What was the Cold War?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Cold War was the term used to describe the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union following the Second World War.  After the defeat of the Axis powers and the fall of Hitler, the Soviet Union possessed the world's largest army. The United States possessed the most powerful weapon in the atomic bomb, which had just been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to defeat Japan.  Both nations had allied with one another in the war to defeat their common enemy, but this was merely a front to mask the contempt both had for one another.  The Cold War was the term used to describe the antagonism between democratic America and communist Russia.  While there was never any armed notions of conflict between both nations, the Cold War was the battle of ideologies and was waged in nations all over the world between proxy nations. Whereas a traditional war has a defined field of conflict, the Cold War was expansive, all over the world.  Eastern European nations, South East Asia, as well as other regions of the world served as the setting for nations that were either advocating the Russian or American thought processes of democracy or communism.

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justaguide | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

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The Cold War was basically the result of an ideological difference between a group of countries that opposed communism and another that opposed capitalism. The former comprised the US and its allies in Europe that formed the NATO. The latter was primarily made up of the former USSR and other communist nations around the world.

The Cold War did not result in any physical battles in the US or USSR but there were several incidents around the World that involved military forces supported by both the US and the USSR. Wars like those in Vietnam and Korea actually had American troops fighting opposing armies armed with weapons provided by the USSR and led to the death of over 100,000 Americans.

Huge sums of monetary resources were spent both by the US as well as the USSR in building massive stockpiles of weapons so that they could protect themselves from an actual attack by the other. Each of the nations had an extensive network of spies to gather military intelligence.

From the wasteful use of resources that harmed the citizens of both the sides, the effects of the Cold War were in a way equivalent to that of a real physical battle. The one small thing missing here was human blood spilt on land belonging to the US or the USSR.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Cold War was a conflict that lasted for decades between the communist countries of the world, led by the Soviet Union, and the non-communist countries of the world, led by the United States.  It was a conflict in which both sides tried to dominate the world with their ideology.  It is called “cold” because it was not an actual “shooting war” between the US and the USSR.

The Soviet Union was a communist country.  Communists believed that their ideology was superior to that of the democratic, capitalistic countries of the West.  They believed that communism would eventually take over the world and they wanted to speed that process as much as they could.

The United States was strongly opposed to communism.  It felt that communism was economically inefficient and that it trampled on people’s fundamental human rights.  For these reasons, it wanted to prevent the spread of communism.

After the end of WWII, the Cold War started.  The US and the USSR tried to influence other countries to take their side.  Sometimes, wars ended up being fought, as they were in Korea and Vietnam, to try to prevent the spread of communism.  At other times, the competition between the two ideologies took the form of athletic competition or competition to land a man on the moon.  The purpose of such competition was to show which side had a superior system.

The Cold War ended in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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After World War II the Soviet Union intended to carry out the policy  laid down by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, which was to spread communism throughout the entire world with control centered in Moscow. The best and easiest way to understand Soviet thinking and planning is to start with reading The Communist Manifesto. This short but potent document composed by Marx and Engels is covered in eNotes and can be accessed by clicking on the first reference link below. It is also instructive to read George Orwell's popular novel Animal Farm, which deals in fable form with the early history of Bolshevism, a more radical form of communism.

The United States was determined to forestall a worldwide communist revolution, and it had an advantage over the USSR in possessing the atomic bomb.  But then the Soviets developed the atomic bomb and there was an arms race between these two powers until each possessed enough atomic bombs and atomic missiles to blow up the entire world, which was exactly what a lot of people expected to happen sooner or later. The Cold War was a grim period for American civilians to live through because it could break out any minute and civilians would be the principal casualties. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the turning point in the Cold War--but atomic weapons are now possessed by China, North Korea and many other nations, along with the U.S. and Russia.

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enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Although the Cold War is typically used in referencing the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1945 until 1989, the competing ideologies of Communism versus Capitalism was also in play between the US and what was then referred to as "Mainland" China.  The United States, along with the Allied and liberated countries from World War II engaged in a policy of "containment," hoping to halt the spread of communism and ideally instill its own capitalist/democratic system.  Since the utter destruction of World War II, both sides realized that an active all out "hot" war would end civilization, so the struggle became one of geopolitical influence, with the occasional active conflict between "pawn" countries.  For example, the US and other countries did not directly fight China in the 1950's and 60's; both sides wrangled over the smaller countries of Korea and Vietnam.

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jhsierra | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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The Cold War refers to the Post-WWII period of increased hostility between the two remaining super-powers, the US and the USSR. It is referred to as Cold because, barring the exceptions of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, it was mostly a war of words and threats rather than bullets.

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dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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After the Japanese surrender in August 1945 the focus shifted towards rebuilding Europe with representative governments and the democratic processes as its guide.  It became increasingly clear that Stalin had no intention of allowing free elections to take place in Germany.  The failure of the Allies to reach a peace agreement at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences left post war Europe in a quagmire. The old European powers had disintegrated and in its place, the "superpowers". The United States and the Soviet Union would dominate world politics for more than forty years. The Cold War was a war of idealogies between these two nations. Both nations are guilty of battling their idealogical point of view on nations that were either left vulnerable after the war or were politically unable to withstand their political, and or military might. Most historians agree that with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 that The Cold War has ended, however history is never black and white. All the shades of grey left from The Cold War are responsible for the state of global politics we live with today.

