Who Was the Best Cold War President?

During World War 2, the USSR and the United States fought together side by side as allies.

However, two years after the war the relationship between the two world powers became a tense one. For over the next forty years, the United States and the USSR would compete for economic, political, and military influence around the globe in a Cold War. A Cold War is a battle of beliefs and ideology, communism vs. capitalism. Over the course of the war, many different presidents had the opportunity to take the reins and lead in their own version of containment of communism.

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Often battled among historians is which Cold War president was the most effective in the containment of communism. Some people consider President Truman’s early heroics in the Cold War as the most effective against communism. Others see President Eisenhower’s cover actions as more beneficial to the security of the United States. And a number of people see President Kennedy as the ultimate container. Although President Eisenhower and Kennedy had some successes, ultimately Truman overshadows them as the best container of communism because he effectively prevented the spread of communism to new countries and maintained the concept of containment. President Truman is the ultimate container of communism because he effectively prevented the spread of communism to the most countries.

Post World War many former powers were in ruins and facing poverty and unemployment. Due to this, the United States was in fear that post-war condition of other countries was reinforcing the appeal of communist parties. To add to the United State’s fear was that the British could no longer afford to back the Greek government that was fighting against communist Rebels. US officials feared that a communist takeover in Greece would have a domino effect in the Mediterranean and cause Turkey to succumb to communism as well. This would, in turn, threaten the stability of Italy, France, and the Middle East.

Truman recognized the importance of Greece in the big picture and implemented the Truman Doctrine in May of 1947. The Truman Doctrine had pledged that the United States would assist other nations that were facing external Communist pressure. With the Truman Doctrine, President Truman appropriated $400 million dollars to fight communism in Greece and Turkey to secure the free world. By doing this, Truman essentially prevented the spread of communism in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Italy. If Truman had ignored communist in Greece, likely a domino effect would have occurred and the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Italy would succumb to Communist uprisings. While this threat was occurring the conditions in Europe were deteriorating and Europe was sliding towards chaos.

Much of Western Europe was economically crippled by WWII and showed little hope of recovery. The infrastructures of countries such as France, Italy, and Belgium were decimated by the war. The terrible conditions of Europe made it ripe for communist influences. The Truman Administration acknowledged this threat to the free world and advanced the idea of a European self-help program to be financed by the United States. This self-help program was known as the Marshall Plan and implemented in June of 1947.

The logic behind it was that if the US could make Western Europe sturdy again, it would be able to resist the influence of communism. In Western Europe, the Marshall Plan distributed a totaled $13.5 billion dollars among 16 different countries. In time, this allowed Europe to become stable again and quieted many of the communist parties in Europe. Truman actions in the Cold War were extremely beneficial to increasing US security because Truman contained communism.

Without Truman, likely parts of Western Europe and the Mediterranean would have caved into communism. President Truman is the most effective Cold War president due to his strict adherence to the policy of containment and for the positive benefits of his application. Containment is the policy of preventing the expansion of communism to new countries. Truman effectively uses this policy in the situation in Berlin. After World War 2, Berlin was divided into 4 sections. In 1948, Great Britain, France, and the United States realized communism would spread to Germany if the oppressed citizens continued to live in poverty.

In response to this, Great Britain, France, and the United States decided to unite their sectors to work together to improve Germany economically, socially, and culturally. The Soviets saw the unification of West Germany extremely detrimental to East Berlin and Soviet rule. Soviets aimed to block Western plans to merge into a united West Germany by implementing a blockade. The blockade closed access to the Western-controlled sectors of Berlin and cut off over two million West German citizens from vital food and supplies. Without these supplies, Berlin impoverished of supplies would quickly fall into a crisis. Initially, it seemed as the only course of action was to either abandon the West Berlin or fight their way through.

Truman saw both of these options as the wrong play. Thus Truman decided to have American warplanes to airlift supplies to West Berlin. The Soviets were shocked by Truman’s actions and after about a year the Soviets ended the blockade. By doing this, the Soviets embarrassed themselves and around the world, the Soviets were now being portrayed as international bullies. Furthermore, West Berliners and other Europeans looked at the US as heroes and the trust for the US grew. Conversely, the cause of communism and Soviet rule were now undermined and associated with distrust and fear.

Truman maintained containment by keeping communism in the Soviet sector of Berlin and benefited from its application. Truman avoided war and made the Soviets look like bullies, therefore, undermining communism and benefited from it as it strengthened the security of the US. Truman continued to embody the policy of containment while gaining positive benefits for the United States security with the Marshall Plan. As a reminder, the Marshal Plan gave huge amounts of economic aid to rebuild the countries of Western Europe. This is an effective application of containment because it did not try to exterminate communism in places where it already existed and it prevented the spread of communism by strengthening Western governments to silence class conflict. Most Western European countries before were living in poverty thus the Marshal Plan sought to repair their economies.

