The Cold War
Europe has had its fair share with wars and battles. However most of them were of two peculiar and stand out types of war. They were either Wars of Ideology: what other men and women were allowed to believe, or Wars of Succession, and the balance of power. The cold war for the first time combined both of these characteristics of the European modes of wars. The cold war was fought to determine the fate of Europe which was divided between two great superpowers of the European tradition, the market economy driven United States of America, and the Old Russian autocracy reborn as the Soviet Union through the ideology of communism.
The history of the cold war has been the history of the world since 1945″1. It wasn’t a confrontation between two empires, it was, “a total war between economic and social systems, an industrial test to destruction”2. Nevertheless it was also a fight between two conflicting values. The West believes in the ideas of a market economy, free enterprise and a multi party democracy. These qualities were cherished as a necessity. The scenario in the East was quiet contrasting. While the west believed in free enterprise, market economy and democracy the East was driven, by a command economy and single part statism, a. k. , Dictatorship.
The obvious conflict in beliefs, ideas and values, and the stubborn nature of those who defended these ideas vehemently were the driving force behind the cold war. This paper will examine the events of the Cold War period [1945-1991], and attempt to prove, how the technology and the identity of the United States and the USSR were altered during a period of fear and distrust. Yalta to the Bomb The most interesting thing about the Yalta conference was that it had somewhat of a dual personality. It was the last one of the wartime conferences, and at the same time, the first one of the post-war summits.
It’s ironic that the big three met here, because the duality in the character of Yalta was also foreshadowing the future. The main purpose of the Yalta conference was to reestablish all the nations in Europe, which were conquered by Germany in WW II and to seek a firm promise for Soviet military support for defeating Japan. Stalin had an obsessive fear of another attack on the Soviet Union and this was obvious to Churchill. The likes of River Rhine in France, or 21 miles of channel in England or the vast oceans that surrounded America were not present ensuring Russia’s safety. Hence there was much to give and take.
Finally it was agreed that Stalin would control Berlin and the Eastern half of Europe, while the west controlled the Western half of Europe. Stalin agreed to unquestionably join the war against Japan after Germany surrendered. However upon return from Yalta, and the victory over Germany, Roosevelt was not received humbly back home. Most of them criticized Roosevelt for giving away Easter Europe through blind trust in Stalin. Roosevelt had defended himself and the move by saying that he had done the best he could and had hoped that the issue would be handled further by the United Nations.
He also felt that Russia needed to be appeased in order to gain their support in the war against Japan. To Roosevelt’s surprise, Stalin failed to keep his promise. He prevented popular elections in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria by assigning permanent Communist governments to each and suppressing all democratic supporters. “By the End of the European War, Soviet dominance of Eastern and Central Europe was a military fact”3. Thus Yalta’s dual personality took human form.
This relates to my thesis, because, Stalin’s failure to keep his promise paved way for the harsh foreign policies of Truman and other US presidents to follow, towards Russia. The identity set up here was, you oppose the US and you would pay a price. Mean while the United States didn’t want to loose a powerful ally, and did nothing. The US didn’t want to start an opposition towards Russia just yet. It was now time to concentrate on Japan; this is where the technological change comes in to action. The United States of America had to give a befitting reply to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Harry Truman was now at the helm after succeeding Roosevelt upon his death. Under Truman’s presidency work accelerated on the Manhattan project. Started in 1942 by General Leslie Groves; Neils Bohr, Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, and Enrico Fermi were four major scientists who perfected it. On the 16th of July, the eve of the Potsdam summit, Truman received the news that the first atom-bomb test in New Mexico was successful and exceeded expectations. Churchill found out the next day. Truman casually mentioned about a new weapon of destructive force in his possession to Stalin without mentioning what it actually was.
Truman and Churchill along with their delegates agreed to drop the bomb on Japan before the 10th of August. Now one by one, the important cities of Japan were bombed. Some bombings were targeted at military sites, others were terror bombings of civilian populations, a strategy adapted from Hitler’s attacks on London and used by the Allies at Dresden. Hiroshima, a city known for its military importance was the first to experience the wrath of the Atom Bomb on the 6th of August. On the 9th of August Nagasaki fell. On the 9th the Russians agreed to enter the War against Japan.
