This Cold War who’s who contains brief biographical summaries of key individuals, noting their role, involvement or contribution to the Cold War between 1945 and 1991. These profiles have been written by Alpha History authors.
Dean Acheson | Konrad Adenauer | Salvador Allende | Yuri Andropov | Anthony Blunt | James Bond | Willy Brandt | Leonid Brezhnev | James F Byrnes | Jimmy Carter | Fidel Castro | Nicolae Ceausescu | Konstantin Chernenko | Winston Churchill | Alexander Dubcek | Allen Dulles | John Foster Dulles | Dwight Eisenhower | Mikhail Gorbachev | Andrei Gromyko | Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara | Dag Hammarskjold | Ho Chi Minh | Erich Honecker | J Edgar Hoover | John Paul II | Lyndon Johnson | George Kennan | John F Kennedy | Robert F Kennedy | Nikita Khrushchev | Henry Kissinger
Acheson, Dean (1893-1971) was US Secretary of State under Harry S. Truman, between 1949 and 1953. Acheson was educated at Yale and Harvard, graduating from the latter in 1918. He worked as a lawyer until 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt recruited Acheson as undersecretary of the treasury. By 1941 Acheson was assistant Secretary of State, where he oversaw American loans and aid to Great Britain. In 1945 he became an important advisor to the incoming president Truman; Acheson’s advice was instrumental in the development of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. As Secretary of State from 1949, Acheson hardened the US position with regard to communist China and pushed for American intervention in both Korea and French Indochina (Vietnam). Acheson was vehemently anti-communist, however he was criticised in some quarters for not taking more assertive action against communists, both internationally and domestically. Acheson retired with Truman in 1953, however future presidents – including Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon – often called on him to provide assessments or advice.
Adenauer, Konrad (1876-1967) was the first and longest-serving chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), holding office from 1949 to 1963. Born to a Catholic family in Cologne, Adenauer was a lawyer with moderate democratic political views. He served for 16 years as mayor of Cologne, until the rise of the Nazis in 1933. Adenauer returned to political life in 1945, when the American occupying forces returned him to mayoral duties. He became the head of a new political party, the Christian Democratic Union, which was swept to power by elections held in August 1949. As chancellor Adenauer hardened the divided status of Germany by adopting policies that were hostile or indifferent to East Germany. Conservative and strongly anti-communist, Adenauer strengthened West Germany’s political, military and economic alliance with the West, particularly the US and France; he also oversaw the rearmament of West Germany and its admission as a member of NATO (granted in 1955). Adenauer remained as West German chancellor well into his 88th year, when a political scandal forced him into retirement.
Allende, Salvador (1908-1973) was a president of Chile from November 1970 until his overthrow by a CIA-backed military coup in September 1973. Allende was a medical doctor who as a young man embraced left-wing political ideologies. A Marxist socialist rather than a communist, Allende sought the national leadership through democratic elections, running several times for the presidency in the 1950s and 1960s. He was finally elected in 1970 at the head of a populist coalition, making him the first elected socialist leader in Latin America. Allende’s economic policies threatened American mining and manufacturing interests in Chile, causing alarm in the US. He also sought financial aid and military supplies from the USSR. After months of tension and attempted coups, Allende’s government was deposed by a military junta, headed by Augusto Pinochet. Allende was either murdered or forced to commit suicide, after which Pinochet’s regime embarked on a brutal recrimination campaign that saw thousands of Allende supporters arrested, tortured and murdered.
Andropov, Yuri (1914-1984) was a former KGB chief who become Soviet leader in late 1982, serving until his death in February 1984. Andropov was born into a comparatively affluent family in southern Russia but was orphaned at a young age. He joined the Communist Party as a teenager and later fought against the Nazis in Finland. Andropov became a party official in the early 1950s and in 1954 was appointed as Moscow’s ambassador to Hungary. In 1967 he was appointed chairman of the KGB, overseeing the suppression of domestic dissenters as well as the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. Andropov was also instrumental in Moscow’s decision to launch a military intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. In November 1982 Andropov was elected leader, following the death of Leonid Brezhnev. His tenure saw several crises and points of tension, including the failure of arms reduction talks, the shooting down of a Korean civilian airliner and Ronald Reagan’s labelling of the USSR as an “evil empire”. Andropov was in poor health for much of this time; he was bedridden for the final 10 weeks of his leadership. He died in February 1984 and was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko.
