always been known for its liberal leanings, the nation’s most glamorous community faced intense scrutiny as tensions began to rise between the United States and the communist Soviet Union. Conservative watchdogs like Senator Joseph R. McCarthy sought to purge the nation of “the Red Menace,” forming the House Un-American Activities Committee to brand American Communists as traitors.
In October of 1947, the committee questioned several Hollywood actors, screenwriters, directors and studio executives, bluntly asking, “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Several of those questioned, such as Walt Disney, Jack Warner (of Warner Bros.) and Gary Cooper all gave names of Communist suspects to save their own reputations in the movie industry.
Congress pressured the Hollywood establishment to create a blacklist, preventing any convicted or suspected Communist from working in film ever again. Many screenwriters were forced to work under pseudonyms to make a living, even winning Oscars for their work, though they were unable to walk on stage to receive them.
McCarthyism was dismissed as a political witch hunt by the 1960s, yet it was not until 1997 that these writers were given credit for their award-winning works and the Hollywood blacklist was finally put to rest.
On Oct. 22, 1962, 58 years ago, President John F. Kennedy revealed the Cuban Missile Crisis to the American people in a televised speech.
Just a week earlier, American intelligence discovered that the Soviet Union was building nuclear weapons on the island of Cuba pointed towards the United States, just 90 miles south of Florida.
Cuba had already been a point of contention between the two powers beginning with the Communist coup led by Fidel Castro, which began Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union. The American government led a failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, prompting the Soviet government to position weapons to ward off another American attack.
In his televised speech, Kennedy announced his decision to surround and quarantine Cuba with naval forces rather than directly attack either country. The quarantine would last until the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle its Cuban ballistic missiles.
For six days, the American people and military sat on the brink of nuclear war while Kennedy talked with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to reach an agreement. In the end, the two leaders agreed that too much was at stake to begin a war. In exchange for the American promise not to invade Cuba, the Soviet Union dismantled their nuclear missile sites, effectively ending the Cuban Missile Crisis. No other moment brought the world closer to a full-scale nuclear war.
On Oct. 21, 1967, 53 years ago, thousands of protesters stormed Washington, D.C. to speak out against American military involvement in Vietnam.
Under the Johnson administration, the United States continued to send troops and supplies to South Vietnam, countering the Communist invasion from North Vietnam. Taxes on the American people rose 10% and young men were drafted into the military to meet President Lyndon B. Johnson’s demands.
Almost 100,000 Americans protested at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, marching all the way to the Pentagon to voice their outrage, chanting slogans and burning draft cards along the way. This protest launched the “flower power” movement, with protesters handing flowers to the U.S. Marshals stationed at the protest.
This protest marks the moment when public support for the Vietnam War dropped below 50%. For the first time, the American people had begun questioning not only the war but all Cold War foreign policy.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @kentstatemay4 on Twitter.