Once it became clear that Stalin was intent on pushing communist ideology as far as his armies could carry it, the leaders in the West had the difficult task of determining what to do. It seemed unthinkable to let Stalin have his way. Too many lives had been lost protecting freedom and democracy during the epic struggle of World War II to simply walk away and let the Soviets erase those victories. Nevertheless, the world was weary of war, so short of continuing the struggle on the battlefield, how else could the West stand up to communist expansion?

Containment, the solution the United States settled on, prevented open war – it made the Cold War cold instead of hot – but was containment the best choice?


When the Soviet Red Army began the long, slow process of pushing back the German war machine, it absorbed the nearby Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania along the Baltic Sea into the Soviet Union. As they went, communist forces dominated the governments of Romania and Bulgaria. By the fall of 1945, it was clear that the Soviet-backed communists had complete control of Poland, violating the Yalta promise of free and unfettered elections there. It was only a matter of time before Hungary and Czechoslovakia fell into the Soviet orbit.

When Josef Stalin ordered the creation of a communist puppet regime in the Soviet sector of occupied Germany, the West began to panic. How many dominoes would fall? American diplomats saw the people of a continent ravaged by war looking for strong leadership and aid of any sort. If communists provided the help they desperately needed, they may embrace Stalin and communism as their saving grace. The continent was ripe for revolution. Would the Soviets get all of Germany? What about Italy and France? President Truman was determined to reverse the trend.

Since the American people were weary from war and had no desire to send troops into Eastern Europe to roll back the gains of Stalin’s Red Army, fighting the Soviet Union would have been impossible. Instead, George Kennan a mid-level diplomat in the State Department proposed a new approach: the policy of containment.

In places where communism threatened to expand, American aid would be used to prevent a takeover. By vigorously supporting freely elected governments, the United States might be able to contain communism within its current borders. This policy became known as the Truman Doctrine as the President outlined his plans to Congress.

Greece and Turkey were the first nations spiraling into crisis that had not been directly occupied by the Soviet Army. Both countries were on the verge of being taken over by Soviet-backed guerrilla movements. Truman decided to draw a line in the sand. In March 1947, he asked Congress to appropriate $400 million to send to these two nations in the form of military and economic assistance. Within two years the help the Americans provided had stabilized the Greek and Turkish economies and helped reestablish law and order. The communist threat passed as people began to view democracy and the free market system promoted by the United States as the road to peace and prosperity.

Emergency aid to Turkey and Greece worked to stabilize those two nations, but all of Europe was devastated. The war had ruined crop fields and destroyed infrastructure. The people of the entire continent were in dire need. On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall announced the European Recovery Program. To avoid antagonizing the Soviet Union, Marshall announced that the purpose of sending aid to Western Europe was completely humanitarian, and even offered aid to the communist states in the East, but Stalin refused. He knew that American money could influence the hearts and minds of the people in his sphere of influence the same way it had in Greece and Turkey. In the end, congress approved Truman’s request of $17 billion over four years to be sent to Great Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Primary Source: Editorial Cartoon

Congress races to pass funding to save Western Europe from the chaos spread by communism in a cartoon arguing in favor of the Marshall Plan.

The Marshall Plan created an economic miracle in Western Europe. By the target date of the program four years later, Western European industries were producing twice as much as they had before war broke out. The aid also produced record levels of trade with American firms, fueling a postwar economic boom in the United States. Some Americans grumbled about the costs, but peace and freedom in Western Europe proved to be a bargain.

Lastly, and much to Truman’s delight, none of the nations of Western Europe that received aid under the Marshall Plan ever faced a serious threat of communist takeover. On the contrary, the nations of Western Europe were, and continue to be America’s strongest allies.


, Germany’s wartime capital, was the prickliest of all issues that separated the United States and Soviet Union during the late 1940s and became a symbol of the entire Cold War. The city was divided into four Zones of Occupation like the rest of Germany. However, the entire city lay within the Soviet zone of occupation miles from the rest of West Germany. Once the nation of East Germany was established, the allied sections of the capital known as West Berlin became an island of democracy and capitalism behind the Iron Curtain.

Stalin viewed West Berlin as an embarrassment. Thousands of East Germans were moving to West Berlin, and then on to West Germany to escape the establishment of a communist regime. Stalin wanted the Allies out of the city.

