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Analyze the factors that contributed to the Cold War and describe the policy of containment as America’s response to Soviet expansionist policies.

Cold War Map, 1959
Cold War Map, 1959

Topics on the Page
  • Key Primary Sources
    • Sources of Soviet Conduct
    • NSC-68
    • Two Worlds Speech
    • The Long Telegram
  • The Containment Policy
  • Soviet and American Political and Economic Systems
  • The Truman Doctrine
  • The Marshall Plan
  • NATO
    • Van Cilburn's Impact on the Cold War
  • Women's Roles
    • Elena Lagadinova. Women's Rights Advocate
  • Civil Defense and the Duck and Cover Propaganda Film

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U.S. Navy patrol flying over a Soviet freighter, Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962
U.S. Navy patrol flying over a Soviet freighter, Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962

Key Primary Sources


primary_sources.PNGLong Telegram

Multimedia.pngFor a documentary clip about the beginning of the Cold War, see From World War to Cold War

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline of American society during the Cold War

Multimedia.png For a video on the Cold War by Crash Course see USA vs USSR Fight! The Cold War: Crash Course World History

book.pngClick here to access the Complete Oxford Handbook of the Cold War.

Focus Question: What factors contributed to the Cold War and what was the policy of containment?


The policy of Containment was the hallmark of America's response to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
  • Containment was an approach set forth by George Kennan, and as described by historian Mark Atwood Lawrence, it urged that the U. S. should avoid direct confrontations with the Soviet Union, seeking instead to frustrate Soviet intentions by "opposing Communists wherever they threatened to expand their influence beyond their borders."
    • Such a policy, Kennan believed, "would cause the Soviet system to mellow and then collapse" ("Friends, Not Allies," Mark Atwood Lawrence, The New York Times Book Review, September 13, 2009).

For more on George Kennan, see a book review written by Henry Kissinger of historian John Lewis Gaddis' biography, George F. Kennan: An American Life.

primary_sources.PNGLong Telegram

  • For background and a lesson plan on containment, see The Strategy of Containment, 1947-1948
  • Click here for a unit plan on the origins of the Cold War, 1945-1949
  • Click here for a Prezi presentation on the factors that contributed to the start of the Cold War

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George F. Kennan, 1947
George F. Kennan, 1947
To read more about George Kennan and Paul Nitze, the policy figures who stood at the opposite end of the foreign policy spectrum, see //The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan and the History of the Cold War// by Nicholas Thompson (Henry Holt & Company, 2009). Nitze believed that the United States needed to maintain overwhelming military superiority to deter attack or win a war between the two superpowers.

primary_sources.PNG Click here for the transcript of a 1996 interview with George Kennan by David Gergen on the PBS Newshour program.

A. the differences between the Soviet and American political and economic systems

  • The Soviet Union was communist. There was a complete control over all economic, social and political parts of life.
    • Click here to read a history of the Communist Party of the SovietUnion
  • The United States had and currently has a democratic-republic. This means that the people have most of the power to control economic, social, and political parts of life.
Click here for a look at the relationship between the Soviet Union and United States

  • Click here for a lesson plan and information on Soviet Communism
  • Click here for teaching resource on Communism

Multimedia.pngClick here for an Anti-Communist cartoon, and here for a cartoon explaining and defending Capitalism, on YouTube

B. Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe

Following World War II the Soviets looked to aid in the spread of communism.
  • The United States in contrast sought to put down the expansion of communism and promote a less totalitarian system. During the Cold War many countries became communist.

Countries that have had a communist government.  Dark red means communism began in the 1920s and 1930s, red means 1940s and 1950s, and light red means 1960s and 1970s
Countries that have had a communist government. Dark red means communism began in the 1920s and 1930s, red means 1940s and 1950s, and light red means 1960s and 1970s

C. The Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO

The Truman Doctrine

In 1947, President Truman made a speech before Congress in response to the British ending military and economic support for Greece during their civil war.
  • In the speech, he asked Congress to support Greece and Turkey in their fights to prevent Communism from overtaking their countries.
    • This was the basis of the Truman Doctrine, which stated that the United States would support democratic countries politically, economically, and militarily when they are threatened by an authoritarian force.
  • This was a drastic change from the previous US policy of withdrawal and isolation to the open possibility of involvement in other countries' affairs.
    • The Marshall Plan prevented the US from having a weakened economy, contained the Soviet Union, and prevented conflict during the rebuilding of Europe.
  • Click here for more on the Truman Doctrine

Marshall Plan Poster, 1947
Marshall Plan Poster, 1947

lessonplan.jpg Click here for an engaging lesson plan on the Truman Doctrine from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.
primary_sources.PNGClick here for the text of the The Truman Doctrine (1947)

Multimedia.png Click here for the audio video of The Truman Doctrine

Click here to see a short film about the ideological differences between Stalin and Truman. Also, this page links to more movies on the topic of the Cold War.

