You know World War II: the conflict that involved tons of different countries and had soldiers fighting on four continents.
By the time everyone decided to shake hands and play nice, more than sixty million people had died. It's like the entire world had been spinning in crazy circles for half a decade, and everyone was dizzy and trying to make decisions and also kind of trying not to throw up—which explains why the choices people did make set the stage for some nasty stuff.
FDR, Churchill, and Stalin met in early 1945 to discuss what would happen in Europe once World War II had ended. The Big Three smiled for the camera and agreed to do a few key things, such as splitting Germany (and Berlin) into four occupied zones, and democratizing the communist government set up in Poland.
It all sounded really good at first, but it became clear after a while that Stalin had his own agenda, and despite any agreements made at Yalta, was only interested in creating and enforcing a "Soviet sphere of influence" to spread communist ideas.
After the German army surrendered in Europe in May 1945, Allied forces turned their attention to defeating Japan. By the end of the summer, it became super obvious the end was in sight, but the U.S. couldn't decide how to finish it.
However, with a successful test of the atomic bomb in July 1945, Truman had an option that would be inexpensive and, most importantly, wouldn't result in massive loss of American forces (the estimate for a land invasion was upwards of a million casualties).
On the morning of August 6th, the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima, followed by another bomb three days later over Nagasaki. The next day, August 10th, the Japanese surrendered, and World War II was officially over.
Have you ever heard the saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"? Well, that was essentially the Soviet Union's point of view during World War II. Stalin wanted Hitler's German army to be defeated, and he needed help from the U.S. and other western nations to make that happen.
But after the war ended, all bets were off, and Stalin was quick to seal off the Soviet Union from the rest of the world. The "iron curtain" Winston Churchill is talking about wasn't actually a big curtain made of iron, but a metaphorical reference to postwar Europe, split between western ideas and communist control.
The Truman Doctrine marked the official start of the Cold War, when Harry Truman stood in front of Congress and asked the U.S. to assist Greece and Turkey in resisting communism. It set the stage for future policy decisions related to the communist threat, most notably that the United States had to provide military and monetary support to protect other countries.
It's a tough line to walk, and the drastic measures in the Truman Doctrine likely fed the growing fear of communism infiltrating the United States.
The entire economy in Europe was devastated after World War II—years of producing weapons for a conflict that's over will do that.
George C. Marshall, who was Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during the war, proposed a $13 billion plan to boost the economy, and give the countries a chance to be financially stable and independent. It was a solid plan that benefited the U.S. in a number of ways: first, it prevented another depression by providing a market for Americans to sell their good; second, and much less noble, autonomous economies were less likely to fall victim to communism.
Remember the atomic bombs we were just talking about, the ones that devastated cities and killed like 500,000 people almost instantly? That's nothing compared to the hydrogen bomb, which the U.S. tested for the first time on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
It was no joke, friends—the cloud was a hundred miles wide, and destroyed life on some of the surrounding islands.
Really, the whole hydrogen bomb situation makes it super clear that the U.S. and the Soviet Union were like brothers fighting over toys. After the Americans successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb, the Soviet Union was not about to be outdone, so they tested one in Kazakhstan.
So now, both groups had access to technology that made the atomic bomb look like kid stuff—cool story, guys.
After World War II ended, when Berlin was split right down the middle like the photograph from The Parent Trap.
The east was communist, and the west wasn't. Two very different ideologies existing right next door, and eventually, East Germany had enough. Supposedly, they constructed the wall to stop evil westerners from bringing their crazy notions of equality into the east, but it turned into a sharp symbol of the divide between communism and western culture. (Sharp because of the barbed wire—see what we did there?)
The Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign was designed to pressure governments to go easy on nuclear arms. The goal was to get the U.S. and the Soviet Union to agree to freeze all nuclear testing and production, because people were really afraid one country would go nuts when the other did something crazy…and the consequences would've been bad.
When the campaigning began for the election of 1980, people were super unhappy with Jimmy Carter's administration—unemployment was high, the Iranian hostage crisis was in full swing, and people were not shy about sharing their opinions.
Reagan promised to help Americans believe in themselves again, and he totally dominated the election, winning forty-four states.
As part of his presidential campaign, Reagan promised to restore the nation's military strength, especially as more and more people were concerned with the Soviet Union's access to nuclear weapons.
However, in his speech in front of the National Association of Evangelists, Reagan said he didn't believe military power was the solution to the Soviet problem. He believed a restoration of American tradition on the home front—i.e. bringing prayer back into schools, making it more difficult for teenagers to get abortions—would inspire people living in communist countries to see the errors of their ways.
Reagan argued that military action would only encourage a military response, and because the issues between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were mostly ideological, the key to solving the problem wouldn't be discovered in a warzone.
Right about here is when the whole world started to wonder if Reagan was not-so-secretly a huge...well, what's the Star Wars equivalent of a Trekkie? The Strategic Defense Initiative was a plan to create an antiballistic missile system to ward off missile attacks from anyone who might feel the urge to hurt us. (*Cough* The Soviet Union *cough cough*) The media nicknamed the initiative Star Wars.
Ronnie's historic speech in Berlin challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, to tear down the Berlin Wall if he ever hoped to create lasting peace.
Add it to the list of important speeches made by our 40th president, although it didn't receive a lot of attention at first.
Remember that scene in The Wizard of Oz, when the munchkins celebrate the death of the Wicked Witch? That's essentially what happened when the Berlin Wall finally came crumblin' down in 1989—complete with parades and celebrations, although maybe not the Lollypop Guild.