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The Cold War: History, ideologies, and effects

Updated on January 7, 2016

History

(Russia, Soviet Russia and Soviet Union will be used interchangeably. United States and America will also be used to mean the same concept.)

Great Britain joined the Franco-Russian alliance during World War I. These three countries were to become the original Allied Powers. In August 1914, Colonel Edward House predicted two possibilities for America: that if the Allies would win the war, Soviet Russia was to hold control of the world and that if Germany was to win, then it would mean the unspeakable domination of tyranny and military fascism that many generations will have to face. America clearly examined its options and having made its decision, joined the Allied Powers in 1917.

Though America and Soviet Russia are both members of the Allied Powers, there always existed a tension between them. This tension is primarily rooted to the difference of the two in terms of prevailing ideologies. America is often described as being on the right side of the political spectrum while Russia is on the left. In America, it is capitalism which is the dominant ideology while in Russia it is communism.

Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact which hoped to remove Russia from the World War II context. However, in June 1941, Hitler invaded Russia despite the treaty. This greatly grew Stalin’s suspicion and anger. Despite having had reservations in joining World War II, Stalin reasserted Russia’s alliance to the Allied Powers with the claim of territories of the Baltic States and parts of Poland, Finland, and Rumania (this territorial claim was included in the Nazi-Soviet Pact) in mind. After the fall of Nazi Germany and Japan in the Second World War, Stalin reinstated Russia’s territorial problems which America has convinced him then to settle at a later time. This alarmed American policy-makers greatly.

In 1967, Stalin delivered a speech to a meeting of voters of the Stalin Electoral District in Moscow where he said that communism and capitalism were incompatible. This speech is considered by some as an informal start of the Cold War. However, Lafeber, in his book America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-1966 stated that “the Cold War consequently developed on a foundation of a half century of Russian-American distrust and apprehension.” All three wars began in Europe and were ended by the two superpowers, America and Soviet Russia.

“We must not forget that the Cold War has been a direct consequence of the Second World War, even more than the Second World War was the direct consequence of the First” (Lukacs, 1967).

In July 17 to August 2 of 1945, the Allies agree in a meeting held at Potsdam, to the fundamental conditions of German occupation. The aims were demilitarization, denazification, democratization, decentralization and decartelization. In the aftermath of this rendezvous referred to as “the Potsdam conference”, only four days later, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki. Several countries were also converted to Soviet satellite states, including the People’s Republic of Poland, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, and the Czechoslovak Republic among others.

In 1947, the United States’ President Truman established through the Truman Doctrine that it would extend political, military and economic assistance to any democratic nation subjected to or threat of control under external or internal authoritarian forces. US Secretary of State Marshall also announces its massive aid program for the reconstruction of European countries damaged in World War II, eventually this would be known as the Marshall Plan. In 1948, Czechoslovakia was fully under communist rule.

The Soviet side of the blockade, the west side, is isolated from the outside world beginning June 24. Provisions and amendments sent by the Americans are delivered through the Berlin Air Bridge action. This blockade leads to the first major Berlin Crisis during the Cold War. Stalin lifted the blockade on May 12, 1949. In the same year, on May 23, the US-controlled portion of Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany is established. Soon after, on October 7, the Soviet-backed German Democratic Republic was founded. Mao Zedong also assumes leadership of the People’s Republic of China after winning the civil war.

The Korean War waged from 1950-1953. North Korea, allied with China and Russia, attacks South Korea. The United States leads troops sent by UN to invade the country. Russia and America were, for a time, on cease-fire, leaving them in a pre-war status.

Various uprisings take place from 1953-1956 but they were all ultimately disempowered by the Russians. In 1955, the Federal Republic of Germany joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and later organized an armed force, the first after the fall of Hitler. The Suez Crisis occurs in 1956 when Egyptians failed an attempt of nationalizing the Suez Canal. Israel, France and Great Britain occupied the Suez Canal and bombed Egyptian air fields. A Soviet leader threatens Paris and London with a nuclear war.

