The World on the Brink

In the 1960’s the world was in chaos. There was a Cold War, a threat of nuclear war, and many social changes, including women rights and environmental impacts. I recently learned all about this in our latest PLP unit on the 60’s. As you may now know, in PLP we are learning through the years. We started off learning about the 50’s, then the Civil Rights Movement, which I have written blog posts on, and now we are at the 60’s. The 60’s was a challenge to learn about because A LOT of things happened, but our main focus was the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear war. Our final project for this unit was to right an essay answering the driving question, “What put the world on the brink”.

In 1949, the Cold War was raging on. Tensions were high between the United States and the Soviet Union, and they didn’t seem to be calming down anytime soon. There were a few allies post WWII, but their pacts were weak. Something had to be done to provide a framework of military rules for the allies, should this war became hot. That is when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed. NATO was started by the United States, and many countries agreed to join the powerful, economically strong country, in hopes that they could help them flourish. The United States had nuclear superiority, and if they were to lose that, the commitment to NATO would be too dangerous. The leadership of NATO by the United States put a lot of pressure on them to demonstrate that they were a powerful world leader, which put them in a variety of situations of high tension. 

The United States created NATO to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. NATO was originally formed as a peacetime military alliance, which means that they did not want to start any wars. They knew exactly how they were going to achieve peace and they “did not think that such a peace could be achieved through weakness” (Eisenhower). Having power over the Soviet Union was the only way they felt they would reach the world peace they desired.

Part of the reason the US wanted power so badly was to stop the spread of communism. The US was already a nuclear superpower, which means they were “capable of deterring any conceivable combinations of challengers”(Joffe 33). They did not need any allies to help them overpower the Soviet Union. The point of them getting allies was to have other nations on the side of democracy. The more nations that were in alliance with them meant fewer nations threatened by communist control. The US felt pressure to keep these nations in alliance, and to do so they needed to prove they were more powerful than the Soviets. 

  NATO was formed as a defensive organization meant to prevent the Soviet’s from being aggressive towards weaker nations. Their main goal was to have peace, but that is not what happened. NATO did not appear peaceful to the Soviet Union, hence why they “condemned NATO as a warmongering alliance”(North Atlantic Treaty Organization). This put the soviets on the defensive and they felt a need to stand up to NATO. The United States had to be seen as the stronger nation by NATO, thus they couldn’t sit back and be peaceful. NATO relied on “the threat of massive nuclear retaliation from the United States”(Hagland) to scare the Soviets into weakness. The US then had to do something to continue to hold their place of power in the eyes of NATO. 

After the failed attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro in the Bay of Pigs, America was starting to look quite weak. NATO then made the decision to place American missiles in Turkey, right outside Russia, to regain some power. This power move by America started the Cuban Missile Crisis. The easiest way to solve this crisis would have been for America to immediately pull their missiles from Turkey, which they couldn’t do without appearing weak. This was brought up in a discussion with R. Kennedy and Khrushchev where Kennedy said that they could not just pull out the missiles from Turkey because it would “damage the entire structure of NATO” specifically, “the US position of leader”(Kennedy). Pulling out the missiles would have made it look like the US was scared, and were giving into the Soviet power. It would also be against the wants of NATO, so the US couldn’t simply take them out without appearing powerless to the Soviets. All NATO wanted was peace, but they weren’t going about it the right way.

The United States tried very hard to keep up the appearance for NATO of being an almighty country which could lead the world. This forced them to make decisions in many situations where they had to demonstrate their power and authority. These rash decisions led to many conflicts with the Soviet Union that could have potentially ended with nuclear war. The resulting conflicts could have been avoided, or quickly diffused if only the U.S. were more rational, willing to compromise, and possibly look like a weaker nation for a moment. In their attempt to maintain authority as a super power, the United States revealed an insecurity about themselves. Trying to portray themselves as a world leader for NATO almost caused the United States to destroy the world. 

Works Cited 

Eisenhower, Dwight D. “The NATO Conference .” Vital Speeches of the Day . The NATO Conference , 23 Dec. 1957, Washington DC.

