Cold War Fears: Communism and the Nuclear Bomb

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Leonid Brezhnev and Richard Nixon in Washington, 1973; this was a high-water mark in détente between the USSR and the US.

As the Cold War slowly melts into our history books, it is difficult for younger generations to imagine a world where the fear of Communism haunted Americans.

Most associate the Red Scare of the 1950s with Senator Joseph McCarthy, the infamous ring-leader of the senseless witchhunts for “card-carrying Communists” from Hollywood to Washington, D.C.

But the fear was not limited to McCarthy’s brief reign. The real anxiety and panic was in each American home long before and long after finger-pointing at actors and government officials. As early as 1945, Americans began to absorb the rhetoric of the Cold War which would dominate international relations for over four decades.

Communism was evil, and like a disease it would spread to all corners of the world, unless we fought to contain it. The antidote was clear. We needed strong American families to keep the moral fabric of the nation intact and the evil of Communism out.

Prosperity After World War II

In the years immediately following World War II, America was trying to reconstruct itself after many years of great upheaval. For the first time since the Roaring Twenties, America was feeling good. The trauma surrounding the Great Depression was no longer a reality for most people.

We had just emerged victorious from the worst war the world had ever seen. Unemployment was down, wages were up, and savings accounts were bulging all over the nation. Our boys were home, and they were ready to start living the American Dream.

But amid all the positive postwar feelings, something unsettling lingered beneath the surface of the parades, reunions, and hopefulness.

The Cold War Begins

In the war we had unleashed the most devastating weapon ever created, and we were now at the dawning of a new nuclear age. Once it became evident that the Soviets also possessed the technology to create atomic weapons, sudden nuclear annihilation was a real and terrifying possibility.

In addition to their atomic fears, Americans were also terrified of the sinister encroachment of Communism. Since Communism is the antithesis of Capitalism, any threat to democracy was a threat to our entire way of life. Many Americans feared a combination of both nuclear war and a Soviet takeover of our country.

Using the Nuclear Family Model as a Weapon

The desire to feel safe and secure mixed with the fear of Communism and “the bomb” to create the prototype for the perfect American family.

Of course a family could not prevent a nuclear attack. But in a world of uncertainty, Americans could at least feel safe in their own homes. If every American focused his/her energy on building and maintaining strong family bonds, nothing could infiltrate our great nation — not even the red menace of Communism.

The Role of the Government

Naturally the government would want to support any plan to protect democracy. They took an active role in making sure the responsibility for preserving the free world was taken seriously. Through the Home Owners Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration, the government proposed several programs to help young couples buy affordable suburban homes in which to raise their families.