In June 1948, he decided to seal all land routes going into West Berlin. Since the borders of West Berlin had been open since the end of the war, most of what the people of the city consumed, especially food and fuel, was produced in the surrounding East German countryside. Stalin gambled that the Western powers were tired, and that their populations were not willing to risk another war to protect the city. Faced with starvation, he calculated the Americans would give up and leave the city rather than let people starve. Alternatively, the people of West Berlin would throw the Americans out in order to end the blockade. Either way, a withdrawal by the United States would eliminate the democratic enclave in the Soviet zone.

Primary Source: Photograph

An American plane lands in Berlin during the airlift as young Berliners look on.

Truman was faced with a tough choice. Relinquishing West Berlin to the Soviets would seriously undermine the new doctrine of containment. Any negotiated settlement would suggest that the Soviet Union could engineer a crisis at any time to exact concessions. If Berlin were compromised, the whole of West Germany might question the American commitment to German democracy. To Harry Truman, there was no question. “We are going to stay, period,” he declared. Together, with Britain, the United States began moving massive amounts of food and supplies into West Berlin by air.

At first Stalin was convinced the airlift would fail and there was every reason to believe it would. After 1945, the allies had greatly reduced the number of heavy aircraft and pilots in their air forces. It was altogether possible that there might just not be the planes and pilots necessary to deliver enough food and fuel to keep the people of West Berlin from starving and freezing during the coming winter. There was also a problem of where to land. There were only three airports in West Berlin.

In a testament to logistical planning and resourcefulness, General William Turner organized around-the-clock flights. By the time the airlift ended, the allies were delivering 4,000 tons of supplies every day. At the height of the airlift, a plane was landing in West Berlin every minute.

With the airlift, Truman turned the tables on Stalin. Now the choice between war and peace was in Stalin’s hands. Instead of the Americans starting a war to break the land blockade, Stalin would have to start a war to end the airlift by shooting down the allied planes, and he refused to give that order. Over the next eleven months, Stalin began to look bad in the eyes of the world. He was clearly willing to use innocent civilians as pawns to quench his expansionist thirst.

After more than a year, in May 1949, the Soviets ended the blockade. The United States and Britain had flown over 250,000 supply missions and the airlift had been a success. The policy of containment was intact, and even more importantly, the Americans and British had demonstrated to the people of West Berlin, West Germany, and the world that they would stand up to the Soviet Union in the defense of freedom.


With his choice to blockade Berlin, Stalin miscalculated the strength of western unity. To cement the cooperation that the western allies had shown during the war and immediate postwar years, the Western allies formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in April 1949. The pact operated on the basis of collective security. If any one of the member states were attacked, all would retaliate together. The original NATO members were Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, and the United States. Later Greece and Turkey were added. These two nations were traditional enemies, and Turkey is a predominantly Muslim nation, but they straddle the seaways that connect the Black and Mediterranean Seas. With Greece, Turkey, Denmark, Norway and Iceland all members of NATO, the West could keep an eye on the Soviet Navy as it came and went from the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas.

NATO was the sort of permanent alliance George Washington had warned against in his Farewell Address in 1796. By helping to found NATO, the United States formally shed its isolationist past and thrust itself forward as the indispensable superpower in the struggle for freedom.

In 1955 West Germany joined NATO, prompting the Soviet Union and the communist nations of the Eastern Bloc to form their own mutual defense alliance. Because it was signed in the Polish city of Warsaw, the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance was commonly known as the Warsaw Pact. Like the members of NATO, the Warsaw Pact nations coordinated their militaries, integrated communications systems, shared equipment and technologies, used each other’s military facilities, and practiced coordinated attacks. In time, NATO and the Warsaw Pact became synonymous with the free West and the communist East, even though there were nations on both sides of the Iron Curtain that refused to join either alliance.

When the Cold War ended in 1991, the Warsaw Pact dissolved. NATO, on the other hand, still exists today. Its membership has greatly expanded and now includes some of the former Warsaw Pact nations, much to the distress of current Russian leaders.


The crisis in Berlin may have been the first test of Truman’s commitment to the policy of containment, but there was never any fighting involved in the Berlin Airlift. In Asia, however, a long and bloody land war proved to be a great test of Truman’s resolve.

Unlike in Europe, containment had not gone well in Asia. First, and most importantly, China had fallen into communist hands. This was not entirely surprising. The transformation of China into a communist nation had begun long before the outbreak of the Cold War. In fact, a civil war had been raging in China since the early 1900s.

