The Cold War
The cold war was a period when there was a protracted struggle between the United States and the Soviet immediately after the Second World War. The war was not physical per se, but an ideological, economic and geopolitical struggle which witnessed each country being supported by different allies depending on the ideologies they stood for. The cold war lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The confrontation was called the cold war because there was no direct hostility between the two major super powers at that time that is the US and the Soviet Union. Instead, the war took the form of an arms race encompassing nuclear and conventional weapons, formation of military alliances, economic warfare and targeted trade embargos. The war also witnessed a great use of propaganda and disinformation, espionage and counterespionage. Other tactics during this period included proxy wars in the developing world with each superpower getting support from different countries.
Several events contributed to the development of the cold war. The first major event was the tensions that arose between the United States and the Soviet Union immediately after the Second World War. As the war came to an end, the Soviet Union started laying claim to most parts of Eastern Europe and Korea1. The further tried to occupy the northernmost Island in Japan known as Hokkaido and started giving military and logistic support to Mao Zedong who was trying to overthrow the Chinese Nationalist Forces. There was further escalation of tensions between the Soviet Union and the Western countries in the three year period from 1945-1947 when the western countries realized Joseph Stalin was trying to take control of Central and Eastern Europe2. Concerns about the continued Soviet influence were echoed in a March 5, 1946 speech made by Winston Churchill at Westminster College where he raised concerns about the “Iron curtain” descend on Eastern Europe. American economic expansionism is also cited as the other cause of the cold war, with the Marshall Plan and its conditions being seen as the major contributor.
The geopolitical and ideological tensions between the superpowers were accompanied by another challenge that emerged immediately after WW II and this problem was the international development of nuclear weapons. Some countries like Russia were against such control and insisted that it amounted to undermining the sovereignty of other countries. Global realignments were also driven by polices like the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Blockade, the Berlin Airlift and also the first detonation of the atomic bomb by the Soviet Union and the formation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact in 1949 and 1955 respectively. The cold war escalated to a high level when both superpowers witnessed a change in leadership and Cuban Missile Crisis in 19623.
The Second World War played a significant role in the development of the cold war. Two months after Germany had surrendered, the presidents of the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union, that is, Winston Churchill, Stalin, H. Truman met with the aim of discussing the fate of Germany. The crucial issue under discussion was the issue of reparations. Whereas the Soviet Union wanted Germany to be rebuild using the German industry, the US feared that it would have to bear the whole cost of rebuilding the country which would also lead to rebuilding of the Soviet Union. Thus the main issue of discussion was on who was to bear responsibility of controlling Europe. The US was against this since it wanted countries to be given the opportunity to chart their own destiny as declared in the FOURTEEN POINT PLAN4 while the Soviets viewed it as unacceptable and went on to create the “Iron Curtain” as described by Winston Churchill. According to Churchill
Thus, after WW II, whereas the US and Britain were making every efforts to ensure that Germany was unified under western rule, the Soviet Union on the other hand was consolidating its grip on Europe by creating other states in 1946-47. The Soviet Union thus facilitated the setting up of communist states that pledged loyalty to the government in Moscow. Thus countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary were turned into communist states abiding to the Soviet Union. During the Second world war, the US and British governments followed a policy that was meant to ensure there was an end to the nuclear arms race. This was precipitated by the destruction witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, Stalin had already began developing the nuclear bomb and did not follow the US led disarmament plan, but instead wanted a fully end to nuclear development and destruction of existing bombs since it felt that the US wanted to hold monopoly over nuclear weapons. These disagreements further escalated the war.
The Cold war had a significant impact on the American society in terms of its politics and ways of life. The impact of the cold war was felt across the social, political and cultural spheres of the American society. The impact was felt across diverse sectors ranging from Hollywood, to institutions of higher learning, to civil right movements. The threat of nuclear confrontation and the perceived influence of communism led to the formation of various Acts and systems like the National Defense Education Act5. The cold war influenced other key sectors like the arts, movies and sports. The fear of communism led to sweeping political changes across the world with the US government to get involved in costly confrontations like the Vietnam War6. The cold war resulted in some of the highest budgetary allocations to militaries to support both internal and external propagation of different ideologies. The end of the cold war played a key role in shaping American foreign policy. Nuclear weapons confrontations were part of the cold war and the impact of the confrontations became profoundly influential on the politics and general outlook of the American society. The impact continues to be felt to this day with president Obama’s efforts to create a nuclear free world through getting little support from Russia which is still uncomfortable with the issue. Another sector that witnessed a great transformation as a result of the cold war was the field of science and technology with the establishment of new institutions like the CIA. The cold war motivated the US to start focusing more on strategies to prevent war, rather than engaging in wars.
In conclusion therefore, the cold war was an event that greatly shaped the current socio-political settings of not only the American society, but the rest of the world too. Events preceding the Second World War fuelled the cold war among superpowers trying to promote different ideological agendas, although it can be said that there was no real fighting, nonetheless, the effects to society were enormous.
Foner, E (2008). Give Me Liberty! An American History. New York: W.W. Norton7.
Gaddis, J (1992). Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States. An Interpretative History.
McMahon, R (2003). The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction. Boston: Bantam Books