The Cold War was a period of tension between the two post Second World War Superpowers, the United States and Soviet Union. Relations between the two sides were cold because of ideological differences and mutual suspicion. Bolshevism in Eastern Europe was considered to be a threat by the West. In return, the West was seen as a threat to the development of Communism. As Churchill put it, an ‘Iron Curtain’ was drawn shut, splitting Europe along ideological lines. With atomic weapons already used by the United States and under development by the USSR, the Cold War was one in which a fear of mutually assured destruction was feared. It led to stockpiling of arms, espionage and the support of regimes around the world that helped to support one ideology, or the other.
The Cold War is the story of the stand off between the USA and USSR. It began as the Second World War ended. At the leaders conferences the different views on the future of Europe had become clear. Spheres of influence were discussed, then taken once the war was over. In the east, soviet style government was introduced across numerous countries. Germany was split into zones, becoming East Germany, under Soviet control and West Germany overseen by the Western Allies. Berlin became a symbol of the struggle between the different ideologies. The Berlin Wall was a physical barrier that symbolised the differences between the two sides and the difficulties that there were in gaining any kind of mutual understanding.
People were separated from loved ones as the superpowers locked down their spheres of influence. Popular culture transformed as film, television, artwork, theatre and literature sought to paint a picture of ideological superiority. The world of sport saw international competition disrupted. Freedom of expression became hard in both the ‘free world’ and the Soviet Block as McCarthyism sought out ‘Commies’ in the United States and censorship and it’s enforcement limited expression in the Soviet block.
Phase 1 of the Cold War
After the war the spheres of influence agreed at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam were put into place. Berlin was used as a political tool almost straight away. By 1950 some 15 million Germans had migrated from East to West creating a refugee crisis. The two sides of the Iron Curtain began putting things into place for the running of their spheres. The Soviet Union introduced Cominform and Comecon. These linked the Soviet Satellite States. Through this, aid was given to other Communist countries through the Molotov Plan of 1949. At the same time the west was introducing the Marshall Plan and it’s system of governing West Germany developed into what is known as Bizonia. The West also formed NATO to collaborate on military matters, the East developed the Warsaw Pact.
Phase 2 of the Cold War
The initial stage of the Cold War had seen the ideological differences become clear. Bizonia and the Eastern Bloc had become geographically and politically defined. The Truman Doctrine had informed Western thinking. Stalinism dominated the policy of the east. In the mid 1950s the Cold War began to change. This is in part due to the death of Stalin. With Stalin being denounced in Moscow and a new regime coming into power, the Cold War took a new direction.
The Satellite States continued to be controlled. An example of this is Hungary. Having already seen one leader executed, the Soviets now moved to impose a politburo style government which removed the incumbent leader, Rakosi, from power and left rule in the name of Nagy with a presidium in place. Policy in the Far East also changed in the 1950s,, with conflict erupting in Korea and Vietnam in this decade.
With Communist governments appearing in some countries in the Far East, there was a fear of it spreading throughout the region. The US, French and British poured troops and funds into a variety of localised conflicts to bolster the position of the pro-western forces in the area. It led to bloody conflicts such as those on the Korean peninsula, in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
Phase 3 of the Cold War
Khrushchev began to flex his political muscles in the late 1950s. This led to the superpowers meeting in Paris for a summit in 1960. It was designed to limit the risk of a nuclear conflict. It was interrupted by news of a US spy plane being shot down in Soviet air space. The U2 incident posed a huge risk to diplomatic relations.
Both of the superpowers went through periods of showing their military strength. It led to advances in the types of nuclear weapon. The Soviets tested a Tsar Bomb that on its own was more powerful than all of the weapons used in the Second World War combined. Stockpiles were amassed and shown off as a reminder from one side to the other that any attempt to undermine authority could be met with the most deadly of responses.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s this was the backdrop to everyday life in many parts of the world. Adverts were used to inform people about what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. The fear of such attacks was exaggerated through propaganda. Nuclear War became a real threat as the Soviet Union made attempts to set up missile sites on the island of Cuba. Situated close to the South East of mainland United States, this would provide the Soviets with the potential to do much damage. A stand off, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, saw the deployment and use of the weapons averted.
Phase 4 of the Cold War
Following the Cuban Missile Crisis there were attempts by the Soviet Union and United States to reach some level of understanding. A hotline allowed the leaders of the two countries to talk in the time of crisis. Talks began between the two superpower. The process was slow. Even as late as the 1980s the USA were labelling the USSR as ‘the evil empire’ and spending vast amounts of money on intercontinental missiles.
The Cold War came to an end as the Soviet Union changed. Under extreme economic pressure the Soviet Union implemented policies of Perestroika and Glasnost. The last leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev, was able to build a warmer relationship with the west. As his soviet state crumbled, so too did the empire of satellite states it had dominated. The Berlin Wall fell, governments began to express themselves more openly. Finally, Russia itself decided enough was enough: the Soviet Union and with it the Cold War, were over.