Cold War conflicts in Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam
Frameworks for America's Past
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Three major conflicts
of the Cold War

   The U.S. policy of containment meant that the U.S. intended to push back attempts by any communist countries to take over any non-communist countries.

   The timeline on the right shows three of the major conflicts of the Cold War era.  These conflicts took place in Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam.

   The fighting in Korea and Vietnam became full scale wars that lasted many years.  (Technically speaking, however, the U.S. never actually declared war in either case.)  

   Both the Soviet Union and the United States were involved in all of these events in many ways.  Keep in mind, though, that there was never a "hot" war - a shooting war - directly between these two superpowers.

The Korean War

The map below division of the country of Korea into North Korea and South Korea
at the end of World War II.  North Korea was set up under a communist
government by the Soviet Union.  South Korea remained a separate
nation friendly with the U.S. 

In 1950 North Korea, with the help of communist China, invaded
South Korea.  The U.S. sent in 300,000 soldiers to help
South Korea defend itself against the attacks.  Some
other countries also sent soldiers to help South Korea.

Below:  A young woman and child in Korea trying to
get away from the dangerous areas of fighting in 1951.
Communist North Korean troops murdered thousands
of people as they pushed into South Korea.

Below:  American soldiers in Korea in 1950.  America went in
to help South Korea as part of the U.S. policy of containment,
to prevent the spread of communism.

In 1953, the fighting ended in a stalemate.  (A stalemate is when neither side wins a clear victory.)
Korea remained divided into two parts, with North Korea under a communist dictator.
There has never been a peace treaty to officially end the conflict.  The U.S. still
maintains army units in South Korea to discourage any new attack by North Korea.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1962, the Cold War nearly boiled over into actual war when the U.S.
discovered that the Soviet Union had secretly placed missiles with atomic
bomb warheads in Cuba.  Since Cuba is so close to the U.S., the missiles
could have hit the United States with almost no warning.

The Cuban missile crisis began when the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles
in Cuba.  The photo below from 1962 shows a missile launch area in Cuba.

Fidel Castro:
Cuba's communist dictator

Cuba was under the control of Fidel Castro, sitting at the front in this photo.

   Under Castro's leadership, Cuba had become a communist country and formed close ties with the Soviet Union.  Opponents of Castro and his communist views were arrested, jailed, and frequently murdered.  Newspapers, radio, and TV were all brought under Castro's complete control. 

   The Soviet Union asked Castro to allow it to place nuclear missiles in Cuba.  Soviet leaders told Castro that such missiles would discourage any attack on Cuba by the U.S.  The missiles began arriving in Cuba in 1962.

  The U.S. government map below shows the range of different types of
Soviet nuclear missiles if launched from bases in Cuba.  The letters "NM"
mean "nautical miles," a measure slightly longer than a standard mile.

President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba by U.S. Navy ships to prevent
any more missiles from being brought in.  The Soviet Union backed down and agreed
to remove the missiles it had placed in Cuba.  In return, the U.S. pledged that
it would not invade Cuba.

The photo below shows a Soviet ship (top) leaving Cuba with missiles
on the deck under cloth covers.  A U.S. Navy ship (bottom) follows
alongside the Soviet ship.  A U.S. Navy airplane flies overhead
to keep an eye on the situation.

The Vietnam War

The map of Vietnam below shows the division of the country into communist
North Vietnam and non-communist South Vietnam during the period 1954 - 1975.
The U.S. went to the aid of South Vietnam during the 1960s when North Vietnam
began sending in soldiers to try to take over South Vietnam by force. 

Many American leaders at the time agreed with an idea called the Domino Theory.
This was the term for the fear that if one country fell to a communist take-over,
others in the same area would likely also become communist.  (They
would fall like a line of dominoes when one is pushed over.) 

The photo below shows U.S. soldiers searching a small village in South Vietnam for
communist fighters from North Vietnam.  The war was especially difficult because
North Vietnamese fighters deliberately dressed like ordinary citizens.  It was often
impossible to tell who was the enemy and who was not.

Below:  South Vietnamese people rescued by a U.S. helicopter after their village
was attacked by North Vietnam soldiers in 1966.  Communist soldiers often
murdered village leaders, government officials, or anyone else they thought
might oppose their goal of bringing all of Vietnam under communist control.

The Vietnam war deeply divided Americans at home, especially as
the war continued year after year with no sign of victory. 

The photo below shows protesters marching outside the White House in 1968.
They were calling for an end to American involvement in the Vietnam War. 
Many other Americans argued that the U.S. should stay in South Vietnam as
long as necessary to prevent a take-over by the communist North. 


The end of the
Vietnam War

   The Vietnam War ended for the U.S. when a cease fire agreement was reached between the two sides in 1973.  Once this agreement to stop the fighting was signed by North Vietnamese leaders, the U.S. pulled all of its troops out of the country.  South Vietnam was on its own.

   In 1975 North Vietnam broke the agreement.  Its military invaded South Vietnam in full force.  South Vietnam was defeated quickly.

   The entire country was reunited under the control of the communist leaders.  There is no longer a "North" or "South" Vietnam - it is just Vietnam.  

   Today the country remains under communist rule, but is on mostly friendly relations with the United States.  

Korean War and Vietnam War photos are from the National Archives.
The photo of missile bases in Cuba is from the Pentagon library.
All other photos are from the Library of Congress. 
The maps are by David Burns.
Some images have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2016 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.