Chapter 10 The Cold War and the Affluent Society, 1954–1963
American and Soviet leaders focused increased attention on the affairs of nations in Latin America, Asia, and Africa as Cold War tensions increased during the 1950s and spread throughout the globe. The United States and the Soviet Union increasingly viewed that globe as a backdrop upon which their high-stakes contest of ideas and influence was being waged. As a result, these officials often projected a global Cold War framework upon local events and discounted the agency and ideas of the actual participants.
For example, both the United States and the Soviet Union might view the rise of a left-leaning political group in one African nation as evidence of increased Soviet influence throughout the entire continent. In reality, the explanation was usually something connected with local conditions and political opinions that the Kremlin or the US State Department were responding to rather than initiating. Because the State Department or the Kremlin usually consulted few area experts and ignored the perspectives of those who lived in these nations, such misperceptions were rarely challenged. The results were often tragic, both for peoples in these nations and for many Soviet and American soldiers and citizens. The parameters of the Cold War extended into the domestic sphere, where civil rights advocates, union leaders, and any others who espoused messages that were critical of the United States and its political leaders were accused of disloyalty. At the same time, the federal government’s desire to improve their nation’s international image led the State Department to support a number of civil rights initiatives.