Blunt, Anthony (1907-1983) was a British war veteran and historian who was eventually exposed as a Soviet agent. A distant relative of the Queen Mother, Blunt served as an intelligence officer and MI5 agent during World War II. During his war service Blunt established contacts within the Soviet Union; he continued to supply them with information into the 1950s. He was eventually discovered and interrogated, giving a full confession in 1964. Blunt’s espionage was kept secret for 15 years, during which time he forged a reputation as an art historian at the University of London and received a knighthood. His secret was eventually exposed in 1979, leading to press persecution and embarrassment. Blunt passed away in 1983.
Bond, James (1953- ) is a fictional British secret agent and assassin, created by writer Ian Fleming. A member of the British MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service), the character of James Bond, also known as “Agent 007”, participated in Cold War espionage and covert action. Bond first appeared in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, where he undertakes a mission against a Russian double-agent in France. In subsequent stories Bond does battle with a succession of Russian and Asian communists, neo-Nazis and criminal masterminds. Bond often encounters members of SMERSH, a Russian counter-espionage team based on an actual Soviet agency during World War II. The first film adaptation came in 1962, with Sean Connery starring as Bond in Dr No. There have been 25 James Bond films since, along with a host of television and radio adaptations, cartoon strips, novels, spin-offs and prequels.
Brandt, Willy (1913-1992) was a German politician, the mayor of West Berlin and later the foreign minister and chancellor of West Germany. The illegitimate son of a working class mother, in his teens Brandt became a member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD). Wanted by the Nazis, he lived in hiding during the 1930s before escaping to Scandinavia. He returned to Germany after the war and worked as a journalist, before entering local politics and being elected mayor of Berlin’s western zones in 1957. Brandt claimed to be a socialist rather than a communist; he believed in reform through democracy and opposed the Soviet rule thrust onto eastern Europe. Brandt was a charismatic figure but he could also be firm, qualities he demonstrated during the Berlin crises of 1959-63. During the 1960s Brandt served as foreign minister in West Germany’s SPD government, before becoming chancellor in 1969. Brandt then unfolded the policy for which he is best remembered: Ostpolitik. Unlike his predecessors, he hoped to achieve reconciliation with East Germany by restoring communication and diplomatic relations. Brandt visited East Germany in March 1970 and participated in a series of summits with East German socialist leader Willi Stoph. He also signed non-aggression treaties with the Soviet Union and Poland, which helped to ease decades of European tensions. Brandt was forced out of the chancellorship in 1974 after one of his aides was revealed to be an East German spy.
Brezhnev, Leonid (1906-1982) was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982. A lifelong communist, Brezhnev joined the Red Army during World War II and reached the rank of major-general, though he served more as a commissar (political agent) than a military commander. Brezhnev was involved in Soviet politics during the early 1950s, becoming a member of the Central Committee and then the Politburo. Until 1963 Brezhnev had been loyal to incumbent leader Nikita Khrushchev – but like other high-ranking Soviet politicians he was disappointed with Khrushchev’s handling of both Berlin and the Cuban missile crisis. Though details are sketchy, it is believed that Brezhnev, who replaced Khrushchev as Soviet leader in 1964, played a leading role in the latter’s removal. Under Brezhnev, aspects of Stalinist domestic control were revived, albeit without the murderous violence. Khrushchev’s liberal reforms were wound back; censorship of the press, literature and the arts was increased; while the investigative and arrest powers of state security agencies were restored. But even more devastating were Brezhnev’s economic policies, which were anti-reformist and pushed the USSR into a decade of stagnation and negative growth. In terms of foreign policy, Brezhnev’s government simply continued the thaw in US-USSR relations that had begun under Khrushchev. For this reason Brezhnev is considered one of the architects of the 1970s detente. Brezhnev died in office in November 1982, though poor health had kept him out of the public spotlight for many months.
Byrnes, James F (1879-1972) was the US Secretary of State after World War II and an early contributor to American Cold War policy. Descended from Irish Catholic immigrants, Byrnes never attended school but was self-educated enough to train as a lawyer, gaining admission to the bar in 1903. He was elected to Congress in 1911, where he served three decades both in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Byrnes was appointed Secretary of State by Harry Truman in July 1945, despite having minimal experience abroad or with foreign policy matters. A liberal Democrat, Byrnes strongly opposed Soviet expansion and urged self-determination in European countries. Byrnes is best known for his September 1946 address in Germany, the so-called ‘Speech of Hope’, which pledged American support for German sovereignty and, in time, a return to German independence. Byrnes resigned as Secretary of State in 1947 and later become governor of South Carolina.
