5 Steps to a 5: AP European History 2024 - Bartolini-Salimbeni B., Petersen W., Arata K. 2023

STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High
24 The Cold War, Integration, and Globalization


Summary: Following World War II, the Soviet Union solidified its control of Eastern Europe, creating an “Iron Curtain” that divided East and West. The two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, engaged in a global conflict, called “the Cold War.” This chapter provides a review of the important events of the Cold War and describes the growing economic integration in Western Europe that culminated in the creation of the European Union. This chapter also reviews the sudden end of the Cold War, including the rapid disintegration of the Soviet Union, the destruction of the Iron Curtain, and the reunification of Germany.


Key Terms:

Image Truman Doctrine A U.S. doctrine (named after President Harry Truman), created in 1947, which established a system of military and economic aid to countries threatened by communist takeover.

Image Marshall Plan A plan (named after U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall), launched in 1947, which provided billions of dollars of aid to help the Western European powers rebuild their infrastructures and economies following World War II.

Image Council for Mutual Economic Assistance The Soviet Union’s response to the Marshall Plan, whereby the Soviet Union offered economic aid packages for Eastern European countries.

Image North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) A military alliance, formed in 1949, which united the Western powers against the Soviet Union.

Image Warsaw Pact The Soviet Union’s response, in 1949, to the formation of NATO, which established a military alliance of the communist countries of Eastern Europe.

Image Détente An era of warmer diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, for a period lasting from the 1960s into the 1980s. It was characterized by a number of nuclear test ban treaties and arms-limitation talks between the two superpowers.

Image Prague Spring An episode in 1968 when Czechoslovakian communists, led by Alexander Dubcek, embarked on a process of liberalization. Under Dubcek’s leadership, the reformers declared that they intended to create “socialism with a human face.” Dubcek tried to proceed by balancing reforms with reassurances to the Soviet Union, but on August 21, 1968, Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded and occupied the major cities of Czechoslovakia.

Image Velvet Revolution The name for the nearly bloodless overthrow of Soviet communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989.

Image Globalization A term that refers to the increasing integration and interdependence of the economic, social, cultural, and even ecological aspects of life in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The term refers not only to the way in which the economies of the world affect one another, but also to the way that the experience of everyday life is becoming increasingly standardized by the spread of technologies that carry with them social and cultural norms.

Key Individuals:

Image Alexander Dubcek

Image Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

Image Helmut Kohl

Image Ho Chi Minh

Image Joseph Stalin

Image Lech Walesa

Image Mikhail Gorbachev

Image Margaret Thatcher

Image Nikita Khrushchev

Image Václav Havel



Following World War II, the Cold War developed between the two new superpowers: the Soviet Union and the United States. In response, Western European nations followed a course of economic integration that culminated in the creation of the European Union. In the decades that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe experienced both a revival of nationalism and the emergence of globalization.

The Development of Nuclear Weapons

In 1942, Enrico Fermi, an Italian immigrant who fled Fascist Italy with his Jewish wife, built the first nuclear reactor in Chicago, producing the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Drawing on Fermi’s work, in 1944, German physicists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman published a paper (based on work they had done with Lise Meitner, a Jewish physicist who was forced to emigrate due to increasing anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany) that purported to show that vast amounts of energy would be released if a way could be found to split the atom. As World War II raged, the American government secretly funded an effort, known as the Manhattan Project, to build an atomic bomb. In 1945, the project’s international team of physicists, led by American physicist Robert Oppenheimer, succeeded in building three atomic bombs. After testing one, the remaining bombs were dropped on two Japanese cities: Hiroshima (on August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (on August 9, 1945). The advent of these nuclear weapons forced Japan’s unconditional surrender and created a nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Settlement Following World War II

There was no formal treaty at the conclusion of the Second World War. The postwar shape of Europe was determined by agreements reached at two wartime conferences in Tehran, Iran (in December 1943), and Yalta, Crimea, then part of the Soviet Union (in February 1945), and, where agreement could not be reached, by the realities of occupation at the war’s end.

Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin both preferred to end the war with the United States and British forces advancing through France and Soviet forces pushing into Germany from the east, leaving the Soviet Union to liberate and occupy Eastern Europe. Stalin harbored some resentment against the Allies, particularly the United States, for failing to extend the lend-lease program to the Soviets, for delaying the opening of a second front to relieve pressure on Soviet troops, and (later) for failing to commit funds for Soviet reconstruction after the war. In addition, the United States did not inform the Soviet Union of the atomic bomb’s development, though they did tell Great Britain. These conditions, together with the Soviet Union’s desire for buffer zones to protect them from invasion and the need for strategic resources, set the stage for post-war conflict.

In the eventual settlement, Germany was disarmed and divided into sectors with Western powers controlling the western sector and the Soviet Union controlling the eastern sector. Though Berlin was in the eastern sector, it was also divided into Western-controlled West Berlin and Soviet-controlled East Berlin. Poland lost territory to the Soviet Union in the east, somewhat offset by Polish gains in the west, at Germany’s expense.

Although the agreement called for self-determination and democratic elections in Eastern Europe, the Soviets had already begun installing pro-communist governments in the occupied countries, beginning with Poland (despite Poland’s government-in-exile in London). Eastern European nations dominated by the Soviet Union eventually included East Germany, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Yugoslavia, under Marshal Tito, was communist yet “nonaligned” with the Soviets.

Despite the creation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945 to promote international peace and cooperation, by 1946 an “Iron Curtain” (a term used by Winston Churchill in a speech given in the United States) had descended over Eastern Europe. The Iron Curtain stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Adriatic Sea in the south, and divided Europe between a communist East and a capitalist West.

The Cold War

The Cold War in Europe

The phrase Cold War refers to efforts of the ideologically opposed regimes of the United States and the Soviet Union to extend their influence and control of events around the globe, without engaging in direct military conflict with one another. The first showdown between the superpowers occurred from June 1948 until May 1949, when Soviet troops cut off all land traffic from the west into Berlin in an attempt to take control of the whole city. In response, the Western Powers, led by the United States, mounted what has come to be known as the Berlin Airlift, supplying West Berlin and keeping it out of Soviet control. In 1949, the Western-controlled zones of Germany were formally merged to create the independent German Federal Republic. One month later, the Soviets established the German Democratic Republic in the eastern zone.

In 1947, the United States established the Truman Doctrine, offering military and economic aid to countries threatened by communist takeover. That same year, President Harry Truman’s secretary of state, George Marshall, launched what has come to be known as the Marshall Plan, contributing billions of dollars of aid to help the Western European powers to rebuild their infrastructures and economies. The thinking was that economically vibrant economies were better able to resist communist movements. Although financial assistance was offered to the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, it came with a degree of independent oversight that was unacceptable to Stalin and was thus rejected (as Truman anticipated). The Marshall Plan is often given credit for the “economic miracle” of Western Europe’s economic recovery. Whatever the reason, Western Europe experienced a period of economic growth after World War II that allowed for the establishment of generous welfare programs. The Soviet Union soon countered with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), an economic aid package for Eastern European countries.

In 1949, the United States established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), uniting the Western powers in a military alliance against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union countered with the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance of the communist countries of Eastern Europe. The one great military imbalance of the postwar period, the United States’ possession of the atomic bomb, was countered by the development of a Soviet atomic bomb in 1949. From then on, the two superpowers engaged in a nuclear arms race that saw each develop an arsenal of hydrogen bombs by 1953, followed by huge caches of nuclear warheads mounted on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The overarching strategy of amassing nuclear weapons became appropriately known by its acronym MAD, which stood for “mutual assured destruction.” This strategy “reasoned” that neither side would use its nuclear weapons if its own destruction by a retaliatory blast was assured.

The Global Cold War

Once the two superpowers had done what they could to shore up their positions in Europe, their competition spread across the globe. For example, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, in which Soviet attempts to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, were met with a U.S. blockade of the island, and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Eventually the Soviets backed down and removed the missiles. But, in general, the nuclear capabilities of the United States and the Soviet Union precluded a direct confrontation. Instead the tensions played out in a series of limited or “proxy wars,” in which the two countries supported opposite sides of existing conflicts in other parts of the world. Many major world events during the second half of the twentieth century were directly related to the Cold War.

