As World War II was ending, the Cold War began. This was to be a long lasting and continuing confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, lasting from 1945 to 1989. It was called the Cold War because neither the Soviet Union nor the United States officially declared war on each other. However, both sides clearly struggled to prevent the other from spreading its economic and political systems around the globe.
Many American leaders believed that the Soviet Union hoped to spread communism all over the world. Communism was an expansionist ideology in theory and was assumed by many people to be spread through revolution. It suggested that the working class would overthrow the middle and upper classes. With the Soviet Union occupying much of Eastern and Central Europe following World War II, many Americans believed that communism had to be resisted.
Some of the leaders of the Soviet Union were convinced that the United States intended to wage war against the Russian people. The American use of the atomic bomb against Japan demonstrated to the Soviets that the United States was a possible military threat to the stability of the Soviet government. The Soviets also opposed a quick return of sovereignty to the German people after World War II. The Germans had invaded Russia twice in the first four decades of the twentieth century and killed millions of Russians. The Soviets wanted to occupy Germany to prevent yet another attack. The Americans wanted to allow the Germans to rule themselves as quickly as possible.
During the Cold War, the United States participated in the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam War (1964-1973), and several other conflicts to prevent the spread of communism. Approximately 4,700 Ohioans died in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The government of the United States began several other programs to prevent the expansion of communism. In the years after World War II, many Americans became concerned that communism might spread to the United States and threaten the nation's democratic values. Both the federal government and state governments reacted to those fears by attacking perceived communist threats. One of the main tactics used at the federal level was the creation of various investigative committees. Senator Joseph McCarthy chaired one such committee and hoped to end communist influence in the federal government. Thousands of federal government workers were suspected of communist loyalties, and many of these people lost their jobs. The federal government also investigated the motion picture, television, and radio industries. It was believed by many people at the time that communists might be attempting to spread their message through the American media.
In 1951, the Ohio General Assembly created the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee. This was a joint committee of state representatives and senators charged with determining communism's influence in Ohio. The committee was based on the federal government's House Un-American Activities Committee. Its members received sweeping powers to question Ohioans about their ties to communism. Between 1951 and 1954, the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee, headed by House member Samuel Devine, questioned forty Ohioans, asking each person, "Right now, are you an active member of the Communist Party?" Every person refused to answer and cited the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protecting Americans against self-incrimination.
Many of the persons questioned were college students or people who had favored socialist or communist programs to end the Great Depression of the 1930's. Various grand juries eventually indicted the forty people. Fifteen of the accused were convicted of supporting communism. In 1952, the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee contended that 1,300 Ohioans were members of the Communist Party.
In 1953, the Ohio General Assembly, with Governor Frank Lausche's approval, extended the existence of the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee. Lausche generally opposed the committee's actions, but he faced great pressure from Ohioans who wished to continue to seek out communists. The governor contended that the committee's actions might put into "grave danger . . . the reputations of innocent people against whom accusations can be made on the basis of rumor and frequently rooted in malice." However, he also said, "Communism is a menace to our country."
Governor Lausche vetoed a bill that would impose jail terms and monetary fines for anyone found guilty of communist leanings. However, the Ohio General Assembly passed the bill over the governor's veto. By the mid 1950s, the lengthy investigations of people suspected of communist sympathies generally came to an end. However, many Americans continued to be concerned about communism and its influence.
The Cold War continued until the late 1980s. Conflicts over communism in Cuba and South Vietnam dominated the 1960s and 1970s. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the United States began to produce as many nuclear warheads as possible to deter the Soviets from launching their own nuclear attack against America. This strategy, encouraged by President Ronald Reagan, helped the United States emerge victorious from the Cold War.
The Soviet Union attempted to expand its own military power to meet the challenge of the United States. However, the Soviet economy was not as strong as the American system and the building campaign destroyed the Russian government's ability to meet the needs of its people. By the late 1980s, people across Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union rose up against their communist governments. The Cold War came to an end.