How were American citizens directly threatened during the Cold War?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the Cold War the U.S. had military superiority. For the first five years or so, the U.S. was the only country that had the atom bomb. The U.S. had shown it would use it. Then when the Soviets developed an atomic bomb, the U.S. developed a hydrogen bomb, which was much more powerful. The U.S. also had a big strategic advantage, since it had short-range missiles aimed at the U.S.S.R. in England, Germany, Turkey, and elsewhere. The U.S. also had vastly superior air power and could drop atom bombs directly from bases all around the U.S.S.R. The only advantage the U.S.S.R. had was on land.They could invade all of Europe, but they had been through a devastating war with Germany and didn't want any more military action for a long while. The Soviets developed long-range nuclear missiles, but it was never clear how capable they were of hitting their targets. They were never sure whether the U.S. would actually used nuclear weapons against them, but if there had been a nuclear exchange between the two countries, the U.S. would have inflicted far more damage than the Soviets, although everybody in the world was dreadfully afraid of such a conflict because both countries had so many nuclear weapons that it could have meant the end of civilization, if not the extinction of all life on the planet. Radiation would have been a worse threat than the actual explosions. Many Americans were buildings bomb shelters in their backyards. Many believed that, because of the continual buildup of nuclear weapons, it was only a matter of time before they and their families would be killed. Perhaps because of the existence of nuclear weapons, there have been no really big world-wide wars since World War II ended in 1945.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that an encompassing argument can be made that the Cold War was an ideological battle in which nations and international relations were directly impacted.  Yet, I think that there can be some direct tie- ins to how the Cold War impacted the lives of students.  The fear of Communism and the label of "Communist" became a dirty word, one that was seen in McCarthyism as well as in how people interacted with one another.  The perception of being "soft" on Communism was something that enabled individuals to view one another with skepticism, negating any potential embrace of "the other," as well as reducing discourse and dialogue.  Political advertisements such as "Daisy" and "Bear in the Woods" were examples of this in a political and cultural context.  American citizens were profoundly impacted with the remnants of the Cold War, such as bomb shelters, movies such as "The Day After," and practicing ducking drills under desks at schools.  I think that one tangential way in which modern American citizens have been impacted by the Cold War came through with the embrace of the Reagan Doctrine.  The idea that was advocated that any opposition against the Soviet Union must be supported resulted in American military and economic support of one freedom fighter named Osama Bin Laden, whose masterminding of the attacks of September 11, 2001 can be seen as "blowback" of both the Reagan Doctrine and the Cold War, in general.