In Asia, the Chinese Civil War (1945—1949) pitted Soviet-backed communist forces, who were led by Mao Zedong, against the Nationalist forces of Jiang Jieshi (often known as Chiang Kai-Shek), who were backed by the United States. The Korean War (1950—1953) involved North Korean communists, supported by the Soviet Union and China, and the South Koreans, supported by the United Nations and the United States. This produced a stalemate near the 38th parallel (the original post—World War II dividing line between North and South Korea) at the cost of some 1.5 million lives. Later, during the Vietnam War, communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh battled an authoritarian, anticommunist government, increasingly reliant on U.S. military aid for its existence (throughout the 1960s until U.S. withdrawal in 1973). In the Afghanistan conflict, Soviet troops invaded to support a faltering pro-Soviet regime. They engineered a coup and installed a new pro-Soviet leader. Rebel “mujahideen” groups pursued a guerilla war, with funding and training provided by the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

The Middle East was also the scene of U.S.—Soviet conflict. When the United States backed out of an agreement in the mid-1950s to help Egypt build the Aswan Dam, Egypt retaliated by nationalizing the British-controlled Suez Canal. Egypt subsequently benefited from Soviet support in the ensuing battles against Great Britain, France, and Israel. Pressured by the United States to withdraw, Great Britain relinquished the Suez Canal; this event marked the decline of British influence in international relations. Moreover, the Soviets then helped Egypt build the Aswan Dam when the United States would not, improving the Soviet Union’s standing in the Middle East. In 1973, the United States and the Soviet Union again clashed during the Yom Kippur War, in which Soviet-supplied Arab forces attempted to retake the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights from U.S.—backed Israel.

Despite conflicts, the West allowed the Soviet Union a great deal of latitude within its “sphere of influence” in Eastern Europe. For example, in 1956, a popular uprising broke out in Hungary, encouraged by Nikita Khrushchev’s speech denouncing Stalinist policies. Though Hungary asked for Western support, none was forthcoming for fear of a nuclear confrontation, allowing the Soviets to violently crush the rebellion. Though Khrushchev’s speeches had seemed to indicate a softer position, his actions in Hungary proved otherwise.

Although it was less in the world news headlines, the Cold War also had devastating effects in Latin America and Africa, where, for the better part of three decades, local and regional disputes were shaped by the intervention of Soviet and American money, arms, and covert operations. Many of the difficulties faced by these regions today can be traced back to the Cold War.

Détente with the West, Crackdown in the East

Beginning in the late 1960s and lasting into the 1980s, U.S.—Soviet relations entered into a new era that has come to be known as the era of détente. In this period, both sides backed away from the notion of a struggle only one side could win. The era of détente was characterized by a number of nuclear test-ban treaties and arms-limitation talks between the two superpowers.

However, while Soviet—U.S. relations were thawing during this period, the Soviet Union demonstrated on several occasions that it still intended to rule the Eastern Bloc with a firm hand. The most dramatic of these events occurred in 1968 in an episode that has come to be known as the Prague Spring. Czechoslovakian communists, led by Alexander Dubcek, embarked on a process of liberalization, stimulated by public demand for greater freedom, economic progress, and equality. Under Dubcek’s leadership, the reformers declared that they intended to create “socialism with a human face.” Dubcek tried to proceed by balancing reforms with reassurances to the Soviet Union. But on August 21, Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops invaded and occupied the major cities of Czechoslovakia; it was the largest military operation in Europe since the Second World War.

The Soviet regime also continued to demand conformity from its citizens and to punish dissent. A good example is the case of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the acclaimed author who wrote novels that attempted to tell the truth about life in the Soviet Union. For writing novels like The Cancer Ward (1966) and The First Circle (1968), Solzhenitsyn was expelled, in November 1969, from the Russian Writers’ Union. Much to the irritation of the Soviet government, his work was highly acclaimed in the West, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. Following the 1973 publication of his novel The Gulag Archipelago, he was arrested. But in a sign that some concessions were being made to Western opinion, he was deported to West Germany rather than exiled to Siberia.

