COLD WAR
BRINKSMANSHIP AND THE NUCLEAR ARMS RACE

Soviet Atomic Bomb

     In September 1949, President Truman announced that the Soviet Union had successfully detonated an atomic bomb. Four months later, the President Truman advised the Atomic Energy Commission to proceed with development of a hydrogen bomb.

     U.S. government officials had predicted that it would take the Soviet Union as long as a decade to develop an atomic bomb. The speed with which the Soviets produced a bomb led to charges that development of the device was a product of Soviet espionage.

     The United States set off its first hydrogen bomb in 1953 and the Soviet Union tested its first in 1955.

Deterrence

Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower

     1953 witnessed not only the death of Stalin and the explosion of the first U. S. H-bomb, but also the ascension of a new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

      Looking at America's involvement in Korea, Eisenhower attempted to learn from the lessons of that conflict.  Foremost among these was the high cost, both literally and in terms of morale, of fighting a conventional war--particularly one that could escalate at any moment into nuclear war.  Better to avoid committing American troops in combat and contain communism through other means, was the consensus of the Eisenhower administration.

     One method of avoiding war was to make the prospect of direct conflict between the two nuclear superpowers, the U. S. and the Soviet Union, unthinkable.  How?  Through a policy of "mutually assured destruction" (a.k.a.. MAD).  The Eisenhower administration concluded that if the U. S. built enough bombs to completely destroy the enemy (and likewise, the enemy could completely destroy the U. S.), neither side would dare use nuclear weapons.  Hence, the massing of nuclear weapons assured that neither side could "win" a nuclear war.  The policy attached to this scenario was termed "brinksmanship"--i.e., bringing both sides to the bring of nuclear war in the believe that no one would actually take that final step. Time would tell if such a strategy would prove effective.

     In order to accomplish this mission of nuclear expansion and readiness, the Pentagon created a new division of the Air Force, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in 1954.  SAC oversaw the network of air bases at home and abroad where B-52 bombers waited on 24 hour standby for any nuclear threat.  (In times of defense alert, some of the bombers would be in the air 24 hours a day.)  The Air Force also constructed hundreds of missile silos across the middle of America, where huge Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) waited beneath reinforced concrete bunkers.  Commanders at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), laying deep within a bunker within Cheyenne Mountain, coordinated the entire nuclear defense apparatus, keeping constant vigil with patrol aircraft, and later satellites, on any possible nuclear threat.

     MAD allowed Eisenhower to negotiate from a place of military strength.  From this vantage point, he tried to reduce the strains of the Cold War whenever the opportunity arose.  The first opportunity came with the death of Stalin in 1953, which caused shifts in relations with the Soviet Union.

The Death of Stalin and the Cold War

Khruschev
Nikita Khruschev

     In March 1953, Joseph Stalin, who had ruled the Soviet Union since 1928, died at the age of 73. His feared minister of Internal Affairs, Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria, was subsequently shot for treason.  Nikita Khrushchev became first secretary of the Communist party.

     Stalin's death led to a temporary thaw in Cold War tensions. In 1955, Austria regained its sovereignty and became an independent, neutral nation after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country. The next year, Khrushchev denounced Stalin and his policies at the 20th Communist Party conference. After a 1955 summit between President Eisenhower and the new Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev in Geneva, the Soviets announced plans to reduce its armed forces by more than 600,000 troops. In early 1956, Khruschev called for "peaceful coexistence" between East and West.

     Relaxation of economic and political controls encourages eastern Europeans to demand greater freedom. In 1953, after Communist authorities in East Germany attempted to increase working hours without raising wages, strikes and riots broke out in East Berlin and other cities.  In 1958, Khruschev once again threatened to close off Western access to West Berlin, but Eisenhower and NATO stood firm, assuring that the West would resist such an event with force.  Khruschev backed down in the face of resistance, but he still faced the problem of Germans fleeing from the communist regime of East Germany through Berlin,  Some 3 million East Germans had fled to the West.  To halt this mass exodus, East German authorities, in August 1961 (after Eisenhower had left office), erected a wall (the Berlin Wall) separating East and West Berlin.  The Wall would stand until 1989, when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe.