In 1911, modernized Chinese military units began uprisings against the Qing family’s imperial rule. Over the next year, various provinces declared independence from the government and on January 1, 1912, delegates from the independent provinces elected Sun Yat-sen as the first provisional president of the Republic of China. The last emperor of China, Puyi, was forced to abdicate a month later on February 12. Although Sun was inaugurated in Nanjing as the first provisional president, he was unable to maintain stability since leaders in many provinces also wanted control. Sun did not command an army of his own and over the next decade, conflict rather than peace was common throughout China.

In the 1920s, Sun Yat-sen established a base in southern China and set out to unite the fragmented nation. With assistance from the Soviet Union, he entered into an alliance with the fledgling Communist Party of China. After Sun’s death from cancer in 1925, one of his protégés, Chiang Kai-shek, seized control of the Kuomintang, Sun’s political party, and succeeded in bringing most of South and Central China under its rule in a military campaign known as the Northern Expedition. In 1927, Chiang turned on the communists who had supported him in an effort to secure his power. In 1934, driven from their mountain bases, the communist forces embarked on the Long March across China’s most desolate terrain to the northwest, where they established a guerrilla base at Yan’an in Shaanxi Province. During the Long March, the communists reorganized under a new leader, Mao Zedong.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang and Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party put their conflict on hold between 1937 and 1945 when they both turned their attention to repelling the invading Japanese. Following the defeat of Japan in 1945, the war between the nationalists and communists resumed.

After three years of exhausting military campaigns, Chiang Kai-shek and approximately two million Nationalist Chinese retreated from mainland China to the island of Formosa on October 1, 1949. Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China with its capital in Beijing. In December 1949, Chiang proclaimed Taipei, Taiwan, the temporary capital of the Republic of China. To this day, both the communist government in Beijing and the nationalist government in Taipei claim to be the legitimate rulers of all of China, but in reality, mainland China and the island nation of Taiwan operate as fully independent countries.

Secondary Source: Map

The two Chinas. This map shows mainland China and Taiwan as well as the two capital cities.

Although the United States had not been directly involved in the Chinese Civil War, President Truman was widely criticized for failing to stop the march of Mao’s army. China, the most populous country on the planet had become the world’s second communist nation on Truman’s watch. How could he let this happen and what did it mean for the rest of Asia?


When the Soviet Union entered the Second World War against Japan, they sent troops into Japanese-occupied Korea. American troops established a presence in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and when the Japanese surrendered, Korea split into a Soviet northern zone, and an American southern zone, divided at the 38th Parallel. Korea began to resemble divided Germany.

Upon the recommendation of the United Nations, elections were scheduled to choose leaders who would reunify Korea, but fearing that the Americans would manipulate the outcome, the North’s communist leaders refused to participate. The election went forward in the South and Syngman Rhee became president, but the Soviets supported Kim Il-Sung as leader of the North. When the United States and the Soviet Union withdrew their forces from the peninsula in 1948 and 1949, trouble began.

Kim Il-Sung had no desire to remain leader of only the northern half of Korea. On June 25, 1950, his armed forces crossed the 38th Parallel and marched into the South. It took only two days for President Truman to commit the United States military to the defense of South Korea. Truman hoped to build a broad coalition by enlisting support from the United Nations.

Of course, the Soviet Union could veto any proposed action by the Security Council, but this time the Americans were in luck. The Soviets were boycotting the Security Council for refusing to admit communist China into the United Nations. As a result, the Council voted unanimously to “repel the armed attack” of North Korea. Many countries sent troops to defend the South but the vast majority of the soldiers were from the United States and South Korea.

The commander of the United Nations forces was Douglas MacArthur, the hero of World War II in the Pacific and commander of the American occupation of Japan. He had an uphill battle to fight, as the North had overrun the entire peninsula with the exception of a small area around the city of Pusan in the far south.

MacArthur ordered a daring amphibious assault at Inchon on the western side of the peninsula. It was one of the most brilliant military calculations of his illustrious career. Caught by surprise, the communist-backed northern forces reeled in retreat. American troops from Inchon and Pusan quickly pushed the North Koreans to the 38th Parallel and then beyond. MacArthur, Truman and the Americans saw an opportunity to create a united democratic Korea and pushed Kim’s army up to the Yalu River, the border between Korea and China.

Truman relished the idea of reuniting Korea, but his hopes were dashed on November 27, when over 400,000 Chinese soldiers flooded across the Yalu River. Surprising Truman and MacArthur who had both calculated that the Chinese would want to stay out of the fight, Chairman Mao Zedong had decided to come to the aid of his communist neighbor.

