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Air Force Enlisted History

Part 1, Page 2


The Cold War (1948 - 1989)

Although the United States and its Western allies had counted on the Soviet Union as a heroic nation struggling with them against Hitler, it was apparent even before WWII ended that the alliance between West and East would not survive the ideological gulf that separated the capitalist democracies from the communist giant. In 1945, the Big Three—British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt—met to discuss the postwar division of Europe. The meeting did not go well, but it did result in laying the foundation of what became the United Nations (UN).

In 1946, the fledgling UN took up the issue of controlling nuclear weapons. By June 1946, the commission completed a plan for the elimination of nuclear weaponry based on inspectors who would travel the globe to ensure no country was making atomic bombs and to supervise the dismantling of existing weapons. Unfortunately, the plan was vetoed by the Soviet Union, resulting in almost five decades of cold war, in which the atomic superpowers played a potentially lethal game of chess, using the face of the world as their gameboard.

The Berlin Airlift (1948 - 1949)

In June 1948, the Soviet Union exploited the arrangements under which the United States, Great Britain, and France had occupied Germany by closing off all surface access to the city of Berlin. If left unchallenged, the provocative actions of the communists may not only have won them an important psychological victory, but may also have given them permanent control over all of Berlin. Worried that an attempt to force the blockade on the ground may precipitate World War III, the allies instead “built” a Luftbrücke—an air bridge—into Berlin.

For their part, the Soviets did not believe resupply of the city by air was even feasible, let alone practical. The Air Force turned to Major General William Tunner, who had led the Hump airlift over the Himalayan mountains to supply China during WWII. As the Nation’s leading military air cargo expert, he thoroughly analyzed US airlift capabilities and requirements and set in motion an airlift operation that would save a city. For 15 months, the 2.2 million inhabitants of the Western sectors of Berlin were sustained by air power alone as the operation flew in 2.33 million tons of supplies on 277,569 flights. Airlift had previously come of age during WWII, but it is questionable whether its potential had been fully realized by commanders who predominantly defined “strategic” in terms of bombs on targets. The Berlin airlift was arguably air power’s single most decisive contribution to the cold war, and it unquestionably achieved a profound strategic effect.

Enlisted personnel served as cargo managers and loaders (with a major assist from German civilians), air traffic controllers, communications specialists, and weather and navigation specialists. Of all the enlisted functions, perhaps the most critical to the success of the airlift was maintenance. The Soviets’ eventual capitulation and dismantling of the surface blockade represented one of the great Western victories of the cold war—without a bomb having been dropped—and laid the foundation for the NATO.

The Korean War (1950 - 1953)

Before dawn on Sunday, 25 June 1950, communist North Korea attacked South Korea. Some 5 years earlier, when Japan surrendered, the United States proposed that American forces disarm Japanese forces in Korea south of the 38th parallel and Soviet troops perform the same task north of that line. Once the Japanese were disarmed and removed, Korea was to become independent after almost 50 years of rule by Japan. The goal, however, depended on continued cooperation between the Soviet Union and the United States. Instead of a unified Korea (as was envisioned), two rival states came to share the Korean peninsula.

The Soviet Union supported the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under the leadership of Kim Il Sung. The United States stood behind the Republic of Korea, headed by Syngman Rhee. When the newly constituted national assembly elected Rhee president of South Korea in August 1948, the United States terminated the military government and began withdrawing occupation forces. As the decade of the 1940s drew to a close, Korea seemed less important than other areas in the world. In the aftermath of the Berlin blockade, the Truman Administration concentrated on Europe, even though basic national policy called for opposing the spread of communism anywhere in the world.

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