March 17, 2018
Wisconsin’s Involvement in the Cold War
I find myself fascinated with the Cold War era and the impact Wisconsin has had on this time. I also see the impact as I work in IT Security for Master Lock. Wisconsin’s businesses today see the impact of cyber war second hand and that is largely stemmed from the political result of the build up from the cold war with Russia and China. How did we get here and how does it impact Wisconsin?
Following the end of World War II, the world experienced an era of severe political unrest. The fall of Nazi Germany, and the subsequent surrender of its allies allowed the United States to take a quick breath of victorious relief, but the national reassurance of winning the war proved to be short lived. Tensions began building elsewhere in the world. The Soviet Union established itself as a global superpower, and its political ideologies clashed heavily with those of the United States. As both of these entities strived to spread their influence, they opposed each other like oil and water. Both sides steeped themselves in a palpable fear that their opposition aimed at world-wide expansionism, leading to other combative wars, ideological implementation, and ultimately the lingering possibility of nuclear warfare.
This schism of beliefs did not pertain only to the US and the Soviet Union—it divided Europe and some parts of Asia as well. Shortly after the Truman Doctrine and the formation of NATO, the Korean War broke out, which was spurred on by North Korea’s spontaneous invasion of South Korea, aided by the USSR and China. Since South Korea held an alliance with America, the United States felt required to respond, however, it was done with hesitation. By the time war was declared on the US’s behalf, North Korea had almost engulfed the entirety of the South—America’s involvement was a necessary move in regards to actively subduing the spread of communism and saving South Korea’s freedom. On June 27, 1950, President Truman officially announced he would be ordering troops as a means of assistance. The number of US forces grew to an astonishing 5.7 million by the time the war concluded, of which 132,000 derived from Wisconsin. 801 of the 132,000 were killed in action in pursuit of freedom, and an additional 4286 were wounded. Several Wisconsinites became prisoners of war and perished due to North Korea’s inhumane treatment of captured soldiers. Although South Korea was able to push back North Korea’s advancements with the help of America—and an armistice was signed between the divided countries—the conclusion did not feel like a victory, as the enemy was not truly defeated. Tensions were still high. Europe still buzzed with uncertainty and political division, and this war would prove to be only the beginning of the nuclear era.
During this time, a familiar Wisconsin military division was prepping for the unknown. The 32D Red Arrow division, which consisted mostly of Wisconsin National Guardsmen, was mobilized for the first time since World War II, and their training began immediately in Fort Lewis. For several months, these men did not know what their destination would be, or if they would be sent overseas at all. Milwaukee resident Tony Eckenrod reminisced about his service during the Cold War saying, “We initially thought we were going to go to Vietnam and that changed. Supposedly we were going to go to Korea and that changed. And we stayed right where we were, training in case something else did come up.” Ultimately, the Red Arrow Division did not experience combat throughout the entirety of the Cold War, and after 10 months of training, they were allowed to return to their homes.
The war allowed dread to fester. The idea of communism for westerners at this time was enough to strike fear into their hearts. This mainstream fear even earned its own name which knitted itself into Cold War history—The Red Scare. This atmosphere shaped the minds of many people—especially those who were in positions of political power. The Red Scare gave rise to several staunch anticommunists who took matters to the extreme in the hopes of eradicating any form of communism in the west. Oftentimes, the means of going about this were not ethical or politically correct, but it did send a definite message. Communism was not, nor would it ever be, tolerated on American soil.
Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy was an archetypal example of staunch anticommunism during this era. In 1950, he was thrown into the spotlight when he gave a speech, in which he declared that he knew of hundreds of communists that were operating not only on US soil, but in the state departments themselves. The senate immediately launched an investigation in regards to his statement, but found that his words were baseless. There was no proof of this, but McCarthy continued accusing people of being involved in the communist party. This witch-hunt, in addition to his ideologies, became known as McCarthyism, and shed light on the sheer volume of toxic paranoia that was seeping into America’s political atmosphere. By the end of McCarthy’s personal investigations, over 2000 government employees had been terminated from their positions. His tactics and unsubstantiated claims continued for a period of five years, and led to the ruin of many professional careers. Anyone called before McCarthy’s committee during this time was publically black-listed, and connoted as untrustworthy, and a possible communist sympathizer. Eventually, the Senate voted to denounce McCarthy’s behavior, and that is when his power began to dry up. Soon, McCarthyism and his tactics were no more.
