Chapter 4 – U.S. “Containment” Strategy from Truman to Johnson - 1950 to 1968

The East German Uprising—June 1953. A popular uprising by wide sectors of the population of Soviet-occupied East Germany was the first of three such uprisings in Eastern Europe in the wake of Stalin’s death. The uprising reached its high point on June 17, 1953, when large anti-Communist, anti-Soviet demonstrations in Berlin and other major cities throughout the Soviet-occupied German Democratic Republic (GDR) were crushed by Soviet tanks. These brutal Soviet actions, supported by the East German secret police (Stasi), “People’s Army,” and “People’s Courts,” were met by outraged Western rhetoric, but no effective counteractions were taken on the part of President Eisenhower, the United States, or its Western allies. For East Germans, who first experienced totalitarian rule when Hitler took power in Germany in 1933 and had suffered under totalitarian Soviet rule after 1945, captive nations status lasted for decades until 1989. In democratic West Germany, meanwhile, June 17 became a symbol of anti-Communist resistance and was proclaimed as the national day, comparable to the July fourth “Independence Day” in the United States.

USSR Hydrogen Bomb—August 1953. On August 8, 1953, Western concerns about Soviet power rose when Malenkov announced that the Soviet Union had a hydrogen bomb.

Warsaw Pact—May 1955. On May 14, 1955, nominally in response to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) decision to admit West Germany to NATO membership, the Warsaw Pact was created by eight East European Communist nations, with Soviet Marshal Ivan Koniev as chief of the joint military command and a political consultative committee established as the overall directing organ.

Two U.S.-supported Coups: Iran—1953 and Guatemala—1954. During Eisenhower’s second term, two coups related to broader Cold War issues involved covert U.S. support against leftist leaders who were perceived as working increasingly in line with Soviet imperial objectives. The first coup was in Iran; the second, in Guatemala. Both situations were controversial; and brief chronological reviews help provide context.

Iran—Background. The U.S. developed close ties with Iran in 1947 when U.S., British, and U.N. pressure forced Soviet troops, which had entered Iran during the Second World War, out of the country in accord with Allied-Soviet agreements. Continued Soviet activities, however, included support for agitation against Western oil companies and for a rebellion led by Iran’s Tudeh (Communist) Party. At this time, the U.S. initiated aid to Iran to help withstand continued Soviet pressure, both overt and covert. In 1949, the Tudeh Party was outlawed when it was connected to an assassination attempt on Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a pro-American, authoritarian, leader who had succeeded his father as the royal Shah of Iran in 1941. In April 1951, Mohammed Mossadegh, a man connected to the banned Tudeh party, became Iran’s premier and sought to radicalize Iran. When he nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951, the International Court of Justice ruled against the seizure and Truman sent special envoy Averell Harriman to urge a compromise on the issue.

Iran Toward a Coup—1952 to 1953. In August 1952, Mossadegh assumed dictatorial powers and further radicalized Iranian domestic policies, including those on taxes and the seizure of private property. As tensions mounted, President Eisenhower informed Mossadegh in June 1953 that U.S. aid to Iran would end unless the oil dispute was settled. On August 16, the Shah sought to dismiss Mossadegh as premier, but was himself forced to flee to Iraq. On August 19, troops and royalists loyal to the Shah deposed Mossadegh and on August 22, the Shah returned to Iran, naming General Fazollah Zahedi as Iran’s new premier. On September 5, the U.S. resumed aid to Iran and on December 5, Iran and Great Britain agreed to resume negotiations as Western oil companies were permitted to work in Iran. (Note: Another major Iran crisis, in 1979, is reviewed in Chapter 6 on the Carter Administration).

Guatemala—1954. In June 1954, a coup covertly supported by the United States was undertaken by Guatemalan military forces against President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who had been elected president in March 1951, but became increasingly radical in his connections and actions. In 1952, he signed a bill seizing properties from landowners, and in 1953, he moved to expropriate most of the U.S. United Fruit Company’s land holdings in Guatemala. In October 1953, a senior U.S. Department of State official described Guatemala as “openly playing the Communist game.” In March 1954, the Department of State reported discovery of a large shipment of Soviet arms apparently designated for the development of a strong Communist movement in Guatemala. The U.S. sought to stop such shipments, and Guatemalan army officers turned on Arbenz (himself a former Lt. Colonel) and overthrew him in a coup on June 28, 1954. Over the next twelve years, a series of military leaders took control until a new constitution restored democracy with a civilian president in July 1966.

[Book pg. 80]