     Discontent was not limited to East Germany.  In 1956, Polish workers rioted to protest economic conditions under the Communist regime.  Poles also demanded removal of Soviet officers from the Polish army.  More than a hundred demonstrators were killed as authorities move to suppress the riots.  But Communist authorities did release Polish prelate Stefan Cardinal Wyszinski from custody and ended efforts to collectivize Polish agriculture.

     In Hungary, university students expressed solidarity with the Polish rebels.  More than 100,000 workers and students demanded democratic government, the withdrawal of Soviet troops, and the release of Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty, who had been held in solitary confinement since the end of 1948.  After Hungary's premier Imre Nagy promised Hungarians free elections and an end to one-party rule and denounced the Warsaw Pact, sixteen Soviet divisions and 2,000 tanks crushed the Hungarian revolution.  Soviet authorities feared that their intermediate ballistic missiles could only reach targets in southern Europe if launched from bases in Hungary.  Some 200,000 Hungarians fled the country after the suppression of the uprising.

The Cold War in Developing Countries
     In Europe, there was less violence in the half century following World War II, then in almost any previous period of modern European history.  Yet outside of Europe and North America, violent conflict became commonplace.  In the decades following the second world war, many underdeveloped countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America were wracked by civil war, guerrilla movements, and other social conflicts.

     Some of these conflicts were traditional wars pitting one nation against another in struggles for territory, natural resources, or national honor.  But most of these were conflicts within societies.  At first, many of these conflicts were struggles to achieve independence from colonial rule.  But in succeeding years, new conflicts pitted various ethnic, economic, and political groups against one another.

     One of the major questions confronting American foreign policy makers since World War II was how to respond to social conflicts within developing societies.  In many instances, the United States viewed revolutionary efforts to redistribute land or to overthrow corrupt, repressive governments as part of Soviet attempt to expand communism throughout the world.

Guatemala

     In 1954, a CIA-backed coup overthrew the elected government of Guatemala, which had nationalized property owned by the United Fruit Company.  President Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, accused the Guatemalan president of installing "a communist-type reign of terror" and plotting to spread Communism throughout the region.  As proof that the Guatemala had ties to the Soviet Union, CIA operatives planted Soviet weapons in Guatemala and CIA pilots bombed airfields in Honduras.

     The Guatemalan president had allowed Communists to participate in his government and had instituted a land reform program that had expropriated land owned by the Boston-owned United Fruit Company.  The company owned Guatemala's telephone and telegraph system, its railroad lines, its harbor, and monopolized the banana business.

     To undermine the government's support, the CIA bribed military officers to turn on their commanders and broadcast combat sounds from the U.S. embassy roof.  Finally, it sent American pilots to bomb Guatemalan buildings.

Sputnik
     In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite.  The 184-pound 22.5-inch sphere orbited the earth once every 96 minutes.  Sputnik transmitted radio signals for 21 days and later burned up in the earth's atmosphere. A second Sputnik, launched in November 1957, carried a dog named Laika.  This satellite weighed a thousand pounds.

     In December 1957, the United States made its first attempt at a satellite launch.   A Navy Vanguard rocket, carrying a payload only one-fortieth the size of Sputnik, lifted a few feet off of its launch pad before falling back to earth. It exploded in a ball or orange flames and black smoke.   Premier Khrushchev boasted that "America sleeps under a Soviet moon."  Because Sputnik was launched on an intercontinental ballistic missile, Soviet leaders cited it as proof that they could deliver hydrogen bombs at will.

     Sputnik's launch meant that the Cold War competition between the Soviet Union and the United States would take place not only on earth but in outer space. Americans, who thought of themselves as the world's technology pacesetters, felt vulnerable, a sensation reinforced in 1959, when the Soviet Union fired the first rockets to circle the moon and bring back pictures of its dark side.

     In response to the Soviet accomplishment, in 1958 Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to oversee America's nascent space program (bringing together elements that had once been exclusively under the aegis of the military).  NASA brought together scientists and engineers-- including Hitler's former V-2 rocket designer, Werner von Braun, and many other German scientists--as well as American designers and engineers.  Their first task was to get an American satellite into space.

     Fearing that Americans had fallen behind the Soviets because of some deficit in our educational system, Eisenhower sponsored the National Defense and Education Act (NDEA), which poured billions of dollars into science and math education.  The space race was on.

