The Cold War The United States emerged from World War II in 1945 as a superpower. So, too, however, did another nation of a different kind: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR. In 1917, Russian revolutionaries had overthrown the oppressive rule of the old emperors, or czars, only to establish an even more ferocious tyranny in its place— Communism. Murdering their political opponents, or dispatching them to die in distant labor camps, the Communists took an iron grip on every area of Soviet life. Businessmen and entrepreneurs (even hard-working peasants) were accused of exploiting their workers and were branded “class enemies,” becoming the social scapegoats that the Jews had been for Nazi Germany. The longer-term effects of this policy would eventually prove catastrophic—without men and women of initiative and energy, the USSR was economically doomed. However, in the immediate term, it created cohesion and a sense of social purpose. Hitler’s inva- sion of Russia in 1941 and the bitter fighting of the “Great Patriotic War” that followed brought the whole country into line behind its leader, Joseph Stalin. His final victory in that fearful conflict lent his rule an air of legitimacy in the eyes of many Soviets, assur- ing the survival of a regime combining monstrous evil with the most abject economic incompetence. Having thrown back the German invaders from their territories, Stalin’s forces proceeded to “liberate” the German-occupied states of Eastern Europe, turning Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and the eastern half of Germany into Communist states. Only the presence of American and British armies prevented the wholesale annexation of Germany. In the years that followed, the Soviet Union cemented its hold behind what British statesman Winston Churchill called the “Iron Curtain.” The United States was forced into an ever-escalating arms race to protect itself and its democratic allies against the Communist threat. This uncomfortable confrontation between East and West, known


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