The totalitarian regimes associated with the Eastern Bloc countries, and earlier with Nazism, spurred many in the Christian community into action. The Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church (1962—1965) took the remarkable step of affirming Catholicism’s roots in Judaism, Jews’ covenant with God, and the idea that disparate faiths worshipped the same God. An important corollary in the wake of the Holocaust was the rejection of civil discrimination based on religion. Like Lutheran pastors Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, both of whom opposed many of Hitler’s actions, Pope John Paul II spoke out against totalitarianism and in favor of human rights. One of his first acts as Pope was to travel to his homeland Poland, emphasizing human dignity and urging the Polish people to maintain their faith. When thousands turned out to see him, it galvanized the Solidarity movement (discussed later in this chapter in the “Poland and Solidarity” section) by demonstrating that they were not alone.

The European Union

The leaders of Western Europe realized almost immediately following World War II they were going to need to function as a whole in order to rival the economic and military power of the two superpowers. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Europe embarked on a process of economic integration that occurred in several stages. In 1950, France and West Germany removed tariffs and cooperated in the coal and steel industry, and later included Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. By 1957, those six countries had established the European Economic Community (EEC), sometimes called the Common Market, to reduce tariff barriers and restrictions on the flow of capital and labor. Eventually the EEC incorporated other public functions, becoming the European Community (EC) in 1967.

Over the next 20 years, the EC added Denmark, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, and Spain. With the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, Europe moved towards closer political and economic integration with the creation of the European Union (EU), adopting a common currency (the euro) and forming the world’s largest trading bloc. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the EU underwent a massive expansion, welcoming countries either newly freed or newly constituted after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The addition of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004, Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, and Croatia in 2013 brought the total membership to 28 countries.

These fledgling democracies had more fragile economies than their Western European counterparts, which strained relations among the members. Freedom of movement within the European Union meant that Eastern Europeans could freely travel to Western countries for work. Additionally, when those nations adopted the euro as their currency, their economies became intertwined with other EU nations. When certain members were unable to pay or refinance their debts (for example, Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal) around 2009, the stability of the euro was threatened. Though EU members intervened to stabilize the currency, the conditions they imposed required drastic cuts in government spending and sparked protests, especially in Greece.

The growing importance of the European Union has also prompted some concerns about a loss of national identity and sovereignty, particularly in Great Britain. After Britons voted to leave the European Union in a referendum in 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, declaring the United Kingdom’s intent to withdraw. Negotiations for the “divorce” have been complex and contentious, though, and waning support among the British public for withdrawal leaves the outcome in some doubt.

The Disintegration of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union

Between 1985 and 1989, the world was stunned as it witnessed the rapid disintegration of the Soviet Union, the destruction of the Iron Curtain, and the reunification of Germany. The causes of these dramatic events were rooted in the nature of the Soviet system, which had for decades put domestic and foreign politics ahead of the needs of its own economy and of its people. The result was an economic system that could no longer function. The trigger for its disintegration was the ascension of a new generation of Soviet leaders.

Gorbachev and the “New Man”

While Western Europe was creating the European Community and dreaming of economic and political power that could match those of the superpowers, the big lie of the Soviet economy was coming home to roost. While the Soviet Union had continued with a command economy after World War II and initially experienced strong industrial growth, its economy was undermined by corruption, excessive military spending at the expense of other sectors, and an extensive black market. In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded a long line of aging Stalinist leaders. At the age of 54, Gorbachev represented a younger and more sophisticated generation that had spent significant time in the West. Gorbachev believed that the Soviet Union’s survival required a restructuring (perestroika) of both its economy and its society, and an openness (glasnost) to new ideas. Accordingly, Gorbachev challenged the people of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries to take on a new level of responsibility. But such an invitation quickly fanned the fires of autonomy in satellite states.

