War Essay Sample

How the Cold War Shaped America as a Global Superpower

The Cold War was a time in history when there was a great political and military turmoil between the United States and the Soviet Union. These two powers were on the opposite ends of the economic and political spectrum – the United States being the capitalist state, while the Soviet Union the Marxist-Lenin socialist state. Though there was no direct large-scale war between the two states, there was always the threat that could have triggered a full-blown world war. The Cold War lasted about 45 years and it changed the global political and economic landscape. This essay looks into some of the key lessons of the Cold War and discusses how the war established America into a global superpower.

The effects of the Cold War continue to be felt decades after it had ended. Though the war is largely a clash of ideology, the effects encompass economic, cultural, political, and social aspects of the American society. (Brzezinski, 1992). Perhaps one of the enduring lessons of the Cold War is the emphasis on the importance of allies (Edwards, 2014). The great alliance that the United States led proved to be too strong for the Soviet Union and its own alliance in the Eastern bloc. The United States brought together a real alliance consisting of countries that share a common goal, whereas the Soviet Union commanded a group united only by the fact that they are captive nationalities unified by the Red Army (Edwards, 2014).

The long years of tension tested the resolve of leaders from both sides. The success of the United States in the Cold War era can be attributed to the brilliant minds and leadership skills of Presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. The strategies they used were relevant to the different periods of the Cold War. Containment worked at the start, wherein the United States and its allies prevented further expansion of the Soviet Union’s power in Europe (Foner, 2009). The United States recognized the weakened economic condition in the Soviet Union towards the end of the Cold War and took advantage of it. It was at this time that the United States demonstrated how its superior economic power can be used as a tool to bring down the Soviet Union, who was then experiencing economic instability.

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The massive economic growth in the 1980s, as a result of President Reagan’s tax cuts and deregulation, enabled a huge military funding that extended to the United States’ allies. This pressured the Soviet Union to funnel funding to its own army, but it eventually succumbed to bankruptcy. As a last ditch effort to save a crumbling empire, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reforms and openness (also known as perestroika and glasnost). Although the new reforms spread throughout the Eastern bloc, it was a case of “too little too late”, and within six years, the Soviet empire collapsed. Soon after, the Cold War ended and the United States and its allies emerged as victors.

Evidently, the world changed considerably after the Cold War ended in 1945, but the lessons of the war continue to be relevant in the current political and economic landscape. The Cold War set the stage for the United States to exercise its power to lead nations through strategic alliances. It rose up to the challenge of the era and devised exceptional economic, political, and military strategies to take down the Soviet Union.

The country’s actions during that period became the foundation of the United States’ future foreign and domestic policy decisions. Clearly, it can be concluded that the events of the Cold War catapulted the United States to superpower status with global influence like no other.

The Vietnam War spanned from 1954 to 1973 and had the name, the Second Indochina War, prior to the United States involvement. The initial cause for the war was a battle between communist North Vietnam and its southern allies, the Viet Cong, against South Vietnam and its allies, the key ally being the United States. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, was one goal, to unseat the French hold on South Vietnam to reunite the entire country. The resulting war would end up spanning across nearly two decades and would be costly both financially and in the number of lives lost.

United States Intervenes

The War that raged between North and South Vietnam was one with minimal participation from the United States. In 1961, a report sent to President John F. Kennedy regarding the conditions of the war urged the President to increase the U.S. military presence to help with the war. The rationale behind U.S. involvement was a simple one, if the communist North Vietnam suffered a defeat the “domino theory” would go into effect. The belief was if one communist country in Asia fell, others would follow. With that in mind, the number of U.S. troops in South Vietnam went from less than 800 to roughly 9,000 by 1962. That number would continue to climb.

The War Escalates

The War in Vietnam continued to escalate with no end in sight. In 1963, following the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson became President of the United States. President Johnson played a key role in sending thousands of combat troops to Vietnam following the torpedo bombing of two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. With congressional approval, President Johnson ordered the start of Operation Rolling Thunder, regular bombing raids on Vietnamese targets.

Protests Begin

As the Vietnam War continued into 1965, opponents to the war started making their disagreement with the war known to anyone who would listen. Boxer Muhammad Ali refused to join the draft because of his disagreement with the war and spent three years in prison. Across college campuses, the anti-war movement began. As the war raged on protests continued and only increased in size. By 1967, the number of people against the war effort increased as the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam hit roughly 500,000. The U.S. alone had lost an estimated 15,000 lives with over 109,000 wounded by 1967. The annual cost of the war had reached an astounding $25 billion.

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The War Rages On

Despite the protests against the war, the war raged on. Along with the United States, troops from New Zealand, Australia, and Thailand joined South Korea in its battle against throughout the course of the war. The war leads to invasions in Cambodia in 1970 and Laos in 1971. President Johnson’s successor, President Richard Nixon ordered the invasions. The invasions cause further riots and anti-war protests in the U.S.

Peace

In 1973, after nearly two decades of battle, North Vietnam and the United States agreed to a cease-fire following peace talks. Troops returned to their homes back in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand. Despite the agreement for a cease-fire, it would not take long for North and South Vietnam to resume fighting. That battle would end with South Vietnam surrendering to North Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was one that spanned nearly 20 years and cost a great deal financially and in loss of life. According to records, 1.3 million military deaths occurred during the Vietnam War. That number covers all countries involved, the U.S. alone lost an estimated 58,200 lives with roughly 1,700 military personal still considered as either a POW or MIA. The civilian deaths during the war totaled 1 million.

The lingering effects of the Vietnam War continue to this day. Many soldiers that returned home from the war suffered from PTSD, had medical conditions from battle that led to one or more amputations, thousands were semi or permanently disabled. Exposure to Agent Orange also caused countless illnesses and deaths in some cases. The Vietnam War was one that many people continue to disagree with while many others will never understand the purpose of the war.

References:
http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history>
http://www.historynet.com/vietnam-war>
http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/20/us/vietnam-war-five-things/>
http://www.britannica.com/event/Vietnam-War>

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