Construction of the Berlin Wall started in 1961. In the same year, Russia secretly places nuclear warheads in Cuba, one of its ally states, allegedly to break a war on America. When the United States was aware of the plans of Soviet Russia, it instigated a nuclear tension lasting 13 days. This is what became known the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1962, in a UN meeting, US ambassador Stevenson announced that it would not back down if a war would be waged in America. Russia, in the end, agreed to withdraw all its missiles in Cuba with the premise that US would not invade Cuba.

The Vietnam War lasted from the mid-1950s until 1975. North Vietnam (sometimes the Communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and its revolutionary movement, the Viet Cong, were under Soviet control. The Vietnam War, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, is one of the many proxy wars that happened during the Cold War era. This was the second of two major wars that occurred in Indochina. The first was between Communist-Vietnamese and France, backed by US. The United States replaced France completely in the second war. The Communists won in 1975, leaving America in a state of shock and shame.

In 1979, the NATO Double-Track Decision is ratified. This enabled US to deploy nuclear war heads in Western Europe if the SS-20 midrange missile of the Soviets fails. The campaign for peace consumes most of the 1940s. President Reagan, who at early times of his presidency was presumed as a war monger, played an important role in the conclusion of the Cold War. In a speech delivered on March 8, 1983 to the National Association of Evangelicals, he stated that he opposed the nuclear freeze and called the Soviet Union an evil empire. He did not see any interaction with the Soviet Union as necessary and as such, proposed that US should just “ignore” the war altogether.

Gorbechev assumed power in 1985. He started making major economic and political reforms so that the Soviet Union will be able to keep up with the military success of the United States. In order to handle Russia’s economic crisis, Gorbechev decides to no longer support the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. In 1987, Reagan requests for the dismantlement of the Berlin Wall. Later the same year, Gorbechev and Reagan agrees to the elimination of all land-based intermediate-range missiles. Berlin wall falls in 1989. Travel restrictions between East and West Germany were resolved. Due to internal and external conflicts, Soviet Union disintegrates in 1991. Gorbechev resigns and Soviet Union is removed from the map. The Cold War was over.

Ideologies

The Cold War brought forward two distinct sets of ideology.

Capitalism is mainly about obtaining capital, which in the world of today translates to money.
Capitalism is mainly about obtaining capital, which in the world of today translates to money. | Source

Capitalism

“A society in which production is governed by blind economic forces is being replaced by one in which production is being carried on under the ultimate control of a handful of individuals. The economic power in the hands of the few persons who control a giant corporation is a tremendous force which can harm or benefit a multitude of individuals, shift the currents of trade, bring ruin to one community and prosperity to another. The organizations they control have passed beyond the realm of private enterprise – they have become more nearly social institutions.” (Berle, & Means, 1932)

Capitalism is a social system founded on the principle on individual rights, especially in the economic level. One of its basic concepts is that of a free market which means that prices of commodities are dependent on the unrestricted competition between privately owned corporations. Free market is an offshoot of economic individualism, which is the idea that pursuing self-interest and acquiring private property are morally correct and legally defensible.

“When I say “capitalism,” I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalist – with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.” (Rand, 1966)

There are two basic categories of people, the capitalists and the workers. The social rank of a person depends on his means of production (e.g. capital and labor). The person with capital (the capitalist) is the more powerful compared to the one with only labor at hand (the worker). It is not to be misunderstood, however, that social standing is solely based on economic standing. A man from a wealthy family (Engels, for example) can be considered a socialist or communist because of his ideologies and beliefs despite his background.

Michael Moore, in his documentary film Capitalism: A Love Story, defined capitalism as “the system of taking and giving, mostly taking.” Though this definition was most probably intended to be humorous, it has a wide array of truth in it. The main driving force of capitalism is the free market economy, without which capitalism would stutter and dissolve. Free market entails that we, the consumers, are entitled to choose for ourselves, based on our personal wants and needs. The capitalist’s role, on the other hand, is to endlessly provide us with those products at a rate that they will be able to gain the maximum profit.

The role of the government, to the capitalist, is to protect the individual rights of each and every person. The nature of state is desirable and it is created to serve the people through the protection of its rights.