American troops were once again forced south of the 38th Parallel. General MacArthur viewed the seesawing war as a great struggle against the evil forces of communism. He applied the lessons he learned fighting the Japanese in World War II, and advocated for nothing less than total victory. He proposed escalating the war by bombing China, even suggesting that nuclear weapons should be considered as an option. In MacArthur’s mind, not wining was the same as losing.

Truman disagreed. He feared escalation of the conflict could lead to another world war, especially if by attacking China the Americans provoked the Soviet Union. Truman could imagine the world slipping into another great war in the same way the European powers had tumbled into World War One in 1914. Actually, China was also exercising restraint. They could have attacked American bases in Japan that were used to support the war in Korea, but like Truman, had decided to fight the war only in Korea.

Disgruntled, MacArthur took his case directly to the American people by openly criticizing Truman’s approach. The Constitution firmly gives the power of commander-in-chief of the military to a civilian elected president. Truman feared that if he gave in to MacArthur it might appear that the president was taking orders from the military, rather than the other way around, so on April 6, 1951, Truman ordered that MacArthur be replaced as commander in Korea and Japan.

Primary Source: Photograph

President Truman and Douglas MacArthur at a meeting they held in Hawaii.

Fallout from Truman’s decision was immediate. Some Republicans in Congress called for him to be impeached. MacArthur was a revered war hero. When he flew home to the United States, he was greeted with a parade that was attended by 500,000 people. In contrast, Truman’s popularity dropped to 22%, the lowest ever for any president in the era of modern opinion polling. Meanwhile, MacArthur was invited to address a joint session of Congress, the only military commander ever to do so.

In his speech MacArthur declared, “Efforts have been made to distort my position. It has been said in effect that I was a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting… But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war there can be no substitute for victory.” In the end, though, Truman was president, and his judgment was that the best resolution of the war in Korea was not total victory against all the forces of communism, but a permanently divided Korean peninsula.

The war itself had evolved into a stalemate, with the front line corresponding more or less to the 38th Parallel where the division of the peninsula had been three years before. Ceasefire negotiations dragged on for two more years, beyond Truman’s presidency. Finally, under the direction of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Truman’s successor, an armistice was signed at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953. North Korea remained a communist dictatorship under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, and South Korea remained under the control of Syngman Rhee who ruled for 12 years as a dictator, but, in the opinion of the United States, at least not a communist dictator.

Over 5 million people died before the war ended and more than half of the victims were civilians. In all, 37,000 Americans died in the conflict. Today, Korea remains divided by a three-mile wide demilitarized zone (DMZ) guarded on both sides by vigilant armies. Kim Il-sung was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il and then by his grandson Kim Jong-un. Supported today only by China, North Korea is one of the world’s poorest and most isolated countries.

South Korea eventually embraced democracy, modernized its economy, and is a major trading partner of the United States. Korean products such as Samsung electronics and Hyundai automobiles are commonplace in America, and American products and soldiers are familiar sights in South Korea. In 2017, there were still 37,500 American military personal stationed in South Korea standing guard against another invasion from the North.


In the 1800s and early 1900s, powerful nations gobbled up weaker ones in the development of vast empires. For example, the United States took Hawaii and the Philippines. Great Britain ruled over India. And all the major powers of Europe had divided up Africa. The lands of Southeast Asia that are today’s nations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia comprised the French colony of Indochina.

After World War One, an independence movement formed in Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh. Ho was educated in the West, where he became a disciple of Marxist thought. Ho resented and resisted the French, and when the Japanese invaded Vietnam during World War II and displaced the French, Ho fought them as well. His liberation movement, known as the Viet Minh, used guerrilla warfare and successfully held many key cities by 1945. When the Japanese surrendered, Ho gave a victory speech in Hanoi. Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Ho proclaimed a new independent nation of Vietnam.

France was determined to reclaim all its territories after World War II. The United States now faced an interesting dilemma. American tradition dictated sympathy for revolutionaries rather than archaic colonial powers. The American army had even helped Ho during World War II in his fight against Japan. However, given Truman’s new strategy of containment, supporting the Marxist Viet Minh was unthinkable.


Vietnam was a small nation compared to China, Korea or Japan, and most Americans had never heard of it and would have been at a loss to find it on a map. However, for military strategists Vietnam was hugely important.

American diplomats subscribed to the Domino Theory. Like a line of dominos in which a first falling domino knocks down the next, which topples the next, and so on, a communist victory in Vietnam might lead to communist victories in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Such a scenario was unthinkable to the makers of American foreign policy.

