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What is the Cold War?

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June 03, 2015 4:41AM

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

military units.

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

both sides.

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.

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