The Cold War is defined as the period of time after World War II ended in 1945 and the Soviet Union began to spread communism, causing tension between Western World democracies until it ended in 1991.
Although it wasn’t an actual “war”, it created a number of smaller conflicts including the arms race, the space race, and proxy wars. The United States and the Soviet Union became known as “super powers”.
The U.S. led the Western World countries that were aligned with them and the Soviet Union led the Eastern European counties that it had taken over.
The Allies Never Trusted the Soviet Union
Even though the Soviet Union fought on the side of the Allies during World War II, there was little trust in the Soviet Union as most knew that the intent of Joseph Stalin, the merciless leader of the Soviet Union was to take over other countries and spread communism.
Where democracy offers many freedoms, communism was the exact opposite. Stalin’s forced all people to live under his brutal command and anyone that disagreed was thrown in prison or killed.
The Soviet Union proved the suspicions correct with the building of the Berlin Wall after WW II. The wall separated Communist East Germany from Democratic West Germany.
Communism vs Democracy: Proxy Wars
There were a few countries that were also communist that were aligned with the Soviet Union. These countries, along with others and the help of the Soviet Union with the supply of weapons, attacked other countries in an attempt to take them over.
These were known as “Proxy Wars” and included the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Soviet Afghanistan War, and the Yom Kippur War.
They were wars fought with help on one side by the Soviet Union and by the U.S. support on the other side.
Space and Arms Race; the Red Scare
Both superpowers made attempts at demonstrating that each outweighed the other with their technology.
The Space Race was designed to achieve space exploration first and both the Soviet Union and the U.S. devoted millions of dollars to these projects.
The U.S. had brought most of the German scientists to America after WW II and had a distinct advantage over the Soviet Union with the more advanced German rockets.
The Arms Race was both sides stockpiling weapons, including nuclear bombs, under the excuse of protecting themselves from each other, but with the purpose of potentially attacking each other.
People in the U.S. began to fear a possible nuclear attack and this spread what is known as the “Red Scare”. Bomb shelters were established in every community along with sirens that would alert of an incoming bomb.
Children were taught to hide under their desks in school in case of attack. No one informed any citizen that these efforts would be useless against a nuclear bomb falling near them.
The Iron Curtain
As the Soviet Union overtook various countries and imposed communism on the people, these countries were called the “Soviet bloc.” At Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill, Britain’s former Prime Minister gave a famous speech on March 5, 1946. Churchill condemned the policies of the Soviet Union in Europe.
The term “Iron Curtain” was later used as a description of the border between those in Eastern Europe that joined the Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact, and those in the West that did not.
The countries that joined the Pact included the Soviet Union and its communist satellite nations: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania; and each pledged cooperation and mutual assistance to help each other in case of problems (or war).
The Pact was a rival to the West’s organization of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that had formed to stop the expansion of communism during the Cold War.
The Collapse of the Soviet Union
The election of Mikhail Gorbachev to the position of General Secretary of the Soviet Union in 1985 let him see how terribly bad things were within the country.
Everything was falling apart and Gorbachev knew that they needed to make changes. Hardline communists didn’t agree and made things worse.
Many of the countries that they had taken over began to rebel and demanded independence. The problems finally ended on December 24, 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Gorbachev gave his resignation.
Those that were demanding independence broke up into 15 separate and independent countries.
Facts about the Cold War:
- Even though the Soviet Union had fallen, international law allowed Russia to be the successor state and this gave them the right to keep the nuclear weapons and the seat on the Security Council of the United Nations that was held by the Soviet Union.
- The Space Race success in the U.S. was due to the vision of President John F. Kennedy and the genius of former German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, who later became director of Marshall Space Flight Center.
- Alcoholism is a very big problem in Russia. During the time that Gorbachev held power, one of his reforms was to try to reduce alcoholism by limiting alcohol consumption.
- During the Cold War, the U.S. had more than 270,000 troops stationed in West Germany through until the 1950’s. There are still a large number of troops and specialists on those bases.
- The Cold War created the concept of the internet. The U.S. Department of Defense created an elite technical and scientific research center called ARPA and it was there that they connected multiple computers using the original technologies that were later formed for exchanging email and small files.