The Cold War consumed almost half a century of global history; the end of World War II was only the beginning of this 45 year-long international crisis. America’s defeat of Japan in 1945 marked the beginning of this turbulent era, which only ended upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This ongoing global conflict, based on the fight between Capitalism and Communism, was centered on the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Fundamental disagreements over government power and social structure divided the formerly allied nations and sparked an intense battle for world supremacy. These two superpowers were the major players in the Cold War; however their battles were fought like a game of chess with smaller third-world countries being used as pawns by the careful chess masters of the United States and Soviet Union, who never actually directly confronted each other in battle (Metcalf, 2003).
During World War II the United States and the Soviet Union joined together as allies against the Nazi regime in Germany; however this alliance was forged out of necessity and was quickly broken after the defeat of Germany and Japan in World War II. In fact, the state of global affairs at the end of World War II was not much better than when the war began. Once the threats of German and Japanese control were no longer concerns, the Soviet Union jumped to take their place in the global race for domination. America viewed the USSR’s subsequent expansion through eastern Europe as the newest threat against their safety and freedom. For the next 30 years Communism and Russia were seen as the greatest risks to American interests, both domestic and international. Most of the significant events of the second half of the 20th century stemmed from the feud between the US and the USSR: the Arms Race, Space Race, Korean War, Cuban Missile Crisis, the wars within Vietnam, and the building of the Berlin Wall are only some of the examples of the conflicts between these two great nations (History.com, 2012).
While the threat of nuclear devastation was a constant fear for American citizens, the United States didn’t actually experience any kind of foreign attack or battle on American soil after the bombing of Pearl Harbor until 10 years after the end of the Cold War when the Taliban attacked the World Trade Centers in New York City on September 11, 2001. The real threats to American citizens during the Cold War were aimed at their freedoms and way of life. Everything that defined the American nation and its citizens was being threatened at its very core. The ideologies, values, and comforts Americans were so proud of were under attack by communist nations, with Russia at the helm.
The ultimate threat accomplished by America’s enemies during the Cold War was the fear instilled in the American people. After the victory of World War II, America was almost euphoric in its gains from post-war life; the depression was over, affluent suburbs were sprouting up around the country, and the economy was in a better state than it had been in several decades; material wealth defined the prosperous lifestyle of the new America (Farber, 1994). The communists’ potential to destroy this new lifestyle, and its continuous threats to do so, broke America’s pride and spirit leaving a wake of fear and paranoia throughout society. The only battle fought on American soil during the Cold War was internal: American vs. American. The McCarthy witch hunts and blacklisting can be seen as a communist victory in America during the history of the Cold War.
As the Cold War waged on, Americans began to prepare for the possibility of nuclear war. Bomb shelters popped up in the basements and backyards of the new suburban havens. Food and supplies were stockpiled and kept at the ready in case a long-term stay in the shelters was necessary due to radiation after a nuclear attack. “Duck and Cover” drills were practiced at school and home and families had emergency plans in case of separation during an attack. While being as prepared as possible for a worst-case scenario is always best, in this instance the best possible preparation still would not have been enough for the majority of America’s citizens in the event of an actual nuclear attack. These tactics and drills served more as a panic prevention mechanism than actual protection from nuclear harm. Being prepared and having a plan for a disaster scenario gives people something to do and think about during an emergency, rather than panic and act irrationally, making a bad situation worse. The best preparations one could make for their families were psychological provisions to soothe fear and anxiety and help maintain a normal lifestyle in a world filled with fear and chaos.
Upon reflection of the patterns and events of the Cold War and those that have transpired since, specifically in the Middle East, a primitive question remains: Could human-kind ever really “just give peace a chance” or is there no end to the search for global domination and national supremacy?
Farber, D. (1994). The Age of Great Dreams America in the 1960’s. New York, NY: Hill and Wang.
History.com. (2012). Cold War. http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war Retrieved January 16, 2012
Metcalf, A. (2003). Cold War. http://regentsprep.org/regents/global/themes/conflict/coldwar.cfm Retrieved January 16, 2012