In August 1945 the United States was quite literally sitting on top of the world. With its allies in Europe it had destroyed Nazism and forced Germany to accept an unconditional surrender. In the Pacific with minimal support from allies it had compelled Japan to accept an unconditional surrender. Then, unlike the United Kingdom and France in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, it did not impose humiliating conditions on the conquered peoples, but established benign occupations and as promptly as possible created democratic governments in Japan and in West Germany and progressively eased these countries back to full sovereignty. In August 1945 the United States alone possessed nuclear weapons.
On January 6, 1944, President Roosevelt had defined the four essential freedoms for mankind: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear. In July 1944 under United States leadership an international monetary and financial conference was held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, and along with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, it created the post-war international monetary and financial systems. Again, under United States leadership, in April 1945 the United Nations Conference on International organization began the deliberations which led to the United Nations Charter and the creation of the United Nations Organization, which came to life on October 24, 1945.
Nineteen forty-five was undoubtedly the finest moment in the century and a half of its existence. The United States was poised on the edge of a greatness that no other country had ever realized. It had shed its traditional isolationism. Its words and actions appeared to indicate that it was prepared to assume its hard-won place in the world, to open the world to a better future, to share and inculcate the principles and governing philosophy of its founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and its Constitution, and to strive to make the Four Freedoms universal.
The moment came and went. The opportunity was not seized. The last effort to change the world in its image can be placed in April 1948 when the Marshall Plan became effective and, although its programs were limited to countries of Western Europe, it had, nonetheless envisioned a wider application. The United States government offer to extend this aid to the Soviet Union and its satellites was rejected. Then in June 1948 the Soviet Union imposed its blockade of Berlin. Not only did this declare the opening of the Cold War, it, more importantly, caused a dramatic about face in the relationship of the United States with the rest of the nations of the world.
Anti-Communism had for long been a strong element in the American political psyche. In 1938 the House Un-American Activities Committee was created to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and of those organizations suspected of having Communist, as well as Nazi, ties. The most renowned of its chairmen was Martin Dies, even though he only held this position from 1938 to 1944. The committee itself endured under different, less flamboyant chairs until 1975. Its hold on the American collective psyche was never great, particularly because its claims were usually, not only inaccurate, but scurrilous and ridiculous, one of the most notorious being the implication that Shirley Temple was a "fellow-traveler". She was ten years old at the time. Nonetheless, by its very existence, it contributed to instill in the collective American psyche the apprehension that Communism was a threat.
Much more importantly in his contribution to this apprehension were the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Although he waged his anti-Communist "witch hunt" for only four years (1950-1954), the effects of his public declarations were traumatizing. Even though his claims of Communist infiltration into the government were in large part unsubstantiated, his vociferousness, combined with events in the world at large, were much more significant than those of the House Un-American Activities Committee in infecting the collective American psyche with the virus of paranoia.
In August 1949 the Soviet Union conducted its first test of an atomic weapon. Some Americans began to build and stock personal shelters in the event of a nuclear attack. Some schools conducted drills to teach their pupils to hide themselves underneath their desks in the event of attack. In October 1949 the Communist People's Republic of China was officially founded; the U.S.-supported Kuomintang withdrew to Taiwan. Four years earlier Ho Chi Minh had declared the establishment of a Communist state in North Vietnam, even while the French were trying to regain possession of their former colony.
The attitude of the American people changed drastically between 1945 and 1949. From a spirit of openness, rejecting its pre-war isolationism, it became infected by the virus of paranoia. The collective American spirit was no longer interested in a possible world-mission. It developed a fear that its institutions, its way of life, would succumb to Communism. The fact that this was a totally irrational reaction to world events and to the "witch hunters" did not diminish its power. The American people now conceived their mission to be to protect themselves and their territory. The American people and their government willingly sacrificed their principles and heritage to fight Communism. And as the Cold War continued through the decades, the level of paranoia also increased.
In February 1948 the Communist Party took over the government of Czechoslovakia. In June 1950 Communist North Korea invaded South Korea. The United States government fearing a possible Soviet intervention in Europe significantly augmented its military forces in West Germany. In 1954 after the North Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Conference that followed, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the official founding of the Socialist Republic of North Vietnam. In 1956 the Soviet Union invaded Hungary and crushed its anti-Communist revolution.
The most devastating blow that definitively anchored paranoia in the American soul was the installation of ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads by the Soviet Union in Cuba in retaliation to the United States having done the same in Turkey. In October 1962 for 13 days the impression was that the world trembled on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev finally arrived at a compromise solution that removed the Soviet missiles from Cuba and the American missiles from Turkey. It was one of the very rare diplomatic successes for both the United States and the Soviet Union during the 43 years of the Cold War, thanks to President Kennedy's refusal to accept the urgings of his advisors to attack Cuba and to both his and pPemier Khrushchev's willingness to negotiate a compromise solution.
Blow after blow. It became apparent to the American spirit that the Soviet Union was intent on expanding Communism country by country throughout the world. The intensity of paranoia in the collective American society continued to increase. And that intensity was reinforced in the government, regardless of political party. Unfortunately, paranoia leads to two consequences, one, unfortunate, the other, disastrous. The first is a pervasive perception that one is surrounded by danger, threats, menace. This perception leads ineluctably to a defensive attitude toward the surrounding world. One's conduct must consider this factor in all contacts with that world. One concentrates one's efforts, one's resources, one's decisions on safeguarding one's self. One is no longer capable of examining issues rationally. Self protection becomes the overriding consideration in all activities. Paranoia leads to believing that there are dangers lurking underneath one's bed, in the closet, in the attic.
This attitude led to the CIA-managed overthrow of a freely elected democratic government in Iran in 1953 and the installation of a monarchical dictatorship. It led to another CIA- managed overthrow in 1973 of a democratically elected government in Chile and the establishment of a military dictatorship. It Ied to the support and...