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The rise of Cold War tensions didn't happen overnight. It happened during the daytime. (Actually, it happened little by little over years in a kind of slow creep.)
One of the first people to notice was British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. If there was one thing that guy hated it was slow creeps.
His "Iron Curtain" speech was a warning to the world that there was trouble brewing in Eastern Europe. His fancy-pants metaphor of a curtain made of iron descending right through the middle of Europe was eerily accurate—what does an iron curtain sound like? Yup: a wall. Winston Churchill basically predicted the Berlin Wall way back in 1946.
If history gave out I-told-you-so awards, he'd be first in line.
What's up with U.S. presidents going to Berlin and making really good speeches? They did it all the time.
Although Kennedy craftily didn't name the Soviet premier who he was mad at—maybe he just couldn't pronounce "Khrushchev"? can "Khrushchev" even be said in a Boston accent?—Ronald Regan wasn't holding back.
Reagan's 1987 Berlin speech does name names: he famously yells at the then-Soviet leader, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down the wall!" That made a nice bookend to what Kennedy started in 1963.
And you know what else makes a nice bookend? A big chuck of concrete from the wall that they dismantled a few years after Reagan's visit.
Right about now you might be thinking that the United States was totally on the right side of this whole communism debacle and that Cold War era U.S. politicians should all be canonized as world-saving, puppy-rescuing saints with halos and harps.
If so, prepare to have your bubble burst. Even back then, the U.S. was imperfect. When you've recovered, read on.
During the Cold War there were politicians and citizen groups who took an understandable fear of communism way, way, way too far. While most people had a healthy skepticism for the economic and political idea of sharing money and wearing red stars, some Americans went loony-tunes.
When they said, "better dead than red," they meant it literally. Like, people died. Or went to prison. Or had their lives ruined. And the loudest, most obnoxious of these misguided Americans was Senator Joseph McCarthy.
This is a dude who famously went looking for communists all throughout America—like in labor unions, the arts, Hollywood, and writers' circles. If you were (or ever had been) a member of the Communist Party, you could easily have your life ruined. And here's the thing: many, many left-leaning people joined the Communist Party in the 1930s, when Roosevelt's New Deal seemed like a hopeful start to a rosily communist American future.
Basically, peoples' lives were gutted because they'd believed in communism a few decades prior.
But you should take a peek into the workings of McCarthyism over on our "McCarthyism and the Red Scare" page. It's truly a scare.
We know why the Berlin Wall was built: to stop people from moving away from the Soviet sector in Berlin. But obviously the communists didn't want to come right out and say that. So what did they tell people? Hint: they didn't just try to pretend that the wall was invisible, or had just appeared mysteriously one night.
A lot of the explanations had to do with fascists and the other allies' supposedly lax de-Nazification of their sector. Basically, "There are still so many Nazis on the loose that we have to build a wall to keep them out…erm, in. In your section, not in ours" (source).