The Cold War is the name given to the relationship that developed primarily between the USA and the USSR after World War Two. The Cold War was to dominate international affairs for decades and many major crises occurred – the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Hungary and the Berlin Wall being just some. For many, the growth in weapons of mass destruction was the most worrying issue.
A clash of very different beliefs and ideology – capitalism versus communism – each held with almost religious conviction, formed the basis of an international power struggle with both sides vying for dominance, exploiting every opportunity for expansion anywhere in the world.
Note that USSR in 1945 was Russia post-1917 and included all the various countries that now exist individually (Ukraine, Georgia etc) but after the war they were part of this huge country up until the collapse of the Soviet Union (the other name for the USSR).
Logic would dictate that as the USA and the USSR fought as allies during World War Two, their relationship after the war would be firm and friendly. This never happened and any appearance that these two powers were friendly during the war is illusory.
American and Soviet Union relations before World War Two
Before the war, America had depicted the Soviet Union as almost the devil-incarnate. The Soviet Union had depicted America likewise so their ‘friendship’ during the war was simply the result of having a mutual enemy – Nazi Germany. In fact, one of America’s leading generals, Patton, stated that he felt that the Allied army should unite with what was left of the Wehrmacht in 1945, utilise the military genius that existed within it (such as the V2’s etc.) and fight the oncoming Soviet Red Army. Churchill himself was furious that Eisenhower, as supreme head of Allied command, had agreed that the Red Army should be allowed to get to Berlin first ahead of the Allied army. His anger was shared by Montgomery, Britain’s senior military figure.
Suspicion brews between America and Soviet Union
So the extreme distrust that existed during the war, was certainly present before the end of the war……..and this was between Allies. The Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, was also distrustful of the Americans after Truman only told him of a new terrifying weapon that he was going to use against the Japanese. The first Stalin knew of what this weapon could do was when reports on Hiroshima got back to Moscow.
So this was the scene after the war ended in 1945. Both sides distrusted the other. One had a vast army in the field (the Soviet Union with its Red Army supremely lead by Zhukov) while the other, the Americans had the most powerful weapon in the world, the A-bomb and the Soviets had no way on knowing how many America had.
What exactly was the Cold War?
In diplomatic terms there are three types of war.
Hot War : this is actual warfare. All talks have failed and the armies are fighting.
Warm War : this is where talks are still going on and there would always be a chance of a peaceful outcome but armies, navies etc. are being fully mobilised and war plans are being put into operation ready for the command to fight.
Cold War : this term is used to describe the relationship between America and the Soviet Union 1945 to 1980. Neither side ever fought the other – the consequences would be too appalling – but they did ‘fight’ for their beliefs using client states who fought for their beliefs on their behalf e.g. South Vietnam was anticommunist and was supplied by America during the war while North Vietnam was pro-Communist and fought the south (and the Americans) using weapons from communist Russia or communist China. In Afghanistan, the Americans supplied the rebel Afghans after the Soviet Union invaded in 1979 while they never physically involved themselves thus avoiding a direct clash with the Soviet Union.
The one time this process nearly broke down was the Cuban Missile Crisis.
So why were these two super powers so distrustful of each other?
|Free elections||No elections or fixed|
|Democratic||Autocratic / Dictatorship|
|‘Survival of the fittest’||Everybody helps everybody|
|Richest world power||Poor economic base|
|Personal freedom||Society controlled by the NKVD (secret police)|
|Freedom of the media||Total censorship|
This lack of mutually understanding an alien culture, would lead the world down a very dangerous path – it led to the development of weapons of awesome destructive capability and the creation of some intriguing policies such as MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction.