The Cold War

This topic guide will help you work with the topic of the Cold War. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects such as History or Social Studies. 

The guide is designed to give you a good overview of the Cold War and related events. You can also find specific suggestions for texts to use as reference points, as well as ideas for further thematic perspectives. 

Overview

Even though the US and the Soviet Union were allies in the fight against Nazi-Germany during WW2, the ideological and political differences between the two superpowers soon started to dominate their relationship in the years following the end of the war. The Soviet Union was ruled by a communist ideal of a state-controlled economy, while the US was democratic and capitalistic. 

There is no official starting point for the Cold War, but a popular suggestion is 1947, when the sitting US President Harry S. Truman created the Truman Doctrine, which emphasized the importance of containing communism, to prevent it from spreading to new nations. This was the beginning of more than 40 years of conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, even though the situation never evolved into direct warfare between the two superpowers (hence the term 'Cold War'). 

The Cold War was especially characterized by the looming threat of global nuclear war, since the Soviet Union succeeded in developing nuclear weapons in 1949, and the US had had access to them since WW2. Both superpowers were aware that the consequences of such a nuclear war would be death and devastation on an unbelievably massive scale, which would almost certainly hurt both sides greatly. Even so, the world came close to disaster several times - most notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

The Cold War was also fought through a number of proxy wars elsewhere on the globe, where the Soviet Union supported communist regimes, while the US supported resistance against communism. The most famous of these proxy wars is the Vietnam War, which ended in US defeat. 

Germany - and especially the capital city Berlin - become an important area during the Cold War. After WW2 the country was split into East Germany and West Germany. Berlin was also split in half, even though it lay entirely within East Germany. As early as 1948, the Soviet Union started to restrict freedom of movement between East Berlin and West Berlin, and eventually they created a direct blockade. The blockade was broken after the US managed to render it pointless by carrying in airborne supplies, however. In 1961 the Berlin Wall was constructed, letting the Soviet Union carry out even stricter control with movement into West Berlin. The wall faced massive criticism all over the Western world, and swiftly became a cultural symbol of the Cold War as a whole.   

In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev introduced a number of reforms which pulled the state in a more open and democratic direction, and he made the economic system less state-controlled. Later he also started to pull out Soviet troops from the communist nations of Eastern Europe, which led to a wave of revolutions where communist governments were replaced by leaders with a more western orientation.  

After much unrest in East Germany, the East German government announced  in 1989 that the ban on travelling to West Germany and West Berlin would be lifted - which quickly led to the Berlin Wall being torn down. The fall of the Berlin Wall was viewed as a symbol of the upcoming collapse of the Soviet Union. The Union was finally dissolved in 1991, which marked the official end of the Cold War. Even today the relationship between the US and Russia remains tense, however. For example, an in-depth investigation of Russia's influence on the US Presidential election of 2016 was launched in 2017.  

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The Cold War

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