The Marshall Plan

The Marshall Plan was created by Secretary of State George Marshall. He announced the plan during a speech at Harvard in 1947. Marshall's plan included about $13 billion to help Europe recover from war. This $13 billion was for food, fuel, machinery, and other necessities. The countries that accepted the aid were expected to become American allies, so the Soviet Union and countries under its influence denied the aid. Click here or here for more information
lessonplan.jpgClick here to examine the Marshall Plan using primary sources
primary_sources.PNGClick here to read a speech by Charles Vursell opposing the Marshall Plan, 1947
primary_sources.PNGClick here for the text of the Marshall Plan speech and other primary source resources
Multimedia.png Click here for an online exhibit from the Library of Congress, "For European Recovery: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Marshall Plan."Watch a Cold War cartoon here!

Click here for the Marshall Plan section of the George C. Marshall Foundation website. This section includes the history of the Marshall Plan, the drafting, original text, and responses to the speech, posters about the Marshall Plan, and other information pertaining to the Plan


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949.
  • It was started by the United States, Canada, the UK, France, and a number of other European countries.
  • It was created to prevent the Soviet Union from gaining power and influence.
  • These countries pledged to defend any member country from an attack by the Soviets.
  • Today 26 countries are signed with NATO.
    • Click here to read a history of NATO from 1949-1952.

NATO member timeline.  Dark blue means original member, light blue means new member
NATO member timeline. Dark blue means original member, light blue means new member

primary_sources.PNGClick here to read the treaty that established NATO

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline of NATO
Read up on how NATO is involved in the world today.

  • Click here for the lesson plan "The Role of NATO"
    • Click here for the lesson plan "From the Marshall Plan to NATO"

Van Cliburn, 1966
Van Cliburn, 1966

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 9.36.32 AM.pngImpact of Van Cliburn on the Cold War

Van Cliburn became a classical music star after winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.

He died in 2013. Van Cliburn was called the "American sputnik" in the ways that he raised American prestige at the height of the Cold War.

For an overview, see Van Cliburn from The Economist magazine, March 9, 2013.

Multimedia.pngVan Cliburn is seen performing in this Russian language video of the Tchaikovsky Competition, 1958 (with English subtitles).

Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for a biography from the Van Cliburn Foundation.

womens history.jpgWomen's Roles

Clandestine Women: Spies in American History/Cold War from National Women's History Museum

Click here to read about Women Organizing Transnationally: The Committee of Correspondence.
  • This organization was directly funded by the United States Central Intelligence Agency during the cold war in an imperialist effort to persuade women around the world to adopt U.S. capitalist practices as opposed to communist practices.
    • You can read more about the Committee through a synopsis and critique of the book Cold War Women: The International Activities of American Women's Organizations by Helen Laville by clicking here

Elena Lagadinova

Click here to read about Elena Lagadinova, a Bulgarian scientist who wrote a critical letter to her communist president who responded by making her "First Secretary of the Fatherland Front and President of the Women's Committee"external image ghodsee_leftsideofhistory_ethiopia.jpg?itok=QfQ2uL_e
  • Lagadinova's successful efforts in maintaining and supporting women's rights in Bulgaria pushed the United States to reform their political and social systems to reflect one that was more inclusive of women to prevent western women from being enticed by socialism or communism.
Read up on Women's involvement in the development from this website.
Women and the Bomb

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.30.24 PM.pngCivil Defense and the Duck and Cover Propaganda Film

external image Bert2.png

Multimedia.pngClick here to see Duck and Cover, an educational film featuring Bert the Turtle teaching adults and children what to do in case of an atomic attack.

The ‘Duck and Cover’ propaganda movie was probably one of the most famous of all the pieces of propaganda during the early stages of the cold war.

It was targeted at school children and was intended to install the constant fear of a nuclear attack from the Soviets.