Haglund, David G. “North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 10 Jan. 2019, Atlantic-Treaty-Organization.

Joffe, Josef. “NATO And The Dilemmas Of A Nuclear Alliance .” Journal of International Affairs, vol. 43, no. 1, 1989.

Kennedy, Robert. “Russian Ambassador Cable to Foreign Ministry .” Washington D.C., 27 Oct. 1962.

“North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Pact Signed.”, A&E Television Networks, 13 Nov. 2009,

To start off this unit we watched a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis called “Thirteen Days”. It was a great introduction to the unit and it also was a great answer to the driving question. We watched many other videos in this unit that explained events in the 60’s, and helped us get an idea of how to answer the driving question.

After we had learned all of the necessary information, we were given a list of topics that we could use to answer the question in our essay. We were only allowed to choose one topic and our essay had to be very focused. Here is a list of the possible topics

  • Marshall Plan
  • Iron Curtain
  • Berlin Blockade
  • NATO
  • Warsaw Pact
  • Korean War
  • Berlin Wall
  • Truman Doctrine
  • United Nations
  • U2 spy plane
  • Gagarin in space
  • Bay of pigs
  • Vienna meeting
  • Cuban missile crisis
  • Nuclear test ban
  • Khrushchev resigns

I chose NATO as my main topic. I chose it because I felt that it had a large impact on the Cold War, and that it almost pushed the world to nuclear war. The hard part about this essay was narrowing my topic, because NATO is way too broad of a topic to right a focused essay about. After doing lots of research I realized that NATO made the United States power hungry, which was a huge problem, so that is what I chose to focus my essay on.

The process of writing this essay was harder than any essay I have written before. A large aspect of this was integrating quotes, which I was not very good at. After some practice, I grew at that skill. Integrating quotes was almost as difficult as find quotes to integrate. The rules for this assignment were that we had to integrate a quote from a primary source, a periodical, and an academic journal. This was particularly challenging because our essays were on uncommon topics from the 60’s. After tons of research and drafts, I feel like a wrote a pretty decent essay.

To wrap up this unit we watched a video called, “The Times They Are A’ Changin”. It was about the social changes in the 60’s. It covered almost everything including women’s rights, environmental impacts, united farm workers, the conservative movement, and gay rights. It was a really interesting show and I recommend that you watch it if you like to learn about history. As our last assignment for this unit, we had to choose one of these social changes and briefly write about how it also put the world on the brink. Read mine below.

The 1960’s was full of many social changes. It was also a time where people were constantly living in fear. In the 60’s the world was on the brink of ending. When most people think of the end of the world in the 60’s, they think about they threat of nuclear war, but there was another way the world was on the brink. The 60’s was one of the first times that people started to realize how badly they were treating the planet, and the consequences of that. The pollution in the 1960’s was putting the world on the brink of extinction.

After WWII people started to realize the extent of their pollution of the earth, due to some environmental disasters. There were oils spills, lake fires, and many more human caused disasters. Air pollution also became a very obvious issue. Rachel Carson was one of the first people to realize the extent of what they were doing, but no one listened to her until after she died. Once people realized what was happening, they started an Environmental Movement to bring awareness to the issues.

People were finally scared for the health of our planet, and knew that if they didn’t make a change the world would end. The earth was on the brink of extinction, and if they didn’t do something then the world would die. As much as people have tried to make a change, this is still an issue we deal with today. Humans have been killing the earth for years and we are almost at the point of no return. We are still so far on the brink and we need to do something to change that. Hopefully we can bring the world off the brink.

I learned so much about how the 60’s was a very scary time for people due to the Cold War and threat of nuclear war. I also learned that this fear showed people that they can’t live in fear forever, which caused many social changes. This unit not only taught me a lot about the 1960’s, it also taught me a lot about writing and the kind of writer I am. Honestly, before this unit I could not write a very good essay, but with the knew research skills I have, I feel ready for any type of essay that might be thrown my way. I’m very excited to learn about the 70’s next unit and hopefully gain some new skills.



Research for social change argument:–in-the-

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