By repairing their economies, the Marshall Plan was making sure that communism wasn’t flourishing under poverty thus preventing the spread of communism into Western Europe. This plan had some of the greatest benefits as all the states that participated had governments that were stable and repaired. Thus the threat of communism to Western Europe was significantly reduced and communism was contained in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, this plan helped pushed for greater European integration with the United States. By doing so, Western Europe and the United States could stand together in the containment of communism and become more cohesive in the face of the communist threat. Consequently, due to Western Europe and the United States standing together against communism and stronger governments that are able to repel communism the US benefited as it increases the state of US security.

By implementing proper use of containment and receiving positive benefits that increase the security of the US, Truman is well deserving of the title best container. Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower miss the mark on being the best container of communism because they did not prevent the spread of communism to the degree of Truman and did not properly follow the concept of containment and receive positive benefits. President Eisenhower made serious mistakes in terms of applying the proper application of containment while receiving positive benefits for the US security. On the streets of Budapest, thousands came out to protest against Soviet rule. The revolt spread quickly across Hungary and the government collapsed.

Soon complete warfare broke and Hungarian freedom fighters were fighting against Soviet tanks. Hungarians attempted to call the US for help but the US refused to provide aid. Thus Hungary continued to live with communism. Although it is true that Hungary was already communist and therefore Eisenhower properly used the policy of containment by not intervening, he received no positive benefits from his proper application. Eisenhower had the opportunity to support the anti-communist uprising and thus had the opportunity to rid Hungary of communism.

Due to Eisenhower use of containment and not pushing for NATO intervention, he was rewarded with negative impacts that weakened US security. Since Eisenhower did not intervene his use of containment resulted in negative effects, wasted opportunity, and the weakened security of the US.Kennedy is at fault for not preventing the spread of communism in Cuba. In 1956, Fidel Castro led a revolution in Cuba against the US-backed Fulgencio Batista. By 1959, Castro came into power, overthrew Batista, and joined the communist party. Kennedy knew that he could not have communism spread to Cuba as it was so close to the US, so he approved the Bay of Pigs Invasion plan.

The Bay of Pigs goal was to overthrow Castro and to establish of a non-communist government. Unfortunately, it was a hilarious failure and Castro was not removed from power. As a result, Kennedy failed to prevent the spread of communism to Cuba. President Eisenhower once again failed to uphold the proper concept of containment. The reasons why Eisenhower intervened in Guatemala was not to prevent the spread of communism but to protect US investments.

In fact, Guatemala had very little evidence of communism, especially because their leader Arbenz was elected president. Eisenhower only got involved because Arbenz had launched a serious effort at land reform and redistribution to Guatemala’s landless masses. This effort resulted in the powerful American-owned United Fruit Company losing many acres of land and losing money. Eisenhower did not maintain the concept of containment because he only got involved in Guatemala to protect US investments. President Kennedy follows the path of his predecessor by applying the proper application of containment but only receiving negative benefits that hurt US security. In South Vietnam, communist insurgents known as Viet Cong were rebelling against the pro-American government.

Kennedy applied the proper application of containment by giving support to the pro-American government, but ultimately his intervention made it worse. It was during Kennedy’s presidency that the United States provided advice and funding for the government of South Vietnam to implement the Strategic Hamlet Program in 1962. Strategic Hamlet Program was to combat the Viet Cong by pacifying the countryside and reducing the influence of the communists among the rural population. Ultimately, this turned into the forcible moving of rural Vietnamese. The program was a complete failure as it alienated more rural Vietnamese than it helped and contributed to the growth in influence of the Viet Cong.

The government effectively orchestrating the forced removal of peasants by the South Vietnamese Army made people question the South Vietnamese government and drove a number of South Vietnamese into supporting the North Vietnamese communists. Due to this happening, the number of supports of communism increased thus communism spread deeper into South Vietnam. Therefore although Kennedy did apply the proper use of containment, he ultimately worsened the problem and weakened the US security by indirectly increasing the number of communist supports. President Eisenhower and Kennedy simply failed to perform at the level of Truman and committed failures that resulted in the spread of communism. In the Cold War, President Truman was the most valuable Cold War warrior.

What Truman did to contain communism was invaluable to the United States of America. Truman helped contained communism in Europe on the largest scale possible with the Marshall Plan and prevented the Mediterranean to be engulfed by communism with the Truman Doctrine. Truman embodied the ideals of containment while receiving positive benefits for US security with his reaction to the Berlin Blockade and his willingness to oppose communism expansion in Europe with the Marshall Plan. President Eisenhower failed to prevent the spread of communism in Guatemala and failed to have a positive impact with his use of containment in Hungary.Kennedy followed the likes of his predecessor and failed to prevent to the spread of communism in Cuba and failed to have a positive impact with his use of containment in Vietnam.

Despite mild successes in the Cold War, President Eisenhower and Kennedy are not the best containers of communism because Truman effectively prevented the spread of communism to new countries and maintained the concept of containment while gaining positive benefits that improved US security.