Carter, Jimmy (1924- ) was the 39th president of the United States, his presidency spanning the final years of Cold War detente. A former naval officer and peanut farmer, Carter entered politics in the 1960s and served one term as state governor of Georgia (1971-75). Carter was elected president in November 1976, defeating the incumbent Gerald Ford. During his presidency Carter was confronted with several major challenges: lingering discontent over Watergate, the stigma of defeat in Vietnam, conflicts in the Middle East, a paralysing energy crisis, a domestic economy hampered by debt and inflation, and the Iran hostage crisis. Carter did not adopt a strong Cold War position until late in his presidency, when he condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and increasing attempts to strengthen Soviet influence in the Persian Gulf. The Carter Doctrine, articulated in January 1980, promised that the US would use military force to protect its “vital interests” from Soviet encroachment into the Middle East. Carter gave weight to this promise by increasing America’s naval presence in the region. He also supported the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, as a direct response to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan in the November 1980 election.
Castro, Fidel (1926-2016) was a Cuban revolutionary and, from 1959, the island nation’s republican leader. Castro became interested and involved in left-wing politics while a law student in Havana. He was particularly concerned by the policies of US-backed Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista, which encouraged neglect, corruption and poverty among ordinary Cubans. In the early 1950s Castro participated in legal and non-violent opposition to Batista’s regime; when this failed he started the ‘Movement’, an armed group dedicated to removing Batista through revolution. Castro was imprisoned for a time before being released in 1955. He then undertook paramilitary and guerrilla warfare training in Mexico, recruiting Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and others. Castro returned to Cuba and waged a three year guerrilla and propaganda war against the unpopular Batista regime. Castro triumphed in 1959, appointed himself prime minister, announced land reform policies and the nationalisation of foreign-owned companies. Castro also courted the US, seeking recognition and financial aid; when these were refused he gravitated towards the Soviet Union. In 1961 Castro’s forces thwarted a poorly organised attempt at counter-revolution, conducted by Cuban-Americans and backed by the CIA (the Bay of Pigs invasion). Castro became paranoid about American attempts to assassinate or overthrow him. In 1962 he permitted the deployment of Soviet troops and missiles in Cuba, a decision that triggered the famous crisis in October that year. Though American hostility towards Castro and his regime cooled after the missile crisis, Castro’s Cuba remained a pariah state and was subject to trade, financial and diplomatic bans for the duration of the Cold War. Castro himself remained in power until 2011, when ill health forced his retirement. He died in November 2016.
Ceausescu, Nicolae (1918-1989) was the Stalinist dictator of Romania for more than three decades, until his removal in 1989. Born into a peasant family in southern Romania, Ceausescu became involved in communist groups through his father. By the late 1930s Ceausescu was wanted by state authorities; he was arrested and spent most of World War II in prisons or concentration camps. When communists seized control of Romania in 1947, Ceausescu was given a junior ministry and later a seat in the Politburo. Though never publicly prominent or an obvious candidate for leadership, Ceausescu was, like Stalin, a skilful manipulator who formed alliances and harvested supporters behind the scenes. In 1965 he was elected general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party and the de facto national leader. In the first few years of Ceausescu’s rule he differentiated himself from other Soviet bloc leaders by embracing open trade and communication with western Europe. Ceausescu also refused to commit Romanian forces to Warsaw Pact operations, like the 1968 suppression of the Prague Spring. But while Ceausescu was being hailed by the West, within Romania he was suffocating his people with destructive economic policies and social restrictions designed to increase the population. By the mid-1980s Romania was exporting large amounts of food to cover its foreign debts, while its people endured shortages and oppressive social policies. Ceausescu was eventually overthrown and executed in December 1989, after months of political tension and violence.
