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Cold War - an overview

Updated on June 7, 2018

The Cold War is the name given to the period from 1945 to 1990 when a high level distrust existed between the USA and the USSR. A conflict of opposing ideologies - capitalism and communism.

The Cold War was waged on political, economic, propaganda and espionage fronts, although there were no actual battles or physical conflicts, the fear and hostility it produced on both sides made it dangerous as any other. It created a mutual fear that led to a dangerous level of tensions because each superpower possessed many nuclear weapons.

This map shows how the USA and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies formed opposing blocs of power during the Cold War. Europe was split between the communist allies of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and the non-communist allies.
This map shows how the USA and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies formed opposing blocs of power during the Cold War. Europe was split between the communist allies of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and the non-communist allies.

The Two Opposing Camps

The start of the conflict between USA and USSR can be traced as far back as the Bolshevik revolution. The year 1917 was a momentous one in the history of the twentieth century. It was the year when the Soviet Union and the United States stepped into the mainstream of history to proclaim two rival world ideologies. However, the kind of society each one have, was set up very differently.

The Americans have individual rights, personal freedom and opportunity based on capitalist principles. A capitalist economy is based on private ownership, profit and free competition.

In Russia, everybody should be equal, no one profited from the labor of another and all profit was to be shared. These differences became a part of historical cultural and ideological gap that made it hard for the USA and the USSR to get along.

We also have to consider the geopolitical influences on each country that contribute to who and what they are. The USA was protected from invasion by two vast oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific. For most of its history, the USA used its time and energy to settle and control the vast American west. They become politically isolated and tied up in their own affairs. They only took an ongoing international role during and after the World War 2.

The vast plains of Russia provided no natural barriers to invaders which meant that invasion was a common event and fear for the Russians. Due to its size and location, they become vulnerable to attack from the east, south and the west. For that reason, all Russian governments have made the securing of their territory a chief priority.

During the Second World War, the Soviet Union was an ally of the Western democracies, their friendship was simply the result of having a mutual enemy - Germany. Both the Soviet Union and the United States then, wanted security after 1945, but each defined it in a different way. Security for the Soviet Union meant friendly states on its border, the Soviets preferred to install communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe and create a buffer zone of friendly governments as defense against any attacks or future invasions whether by the capitalists or by Germany.

On the other hand, the United States was a global economic power and security for it meant a world open to the free exchange of goods, money and people. The American programme for the post -war world of free speech free elections and open door was therefore not acceptable to Stalin based on security grounds. It was also alien to Russia's tradition and history.

The cold war raises many complex questions into how and why it started and why it happened. Historians in analyzing the origins of the Cold War put together different interpretations.

The orthodox and revisionist studies that dominated the early years of the Cold War blamed the Soviet Union and the United states respectively for attempting to impose their own political and economic ideologies upon Europe and the world.

Not everyone accepted the orthodox analysis of inevitable conflict, it was possible to regard Soviet actions as primarily defensive rather than expansionist. Stalin was merely defending the Soviet Union against US policies that were designed to undermine communism.

The revisionist argument of inevitable conflict is contradicted by Roosevelt's flexible approach. He was willing to concede Soviet spheres of influence if it meant winning Soviet cooperation and partnership to police the world.

The interpretation of John Lewis Gaddis, a post revisionist states that cold war was judged to be a product of misjudgments of both the United States and the Soviet Union during wartime negotiations rather than an inevitable conflict. Stalin had misjudged the nature of Western democracy and the restrictions it palced upon Churchill and Roosevelt to strike the deals, whereas Truman and Churchill had misjudged Stalin's sense of insecurity and need for financial assistance to restore the Soviet Union.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has opened up Soviet archives providing documentation which permitted Soviet writers to express their news openly. Historians and researchers have examine the Soviet archives and reached different conclusions but this does not entirely end the debate. There are a lot of things that happened during the long complex year of the Cold War, the Russians were not the only culprits in the conflict.

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    • pramodgokhale profile image

      pramodgokhale 

      5 years ago from Pune( India)

      We Indians were the pawn in cold war. India's first prime minister Nehru kept off India from super power rivalry and formed group as Non Aligned Movement.

      After India's independence British imperialist were trying to destabilize and break India but our federation was strong in democratic system and we are going strong.Pakistan is a proxy of super powers to contain India and conflicts with Pakistan armed with American weapons bleed Indian economy.

      Future no one knows ,if American economy improves then they will start cold war in different form.Arms industry is America's livelihood

      pramod gokhale.

    • Marsden4 profile image

      Marsden4 

      7 years ago from UK

      Agreeing with Jaskar here, modern day China is not adhering to communist economic theory. If you want an example try North Korea, or at a push Cuba. But even Cuba has begun a transition to the free market system.

    • athulnair profile image

      athulnair 

      7 years ago from India

      great post.

      Gives a neutral view..

    • jaskar profile image

      jaskar 

      7 years ago from England

      Del Rosario, good hub! little narrow but still a real good read.

      SIVAGNA, china is NOT communist, its really far from it.

    • profile image

      Artdog 

      8 years ago

      Ah, the Cold War. Clarity. Balance. Organization. And crazy people didn't smash passenger jets into skyscrapers.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      9 years ago from Moundsville, WV

      MM

      This is an interesting perspective from "Down Under". As an American I would point out there is a little more of a difference between the free world and the USSR. I don't know of any Free World country that imprisoned its own citizens within its bourders, or slaughtered masses of its own citizens as Stalin routinely did. The Berlin wall was not defensive it was to imprison the citizens of East Berlin.

      I think the Cold War was just a little bit more than a mere understanding.

      I can remember 1962 when the USSR placed nuclear missles in Cuba. I was 16 years old then, and the fear that was felt inside the United States was valid.

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 

      9 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Glad that the cold war is over but trust never comes easy. GBY Dear Heart

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