The Cold War began after Germany's defeat in 1945, when Europe was divided into zones of occupation. These zones ran across both Germany and Austria. They were supposed to be temporary, but the West, led by the United States, and the East could not agree on how Germany and Austria should be governed. The West was also concerned about communist domination of Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe.
The Cold War spread around the world as countries chose sides. Newly independent countries became areas of competition, as both sides offered economic and military assistance. Washington viewed communism as a monolithic entity and as a threat to democracy. Ideology was paramount.
Although the Cold War began in Europe, it quickly spread to Asia. China fell to communism in 1949. China fought with North Korea against the United Nations during the Korean War, which ended in a bloody stalemate. The United States lost the Vietnam War, and South Vietnam fell to communism in 1975.
Israel, which was created after World War II, fought a series of wars with its Arab neighbors. Washington supported Israel, and Moscow supported the Arabs.
Europe was the scene of both the beginning and the end of the Cold War. Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, allowed for greater freedom in both the Soviet Union and the nations of Eastern Europe. But the peoples of Eastern Europe were not satisfied: they wanted full democracy and freedom from Soviet control. Gorbachev chose not to use force to maintain Soviet domination, so the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and communism ended in all of Eastern Europe. If Gorbachev had been a ruthless leader like Joseph Stalin, he would have crushed the unrest, and the Cold War might have continued. By 1991, the Cold War and the Soviet Union were history.