The Cold War

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How and why was the Cold War an ideological conflict?

The Cold War was an ideological struggle because two competing economic systems, Communism and capitalism, were pitted against each other. The United States and the Soviet Union not only struggled for power, but each claimed the moral high ground for their own political and economic structures.

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The United States and the Soviet Union struggled for power between 1945 and 1990, with each country wanting to be the preeminent world superpower, and this struggle was cast in ideological terms. An ideology, in its most basic definition, is a network of thoughts and beliefs that brings coherence to a particular political and economic system.

Unlike at other points in world history, the two powers facing off against each other had conflicting economic systems. The Soviet Union was a Communist state that believed that the future lay in state ownership of the means of production (banks, major industries, etc.) with the social benefits spread equally among people. For them, freedom came from having a secure social welfare state and a leveling of the class system. The United States was a capitalist democracy which believed freedom came from competition, economic opportunity, and freedom of speech and religion.

In competing for power in contested parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia and Africa, each side promoted its ideology as the best for bringing freedom, equality, and the good life to all corners of the globe. Each forcefully promoted the idea that theirs was the most morally and ethically sound system. Because of this, the Cold War was seen as an ideological struggle for hearts and minds rather than simply a power struggle between the two major victors of a world war.

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