The global Cold War was a significant time for the entire world, as the citizens of every country watched on the edge of their seats to see who would make the next move. Nuclear power sent the world into a frenzy and the aftermath of World War II provided the perfect backdrop for a new global-scale conflict. People were scrambling to diffuse the situation while others waited in fear for the worst-case scenario. The Cold War is known as a time of high tensions, nuclear threats, and depending on where one lived at the time, Communist agendas. The primary sources “New Democracy,” “On Decolonization,” and “Approaching Tenochtitlan” showcase the fact that the Cold War was important for world history because it was directly caused by the aftermath of the World Wars, it signified a completely new type of warfare, and it derived from the pre-industrialization era.
The aftermath from both World War I and World War II was devastating for all parties involved. In Russia, one third of the country’s wealth had been destroyed (Pollard et al. 723). In addition, 27 million Russian people had died: 7 million were military soldiers and 20 million were civilians (Pollard et al. 723). While the United States was on the winning side of the conflict, there were still significant costs and deaths that came from the war. Many Western countries feared that Russia was going to lean on Communism in this time of desperation and that it would create new Communist regimes outside of its borders (Pollard et al. 730). This created paranoia among the Western, liberal countries. The world had become divided based on the alignment of that territory, with half of Europe joining NATO, with the United States, and the other half aligning with Russia under the Warsaw Pact (Pollard et al. 731). This escalated tensions in other countries around the world. In “New Democracy,” Mao Zedong uses strong imagery to indicate a true sentiment against the Western ideals. He states that all foreign materials should be chewed up, digested, mixed with stomach acids, and then absorbed into “waste matter to be discarded” (Zedong, New Democracy, p. 756). Zedong was passionate and was trying to inspire fear and motivation for Marx’s Communist ideals into his people. He calls the Western worldview a “mistaken viewpoint” (Zedong, New Democracy, p. 756), and then goes on to explain that the Chinese people must apply Marx’s ideals completely and accept them fully. This evidence from the primary document “New Democracy” shows the desperation and determination that people had after World War II was over and parts of the world were destroyed, with little money to begin rebuilding projects.
When the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, a completely new feeling washed over the world. The United States had officially proven that epic-scale weapons were possible and could be implemented. This sent the world into a nuclear arms race, each country paranoid that the other would use the weapon. Warfare had now changed. It was now based on fear, paranoia, and extremely high tensions without physical or geographical fighting. Essentially, the world could be destroyed without a solider ever having to come face to face with another human being (Pollard et al. 732). In “On Decolonization,” Frantz Fanon argues the impact that the conflict between Western powers has had on other colonies, such as African countries and South America. He states that “every time Western values are mentioned they produce in the native a sort of stiffening or muscular lockjaw” (Fanon, “On Decolonization,” p. 758). In this statement, he is expressing the fact that the colonies were beginning to feel the burden of the shift in power away from the European powers and white forces, and were leaning towards their own liberalization. He mentions “the supremacy of the white man’s values” (Fanon, “On Decolonization,” p. 758), which essentially refers to the concept that these territories were sick of being controlled by white supremacy. They supported decolonization because they were tired of being dragged in to the escalating conflict around the world. Therefore, this primary source emphasizes the global scale that the Cold War reached and the fact that this was not just a tension between two individual nations. The stakes had been raised and many other countries were beginning to feel the pressure that was mounting with every day that went by. This was a worldwide conflict that shook every country in the world to its core, which signified a transition in the style of warfare that was beginning to emerge for many of the major powers.
Before industrialization, the world powers had conquered other countries and territories, each with the interest of spreading their imperial power as far as it would go. The first European explorers were looking for new ways to find wealth, and were beginning to realize that there were other locations in the world that housed valuable minerals and resources. Europe had been ravaged by the plague, which meant they needed to find more resources in new locations (Pollard et al., p. 422). This led to the race to conquer the new world, and the major European powers began to exploit resources for their own gain wherever they could. This would also establish new trading routes and “new sea-lanes” in the Atlantic Sea (Pollard et al., p. 423). Those routes would be beneficial for commerce and economic development, which would later lead to a scramble where each country set out to divide and conquer. White supremacy is what started colonization in the first place, and established European power. In “Approaching Tenochtitlan,” Cortes refers to the previous practices of the civilization there as being “barbarous” and cut off from “other civilized peoples” (Cortes, “Approaching Tenochtitlan,” p. 448). Cortes and his explorers viewed these primitive societies as “barbarous” and “uncivilized” (Cortes, “Approaching Tenochtitlan,” p. 448), and believed that their society could be the one to turn them around and make them into model citizens. They believed that they had the right to take over and make these people become more like their own society, which, in their view, was the proper way to be civilized. Cortes wanted to “teach them that they were to adore but one God” and worship the same things the Spanish did (Cortes, “Approaching Tenochtitlan,” p. 448). The Cold War reinforced the slipping notion of white supremacy and the decolonization process that would inspire liberalization movements to fight this theory. Fanon also refers to the need to fight the long-lasting white supremacist powers (Fanon, “On Decolonization,” p. 758). Therefore, pre-industrialization is important to the study and understanding of the Cold War because both time periods are directly connected in the theme of conquest. The colonization had led to escalating conflicts that caused the World Wars, and now it was causing decolonization to take effect.
The global Cold War was caused by the aftermath of World War I and II, signified a new era of warfare, and had its real origins in the pre-industrialization era, and this is highlighted in the selected primary sources. The Cold War was a time when people were on edge, unsure of who they could trust and how they should go about their lives with such impending disaster on the brinks. Both the United States and Russia escalated their conflict, creating rising tensions in the world around them. People were scared and unsure of where to turn, and the fact that no physical fighting was happening or planned made the entire situation worse. Therefore, the Cold War signified a new, nuclear, global-scale style of warfare where the whole world becomes involved and the potential damage is catastrophic. This makes it an integral subject when studying the history of the world.
Cortes, Hernan. “Approaching Tenochtitlan (1521).” Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, Volume 2:
Robert Tignor, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, p. 448.
Fanon, Frantz. “On Decolonization (1961).” In Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, Volume 2: From
1000 CE to the Present, edited by Elizabeth Pollard, Clifford Rosenberg, and Robert
Tignor, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, p. 758.
Pollard, Elizabeth, Rosenberg, Clifford, and Tignor, Robert. Worlds Together, Worlds Apart,
Volume 2: From 1000 CE to the Present. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.
Zedong, Mao. “New Democracy (1940).” In Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, Volume 2: From
1000 CE to the Present, edited by Elizabeth Pollard, Clifford Rosenberg, and Robert
Tignor, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, p. 756.