The decision to use the bomb was one that Truman never regretted. The United States won the War against Japan with little Soviet involvement, and the introduction of the Atom Bomb made the Soviet Union expandable as an ally. Hence the United States returned to its opposition of communism. It also proved American military and technological supremacy over the world. Nonetheless it also paved way and gave cause for the soon to arrive arms race. The Foreign policy. Soon after the Second World War, a serious threat of a war with Russia loomed around the corner. Conflicts occurred between the two nations, due to events around the word.
Tensions ran high and the possibility of a nuclear war was always present. The driving force of the containment of communism was the main point behind America’s opposition. The Russians wanted to expand their communist influence. Influence was a key concept in the cold war. Russia fought to spread communism in the east while the United States battled to prevent the spread of communism. However the reality was grim. The position of both nations was self-serving. Both countries fought for what they believed therefore the conflict was inevitable. Europe was left in ruins after the war.
America decided to aid Germany and Western Europe, to help Democracy grow. An infusion of billions of dollars into Western Europe made the Marshall plan a success. The first conflict began in divided Berlin. Stalin wanted to isolate West Berlin, which was surrounded by East Germany. In June of 1948, Stalin ordered the blockade of West Berlin’s roads and railways, leaving no means of transportation via land to the city. The only access was through a 20-mile wide air corridor. America decided against giving up West Berlin and as part of the Marshall plan the Berlin airlift began. It continued for 320 days to support the city.
The citizens of West Berlin relied on the supplies given through the Berlin Airlift. Stalin backed down on May 12, 1949 and West Berlin remained allied with the West until the unification in 1989. NATO was formed to solidify the allies to the West and separate the nations to the East. Divisions grew between the nations from here on. The Soviet counterpart, The Warsaw pact, followed the formation of NATO. However the Warsaw pact was less significant due to the member nations were already part of Russia. The Korean was, was the second conflict. Mao Tse Dung came to power as the communist leader of China in 1949.
He wanted to push the ideology of communism southward. Stalin agreed to support Mao. North Korea allied itself with China and in turn was supported by China and Russia, in its war against South Korea. America foreseeing the spread of communism supported the democratic South Korea. The war ended without any real victor. North Korea eventually withdrew from the South and the Americans returned home. The war was a fight for containment. The Americans didn’t want to invade a communist country for fear of retaliation by the Soviets or the Chinese. The Americans want to show the defeat of communism wasn’t portrayed with the Korean War.
The third conflict came in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was an extension of the cold war. North Vietnam invaded the south and it remained a relatively small conflict. The United States involvement was due to its fight for containment of communism. It had grave implications for future American politicians, and had a vast political importance in the US when it broke out. For America this was a war that it could not give up, but the nation did not want to pursue it either. This conflict of interest made this war a failure. Communist North eventually conquered the democratic south putting an end to the war.
This was a major blow to the Americans and their containment belief. The Vietnam War proved that the United States was growing unsure of itself and its policies abroad. Moreover this defeat of South Vietnam also defeated the democratic Americans and gave communist Russia a victory. This relates to my thesis because, the world was now unsure of who was going to win the cold war. It also made people think twice, whether democracy would work, or whether democracy would be ideal for political parties and a country to follow. The other two incidents prior to the Vietnam War gave the two countries different identities.
Russia was condemned for its action while the US was praised for its stand. The US was identified as good while Russia was identified as bad. The building of the Berlin wall was a shameful event, and it proved Soviet inadequacy and nastiness, which heartened and vindicated people all around the world. The Arms Race The Soviet Union saw the rise of a new leader. Nikita Khrushchev succeeded Stalin upon his death in 1955. Khrushchev’s main policy was that of liberalization or “de-Stalinization”. In the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy came to power.
His belief was “the cause of all mankind is the cause of America”4. The arms race was to intensify during the reign of these two men. The arms race was the most visible part of the Cold War. Russia shot down an American U-2 Spy plane, shortly after WWII, while, it was photographing inside Russia. The pilot was taken prisoner and the plane was dismantled for help in developing Soviet technology. The official start to this race could be attributed to the launch of sputnik. On the 4th of October 1957, Russia caught the attention of world with the launch of sputnik, the first man made satellite to orbit the earth.
