Tag Archives: USA

USSR nuclear test

The USSR’s first atomic test

On the 29th August 1949, the Soviet Union successfully detonated its first nuclear weapon codenamed RDS-1 and nicknamed First Lightning. The explosion had the power of 22 kilotons of TNT, and was 50% more destructive than its designers had expected.

The USSR started its nuclear program in 1943 after discovering the USA, Britain and Canada had begun bomb development. Assisted by intelligence from sources inside the USA’s Manhattan Project, the Soviet Union’s program developed quickly as the Soviets were able to replicate American successes while avoiding some of their costlier mistakes. Consequently, although the majority of Cold War academics accept that the USSR’s success had a lot to do with domestic expertise they recognise that intelligence helped to reduce the time it took for them to develop the bomb.

Work was accelerated after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in secret, purpose-built cities dedicated to the nuclear program known as Atomgrads. By 1949 the Soviets had developed two types of bomb, but opted to detonate the simpler of the two designs first since it was similar in design to the successful Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.

The RDS-1 test was conducted in secret in an attempt to avoid the USA increasing its own nuclear program, but the US Air Force began to detect radioactive fallout from the explosion a few days later and tracked the trail. Soviet success had occurred up to 4 years ahead of Western estimates, and the knowledge that the USSR now had ‘the bomb’ dramatically increased tensions in the early years of the Cold War.

Radio Free Europe

Overview of Radio Free Europe’s first broadcast on 4th July 1950

On the 4th July 1950, Radio Free Europe – founded the previous year to transmit uncensored information to audiences behind the Iron Curtain – completed its first broadcast.

Although the station was uncensored in the sense that it shared information that was suppressed within the Communist Bloc, it’s important to remember that it was still a propaganda tool founded and principally funded by the United States government.

The task facing the journalists who worked for RFE was daunting. Since they broadcast to states that suppressed a range of information and news, the gathering of intelligence to provide broadcast material was an enormous challenge. They often relied on risky contact with émigrés and people who had traveled behind the Iron Curtain for eye-witness accounts, and closely monitored print and electronic media from the communist governments. It’s even been suggested that the quality and quantity of information was so comprehensive that the communist governments themselves used Radio Free Europe to gain information about what was happening within their own countries.

However, RFE was still fundamentally a broadcaster that promoted anti-communist ideas and was therefore a significant threat in the countries it targeted. The USSR tasked the KGB with establishing expensive radio jamming facilities to try to block broadcasts, while in 1981 a terrorist group funded by the Romanian regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu detonated a bomb at RFE’s Munich headquarters.

Despite these challenges Radio Free Europe and its partner station Radio Liberty continued broadcasting, and even after the end of the Cold War has continued to broadcast to countries where a free press is not established.

Kennedy’s announcement of a plan for manned moon landing

On the 25th May 1961, American President John F. Kennedy made the announcement to a joint session of Congress that he had set his sights on a manned moon landing before the end of the decade.

To many people, including some personnel at NASA, Kennedy’s address seemed ridiculous. The USA had only sent its first man into space 20 days earlier and, although Alan Shepard’s spaceflight aboard Freedom 7 was a huge success, the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin had already become the first man in space three weeks before that. Taking on the USSR at a technological game that they were already leading appeared reckless.

An underlying issue was that, as part of his election campaign, Kennedy had promised to outperform the Soviet Union in the fields of space exploration and missile defence. In his famed television debate with Richard Nixon, Kennedy had mocked the fact that Nixon was proud of the USA being ahead of the USSR in terms of colour television while trailing in terms of rocket thrust. Gagarin’s flight had proved to the world that the USSR was currently ‘winning’ the Space Race, and so put pressure on Kennedy to increase spending on the Apollo space program.  Having received a memo from Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson in which he reported that the USA was unlikely to ever outperform the USSR under the current spending arrangements, Kennedy launched the largest peacetime financial commitment ever made.

The $24 billion dollars did work, however, and Apollo 11 achieved Kennedy’s goal by landing on the moon on 20th July 1969.

Telstar and the first satellite TV broadcast

Overview of Telstar and the world’s first satellite TV broadcast

The world’s first satellite television broadcast took place on July 11th 1962 when the Telstar satellite relayed an image of a flag outside its base station at Andover Earth Station to the Pleumeur-Bodou earth station in France.

The 190 French technicians successfully tracked Telstar during the 20 minute period that Telstar was visible to both the USA and France and watched the broadcast at 47 minutes past midnight. The first public satellite broadcast took place almost two weeks later, on July 23rd.

Telstar was launched almost five years after the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was put into low Earth orbit by the USSR. For this reason Telstar is seen as being part of the Space Race between the USA and the USSR, but it’s interesting to note that Telstar was actually an international project to develop trans-Atlantic communication involving AT&T, Bell Telephone Laboratories and NASA in the USA as well as the GPO and National PTT who were responsible for communication technology in the UK and France respectively.

Telstar was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on the day before the first broadcast, with costs shared between the international partners. Telstar was therefore also the first privately sponsored space launch. However, despite partly being a product of the Cold War it was also a victim. High-altitude nuclear tests had created artificial radiation belts that overwhelmed the electronics on Telstar and led to irreparable damage that caused the satellite to completely fail nine months later. By the time it went out of service, Telstar I had relayed over 400 separate transmissions.

US break relations with Cuba

Why the USA cut diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961

On the 3rd January 1961, the United States of America severed its diplomatic relationship with Cuba and closed the American embassy in Havana. The move came in the wake of the nationalisation of industries in Cuba that were owned by US citizens, which increased as the American government gradually introduced a trade embargo.

The overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement heralded a dramatic change in US-Cuban relations. American President Dwight D. Eisenhower initially recognised the new socialist government, but the situation quickly deteriorated as Cuba introduced agrarian reforms and the nationalisation of US-owned interests.

In response the USA stopped buying Cuban sugar and banned the sale of oil, so Castro’s government turned to the USSR for assistance. This led to a further deterioration of relations with America. However, a complete trade embargo only came about after Cuba nationalised the three American-owned oil refineries in the country in October 1960.

Further nationalisations over the next three months – including that of private property owned by Americans – led the Eisenhower administration to cut all diplomatic ties with Cuba on the 3rd January. Meanwhile, a group of Cuban exiles in the USA, known as Brigade 2506, were being trained by the CIA to overthrow Castro’s government. This plan, which resulted in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, was followed through by John F. Kennedy after he became the 35th President of the USA less than three weeks after the closure the embassy.

Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States were finally restored on the 20th July 2015, although a trade embargo still exists.

Cuban Missile Crisis – Mr Kennedy and Mr Khrushchev

US break relations with Cuba

Causes of the Cuban Missile Crisis

A chronological overview of the events leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1962 the world came closer than it had come before to a ‘hot war’ in the nuclear age.  Cuba, a small island about 90 miles from the coast of Florida in the USA, was the focus of the world’s attention for 13 nerve-wracking days in October.

This podcast begins with an overview of Cuba’s revolution led by socialist rebel Fidel Castro against the right-wing Batista and explains how the USA’s subsequent trade embargo led Cuba to begin a relationship with the USSR.  The episode then goes on to describe the failed Bay of Pigs invasion a year before a U2 spy plane revealed that the USSR was helping Cuba to develop bases for nuclear missiles.

The second part of the podcast presents the different options offered to President Kennedy, and how his decision to mount a naval blockade against any more Russian ships coming to Cuba led to both sides settling the dispute via a series of telgrams.

The episode concludes with a consideration of whether either side ‘won’ the crisis.  Evidence is presented on both sides of the argument.

     

Ich bin ein Berliner

Overview of JFK’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech, 26th June 1963

On the 26th June 1963 American President John F. Kennedy declared US support for West Berlin with the phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner” – I am a Berliner – 22 months after the Soviet-supported DDR, more commonly known as East Germany, built the Berlin Wall.

Berlin had been a focal point for Cold War tensions ever since the Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945 divided the city – and the rest of Germany – between the four victorious powers at the end of the Second World War. When the USSR imposed the Berlin Blockade from 1948-49, the Western allies made it clear that they were not willing to back down in their support for West Berlin by airlifting supplies into the city.

Although the airlift secured West Berlin’s survival, it further increased tensions between the USSR and its former allies as East Germans crossed the border in order to defect to the West. This placed an enormous economic strain on the East, which began suffering labour shortages. In response, the government of East Germany erected a barbed wire fence around West Berlin that eventually developed into the imposing Berlin Wall, although the government claimed that it was to keep out spies and agitators rather than stop people from leaving.

It was against this background of heightened tension that Kennedy delivered his rousing speech on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg, the seat of the state senate of West Berlin. While the speech effectively recognised East Berlin as part of the Soviet Bloc, it also reaffirmed America’s commitment  to defend West Berlin against Communist expansion.

American involvement in Vietnam

This revision podcast addresses the Vietnam War in the context of the Cold War, and is broadly split into three sections: reasons for the war and America’s involvement, the way the war was fought, and reasons for American withdrawal.

The first section looks at why the war began, and why the USA got involved.  This is done by presenting an overview of 5 key causes: containment, the Domino Theory, the division of Vietnam after the Treaty of Geneva, US support for the South Vietnamese government against the Viet Cong, and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  I then provide an example of how to structure an essay essay to explain why the USA got involved.

The second part of the podcast addresses the way the war was fought.  It assesses how the guerrilla tactics of the Viet Cong were developed as a response to the vastly superior American firepower, and ways in which the USA similarly responded to this new style of warfare.  American tactics described in the podcast include the Strategic Hamlets Programme, Operation Rolling Thunder, the use of Agent Orange, and Search and Destroy missions.

The episode concludes with an overview of the various factors that led to the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, concluding with a short comment on the lasting effect of the Vietnam War on American attitudes to the Cold War.