The Kitchen Debate and Cultural Exchange

kitchen debate
The "Kitchen Debate"

     Both the U. S. and the Soviet Union continued their efforts to keep the Cold War at bay through a variety of methods.  One involved a planned trip by Khruschev to the United States and one by Eisenhower to the Soviet Union.  Khruschev made his trip, but Eisenhower's poor health (he had suffered a second heart attack) prevent him from traveling to the Soviet Union.  Instead, Vice President Richard Nixon went in Eisenhower's place.

     Nixon arrived in Moscow in July 1959.  A highlight of his visit was to a U. S. Cultural Exhibit.  During the visit, Nixon and Khruschev carried on a debate about the merits of capitalism versus communism.  The two ended up at the GE model kitchen at the trade fair.  Nixon proudly waved at the kitchen, averring that the average steel worker in American could affairs such amenities.  Khruschev responded that the Soviet kind of man was a "different" sort of man, who did not desire such material goods.  The debate illustrated the gap between both sides, even as they attempted to bridge the cultural and political gap.

     Khruschev visited America in September 1959.  He seemed at times bemused and disgusted by American popular culture.  In California, Khruschev visited Disneyland as well as a Hollywood sound stage of the movie "Can-can."  The movie, which featured actresses performing the French dance in the traditional "skirts-up" manner, caused Khruschev to denounce it as an example of "Western decadence."

     More seriously, Khruschev addressed the United Nations.  Here he did not present the front of the jovial Russian peasant, but that of a stern believer in the inevitability of the Communist revolution.  At one point in his speech, he raised his fist and announced to the West:  "We [the Communists] will crush you!"  At another time, seated in the audience with the Soviet delegation, Khruschev reacted to a speaker criticizing Soviet actions in Eastern Europe by taking off his shoe and pounding it loudly on his desk.

The U-2 Incident
     On a more serious note, both sides planned on a final summit in Paris for 1960, before Eisenhower's last term ended.  In a series of exchanges prior to the summit, Khruschev asked Eisenhower directly if the United States was engaged in spying missions over the skies of the Soviet Union.  (In this age before spy satellites, intelligence gatherers relied on high-flying spy planes known as U-2s.)  Lying, Eisenhower assured Khruschev we were not overflying the Soviet Union.

     Weeks later, On May 1, 1960, the Soviets shot down a U-2 plane over their territory, giving away the lie that the U. S. was not spying on them.  Worse, the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, had survived and been taken prisoner.  Now, the Kremlin put Powers on trial in Moscow for espionage.  It was a massive humiliation for Eisenhower, who now had to admit he had lied.  Eventually, the U. S. managed to free Power by exchanging him for a Soviet spy, but the damage had been done.  By the time Eisenhower and Khruschev met for a final time in Paris, the seeds of distrust had been sown and the meeting produced nothing in the way of positive results.

The Military Industrial Complex
     From George Washington on, Presidents have used their farewell address to look back on their experience in office and offer the public practical advice.  In his farewell address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower said that a high level of military spending and the establishment of a large arms industry in peacetime were something "new in the American experience."  In the most famous words of his presidency, he warned that the country "must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence...by the military-industrial complex."

     President Eisenhower believed that the United States had "to maintain balance" between defense spending and the needs of a healthy economy.  During his second term, Congress, the press, and the armed services had pressured the President to increase defense spending.  But even after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the earth, he refused to let defense spending unbalance the federal budget. Eisenhower worried that presidents who did not have his military experience would be poor judges of the country's defense needs.

     In his speech, Eisenhower warned that the United States faced a "hostile ideology--global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose," and must bear "without complaint the burdens of a long and complex struggle."  But he also feared that the arms industry, military officers, and members of Congress with military installations and defense plants in their districts would lead the country to build unnecessary weapons.  He worried that the "military-industrial complex" would skew national priorities and dictate the direction of American foreign policy.

The Election of 1960
























kennedy nixon debate
Kennedy-Nixon Debate

     Eisenhower, like Truman before him, could not run for a third term.  The Republicans nominated Eisenhower's vice president, Richard M. Nixon, to run for the presidency.  Nixon's service as vice president had marked a sea change in that office.  Owing to the possibility of nuclear war, as well as Eisenhower's own poor health, Nixon had assumed a larger role in shaping policy than any other previous vice presdents.  He had a reputation as a staunch anti-communist (owing to his prosecution of Alger Hiss) and had an equally impressive résumé in foreign policy, having traveled to the Soviet Union and South America as vice president.