Little did the listener know that Sputnik was also a spy satellite. The competition had now extended far beyond the foreign policies. The launch of sputnik was a direct challenge, directed towards America. However America launched Explorer I in 1958, showing the world that it didn’t lag far behind in launching its own satellite. In 1961, Russia put Yuri Gagarin into space, and slapped America and is pride Square in the face. JFK reacted to this Russian achievement, by declaring that the United States would be the first country to land a man on the moon, by the end of the decade.
True to its word and after a tough nine years of repeated Soviet successes, the Untied States took the lead with the launch of Apollo 11. The project resulted in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking the first steps on the moon in 1969. The nation began to change, however. In 1968, youth revolts had taken a toll on America and the nation began to head into a new era. The Space Race had been won. Even though the Cold War continued with the ever-expensive Arms Race, the push for exploration died. Competition with Russia became a military affair once again.
A new psychology, known as mutually assured destruction (appropriately know as MAD) took birth during the arms race. MAD was the philosophy based on the fact that, both nations had the power to destroy each other completely in the event of an attack. The theory was based on three ideas. First: both nations have enough weapons do destroy the other, second: both nations can detect a first strike before it arrives, and third: both nations are able to respond adequately before they are hit by the first strike. The invention and perfection of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) was the beginning of MAD.
Satellites were now the best method of spying on the other nation during the Cold War. The technology was incredible. The Kennedy-Khrushchev era is famous for the Cuban missile crisis. There were two motives involved here, both from the Russian side. The first was to protect Cuba from an American inspired or openly American invasion. The Second was to create a nuclear balance. This step was aimed to reduce the time taken to hit the enemy with the bomb. On the 14th of October a U-2 flight found launch station in Cuba. The United States ordered a naval blockade and retrieval of the missiles.
The US already had bases in Turkey, France and Britain and was able to hit Moscow. These sites did not remain, but were ideal for eliminating lengthy response times. The second best solution came with the invention of the SLBM, (submarine launched ballistic missile). This weapon was able to fire a nuclear missile from an undetected location immediately offshore of the enemy’s coastline. This missile would arrive at its target in a matter of minutes, possibly eliminating enemy response. SLBMs were a very dangerous weapon because they created the possibility of a nuclear victory.
There was no issue that either country was willing to kill itself over. The misuse of these nuclear missiles presented the threat. The real problem was that missiles could be accidentally fired or used in a situation of confusion. America and decisively won the cold war with Reagan’s announcement of the SDI in 1983. Gorbachev was now at the helm for Russia. He was seen as a communist you could do business with. In October 1985 Reagan and Gorbachev agreed in principle to work on a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, to cut their nuclear arms quota into half.
It was put in effect in January 1986. Reagan and Gorbachev also agreed on ending the development, testing, and deployment of space-strike weapons. On the matter of the SDI it was agreed that if such a device were to be perfected both sides would observe the testing and share the information. November the 10th 1989 marked the unofficial end when the Berlin wall or the “iron curtain” was toppled and Germany was unified along with the rest of Europe. The Pan-European summits in 1990 officially put an end to the cold war.
Conclusion The cold war was multi-faceted and complex. Numerous conflicts, ideas and emotions were involved. It also became a global insurance against a catastrophe. The defeated Soviet Union crumbled into the component parts that the tsarists had assembled it from. The one question that remains till this day is whether the cold war could have been prevented. May believe that if Roosevelt had used his negotiating position at Yalta wisely, Russia would have been unable to form those puppet states and gain access to Europe.
Had Russia not been a part of Europe’s political struggle, its power, and interest in the rest of the world would have diminished after WWII. It was the iron curtain that brought Russia into the limelight. The proxy wars (Korea and Vietnam), the Cuban missile crisis and the satellites bought world wide acclaim and fear. The identities switched numerous times, some times for the best and sometimes for the worse. However, staying true to the saying “to the Victor go the spoils” the Americans won the cold war and their identity has been solidified as the Heroes.
Russia at once regarded as the villains have the reputation as the losers and their identity is one of a country that was outclassed and became weak. The technological advancement that the countries went through is one that will hardly be rivaled. With the technological advancement came the identity of intelligence bestowed upon both nations, regardless of how they were seen during the proxy wars, the building of the iron wall or the arms race. The familiar dangers of the cold war have ended, however the unknown perils of its aftermath lie in wait.