Chernenko, Konstantin (1911-1985) was the secretary of the Communist Party and leader of the Soviet Union for a brief period in the mid-1980s. Born into poverty in western Siberia, Chernenko completed military service in the 1930s, after which he became a party propagandist. By the 1950s he was a high-ranking party functionary and a protege of Leonid Brezhnev. When the latter replaced Khrushchev as Soviet leader in 1964, Chernenko was seconded into the government. In the 1970s he was elevated into the Central Committee, then the Politburo. When Yuri Andropov died in 1984, Chernenko was elected to replace him as Soviet leader, despite the latter’s own poor health. During his brief tenure Chernenko sought to restore Moscow’s trade and diplomatic relations with China, however he did little to ease US-Soviet relations, sometimes matching Ronald Reagan’s bellicose rhetoric. Chernenko died in March 1985 after just 13 months as leader and was succeeded by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Churchill, Winston (1874-1965) was the prime minister of Great Britain for much of World War II and then again between October 1951 and April 1955. Churchill was a liberal-conservative, famous for his antagonism towards totalitarian regimes. During the 1930s he urged strong action against Adolf Hitler, at a time when many in the British government were seeking to appease the Nazi leader. When World War II erupted in September 1939 Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. His revived credibility and public popularity led to Churchill becoming prime minister in May 1940, after the resignation of Neville Chamberlain. Churchill personally managed the British war effort, appointing himself minister of defence while also acting as head of government; he was also famous for his public appearances and forceful rhetoric. Churchill also formed a close working alliance with US president Franklin Roosevelt, though his relationship with another ally, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, was more cautious and measured. Churchill was ousted from the prime ministership in the July 1945 election, while he was attending the Yalta conference. With the Nazis defeated, Churchill warned of another form of totalitarianism threatening Europe, as Soviet troops stayed put in occupied nations. In March 1946, while touring the US, Churchill warned that an “iron curtain” was descending on Europe. Returned to the prime ministership in October 1951, Churchill maintained Cold War policies, consolidating the Anglo-American alliance and strengthening Britain’s intelligence agencies to deal with suspected Soviet agents. Age and ill health eventually forced Churchill into retirement in April 1955, and he died a decade later.
Cohn, Roy (1927-1986) was an American lawyer who served as Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man during the anti-communist witch hunts of the early 1950s. Born into an affluent New York family, Cohn graduated from Columbia in 1947 and immediately obtained a position with the US Attorney. Much of Cohn’s work there involved investigating and prosecuting suspected communist agents or activists, including the 1951 case against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Cohn was hired as McCarthy’s chief legal counsel in late 1951 and despite his youth was given considerable leeway in investigating and cross-examining suspected communists. In 1954 McCarthy and Cohn instigated hearings to investigate alleged communist infiltration of the US Army, an act some believe was motivated by Cohn’s personal relationship with a young army private. Discredited by these hearings, Cohn resigned from McCarthy’s staff and opened his own practice in New York City. He died from AIDS in 1986.
Alexander Dubcek (1921-1992) was a Czechoslovakian political leader, famous for overseeing the short-lived Prague Spring. Born in Slovakia, the young Dubcek joined a communist group there during World War II and participated in resisting the local pro-Nazi regime. After the war Dubcek entered national politics, becoming a member of the Czechoslovakian central committee and congress. In the mid-1960s Dubcek and his followers began to advocate reforms to address Czechoslovakia’s stagnating economy. He eventually emerged as the leader of the factionalised party and the nation, promising to create “socialism with a human face” through political liberalisation and economic reforms. Dubcek did this not to erode or undermine communism, but to strengthen it by attracting public support. Nevertheless his reformist policies threatened other Soviet bloc nations and, in August 1968, Warsaw Pact forces entered Czechoslovakia and ended the so-called Prague Spring. Dubcek was whisked away to Moscow for questioning and perhaps intimidation; he returned and remained in power for several months before resigning. By 1970 he had been forced out of politics altogether and was working a mundane job for the Slovakian civil service.
Dulles, Allen (1893-1969) was an American lawyer, diplomat and long-serving head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). A brother of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles spent most of the interwar years abroad on diplomatic postings. Part of this service included overseeing the European activities of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. In 1953 Dulles was appointed as the fifth Director of Central Intelligence and the first civilian to hold that position. Under Dulles’ nine year directorship the CIA escalated and refined its espionage activities, including U-2 reconnaissance flights, the backing of coups in Iran and Guatemala, and intelligence gathering on Castro’s Cuba. Dulles’ last major operation, the failed Bay of Pigs incursion into Cuba, led to his sacking by Kennedy in 1961.