Poland and Solidarity

There had been growing agitation in Poland since 1980, when workers under the leadership of an electrician named Lech Walesa succeeded in forming a labor union known as “Solidarity.” Pressured by numerous strikes, the Polish government recognized the union despite threats of Soviet intervention. By 1981, the movement had become more political, as some of Solidarity’s more radical members began calling for free elections. As tensions grew, the Polish military, led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski, responded to the crisis by imposing martial law and a military dictatorship. But with Gorbachev calling for reform, Jaruzelski tried, in November 1987, to gain legitimacy for his rule through a national referendum. However, the majority of voters either voted against or abstained. In August 1988, Jaruzelski ended his military dictatorship and set up a civilian government.

The new government attempted to retain the political monopoly of the Communist Party while simultaneously opening Poland up for Western business. This proved to be impossible, and Walesa and Solidarity took advantage of the new openness to push for political freedom. In January 1989, Solidarity was legalized, and in April, the Communist Party gave up its monopoly on political power. In the first free election in Poland since before World War II, Solidarity triumphed and a noncommunist government was established in September. In December 1990, Walesa was elected president, and Poland began to face the hard task of learning how to live in an unruly democratic society and how to deal with the economic ups and downs of capitalism.

Czechoslovakia and the Velvet Revolution

Seeing Poland and Hungary (which held free elections in the summer and fall of 1989) shed their communist governments without Soviet intervention energized Czech resistance to communist rule. Student-led demonstrations in the fall of 1989 were met with the tear gas and clubs of the police, but the students were soon joined by workers and people from all walks of life. Leading dissidents, like the playwright Václav Havel, began a movement known as the Civic Forum, which sought to rebuild notions of citizenship and civic life that had been destroyed by the Soviet system. Soon Havel and other dissidents were jailed, but they became symbols of defiance and moral superiority.

What followed has come to be known as the Velvet Revolution. Faced with massive demonstrations in Prague (shown around the world on television), and urged by Gorbachev himself to institute democratic reform, Czechoslovakia’s communist leaders resigned on November 24. After negotiations and maneuvers by both the Communist Party and the Civic Forum, Havel was chosen president on December 25, 1989. Alexander Dubcek, who had led the revolt of 1968, was brought home from exile and named chairman of the Czechoslovakian Parliament.

German Reunification

West Germans had never accepted the division of Germany. The constitution of the German Federal Republic provided legal formalities for reunification. How the East Germans felt about the society of their Western relatives was hard to know. When reunification came, it came suddenly. East German dissidents organized themselves along the lines of the Civic Forum model pioneered in Czechoslovakia. In response to the pressure for reform, the communist regime rescinded its traditional order to shoot anyone trying to escape to West Berlin, and shortly thereafter issued “vacation visas” to those wishing to see their families in the West. There was little expectation of their return.

On November 9, 1989, protesters moved toward the Berlin Wall, and meeting almost no resistance from the soldiers, started to hammer it down. East Germans streamed into West Berlin, where they were embraced by tearful West Germans who gleefully gave them handfuls of cash. The West German chancellor, conservative Helmut Kohl, moved quickly toward reunification. It was a reunification that amounted to East Germany being annexed by the West. Completely swept away in the pace of reunification were the original Civic Forum leaders who were not at all sure that they wished to be reunified with West Germany and its capitalist economy. Nevertheless, beginning in March 1990, reunification proceeded quickly with East German elections, the drafting and ratification of a reunification treaty, and the first unified national election all completed before the end of the year. Helmut Kohl, “the Reunification Chancellor,” and his Christian Democrat party would remain in power until 1998.

The Soviet Union Comes Apart

Caught between the hardliners who wished to slow down reform and a population that wanted it to come faster, Gorbachev’s popularity began to slip. Determined to go forward, Gorbachev persuaded the Communist Party to give up its monopoly on political power and called for free elections. Sensing collapse, Party members resigned in large numbers.

The various “republics” that made up the Soviet Union now emulated the satellite states and began to agitate for independence. Lithuania led the way, declaring the restoration of Lithuanian independence in March 1990. Others soon followed suit, including the Russian Republic, led by the charismatic deputy, Boris Yeltsin. Gorbachev was faced with a crisis. In the spring of 1991, Gorbachev proposed a compromise. He suggested that all the republics sign a Treaty of the Union, declaring them all to be independent but also members of a loose confederation. In August 1991, just as the treaty was about to take effect, hardliners tried to oust Gorbachev. For three days, there was confusion about who was in charge and what the military would do. Yeltsin seized the moment, positioning himself between the parliament building and military tanks. The military backed off and the coup attempt failed, but it was Yeltsin who was now the favorite. Gorbachev resigned late in 1991, and the Soviet Union, as the world had known it, disintegrated. Most of the republics chose to join a loose confederation known as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), whereas a few, especially the Baltic states, opted for independence.

The Rise of Nationalism in Eastern Europe

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, nationalism, which had been driven underground, again came to the surface in Eastern Europe. In Czechoslovakia, resurgent nationalism split the country in half; the Slovak region formed the republic of Slovakia and the Czechs formed the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, traditional tensions with Armenians reemerged, with alleged violence against Armenians. This caused Armenians to declare an autonomous state in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. In the Russian Republic, Chechens began a guerrilla war against Russian troops when their demands for independence were refused.

Yugoslavia: Fragmentation

During the Cold War, Yugoslavia was composed of six ethnically self-conscious member “republics” held together by the Communist Party. As the communist regime began to collapse, the ethnic rivalries of Yugoslavia quickly reasserted themselves. The fragile multiethnic system fell apart as Slovenia and then Croatia declared independence in 1991. Serbia, the largest “republic” of Yugoslavia, tried to hold the union together but war erupted between Serbia and Croatia and, at about the same time, the Serbian province of Kosovo revolted against Serbian rule. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the situation degenerated into a vicious, multisided war with acts of genocide committed on all sides. In the end, Yugoslavia split into seven independent nations—the six former republics of Yugoslavia plus Kosovo (although the independence of Kosovo is not recognized by Serbia and some other countries, including Russia).

Social, Economic, and Political Changes in post—Cold War Europe


While politics in the post—Cold War era often seemed to regress, the unity of the world’s economies, societies, and cultures continued to move forward. Near the end of the twentieth century, the term globalization became prominent to describe the increasing integration and interdependence of the economic, social, cultural, and even ecological aspects of life. The term globalization refers not only to the way in which the economies of the world affect one another, but also to the way that the experience of everyday life is becoming increasingly standardized by the spread of technologies that carry with them social and cultural norms.

During this time, improvements in transportation, communication, and automation intensified, which reduced the cost of producing and distributing goods internationally and created a truly global economy, with both multinational and transnational corporations. As Europe transitioned from an industrial, factory-based economy to a post-industrial, service economy, social class structures changed, most notably with an expansion of the middle class. In addition to typical middle-class occupations, an educated class of professional managers and administrators emerged. The expansion of a prosperous middle class further encouraged a culture of mass consumerism, begun earlier in the twentieth century.

Student Revolts

During the 1960s, philosophers, like Herbert Marcuse, contended that capitalist societies encouraged materialism and consumerism because they eroded the dissatisfaction of the proletariat, which was necessary to advance communism. However, small groups of committed students could overthrow the ruling classes. Partly driven by theories like these, partly reacting to international events like the Vietnam War, and partly driven by frustrations over outdated and overburdened university systems, a series of student revolts erupted around Western Europe. In France in 1968, student movements and worker movements combined, which resulted in student takeovers of university buildings and widespread strikes. Germany, too, experienced student protests. In both countries, police quashed the student violence, though the issues prompting them remained unresolved.

Green Party Movements

The increase in scope and pace of global post-industrial economies, in conjunction with technological advances, has given rise to environmental movements in Europe. Beginning in the 1970s, the ecological consequences of industrial and post-industrial economies became all too apparent. Air quality suffered due to vehicle and factory emissions, which caused health concerns and even damaged buildings. Waterways became polluted with runoff from pesticides and fertilizers, as well as chemicals dumped by industrial concerns. As populations expanded, wildlife habitats like forests contracted.

Challenges to the Welfare State

The concept of the cradle-to-grave welfare state came under increasing pressure in the latter quarter of the twentieth century, squeezed by twin pressures of changing demographics and shrinking budgets. Improved medical technologies extended life expectancies; at the same time, people gained more control over their own fertility than at any other time in history, reducing the birth rate. An aging population led to imbalances between those drawing welfare state benefits and those contributing to the system. Governments have responded by scaling back benefits or even shifting government-controlled industries to the private sector. An example of privatization occurred during the 1980s in Great Britain under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who sold off British Telecom, British Steel, and the water industry, among others. Frequently, attempts to increase working hours or to scale back benefits have been met with protests and strikes by workers, who charge that governments are reneging on promises made.

Additionally, Western European governments have attempted to address declining birth rates by supporting families with children through a range of policies including subsidized or free childcare, generous parental leave, tax breaks to families, or even cash payments to couples for a second child (Italy). Though the policies vary from country to country, most have made efforts in this regard.

Belief Systems

Medical advances in areas like fertility, abortion, genetic engineering, and end-of-life treatments challenged established definitions of life and death. This led to political and social conflicts over the ethical and moral implications of these issues. Vatican II, discussed earlier, also attempted to address the apparent contradictions between the literal interpretation of the Bible and new scientific theories regarding things like origins of the universe and man. Vatican II clarified that scientific discovery, so long as it does not override moral laws, does not conflict with faith, as they are both derived from God. Although Vatican II addressed Catholic practices in the modern world, it continued with traditional doctrines of rejecting female clergy and divorce.


Immigration, which has reshaped many traditionally homogeneous European nations into diverse cultures, is another source of social tension. Fears of a weakening national identity, concerns about competition for jobs, and anxiety over national security have sometimes led to a backlash against immigrant communities. In addition, particularly with respect to Muslim immigrants, European governments struggle to balance their commitment to secularism with religious freedom (in the case of Muslim girls wearing the hijab headscarf in French schools, for example) and to individual rights with national security. Anti-immigrant sentiment has taken political shape in the form of right-wing political parties such as the National Front in France, that advocate economic protectionism and restricted immigration. Recent attacks by followers of the Islamic State of Iraq or Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), terrorist organizations advocating an extremist version of Islam, have further inflamed these tensions.


One demographic group that made great gains in the second half of the twentieth century was women, particularly in the political arena. In the early 1950s and 1960s, women typically married young and had children early. Advances like the contraceptive pill helped women control their own fertility rates, a factor in declining birth rates. Smaller families meant women had more free time to gain an education and to seek employment. Postwar economic growth contributed to this trend, as did the growing white-collar employment sector. Economic complexity made two incomes more desirable or even a necessity for families. In addition, the social landscape was changing, including growing numbers of single women of working age due to divorce or to delayed marriage. The combination of these factors led to unprecedented numbers of women in the workplace where they often were subject to discrimination in the form of limited opportunities for promotion and disparities in pay with their male counterparts. This gave rise to a new feminist movement in the 1970s, which found inspiration in earlier feminist writers like Simone de Beauvoir, whose book The Second Sex argued that patriarchal society had relegated women to second-class status as “Other,” but that women could choose to free themselves from such roles. Women sought change in the political arena, eventually winning such victories as the abolition of laws restricting divorce and abortion in Italy. Women also gained political office in Europe during this time period; most notable was Margaret Thatcher, who served as Great Britain’s Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Mary Robinson led Ireland from 1990 to 1997, and many Scandinavian countries like Norway and Iceland had female leaders during the 1980s. In the twenty-first century, this trend has continued with Angela Merkel in Germany and Teresa May in Britain, among others.

Review Questions


Multiple Choice

Questions 1—3 refer to the following passage:

In a great number of countries, far from the Russian frontiers and throughout the world, Communist fifth columns are established and work in complete unity and absolute obedience to the directions they receive from the Communist center. Except in the British Commonwealth and in the United States where Communism is in its infancy, the Communist parties or fifth columns constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilization. . . .

