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The Conservative 1950's

Relations with the Soviet Union
Relations with the Soviet Union
The Economy of the 1950's and its Effects
The Eisenhower Administration

         The Cold War is a term that defines the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was a period of tension, conflict and most importantly competition between the two powers during the years from 1940-1990. The rivalry was played out in three main arenas; the space race, the nuclear arms race and in espionage. Both superpowers looked to demonstrate supremacy. The Soviets were on America’s tail throughout this period. At one point Americans began to question their leads when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into orbit in October of 1957. Not only did they prove superior in the area at the moment, they also were not far behind in the nuclear race. An incident involving the capture of an American pilot on a reconnaissance flight over the Soviet Union also escalated tensions. President Eisenhower refused to apologize and denied the real purpose of the flight. This naturally angered the Soviet leader Khrushchev, who stormed out of the summit meeting.


Nuclear weapons were abundant in the 1950’s. The United States was the first to explode the all-powerful hydrogen bomb. The Soviet Union exploded their hydrogen bomb only nine months after the United States. The Soviets remained just in our shadow, which multiplied fears tenfold. In the years to come, this nuclear arms race would cause economic problems.  It would cause the rivaling nations to pursue a period known as détente. Détente meant a relaxing or easing of tensions. It would also allow for both parties to reduce spending on weapons systems. President Eisenhower’s doctrine of massive retaliation stated that we would retaliate in a way disproportionate to the size of the attack made upon us. This doctrine was created initially to dissuade any attempts from initial attack. All this doctrine ended up accomplishing was escalating an already strained relationship with the Soviet Union. (Gaddis, pg1)

Both superpowers competed in the space arena. The Soviet Union was the first to launch an artificial satellite that went by the name of Sputnik. Sputnik was only 22 inches in diameter, which is just slightly larger than a basketball and weighed in at a mere 183 pounds. Americans were shocked. This launch added to concerns of the American people about an atomic war. (Garber, pg 1) The public began to wonder if the Soviets were gaining on our advancements. “Schools beefed up science courses and began to introduce the “new math,” Congress passed the National Defense Education Act to expand college and postgraduate education, and he new National Aeronautics and Space Administration took over the Satellite program in 1958.”(Goldstein, pg 892)

Sputnik I    

 On May 1, 1960 an American U-2 spy plane was shot down by Soviet air defenses. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers was captured. Gary Powers was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment and 7 years of hard labor. He only served 1 year; 9 months and 9 days before being traded for the Soviet spy Colonel Rudolph Abel. This event would have a lasting negative impact on the United States relations with the Soviet Union because of controversy surrounding the incident. U-2 spy planes were high altitude planes and had the ability to stay above enemy fire. The United States, in a desperate attempt to cover the planes real mission, had claimed that the plane was collecting weather data. (U.S. Embassy, pg 1) Both parties were preparing for a summit meeting in Paris. This incident pushed back disarmament for years because” unfortunately, the planes meant something very different to the Soviets, touching their festering sense of inferiority. They had stopped protesting the flights in 1957 because complaints were demeaning. Americans thought that silence signaled acceptance.” (Goldstein, pg 896) Eisenhower and Khrushchev’s statements at the meeting were bitter and hostile to the other. Eisenhower refused to apologize for the incident angering Khrushchev who stormed out of the meeting. (Modern History Sourcebook, pg 1)



The 1950’s were a time full of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both were constantly trying to prove their superior knowledge in a number of areas. The number of nuclear weapons out there was reaching new heights. The United States exploded the first hydrogen bomb in November of 1952. The scary part to Americans was the fact that the Soviet Union accomplished the same feat only nine months later. Adding to these fears was the launch of Sputnik into orbit. Sputnik was the first artificial satellite made by the Soviets. American schools started to add new math and science courses giving children an early start in hopes of them being great contributors to the programs of our nation in the future. By doing this, we hoped to keep up in the race by ensuring the information was accessible. The capture of the American pilot Francis Powers also escalated tension. He flew a U-2 spy plane and was shot down over the Soviet Union. Eisenhower denied the fact that Powers worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and that he was sent to photograph intercontinental ballistic missiles. Instead, Eisenhower claimed Powers was sent to retrieve weather data. Eisenhower would not apologize to Soviet leader Khrushchev, angering him greatly. The Paris summit meeting was filled with hostile words to one another and any hopes of entering into friendly relations with the Soviet Union had vanished.


Works Cited



Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment : A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security (Oxford University Press, 1982). 2 Pages. Online. Internet. 5 June 2007. Available. retaliation.htm



Garber, Steve. Sputnik and The Dawn of the Space Age. NASA. 2 pages. Online. Internet. 5 June 2007. Available.




Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Barney, Weir. The American Journey; A History of the United States. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2001:865-



Modern History Sourcebook: Khrushchev and Eisenhower: Summit Statements, May 16 1960. 4 pages. Online. Internet. 7 June 2007. Available.



U.S. Embassy’s Analysis of U-2 Incident. CNN Interactive. 2 pages. Online. Internet. 4 June 2007. Available.



The Soviets Perform a Nuclear Test

The Beep Heard Around the World




USSR postage stamp depicting Sputnik 1