     The Democrats eventually chose as their nominee a dashing young senator from Massachusetts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  Kennedy faced a tough road against Nixon.  The Republicans had successfully tarnished the Democrats as the party of "appeasement" vis-a-vis communism.   After all, they had "lost" China as well as the atomic secrets on Truman's "watch."  Worse, Kennedy's father, Joseph, who had been the U. S. ambassador to Great Britain during 1938-1940, had staunchly supported appeasement of Hitler and keeping the U. S. out of any European war.  (Joseph's reasons were complex, though mainly he feared for the lives of his sons, Joseph, Jr., John F., and Robert, all of whom would join the military.  Joseph died in a plane explosion over the Channel, while John served heroically in the Pacific.  Robert joined the Navy late in the war but never saw combat.)  Now, Kennedy carried the double burden of carrying the standard for the "party of appeasement" as well as the personal burden of his father's record.  Thus, Kennedy had to assure voters that he would be as tough on communism as anyone.  Indeed, Kennedy accused the Eisenhower administration of permitting a "missile gap" to emerge in the arms race with the Soviets.  (It was nonsense; there was no missile gap.)

     Essentially, very little separated the two parties--or candidates--in this election.  Both men had served in the Navy in World War II; both had entered Congress in 1946 where they joined the fight against communism.  Kennedy had later advanced to the Senate while Nixon served as vice president.

     Trying to drum up some distinctions (and support), the two camps agreed to a televised debate--the first in history.  Much has been made of what ensued.  If one looks at the transcripts, the obvious lack of difference in substance between the two is starkly apparent.  However, those watching the debate focused more on appearance than on substance, and here, Kennedy definitely enjoyed an advantage.  Nixon, who had been suffering from the flu, looked sweaty and pale (having eschewed any make-up) and sported a distinct "five o'clock shadow."  During the debate, whenever the camera focused on him, Nixon appeared uncomfortable, shifting his eyes and fidgeting.  By contrast, Kennedy appeared healthy, calm and cool, completely at ease--more "presidential," people would later say.  (The appearance of health was definitely an illusion.  Kennedy suffered from Addison's disease, a potentially fatal disorder of the adrenal gland.  He deliberately got lots of sun so the bronze of his tan would hide his naturally jaundiced appearance.  He also took steroids to counteract the debilitating effects of his disease.  Normally rail-thin, the steroids, which would make anyone else appear bloated and puffy, instead made Kennedy appear solid and healthy.  He carefully kept his medical records a secret, and in the days before Watergate, no investigative reporter dared look further.)

     Perhaps the most serious obstacle to Kennedy's chance to become president was his religion:  he was Roman Catholic.  The last Catholic to run for the presidency, Al Smith in 1928, had been trounced in the "Bible Belt," where Catholics were viewed as suspect and "foreign."  The Cold War, however, had begun to change that view.  As evidenced in Eastern Europe, Catholics strongly opposed communism, going to prison for their faith.  In the era of the fight against "godless Communism," Catholics were now viewed as good Americans. 

     Still, the race was incredibly close.  On election day, the outcome remained unclear far into the night.  When Kennedy went to bed around 2 a.m., there was still no winner.  By the next morning, it appeared as if Kennedy had squeezed out a narrow victory, with only a few hundred thousand votes separating him from Nixon.  Many of these critical votes had been cast in Chicago, home of one of the strongest (and most corrupt) Democratic machines, run by Mayor Richard Daley.  Charges were made that the Daley machine had "stuffed ballot boxes"; uncharacteristically, Nixon conceded graciously rather than challenge the results.  John F. Kennedy thus became the youngest man ever elected president (TR was younger when he acceded McKinley, but that was not through an election), the first Catholic, and the first one born in the 20th century.


JFK Inaugural
JFK Inaugural speech, January 20, 1961

     Inauguration day, 1961, dawned cold and clear.  Standing on the podium on the Capitol steps, the outgoing and incoming administrations stood in marked contrast.  Eisenhower, wearing a heavy coat and scarf, balding and gray, stood to one side.  Kennedy stood wearing only his morning coat, with no scarf, no overcoat, and no hat, and took the oath of office.  He then delivered a stirring inauguration speech.  Speaking to a televised audience, Kennedy acknowledged the generational shift in the White House and assured the public that the nation's fate was in good hands.  His generation had fought Hitler and Tojo, and later, the Cold War.  There was no burden they wouldn't bear, no price they weren't willing to pay, to preserve liberty.  In his words:

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge - and more.


