By May 1945 Germany had surrendered and the European theatre of the war was finished. Japan's cause was now more hopeless than ever, but still its army held out. Realising the human costs if America was to completely defeat Japan, President Truman instead chose to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which forced Japan to surrender on September 2nd, 1945. The Second World War was over. When the smoke cleared from the rubble, only two great powers now remained in the world; The United States of America and the Soviet Union.
From World War to Cold WarIn considering the requirements for the rehabilitation of Europe, the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines and railroads was correctly estimated, but it has become obvious during recent months that this visible destruction was probably less serious than the dislocation of the entire fabric of European economy.
George C. Marshall on the Marshall Plan, here describing the ruin of Europe, which had the effect of leaving only the United States and the Soviet Union as world powers9
We have still not found peace and security, and we live in the grip of even worse perils than those we have surmounted
Winston Churchill, 194610
The Soviet Union had always been unlikely allies, and as soon as Nazi Germany was defeated the tenuous alliance disintegrated. Russian soldiers had occupied further and further westwards into Europe, sparking a fear that communism would sweep the globe. Unlike in 1918, the U.S. was not going to retreat into the international wilderness. It clearly saw itself as a major global player, and as time passed, the only serious bulwark to the 'red sea'. From an era of several world powers fighting for supremacy, an age dawned of bipolar world power, wherein the political landscape often lay on a knife edge but never exploded into another global war.
The United States and the USSR immediately clashed over the role of the recently created United Nations (UN). The UN was permitted to use force to solve a conflict, but this could be vetoed by any one of its permanent members. Both Russia and America possessed this precious tool, rendering the UN impotent when an argument involving the two superpowers arose. In 1947 President Truman introduced his 'Truman Doctrine', which essentially was a support for nations being suppressed by armed minorities or outside pressures. The first use of this doctrine was in Congress passing a bill granting $400 million in aid to Greece and Turkey. Greece at that time was besieged by Communist guerrillas. At this stage the Soviet threat was seen as political, not military. There were fears that the Kremlin centrally controlled Communist parties throughout the world, and therefore communism must not be allowed to grow in any more nations. So whilst Truman cut back military spending he lent huge sums of money to Western Europe, through the Marshall Plan, to help its economy recover so that Communists would not take control there. As former rivals flocked to American aid, the result was a world-wide increase of indirect American power, and there was now no doubt as to who possessed the dominant global economy.11
The Soviet Union in 1949 established the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) to assure Russian economic domination of its eastern European satellites. In the spring of 1948 Russia cut off West Berlin (Berlin had been divided into four zones after the war) by blockade, hoping to drive the other allies out of the city. The Western powers countered with an airlift that lasted 321 days until the Russians ended the blockade on May 12th, 1949. This action, along with the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, drove American and Western Europe to set up the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949, which promised mutual defence amongst its members. In 1955 Russia set up a similar military organisation, with its eastern European satellites, under the Warsaw Pact.
Domestically, Truman dealt with the issue of converting the economy back to a peace time setting. He followed his predecessor's policies, and enlarged them, by proposing the expansion of Social Security, a full-employment program, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act, and public housing and slum clearance. This became known as the Fair Deal. In 1947 the conservatives passed a constitutional amendment forbidding presidential third terms- a belated act of vengeance against FDR. The Twenty-Second Amendment was ratified by the required 36 states in February 1951. The Republicans were confident as the 1948 presidential election approached. They once again nominated Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York. The Democrats were divided and pessimistic. Truman believed he could win, however. But the civil rights aspects of his Fair Deal program alienated the conservative Democrats of the South. Diehard Southern Democrats formed the States Rights Democratic party (better known as the Dixiecrats) and nominated Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
Despite opinion polls forecasting a Republican victory, Truman won. He polled 24.1 million votes compared to 22 million for Dewey, and 303 electoral votes to 189. Thurmond managed to carry four states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana) and polled 1.2 million votes. The Progressive party's candidate Henry A. Wallace also polled 1.2 million votes but won no states. In addition, the Democrats captured both houses of Congress. Truman, who ran behind the Democratic ticket, owed his victory to the vitality of the Roosevelt coalition as well as to his own efforts.