I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines. But what we have to consider here today while time remains, is the permanent prevention of war and the establishment of conditions of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries. . . . From what I have seen of our Russian friends and allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness. For that reason the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound.

Winston S. Churchill, “Iron Curtain” speech, March 5, 1946

1. What was Churchill’s belief regarding communism?

A. Communism was an immediate threat in the United States.

B. The Russian frontier was in danger of falling to communist forces.

C. Communists in European countries were obedient to the communist government of the Soviet Union.

D. Communism posed a growing challenge to Asia.

2. What did Churchill believe to be the goal of the Soviet Union?

A. The expansion of its power and influence wherever possible

B. A global revolution of the proletariat

C. A third world war

D. Control of all of Asia

3. Which statement best represents Churchill’s argument?

A. A third world war was inevitable.

B. Securing the rule of democratic governments in Europe required a strong military presence throughout Europe.

C. A balance of power must be created between the West and the Soviet Union.

D. The United States should join the British Commonwealth in order to prevent the spread of communism.

Chapter Question (Causation)


4. Briefly explain TWO ways in which people were able to reconstruct civic life in the police-states that had been formed under Soviet-style communism, and illustrate each with an example.

Answers and Explanations

1. C is correct because the passage states the belief that “Communist fifth columns are established and work in complete unity and absolute obedience to the directions they receive from the Communist center” (that is, the Soviet Union). A is incorrect because the passage states that communism was “in its infancy” in the United States. B is incorrect because the Russian frontier was already a part of the Soviet Union at the time of the speech, and because the reference in the passage is to places far from the Russian frontier. D is incorrect because the passage states that communism posed a growing threat “to Christian civilization,” that is, to Europe and the United States.

2. A is correct because the passage states Churchill’s belief that the government of the Soviet Union wanted “the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines.” B is incorrect because the passage makes no mention of a global revolution of the proletariat. C is incorrect because the passage says that Churchill does not believe that the Soviet Union wants war. D is incorrect because the passage makes no mention of Asia.

3. B is correct because the passage implies that military weakness would encourage the expansionist aims of the Soviet Union. A is incorrect because the passage does not refer to the inevitability of war. C is incorrect because the passage states Churchill’s belief that “the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound.” D is incorrect because the passage does not urge the United States to join the British Commonwealth.

4. Suggested answer:

Thesis: During the 1980s, people within the police-states of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe were able to reconstruct spaces for normal civic life in several ways, including the development and expansion of a labor union movement and the development of “civic forums.”

Paragraph Outline:

I. In Poland in the 1980s, workers under the leadership of an electrician named Lech Walesa succeeded in forming a labor union known as Solidarity. Pressured by numerous strikes, the Polish government recognized the union despite threats of Soviet intervention.

II. In Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, people from all walks of life created a movement that became known as the Civic Forum, which, by commandeering public spaces like libraries and churches for town meetings, began to rebuild notions of citizenship and civic life that had been destroyed by the Soviet system.

Rapid Review

Following World War II, the Soviet Union solidified its control of Eastern Europe, creating an “Iron Curtain” that divided East from West. The two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, engaged in a conflict, called the Cold War, which had global implications. The advent of nuclear weapons forced Japan’s unconditional surrender but subsequently created a nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Western European nations followed a course of economic integration that culminated in the creation of the European Union. Between 1985 and 1989, systemic economic problems and a bold attempt at reform led to the rapid disintegration of the Soviet Union, the destruction of the Iron Curtain, and the reunification of Germany. In the decades that followed, two major trends affected life in Europe: the revival of nationalism and the emergence of globalization.

Further Resources

Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer, The Ugly American—Southeast Asia and US diplomacy

Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October—Cold War

Ian Fleming, From Russia with Love—Cold War espionage

William Golding, The Lord of the Flies—based on reaction to violence during World War II

Graham Greene, The Quiet American—French colonialism in Vietnam

John le Carré, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold—Cold War espionage

Richard Condon, The Manchurian Candidate—Korean War