He continued with an appeal to the young people and other nations of the world:

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again - not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are - but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.


Thus began the administration Kennedy would dub "The New Frontier."


     The election of a new president, John F. Kennedy, was accompanied by an intensification of Cold War tensions. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy had spoken of a "missile gap" and claimed that the Soviet Union had achieved an advantage in long-range missiles.  In response to Soviet Premier Krushchev's pledge to support wars of liberation, Kennedy called for the training of counter-insurgency forces who could combat guerrilla warfare.  These forces would later fight with American allies in proxy wars, mainly in Southeast Asia.

Cuba and the Bay of Pigs Invasion
     In 1959, rebel leader Fidel Castro toppled Cuban dictator Fugelencio Batista.  In Washington, Castro told U.S. officials that "The [Cuban] movement is not a Communist movement.... We have no intention of expropriating U.S. property, and any property we take we'll pay for."

     The next year, the Soviet Union agreed to provide Cuba with $100 million in credit and to purchase five million tons of Cuban sugar.  After President Eisenhower declared that the United States would not allow a regime "dominated by international Communism" to exist in the Western hemisphere, Havana nationalized all banks and large commercial industrial enterprises in Cuba. The United responded by imposing a trade embargo.

    In response to the Soviet incursion into Cuba, the outgoing Eisenhower administration had given the CIA the green light to proceed with planning an operation to overthrow Castro.  The operation involved establishing secret training bases throughout Central America where the CIA would train Cuban exiles as an invasion force.

     When Kennedy became president, he was presented with this plan.  He did not have to okay it, and there were many reasons he could have vetoed the idea:  it wasn't his own; it was a bad idea.  Nevertheless, he was well aware that the military planners and other members of the foreign policy establishment did not trust him and felt he was weak.  Therefore, Kennedy agreed to allow the plan to proceed.  However, at the last minute, Kennedy withdrew approval for the use of U. S. aircraft as air cover for the ostensibly "independent" invading force.  In April 1961, the U.S.-sponsored an invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro Cuban émigrés landed at a place called (in English) the Bay of Pigs.  Everything went wrong.  The landing site was badly located, near swamps, and well within range of Cuban military units.  The "invasion" soon turned into a rout.  The members of the invasion force, who had been trained by the CIA in Florida, Louisiana, and Guatemala, were defeated in just three days.  On Christmas 1962, the United States traded $53 million worth of medical supplies and food stuff for 1,113 captured invaders and 922 of their relatives.  

     Kennedy, who had hoped the invasion would make him look strong, instead looked weaker than ever.  To his credit, he went before the public and took responsibility for the debacle.  Nevertheless, the botched invasion gave Castro the cause he needed to up his plea for stronger Soviet aid--in this case, nuclear weapons.

Cuban Missile Crisis
     In October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States went eyeball to eyeball and came to the brink of nuclear war.

     Surveillance photographs taken by a U-2 spy plane over Cuba revealed that the Soviet Union was installing intermediate range ballistic missiles.  Once operational, in about 10 days, the missiles would need only five minutes to reach Washington, D.C.

     Once again, Kennedy faced down the military and foreign policy establishment, who wanted to strike immediately against the missile sites.  This first strike would inevitably be followed by a reactionary strike by the Soviets against a vulnerable target (most likely Berlin), and the U. S. would be forced to respond, and we would end up in a global thermonuclear war.

     Again, to his credit, Kennedy stood up to the Joint Chiefs and hard-liners.  Instead of a strike, he proposed a middle course:  a naval blockade.  Soviet freighters were steaming toward Cuba.  The president realized that if the ships were boarded and their cargoes seized, the Soviet Union might regard this as an act of war, but they might also turn back.  The members of the president's Executive Committee (EXCOM) waited tensely as the ships neared American lines.  At first, the Soviet ships showed no sign of slowing.  Then, and American cruiser picked up a radar signal that a Soviet submarine was attempting to cross the blockade.  In Washington, Kennedy ordered the ship's commander to ready depth charges to destroy the submarine.  It was the first step towards World War III.