Capitalism is the dominant ideology in the world. The most powerful nation today, the United States of America, is an advocate of this ideology. Following this, semi-colonial territories of US, such as the Philippines also practice this ideology.

The hammer and sickle in the Communist symbol represents the unity of the workers and the farmers.
The hammer and sickle in the Communist symbol represents the unity of the workers and the farmers. | Source

Communism

Communism, according to Marx is the end of all social change. He proposed a wide set of theories, practices and ideas (commonly referred to today as Marxism) where he stated that social change is revolutionary, meaning a shift from one social practice to the next will only be possible through a revolution. Eventually, the world would not need any more social changes and there would emerge a classless society, where at least one-third of the world’s countries are under socialism. Socialism is an early stage of communism, where key enterprises are commonly owned. As opposed to communism where the state owns everything, and is in charge of distributing that wealth to the people. In Marxist reason, there really is no communist state today. There are only socialist states (Vietnam) and socialist-capitalist ones (Cuba).

There exists no social class in a communist world. Everyone is equal to everybody else, despite differences in age, gender, etc. Private property is completely abolished as the state owns everything. Communist movements are often associated with violence. This, to some extent, has an air of truth in it. Marx explicitly explained the need for a revolution in order to overthrow the capitalist ruling class. In socialism, however, there still exists social classes based on gender, wealth, age and others but these are not strictly upheld. Socialism acknowledges “equality” is practically impossible and instead strives for “equity”. Marx wrote the basic principle of socialism as, “from each according to his ability to each according to his need”. Private property still exists, but it is only allowed on minimal things. The modes of production are commonly owned meaning a farmer, to an extent, partially owns the land he tills.

Marx proposed the idea of a class struggle. This is the tension between the ruling class and the oppressed class. For example, slave owners and slaves of the slavery era, landlords and peasants of the feudalism regime and capitalists and workers of capitalism. Marxism championed the working class as the liberating class or “uring mapagpalaya” of the revolution.

The nature of state, in a Marxist perspective, is oppressive. It was created in order to preserve the status quo and to keep the ruling class in power. Marxism advocates that the people, being the ones who made the government, have a right to destroy it. The people are more powerful than the government and it is only through collective action that they can assert their rights.

Changes

The Red Scare

The Red Scare emerged as early as the end of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution. The fear of communism, socialism or of any ideology not compatible with the conservative forces was widespread. Thousands of innocent people were jailed for their political beliefs. Human rights might as well have been abolished. It even went so far as ordinary people saying “Anything red is bad.” (Red was the color of the political left, while blue is that of the right.)

The Red Scare supposedly ended in the 1920s, but it was reestablished during the Cold War era because of the numerous deaths, famine, starvation, nuclear threats caused by the conflict between Soviet Union and United States.

McCarthyism was widely gaining supporters. The main idea of this line of belief was that any act against the status quo is considered as communism. This increased the scope of the Red Scare as not only the actual supporters of communism, but also those who are not in accordance with the ruling of the government. The red scare and red tagging justified the countless killings of activists and revolutionaries with the meager reasoning that “he is just a communist.” Though not so vast and not as violent as before, it is still being used today. Just in the Philippines, under the Aquino regime (from July 2010 to June 2012), there are 99 cases of extrajudicial killings, 11 of forced disappearances and about 400 political prisoners.

Nuclear Warfare

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world was at the verge of a nuclear war for 13 days. The people were threatened that a nuclear war would break out. Seeing the catastrophic effect the atomic bombs had on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world was practically still with fear. Today, though the threat is not that urgent, is still exists. Since the introduction of nuclear energy and its advancement in the 19th century, the world had changed considerably.

“Nuclear weapons have profoundly changed the way war is fought. Along with more powerful bombs have to come control and countermeasure considerations. The way in which the world thinks about war has changed. The development of nuclear weapons started rather innocently as a physical phenomenon but has become a source of constant terror among many. How did it all start? What can be done about the spread of nuclear weapons?”(Think Quest)

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    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image
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      Jonas Rodrigo 2 years ago

      Thank you for the kind words, HSchneider.

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      Howard Schneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent history of this baffling time in world history. Great job, Jonas.