Provide a detailed background of the Cold War, including a definition of the Cold War and the years that it occurred.

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The Cold War began shortly after the end of World War II in 1945. It is commonly considered to have begun in 1947 with the Truman Doctrine. It lasted until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Simply put, the Cold War refers to the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies. It was an ideological rivalry between democratic and totalitarian principles. It was an economic rivalry between the principles of capitalism and socialism. It was also defined by an arms race, particularly with nuclear weapons, between the rivals.

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, the fragile wartime alliance between the Soviet Union and the other Allies began to crumble. The United States and Great Britain wanted to rebuild Europe and support democratically elected governments. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, set about installing puppet governments in the lands it had liberated. They wanted to create an ideologically aligned buffer between themselves and the possibility of future threats from western Europe. The other Allied powers began to fear that the Soviets were aiming to create a permanent power base in eastern Europe that threatened the new peace that had just been achieved.

For the next half-century, the superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States vied for influence and allies around the world. They each built up large political and military alliances, such as NATO and the Warsaw Pact. They also created large nuclear arsenals and engaged in espionage. While the United States and the Soviet Union never engaged in direct conflict, a number of proxy wars occurred during this period. This included the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Afghan War. What kept the two superpowers from directly attacking each other was a policy called Brinkmanship in which they pushed the limits of diplomacy. Also, the large stockpiles of nuclear weapons meant that mutually assured destruction would have been very likely if a direct conflict occurred.

The Cold War began to cool down during the 1980s as the Soviet Union backed away from many of its totalitarian practices. Gradually it lost influence in many of the Eastern Bloc countries. Internal reforms also weakened the power of the Communist party in the Soviet Union, and it crumbled in late 1991, bringing the Cold War to an end.

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