     Then, a radar operator spoke up:  "The ships are slowing down!"  Kennedy, listening in, immediately ordered the captain to "belay" the last order (i.e., the order to destroy the sub).  Sure enough, the ships were stopping...and turning back!  The blockade, it seemed, had worked.  But the two sides had come within a hair's breadth of nuclear holocaust.

     Throughout the crisis, neither Kennedy nor Khruschev could talk to each other about the situation.  Each side had to "guess" what the other's intentions were.  Nevertheless, employing "back channels," Soviet Premier Khrushchev sent a signal the Kennedy administration might be willing to negotiate.  Kennedy's brother, Robert, the Attorney General and the president's close adviser, met with Soviet Ambassador Kosygin.  Robert agreed that, in exchange for the Soviets agreeing to remove the missiles from Cuba, the United States would publicly pledge not to invade Cuba and secretly agree to remove its aging missiles from Turkey.

     After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cold War tensions eased.  In July 1963, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain approved a Test Ban Treaty to halt the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in outer space, or under water.  The next month, the United States and Soviet Union established a hot line providing a direct communication link between the White House and the Kremlin.

The Peace Corps
     The battle between East and West, between communism and capitalism, was not limited to the military-diplomatic front.  Toward this end, Kennedy established a Peace Corps to help underprivileged countries at risk for communism.  Since it was formed in 1961, 150,000 Americans served in the Peace Corps in 132 nations.  Peace Corps volunteers lived and worked for two years in communities in the developing world.  The learned the languages of the people they serve.  In its early years, as many as 15,000 volunteers worked in schools, clinics, and in agricultural and environmental projects.

     The Peace Corps was a product of the Cold War.  A week before the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy observed that the Soviet Union had "hundreds of men and women, scientists, physicists, teachers, engineers, doctors, and nurses...prepared to spend their lives abroad in the service of world communism."  The United States had no equivalent.  Kennedy feared that the United States was in danger of losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the world's peoples. He believed that a "peace corps" was the answer.  "I am convinced," he said, "that our men and women, dedicated to freedom, are able to be missionaries, not only for freedom and peace, but to join in a worldwide struggle against poverty and disease and ignorance."

     When John F. Kennedy proposed creating the Peace Corps during the 1960 presidential campaign, the Wall Street Journal asked: "What person can really believe that Africa aflame with violence will have its fires quenched because some Harvard boy or Vassar girl lives in a mud hut and speaks Swahili?"  But today, many believe that the Peace Corps volunteers are the best ambassadors this country has.

The Space Race
      In April 1961, the Soviets launched the first manned space ship into orbit, piloted by 27-year-old Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.  The Americans followed with the launch of an astronaut, Alan Shepard, into space.  Soviet space successes led President John F. Kennedy to tell a joint session of Congress in May 1961 that the United States would land a man on the moon and bring him home by the end of the decade.

     The launch of Shepard in 1961 was part of the first phase of the U.S. space program:  Mercury.  There were six one-man flights in the Mercury program, which expanded from suborbital flights to an orbital mission that lasted more than 34 hours.  The Mercury phase was followed by the Gemini program, with ten two-man flights, including the first spacewalk and the rendezvous and docking of two spacecraft.  One mission lasted 14 days.

     The third and final phase was called Apollo.  Giant Saturn rockets would carry a crew of three astronauts into space.  The missions would eventually go to the moon and, in time, land there.  However, before the program ever got off the ground,  disaster struck.  In January 1967, a fire destroyed a prototype command module, Apollo I, killing the crew, including one of the original Mercury astronauts (and second man into space, Virgil I "Gus" Grissom).  In spite of the tragedy, the program went on.  There were four manned flights in late 1968 and early 1969 that paved the way for the historic launch of Apollo 11, which land men on the moon.  

     At 4:17 p.m. Eastern time, July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong announced: "Houston...the Eagle has landed."  The astronauts spent only two-and-a-half hours walking on the lunar surface.

     Eight years after President Kennedy had called on the United States to land a man on the moon, the mission had been successfully accomplished.  400,000 American workers from 20,000 companies had worked directly on the Apollo program.  The cost was $25 billion.




Go to:  Lyndon Baines Johnson 1964