What is the legacy of the Cold War today?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Cold War continues to affect the world, and the United States, in many different ways.  Let us examine a number of the ways in which it still affects us.  (Please note that, because there are so many possibly legacies of the Cold War, you should consult your textbook and/or class notes if your teacher expects you to give a certain, specific answer.)

  1.       Because of the Cold War, communism has almost completely disappeared from the world.  Early in the Cold War, there were many communist countries in the world.  All of Eastern Europe was communist.  China and North Korea were communist.  However, as time went by the pressures of the Cold War destroyed communism in most places.  Today, communism only exists in a few small countries (I do not count China, which is communist in name only).
  2.       Largely because of the Cold War, the communist countries built up their military power but neglected their civilian economies.  The communist countries tried hard to keep up with the West in military terms but were not strong enough economically to do that and to still produce large quantities of high-quality consumer goods.  Because of this, their economies were relatively weak and remain weak to this day.  Almost all ex-communist countries are rather poor today, partly because of the effects of the Cold War.
  3.       Because of the Cold War, we have large arsenals of nuclear weapons in the US and the former Soviet Union.  During the Cold War, the two superpowers engaged in an arms race, each trying to have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other.  Those arsenals still exist today, costing us money and causing us to worry that some of the nuclear material might fall into the hands of terrorists.
  4.       In the United States, the Cold War helped to cause discord between liberals and conservatives.  During the Cold War, and particularly during the Vietnam War, liberals and conservatives disagreed sharply over how aggressive the US should be in fighting communism abroad.  Disputes over foreign policy helped bring about a situation in which conservatives thought liberals were un-American and liberals thought conservatives were imperialistic warmongers.  This helped get us to the where we are today with a huge gulf between liberal and conservatives.
  5.       In part because of the Cold War, the US became the world’s only real superpower.  The US was the unquestioned leader of the West during the Cold War.  After it “defeated” the Soviet Union in the Cold War, it was left as the preeminent power in the world.  This has meant that the US expects to have influence all around the world and people all around the world expect the US to help solve their problems.

All of these things, and more, can be seen as legacies of the Cold War today.

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