Dulles, John Foster (1888-1959) was the United States Secretary of State between January 1953 and his death in mid-1959. Dulles was from a notable political family (both his uncle and his grandfather were Secretary of State before him). After military service in World War II, Dulles served briefly in the US Senate before being appointed as a member of Eisenhower’s cabinet. Dulles was vehemently opposed to communism, which he described as “godless terrorism”. His preferred foreign policy approach was not limited to containing communism but also liberating people already under its grip. Dulles was also an advocate of the Domino Theory: America’s growing interest and involvement in Vietnam occurred largely under his watch. He also played an active role in organising and negotiating several Cold War treaties, including ANZUS (1950) and SEATO (1954). Dulles died in May 1959, after suffering from bowel cancer during his last three years in office. His six years in charge of the US State Department were instrumental in hardening America’s strong position against communism.
Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1890-1969) was the 34th president of the United States, serving between January 1953 and the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in January 1961. Before entering politics Eisenhower was a career military officer: he had served as a full general in the United States Army, as the commander of all Allied forces in Europe during World War II and the supreme commander of NATO. Enormously popular with the public, Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election in a landslide. Anti-communist and a supporter of both the Truman Doctrine and the Domino Theory, Eisenhower’s two terms as president produced a significant escalation in the Cold War arms race, particularly with regard to America’s nuclear arsenal. His administration negotiated a ceasefire in the Korean War but at the same time became enmeshed in another Asian conflict, installing the pro-Western Diem regime in South Vietnam. The Space Race also unfolded during Eisenhower’s time in office; there was also a significant growth in the CIA and espionage and surveillance activities against Soviet interests.
Gorbachev, Mikhail (1931- ) was the last leader of the Soviet Union, whose domestic political and economic reforms contributed to the end of the Cold War. Born into a peasant family in southern Russia, the young Gorbachev benefited from a state-supplied education, graduating from Moscow University with a law degree in 1955. After finishing his studies Gorbachev joined the Communist Party and the bureaucracy and quickly rose through the ranks of both. He became involved in economic planning, overseeing reforms and improvements to agricultural production. By the 1970s Gorbachev was recognised as one of the Soviet Union’s brightest political talents. He was accepted onto the Central Committee in 1971 and the Politburo eight years later. During this period he was one of the party’s most widely traveled leaders, leading delegations and state visits to a number of Western countries. Gorbachev was elected as Soviet leader immediately after the death of Konstantin Chernenko in March 1985. Gorbachev was chosen for his youth, his robust health, his international experience and his ability to implement economic reform. Within three years of becoming leader he had announced two major policy shifts: perestrokia (‘restructuring’) and glasnost (‘openness’). Gorbachev also improved relations between the USSR and the West, dumping Andrei Gromyko from the foreign ministry and personally forging new ties with US president Ronald Reagan and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Gorbachev’s relaxation of political control permitted the liberal reforms that swept through Europe in the late 1980s. They also brought about the weakening and eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev himself was arrested and detained during a short-lived communist counter-coup in August 1991, which was thwarted by both political and popular opposition.
Gromyko, Andrei (1909-1989) was a Soviet politician who served as foreign minister for much of the Cold War. Born to a poor family in Belarus, was raised in the idealism of revolutionary Russia. He joined the Communist Party in his early teens and by the mid-1930s was a party organiser and school principal. In late 1939 Stalin appointed him as deputy ambassador to the US, despite Gromyko having almost no English and no experience with either diplomacy, foreign affairs or overseas travel. After World War II Gromyko also served as the Soviet delegate to the United Nations and Moscow’s ambassador to Great Britain. In 1957 Khrushchev appointed him Commissar (minister) for Foreign Affairs, a position he held for an astonishing 28 years. As might be expected, Gromyko played a significant role in shaping and enunciating Soviet foreign policy during this period. Gromyko was a devout communist but he was also a nationalist who sought to advance the interests of Soviet Russia, rather than ideological causes. He was renowned for his intelligence, memory and understanding of world affairs, though many non-Russians found him to be dull, uncommunicative and hard to convince (many Western diplomats dubbed him “Mister Nyet”). Gromyko was forced into retirement by the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, though he remained active in Soviet politics until a year before his death.
Guevara, Ernesto ‘Che’ (1928-1967) was an Argentinian doctor, writer and socialist revolutionary, famous for fighting alongside Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution. Born to an affluent middle class family in north-east Argentina, Guevara was an intellectually curious young man with interests in politics, economics, psychology and philosophy. He eventually studied and graduated in medicine, pausing his studies occasionally to take long motorcycle trips around South America. These travels gave Guevara some insight into the amount of poverty, corruption and exploitation in the continent. Guevara’s work as a doctor further exposed him to the poor, whose sufferings he largely attributed to oppressive governments backed by US capitalist interests. In 1955 Guevara met Fidel Castro and became involved in the struggle to overthrow the Batista government in Cuba. After Castro seized power in 1959, Guevara served as his lieutenant, providing advice and leadership on everything from military strategy to land reform to foreign relations. Guevara was also made famous by the world press, which romanticised him as a daring but highly intelligent ‘freedom fighter’. Guevara spent some time in Africa, supporting and advising revolutionary movements therefore, before returning to South America in late 1966. In October 1967 he was captured, tortured and executed by Bolivian government forces, acting with the support of CIA operatives.
Hammarskjöld, Dag (1905-1961) was the second secretary-general of the United Nations, from 1953 until his death in a suspicious plane accident in 1961. Born in southern Sweden, Hammarskjold qualified as a lawyer in 1930 before entering the Swedish civil service. An exceptional planner and negotiator, Hammarskjold participated in the conferences that developed the Marshall Plan, before becoming a Swedish delegate to the United Nations. In 1953 Hammarskjold became the UN secretary-general, a surprising appointment given his low profile. During his eight year tenure Hammarskjold attempted to mediate and resolve international crises in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, several of them connected to the Cold War. Hammarskjold was not popular, especially with major powers like the US and USSR, who considered him either too neutral or too interventionist. In September 1961 Hammarskjold and 14 others were killed when their plane exploded and crashed over Zambia, Africa. This incident prompted a raft of conspiracy theories that Hammarskjold was murdered by American, British or South African agents.
Hiss, Alger (1904-1996) was a US government employee who in 1948 was accused of spying for the Soviet Union. Born in Maryland and educated at Harvard, Hiss worked as a lawyer for the US Justice Department before joining the State Department in the mid-1930s. In the mid-1940s Hiss worked for the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, mainly on matters pertaining to the United Nations. In 1948 Hiss was named as being a member of the Communist Party and possibly a Soviet spy. Hiss became a target for communist hunters, particularly FBI director J Edgar Hoover and rising congressman Richard Nixon. In the autumn of 1948 Hiss appeared before HUAC and denied ever having been a communist, though his testimony failed to convince many. In 1949 Hiss was twice tried for committing perjury before HUAC; he was eventually found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in 1954 and continued to maintain his innocence until his death in 1996.
Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) was a Vietnamese revolutionary and left-wing political figure, who eventually became the leader of independent North Vietnam. Born Nguyen Sinh Huy, the young Ho left Vietnam in his early 20s, travelling through Asia, Europe and the Soviet Union. During his travels he worked menial jobs where he witnessed some of the worst aspects of capitalism, including worker exploitation and mistreatment – experiences that shaped his political views. In 1919 Ho lobbied the Paris peace conference for Vietnamese independence, but his overtures were ignored. Soon after he became a foundation member of the French communist movement, before living and studying for a time in the Soviet Union. In 1941 Ho returned to Vietnam and took charge of the Viet Minh, a coalition of nationalist and communist groups resisting Japanese occupation and pushing for Vietnamese independence. Ho and the Viet Minh claimed control of Vietnam briefly in 1945 but were displaced by the return of French colonial forces, sparking the eight year-long First Indochina War. In 1954 Vietnam was divided into two separate states, with Ho and the Viet Minh holding power in the north. In the 1960s the Western perception of Ho Chi Minh was of a communist dictator, but in reality North Vietnam was governed collaboratively by the communist Politburo; Ho was both a figurehead and an ideological mentor but he did not dominate government. When Ho died in 1969 communist officials ordered that his body be preserved and put on public display.
Honecker, Erich (1912-1994) was a long serving East German politician and leader. The son of a coal miner, Honecker was just 10 years old when he joined communist youth groups during the Weimar period. In 1935 he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned until the end of World War II. After his release Honecker became involved in the pro-Soviet Socialist Unity Party and gained a seat in the People’s Congress of the German Democratic Republic. By the late 1950s Honecker was a member of both the Politburo and the Central Committee. In 1961 he oversaw the security measures that led to the closure of East Germany’s borders and the construction of the Berlin Wall. By the early 1970s he was the most powerful figure in the East German government. Honecker’s policies sought to improve standards of living in East Germany while suppressing internal turmoil and preventing emigration or escape. In the late 1980s Honecker refused to embrace or adopt Gorbachev’s reformist policies, glasnost and perestroika, remaining committed to his own policies. But the growing tide of revolution in 1989 forced Honecker to relent, a move that led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and, in time, the reunification of Germany.
Hoover, J. Edgar (1895-1972) was the long-serving director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, an American domestic agency that played an important part in Cold War security. After completing a law degree, Hoover was recruited by the Justice Department during World War I and tasked with investigating enemy aliens and Americans with German sympathies. He later investigated suspected communists and radical unionists during the first Red Scare of 1918-19. In 1924 Hoover, still only in his 20s, was appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation; he remained in this role when it was re-formed as the FBI in 1935. Fanatical about the Bureau and given to mood swings and fits of temper, Hoover could be difficult to work with, but he also had a record of achieving results. Under his watch the FBI investigated bootleggers, gangsters, mafiosi, Nazi agents and communists. After World War II most of his attention was on the latter, as Hoover sought to identify Soviet spies and sympathisers. In 1956 Hoover authorised the formation of COINTELPRO, a secret FBI branch tasked with infiltrating and disrupting domestic political organisations, particularly left-wing and civil rights groups. COINTELPRO was successful, however some of its operations and methods, conducted with Hoover’s knowledge, were illegal. Hoover remained as FBI director into his 78th year, until his death from a heart attack in May 1972.
John Paul II (1920-2005) was the Pope of the Roman Catholic church between 1978 and 2005. Born Karol Wojtyla in southern Poland, he lived through the Nazi occupation of the 1940s, during which he decided to enter the Catholic priesthood. Wojtyla was ordained as a priest in 1946 and was posted to Krakow, not far from his hometown. Wojtyla was appointed bishop of Krakow in 1958, archbishop in 1964 and cardinal in 1967. After the sudden death of John Paul I in 1978, Wojtyla was elected pope at the comparatively young age of 58, taking the papal name John Paul II. Unlike other popes John Paul II was politically outspoken, a strong critic of anti-democratic regimes, such as the apartheid system in South Africa and the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Though he did not attack the Soviet Union or its leaders directly, John Paul II condemned communism as a way of thinking and encouraged the people in communist countries to “change the image of this land” through peaceful resistance. John Paul II’s ideological and spiritual support was an important factor in the demands for reform that spread through eastern Europe in the late 1980s.
Johnson, Lyndon Baines (1908-1973) was the 36th president of the United States, taking office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy until his retirement in 1968. Born in south-central Texas, Johnson began his adult life teaching disadvantaged American and Hispanic children in a small school. He became involved in politics during the 1930s and in 1937 was elected to the US House of Representatives, before moving into the Senate after serving in World War II. Politically, Johnson was a progressive Democrat; he nurtured an ambitious vision of a ‘Great Society’ where the state would provide civil rights, welfare, education, subsidised healthcare and relief for the poor. In 1961 Johnson was elected as Kennedy’s vice-president; one of the roles assigned to Johnson was oversight of the US space program, with a view to overtaking the Soviets. In November 1963 Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas and Johnson was sworn in as president hours later. Inexperienced in foreign policy, the new president generally followed advice from his advisors, particularly defence secretary Robert McNamara and his generals. When they urged American military intervention in Vietnam, Johnson agreed, though he baulked at a full-scale invasion that might bring China or the Soviet Union into the war. In 1967 Johnson hosted Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin at a bilateral conference in New Jersey, where they discussed Vietnam and the Arab-Israeli conflict of that year. The lack of progress in Vietnam, along with the high number of US casualties, caused Johnson’s popularity to plummet, and in March 1968 he announced that he would not seek re-election later that year.
Kennan, George (1904-2005) was an American diplomat, who served in Europe and the Soviet Union during and after World War II. A specialist in Russian history and language, Kennan was posted to Moscow in 1945, where he had the opportunity to observe and study Soviet attitudes. In February 1946 Kennan drafted a lengthy communique – later dubbed the ‘Long Telegram’ – that summarised his findings. This document, which spoke ominously about Soviet intentions and urged a policy of containment, contributed to the hardening of America’s foreign policy in the early years of the Cold War. Kennan was appointed as US ambassador to the USSR in 1951, however he was expelled from Moscow four months later, after complaining about the living conditions in the American embassy. Kennan later entered academia and became a prominent historian, specialising in 20th century Russia and the Cold War.
