What is the Cold War?
The Cold War is the term for the decades long conflict (not an
all-out shooting war) between the Western Allies and the Communist
Eastern Bloc Nations (Soviet Union, China, Poland, Romania,
Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, North Korea, North Vietnam). "Cold"
means that the conflict never grew to a full confrontational war
between East and West, but there was plenty of "War" nevertheless,
even if much of it was covert.
The Cold War began after WWII in Berlin when the Allies and Soviet
Union (the Soviets were part of the Allied Forces against Germany
and Japan) held different sectors of Berlin. The Soviets were
allowed to take Berlin as their retribution against Hitler for the
invasion of Russia after signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin,
and had sustained significant casualties. Eventually, Josef Stalin
began to create a barrier (which became the Berlin Wall) between
East and West Berlin, which divided Germany into East and West for
almost 50 years.
Invasions and takeovers of other nations followed - Czechoslovakia,
Poland, Yugoslavia, Romania, etc. For many decades, once former
Allies, the Western powers and the Soviet Union became locked in an
ideological war, mostly fought on clandestine and diplomatic terms
(with the occasional hot spot flare-ups and crises). As both sides
were armed with nuclear weapons that had ballistic capability, (due
to Soviet spies involved in the Manhattan Project and surrender of
Nazi rocket engineers to both sides), tensions escalated to the
point where both sides were on constant nuclear alert. Allied war
planning was centered on a massive Soviet armored invasion of West
Germany from the East, as well as a strategic nuclear response in
the event of a Soviet strike on any Allied nation.
The old WWII Allied and Russian Sectors of Berlin remained until
the fall of the Berlin Wall, and were often used as exchange points
for spies and others held by both sides.
Also, it wasn't long after WWII that Mao Tse Tung's Communists
overthrew the government of WWII Western ally Chiang Kai-Shek,
leading to the Communist takeover of China. The government of
Chiang fled to Taiwan, and is why Taiwan is still a political
sticking point even 60 years later as the U.S. has guaranteed
protection to Taiwan over the objection of the Communist Chinese
Government. This, along with the Communist takeover of North Korea
(and attempted takeover of the South) led to virtually all of the
Eastern Asian continent being under Communist rule. Other nations
that fell to Communism later (Cuba, e.g.) were considered satellite
nations of the USSR. Other nations that didn't become Communist
nations (e.g., Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and other Arab countries) relied
heavily on Soviet weapons, technology and training to outfit their
The term "Cold War" is misleading - though it never turned into a
full out confrontation between East and West being "hot", there
were plenty of conflicts both covert (my old domain) and public
(Korea, Vietnam, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Bay of Pigs,
Nicaragua, Grenada, etc.), over the years that made tensions
anything but peaceful. The daily constant threat of global nuclear
war was a real possibility that we lived with.
The Korean War and Vietnam War have never officially been referred
to as anything other than "conflicts", maintaining the status quo
that the East and West were not officially at war with each other.
The difference is that both sides knew a full confrontation between
East and West would lead to Nuclear War, neither side of which was
willing to start. However, that didn't mean that propaganda and
regional conflicts weren't used to push the ideological agendas of
One good propaganda example that many people have forgotten is how
the United States got involved in the Persian Gulf to begin with -
it's directly related to the Cold War and the threat of Communist
influence on the area. In 1983, the Kuwaiti government, whose oil
tankers had been constantly harassed by Iranian militants from
several oil platforms in the Gulf, formally asked the United States
government for permission to re-flag their tankers under the U.S.
flag (ships often fly under different flags of nations they're not
from for differing reasons). Doing so instantly guaranteed them
protection under the U.S. Navy. The choice at the time was a simple
one - Kuwait had made it clear that if the United States or NATO
had refused, they were going to ask the Soviets for protection. I
still remember Reagan's speech to the nation on the matter - "If we
don't do it, the Soviets will". Giving the Communists regional
control of one of our most strategic necessities (most Americans
have no clue just how vulnerable the U.S. is, and dependent on
strategic materials we don't have) was not an option.
The beginning of the end of the Cold War began with the Polish
Solidarity Union strike against the Polish Government. The Soviets
had already extended themselves militarily in their controlled
countries to maintain control and limit dissent, which was a huge
drain on their national budget. The Soviets began having to
withdraw their forces back to Russian territories. Once that began,
dictators no longer had the protection they once had, and once
Communist governments began to fall. Reagan's proposed abrogation
of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (which was required prior
to his Ballistic Missile Defense Program initiation) was the budget
straw that broke that Soviet's military back.
Afghanistan had proven to be a long and costly war that resulted in
nothing, and a huge debt. The U.S. and the other Western Allies had
the capital to fund the BMD program, and this led to then Soviet
Premier Mikhail Gorbachev's willingness to finally do serious
negotiations with Reagan on removing and reducing huge numbers of
nuclear weapons which had fueled tensions for decades. In the end,
as Gorbachev's policies loosened the Communist hold over Russia and
its territories, the Communist Party lost power for good. It wasn't
long after that the Strategic Air Command bomber crews, which had
been on round-the-clock ready alert in case of a first-strike
Soviet launch for decades, were ordered to stand down.
Having been in the thick of the dicier operations of the Cold War,
I and others can honestly say that we never believed we'd see the
end of the Cold War or the fall of the Soviet Union in our
lifetime, let alone the re-unification of Germany and the fall of
the Berlin Wall. It's a sad note that the recent anniversary of the
Wall coming down didn't get much attention - so many people tried
to cross the Wall over the decades. Most were killed or captured
and imprisoned, though some made it through sheer daring. Tunnels,
hang gliders, balloons, etc., were used in attempts.
The constant threat of Nuclear War was both comforting and
terrifying at the same time. Terrifying for obvious reasons, but
during the Cold War everyone knew who was the enemy - today it
could be anyone. As an example of life when I was a kid in the
60's, I still remember "Duck & Cover" drills, and the weekly
test of the Air Raid Siren at my school. DC drills, like so much
other public propaganda then, were psychological of course. Hiding
under a desk to protect yourself from the big bad bomb? Not likely
to do much but keep you from seeing the flash.