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clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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The Cold War describes a period of tension between the Soviet Union and the United States. The reason it is known as "cold" is because there was no actual physical combat. There was a race to see who could develop space technology first; there was a lot of espionage that took place; proxy wars were fought where each country used smaller countries to battle each other; there were threats of nuclear warfare and an arms race big enough to alarm countries everywhere. Nuclear warfare meant annihilation of huge parts of the world, and the world knew that the US was not afraid to use them because of the bombings on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The Cold War ensued because the US and the Soviet Union could not agree on post-World War II rebuilding strategies. Even though the two were allies during WWII, they could not compromise on their visions of the postwar world. The Soviet Union pushed communism, which the US fought hard against.

The Cold War ended in December of 1989 when President George H. W. Bush and Gorbachev terminated hostilities because the Soviet Union was about to collapse.

A really fantastic allegory to read if you're interested in the Cold War is The Golden Kite the Silver Wind by Ray Bradbury.

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jfava | Middle School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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To supplement the previous answer - the reason it was called "The Cold War" was due to the fact that no gunfire, missiles, bombings, etc, occurred.  The "Cold War" was one of bitter political differences that escalated to the cusp of a "hot war" knowing that such a war would not be in the interest of either country. 

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salmson | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) eNoter

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Cold war is a war that broke out in 1945 between the world superpower, U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. It involved no shedding of blood or any use of arms and ammonitions but instead was fought with the use of economic power, political propaganda and threat. The war broke out as a result of difference in idealogy, economic system, and strifing of this two world superpower of who to emerge as the most supreme between them

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charmeiagreat | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) eNoter

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The cold war was the result of both countries (USSR and USA) being very ignorant and competing to be the best. Adding on to that, they were both creating nuclear weapons and missles and were waiting for "who would fire first". There was a lot of stress at that time since some of the nuclear weapons created could have caused a world-wide grave.

Some wars, such as the Vietnam War, could have prevented if it werent for the "stupidity" and ignorance of these countries. 

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giorgiana1976 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Cold War (1947-1991) was an open confrontation, non-military (although it caused the weapons race) and limited, that has been developed after World War II, between two groups of countries that had diametrically opposed ideologies and political systems.

In one group were the USSR and its allies, who were also called Oriental or Eastern Bloc. The other group comprised the U.S. and their allies, also called Western or Western bloc.

At the military-political level, it was a confrontation between NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization, North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the Warsaw Pact.

Economically,it has been a confrontation between capitalism and socialism.

Confrontation between the two blocks was called "Cold War" because there was no direct military confrontation between the superpowers (there was not a "hot" war).

At the ideological-political level,it has been a confrontation between Western liberal democracies (so-called "free world," "open society") and totalitarian communist regimes (so-called "closed society").

In terms of intelligence services, it was a confrontation between Western services of "intelligence" (primarily the U.S., CIA, NSA, but also British, German, French, Italian, etc..) and the political police communist regimes (above all, the KGB, also Security, Stasi, etc.).

It was also called "Cold War" also because it was conducted among former allies in the war against Nazi totalitarian regime, between the two types of political regimes that had the same ideological roots, ie the democratic struggle for human emancipation from any form of domination.

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gracious15 | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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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.

 

Do 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.

 

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.

 

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.


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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Cold war refers to the intense rivalry that developed between groups of communist and non-communist nations after the World War II. The communist block was led by U.S.S.R., and the non communist block was led by USA.

After end of World War II U.S.S.R. tried to spread the communist ideology and government in territories controlled by it in Eastern Europe. To achieve this end, leaders in U.S.S.R. adopted a policy of isolating these territories from the rest of the world. The non-communist countries on the other hand were very much opposed to the communist form of government, and feared that unchecked spread of communism can lead to public support for communism in their countries also. Therefor the viewed the increasing influence of communism with great suspicion, and initiated action from their side to oppose and undermine the influence of U.S.S.R.

In this kind of rivalry U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. often supported opposing political groups and leaders in various countries in their struggle for power. To establish their influence and prove their military superiority the two opposing blocks of the cold war undertook major arms development programs, trying to overtake each other, This resulted in kind of competition between them frequently described by terms such as arms race, nuclear race, and space race.

But perhaps by around the futility of such rivalry and races began to to be realized by people and leadership in U.S.A. as well as U.S.S.R. This resulted in beginning of softening of stance by both the parties, and they started to look for ways of ending such rivalry. For example, first Strategic Arms Limitation talk (SALT) agreement was reached between U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. in 1972. From then onward there was gradual reduction in mutual hostility. The cold war finally lost its steam with increasing internal problems faced by U.S.S.R. in 1980's, and with this growing realization in the world that communistic system was not a workable system. This reduced the power of U.S.S.R. either to intervene directly to support communist in other countries, or as a model of success of communist system to be emulated by other countries. With that the fear of spread of communism felt by non-communist block reduced also. This gradually reduced the intensity of cold war till it died a natural death in 1991 with the break-up of U.S.S.R.

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