Kennedy, John F. (1917-1963) was the 35th president of the United States, from his inauguration in January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. Kennedy was young and politically inexperienced, however he was also strongly anti-communist and took a hard line on foreign policy issues. The three Cold War flashpoints during Kennedy’s presidency were Berlin, Cuba and south-east Asia. Early in his presidency he authorised an existing plan to topple Castro using exiled Cuban paramilitary forces; the failure of this mission, dubbed the Bay of Pigs invasion, proved embarrassing for the new president. Kennedy met with Khrushchev in Vienna in mid-1961 and took a strong line with regard to Berlin, a position that contributed to the Berlin crisis and the erection of the Berlin Wall shortly after. He later visited West Berlin to show solidarity with the people there, delivering one of the best known speeches of the Cold War. Kennedy is best known for his delicate handling of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, a fortnight of brinkmanship and high tension that threatened to explode into war. Kennedy was murdered while touring Dallas in November 1963 and the presidency passed to his deputy, Lyndon Johnson.
Kennedy, Robert F. (1925-1968) was an American lawyer, politician and presidential aspirant, until his assassination in 1968. The seventh child of the powerful Kennedy clan, Robert F Kennedy was educated at Harvard and the University of Virginia, graduating in law. He began working with his older brother, John F Kennedy, in the early 1950s, serving both as a legal advisor and campaign manager. In 1952 Kennedy also worked briefly as a legal counsellor to Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose activities Kennedy largely supported. In early 1961 Kennedy was appointed US attorney-general by his brother, after the latter was elected president. Though Kennedy’s brief did not extend to foreign policy, he offered the president crucial advice and support during the Bay of Pigs fiasco (1961), the Berlin crisis (1961) and the Cuban missile affair (1962). After John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Robert Kennedy resigned as attorney-general and made a successful run for the US Senate. He was shot dead in Los Angeles in June 1968, while campaigning for the Democratic Party’s nomination as presidential candidate.
Khrushchev, Nikita (1894-1971) was leader of the Soviet Union from the death of Stalin in 1953 until his deposition in 1964. A veteran of the Russian Revolution, the Russian Civil War and World War II, Khrushchev was a hardened communist who rose through the ranks of the party, in part because of his loyalty to Stalin. This loyalty extended to his direct involvement in Stalin’s purges of the Communist Party in the 1930s. In 1937 Khrushchev was appointed party chief in the Ukraine; during World War II he served on the Eastern Front and in Stalingrad as a party commissar. In 1949 Khrushchev was recalled to Moscow by Stalin, who feared a move against him and wanted to surround himself with acolytes. When Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev became a contender for the Soviet leadership, though he first had to stave off challenges from others, including secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria. It took Khrushchev some time to consolidate his power, however by February 1956 he was established enough to deliver his famous ‘Secret Speech’, in which Khrushchev denounced the tyranny, brutality and “abuse of power” perpetrated by his former mentor Stalin. On the international front, Khrushchev enjoyed amicable relations with the US initially, though his ranting speeches and ultimatums on Berlin in the late 1950s were criticised in the West. In 1961 Khrushchev attempted to intimidate the incoming president, John F Kennedy, at a summit in Vienna; the following year he authorised the installation of Soviet missile launchers in Cuba. Khrushchev’s handling of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis prevented war, however Soviet hardliners perceived it as a defeat. Khrushchev was eventually forced out of power in 1964 and took no further part in Soviet politics.
Kissinger, Henry (1923- ) was an American diplomat, security advisor and politician, who rose to serve as Secretary of State between 1973 and 1977. Born to a Jewish family in Germany, Kissinger’s family emigrated to New York in the late 1930s. In 1943 he joined the army and was assigned to military intelligence, in part because of his ability to speak German. After the war Kissinger attended Harvard to study political science; he graduated with a doctorate and remained on staff as a lecturer. In the 1960s Kissinger provided foreign policy and security advice to several prominent politicians, including Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon. In 1969 Kissinger became Nixon’s National Security Advisor, where his advice shaped Nixon’s attitudes and policies, both to the Vietnam War and Cold War detente. Kissinger visited Maoist China in 1971, as a forerunner to Nixon’s visit there the following year; he also represented the US in peace negotiations with Hanoi, which led to the US withdrawal from Vietnam. Though he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in securing a ceasefire in Vietnam, Kissinger and his political service remain controversial.