President Truman decided to support France in its efforts to reclaim Indochina by providing money and military advisers. The United States financial commitment amounted to nearly one billion dollars per year. For Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese, America’s support of the French imperialists was unimaginable. How could a nation whose founding ideals they so admired help the colonizers?

The French, for their part, found Ho Chi Minh a formidable adversary. Between 1945 and 1954, a fierce war raged. Slowly but surely, the Viet Minh wore down the French will to fight. In the end, a large regiment of French troops was surrounded by the Vietnamese under the leadership of communist general Vo Nguyen Giap at Dien Bien Phu. After a long siege, the French surrendered. This final catastrophe convinced the French to abandon their hopes of reclaiming their lost colony.


The French troops withdrew, leaving Ho Chi Minh in control of the northern half of the country. Negotiations to formally end the conflict took place in Geneva, Switzerland. A multinational agreement divided Vietnam at the 17th Parallel. The territory north of this line would be led by Ho Chi Minh with Hanoi its capital.

The southern sector named the city of Saigon its capital and Ngo Dinh Diem its leader. The division of Vietnam was meant to be temporary, with nationwide elections scheduled for 1956. Knowing that Ho Chi Minh would be a sure victor, however, the South made sure these elections were never held.

During the administrations of Eisenhower and Kennedy, the United States continued to supply funds, weapons, and military advisers to South Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh turned North Vietnam into a communist dictatorship and created a new band of guerrillas called the Viet Cong, whose sole purpose was to overthrow the military regime in the South and reunite the nation.

In the first of many cases during the Cold War, the United States backed an unpopular leader in Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem was corrupt, showed little commitment to democratic principles, and favored Catholics to the dismay of Vietnam’s Buddhist majority. But Diem was not a communist, which was the most important criteria when the United States was looking for allies around the world during the Cold War.

Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford all struggled with the question of how to stop the spread of communism in Southeast Asia without being on the wrong side of history. In the end, American’s leaders were unsuccessful in almost all of their goals. The United States ended up fighting a long, devastating and disastrous war that, after terrible bloodshed and destruction, we ultimately lost. Ho Chi Minh’s struggle for a unified, independent Vietnam under a communist government succeeded.


Although containment successfully prevented the spread of communism in Europe and Korea, the United States lost the fight to stop communists from unifying Vietnam. Containment proved to be largely peaceful in Europe, but resulted in tremendous violence and bloodshed in Asia. In addition, containment did nothing to liberate people from communism. At best, it protected some people from living under communist rule. So, was containment the right way to deal with the spread of communism?



BIG IDEA: Rather than fighting another war to defeat communist nations, Americans chose to try to stop the spread of communism. This led the United States into conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, and also led to standoffs in Europe, especially related to the status of the city of Berlin.

Americans did not want to continue fighting to stop communism. They had just finished fighting the Germans and Japanese and fighting the Soviets to stop communism would have been unpopular with voters. Instead, leaders like President Truman decided to prevent communism from spreading to new places. This was called containment.

Americans were afraid that poverty and political instability in Europe would give communists an opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of people in many countries, not just the nations that were occupied by Soviet troops. A solution was to promote economic recovery. In theory, if people had jobs and the economy was doing well, they would not want to give up prosperity to experiment with communism. To do this, the United States gave billions of dollars to places like France, West Germany, Greece and Japan to help them rebuild.

Stalin was angry that the city of Berlin was divided and wanted to unite the city under communist rule. To force the Americans, British and French out, he blockaded the city, preventing fuel and food from being brought in. He believed that the allies would give up the city rather than fight. Truman saw the conflict as a test of his willingness to stand up to stop the spread of communism and organized an airlift to supply everything the people of West Berlin needed by air transport. After more than a year, Stalin gave up and allowed ground transport into the city again. It was an important early victory for containment.

Both the United States and Soviet Union wanted allies.  The United States and its allies in Western Europe formed NATO.  The Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe formed the Warsaw Pact.  Both alliances were for mutual defense.  If any country was attacked, everyone would join the fight in their defense.

In China, the civil war that had been raging before the Japanese invaded reignited. Communists and nationalists fought in the late 1940s, and communists under Mao Zedong won, driving the nationalists to the island of Taiwan. The United States did not want to fight another war so soon after World War II and did not directly join the fighting. This was a failure to contain the spread of communism.

At the end of World War II, Korea had been divided between communists in the North and non-communists in the South. In 1950, the communists invaded the South and the United States led a fight to defend them. Korea was another important test of containment. The war was long and ended in a stalemate. Today Korea is still divided between a communist North and non-communist South. During the Korean War, General MacArthur wanted to expand the war into China and defeat communism once and for all, but President Truman fired him. The Cold War would be a long conflict, but always limited.

In the end, American leaders came to believe in a domino theory. They thought that if one nation became communist, its neighbors would also soon become communists. In order to prevent the spread of communism, every country, no matter how small, would need to be defended. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson all decided to support the anti-communists in Vietnam for this reason.



George Kennan: The State Department official who developed the policy of containment.

George Marshall: American Secretary of State who proposed using American money to rebuild Europe. He believed that if countries had a strong economy they would be less likely to fall to communism.

William Turner: American air force general who organized the Berlin Airlift.

NATO: Alliance that includes the United States, Canada, and most of the nations of Western Europe as well Greece and Turkey. It was created to counter the threat of the Soviet Union.

Warsaw Pact: The collective security agreement that was the answer to NATO. It included the Soviet Union and most of Eastern Europe.

Sun Yat-sen: Leader of the movement to overthrow the last of the Chinese emperors. He is often considered the “Father of China.”

Chiang Kai-shek: Sun Yat-sen’s successor and leader of the nationalist, non-communist Chinese forces. He lost to Mao and fled to Taiwan.

Mao Zedong: Leader of the Chinese communists. He became the first leader of mainland China after the communist takeover.

Syngman Rhee: First leader of South Korea. He ruled as a dictator but was not communist.

Kim Il-Sung: First leader of communist North Korea.

Douglas MacArthur: American hero of WWII in the Pacific. He had led the occupation of Japan and was commander in the Korean War until he was relieved by President Truman for insubordination.

Kim Jong-il: Second leader of North Korea from 1994-2011

Kim Jong-un: Third leader of North Korea from 2011 to the present.

Ho Chi Minh: Communist leader of North Vietnam. His primary goal was Vietnamese independence.

Viet Minh: The guerrilla fighters loyal to Ho Chi Minh.

Vo Nguyen Giap: General in charge of the North Vietnamese Army. He defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu.

Ngo Dinh Diem: Leader of South Vietnam. He was widely disliked by his own people.

Viet Cong: Guerrilla fighters loyal to Ho Chi Minh based in South Vietnam.


Collective Security: An agreement between nations in which they agree to treat an attack on any member of the agreement as an attack on all members.

Stalemate: A situation in war in which neither side is able to win.

Armistice: An agreement to stop fighting. Rather than creating peace, is serves as a permanent suspension of war.


Baltic States: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. They were independent nations along the Baltic Sea before WWII. After the war they were absorbed into the Soviet Union. They were the first three republics to declare independence in 1991.

Berlin: Capital city of Germany. After WWII it was divided. West Berlin was a small enclave of freedom surrounded by Soviet-dominated East Germany. The city was the site of many standoffs and physical manifestations of the Cold War.

People’s Republic of China (PRC): The official name of communist mainland China.

Republic of China (ROC): The official name of non-communist Taiwan.

Taiwan: The small island nation off the southern coast of China founded by Chiang Kai-shek and his followers.

38th Parallel: The line of latitude that divided North and South Korea before the Korean War. The current boundary still roughly follows the 38th Parallel.

Demilitarized Zone (DMZ): The three-mile wide strip of land that marks the boundary between North and South Korea.

Indochina: The French colony in Southeast Asia including Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Hanoi: Capital of North Vietnam.

Saigon: Capital of South Vietnam. Today it is known as Ho Chi Minh City.


Berlin Airlift: Operation mounted by the United States and Great Britain to supply West Berlin by air when Stalin cut off the city’s land access in 1948-1949. The Airlift was a success despite tremendous obstacles and the city was saved from communist takeover.

Long March: Heroic march of the Chinese communists to escape destruction.

Dien Bien Phu: Final battle in 1954 between the Vietnamese forces under Ho Chi Min and the French. The French lost and they abandoned Indochina as a colony.


Containment: The policy of preventing the spread of communist but not trying to eliminate it where it already existed.

Truman Doctrine: President Truman’s plan to implement containment and use American money to support countries that were in danger of falling under communist domination.

Marshall Plan: The plan to use American money to rebuild Europe. It was intended to prevent the spread of communism by demonstrating that a free market system would be the path to prosperity.

Domino Theory: American belief that if one nation fell to communism its neighbors would soon follow.

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