America’s general involvement in the Cold War dissipated to some degree in the following decade. From 1954-1961 most of the political conflict was occurring on European soil, and in a two year timespan, the Warsaw Pact, Hungarian Revolution, and Suez Crisis occurred. In 1957, the Soviet Union initiated the space race by launching a dog into space via Sputnik II, which captured the attention of the world as a whole. America developed a burning desire to keep pace with them. Manitowoc, Wisconsin experienced the space race first-hand when debris from the USSR’s Sputnik IV landed in the street after a controller malfunction. It is humorously noted as the only time in which America was “invaded” during the Cold War. Unfortunately, the space race was one of the more peaceful parallel events that was occurring during the buildup of something much more serious—the precarious dance with technologies that had the potential to initiate World War III, and decimate entire countries.
It was well known since the beginning of the cold war that both the US and the Soviet Union housed nuclear warheads, but as time progressed, the possibility of their use grew dangerously close. Many people responded by building fallout shelters to protect themselves in the event of an attack. Several of these shelters still exist, and many can be found dotted around Wisconsin. The fear of nuclear war was real, and justifiably so, but it was not until October 14th, 1962, that this fear began to materialize. On this day, a US spy plane took notice of a nuclear weapons facility that was being constructed in Cuba. This was due in part by the Soviet Union, who secretly deployed several warheads to Cuba in response to the Bay of Pigs (a failed attempt by the US to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist government). Upon this discovery, America set up naval blockades to prevent more warhead shipments from reaching Cuba, but this was seen as an act of aggression. The Soviet Union, as well as Cuba, insisted that these missiles were for defense purposes only, but the US still demanded their removal. Over the course of thirteen days, America and the USSR were at a standoff.
Defense became a primary focus for Wisconsin leading up to this point in time. Prior to the Cuban Missile altercation, the Milwaukee area was outfitted with eight different missile bases which housed SAMs known as AJAX Nike missiles. They were established as a means of intercepting enemy missiles and warheads, should their paths had found their way over Wisconsin territory. However, after much consideration, these eight bases were reduced to three, and the AJAX missiles were replaced with something a bit more capable—Nike Hercules Missiles, which were designed to carry nuclear-based payloads. Upon the ignition of the Cuban Missile crisis, Wisconsin was primed to utilize these missiles at a moment’s notice. These warheads existed quite literally in the backyards of Milwaukee residents—prepped to launch, and ready to defend. Ultimately, the Cuban Missile Crisis was averted when Nikita Khrushchev, representing the Soviet Union, publically announced that the missiles in Cuba would be removed, thus circumventing a nuclear war.
Unfortunately, the end of this event did not mean the end of the Cold War itself. The world’s playing field was still shifting platonically in regards to politics and ideologies. There was still unrest, even after the relief of a subverted nuclear war, and Just three years after the Missile Crisis, the decade-long Vietnam War was sparked as a consequence of America’s lingering belief that communism was continuing to spread. 57,000 men from the Badger State served in Vietnam, of which over one thousand lost their lives. Of course, the Vietnam War was met with disagreement even on behalf of American citizens. It was a divisive war in a time where many simply wanted peace. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is exemplary of this, as it became one of America’s most radical campuses in regards to the opposition of the war. Students protested the Vietnam War on a grand scale, and in some cases, these protests turned violent. There was even one instance of a bomb being detonated by a small group of students, which led to the death of a college physics professor. Although the Vietnam War did incite violence amongst America’s own people, the reasons were somewhat justified. The war was expensive, caused millions of deaths, and the US was fighting a losing war. The Vietnam War was finally concluded via the Paris Peace Accords, and on a verbal basis through Richard Nixon himself. It proved to be a devastating defeat for the US.
After the Vietnam War, the world began to self-regulate. Although there was still some residual tension left behind from the multitude of events that occurred in such a short period of time, the political unrest and general fear began to subside. There were still a few events which caused pockets of chaos—the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and Tiananmen Square—but several countries began to realign. Gorbachev adhered to his policies of openness and freedom of speech, the Berlin Wall fell, and Czechoslovakia’s communist government was overthrown in a peaceful manner via the Velvet Revolution. In 1990, Eastern and Western Germany united as a single county, and one day after Gorbachev’s resignation, the Soviet Union has been officially dissolved. This marked the end of the world’s most potentially deadly era.
Although the Cold War was not classified as a World War, the entire globe was involved to some degree. From entire countries down to the state-level, nearly everyone played a role in this several decade-long period of time. Of course, every US state offered their unique support, but Wisconsin epitomized the various facets of the Cold War. From its involvement in Korea, to the chaotic protests during the Vietnam War, there is an abundance of Cold War history that can be derived from the Badger State.
Wisconsin had a major impact in the Cold War and we will continue to have influence in the current and upcoming Cyber Wars.