* war and social upheaval: The Cold War -- phases

The Cold War: The Phases (1917-89)

Figure 1.--Here we see Soviet Premier Nikita-Khrushchev during a visit to France (1960). Part of SeGualle's foreign policy was a more independent foreign policy, including separate arrngements with the Soviets. Khruschev's rule spanned the two major phases of the Cold War (1954-64). Unlike Stalin, he exuded a strong element of humanity. He began the De-Stalinization effot and some of the worst abuses of the NKVD which he turned into the somewhat less bloody KGB. But he was a true believer in Communism and was convinced the Soviet Union had a moral commitment to protect Communism where it existed and to promote its expansion. This led to the supression of the Hungarian Revolution and then the Cuban Missle Crisis which very nearly resulted in a disaterous nuclear exchange.

It is a very complicated undertaking to date the Cod War. Generally is is dated from the break up of the joint effort to defeat the NAZIs after World War II. This certainly is when most Europeans and Americans became aware of the Cold War, but it was not when the Cold War actually becgan. The Cold War began with tge Bloshevik Revolution in the Soviet Union (1917). The Bolsheviks wereactuallybsurprised when the Evolution occured in backward, largely agrarian Russia, ather than one of ghe major industrial countries with sibstantial proloterit (industrial work force). Thus from the very beginning of Soviet Communism, Bolsevil eyes were on the aevolution in the rest of the world especially Western Europe. Stalin's Non Aggression Pact with Hitler was calculated to direct Hitler West with the expectation that a debilitating war between Germany and the Allies would clear the way for the Red Army to bring al of Europe under Soviet cotrol. Even after the NAZI invasion (1941), Stalin continued to wage cold war, although largely covertly so as not to put the co-belligerbcy in jepordy. After the war the Cold war became more and more obvious. Churchill's spech at Fulton, Missoti drew America's attention to it, but in fact The Soviets had been waging Cold war for some time. The focus of this first stage was Soviet expanionist efforts in Europe. The nature of the conflict changed with Stalin's death and Khruschev's De-Stalinization campaign. Berlin had been ground zero in the post-World War II phase of the Cold War. The Communist victory in China and the North Korean invasion of south Korea opened new fronts in the Cold war. The third and fnal phase of the Cold war began with the Berlin Wall (1961). Few realized at the time that thefundamentl economic weakness of Communism was beginning to show. While seen at the time as an aggressibe step, it actually froze the European or openig phse of the Cold War in place. The Cold war than shifted to the Third World. Castro had brought Cuba over the Communist side and by inviting the Soviets to deploy balistic missles almost initiating a nuclear exchange. The de-Colonization process in many case developed into East-West conflict. The primary focus became Vietnam. The Vietnam War weakened America. Many in the Third world saw it as Communist superiority. Many Europeans objected to American military projection, but hypcritically saw no problen with a North Vietnamese invasion of the South. In America the anti-War movement went on endlessly about suposed American war crimes, but after the War were silent about the millions killed by the Communists. The inherent inefficencies of Communism and the impact of supressing freedom began to eat at the vitals of Communist countries. The Soviet Union was unable to hold Eastern Eurppe without military interventions and eventually collapsed. China of all countries adopted market capitalism. Those countries Communist countries which refused to reform were condemned to perpetual poverty (Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam).

Inter-War Era Phase (1917-45)

It is a very complicated undertaking to date the Cod War. Generally is is dated from the break up of the joint effort to defeat the NAZIs after World War II. This certainly ishen most Europeans and Americans became aware of the Cold war, but it was not when the Cold War actually began. The Cold War began with the Bloshevik Revolution in the Soviet Union (1917). The Bolsheviks were actually surprised when the Revolution occured in backward, largely agrarian Russia, rather than one of the major industrial countries with substantial proloterit (industrial work force). Thus from the very beginning of Soviet Communism, Bolshevik eyes were on the a revolution in the rest of the world especially Western Europe. The Chekka developed into a massive secret police opertion with extenive foreign operations. Revolutions were launched in Germany and Hungary. The Sovirts from an early phased gained control of the Comintern. Stalin's greatest priority was on gaining control of the soviet Union and the Gulag, Ukranian Famine, and Great Terror followed. Stalin's Non Aggression Pact with Hitler was calculated to direct Hitler west with the expectation that a debilitating war between Germany and the Allies would clear the way for the Red Army to bring all of Europe under soviet control (1939). By this time, Stalin had eradicated the Old Bolsheviks including his nemesis Torotsky. Stalin's murder of Trotsky in Mexico City reflcted Stalin's control of the wold Comminist Movement (1940). The NaZI Barbarossa invasion ended the Soviet-NAZI alliance (1941). Only the timing of the incasion surprised stalin. Throughout the remainfer oif World War II, Stalin continued to wage a cold war, although largely covertly so as not to put the co-belligerncy in jepordy. This phase of the Cold War began with Stalin's arrest and murder of the Polish Home Army fighters which had been fighting the NAZIs.

Post World War II Phase(1945-61)

Stalin was left after World War II in control of Eastern Europe, Stalin proceeded to install repressive puppet satellite governments in Poland and other countries. Stalin proceeded to install People's Republics in these states which meant Stalinist police states subservient to the Soviet Union. Stalin proceeded to use Communist parties in Greece, France, and Italy to broaden the Soviet Empire. American and European democracies sharply criticised the Soviet actions. Winston Churchill warned in 1946 that an "iron curtain" was descending through the middle of Europe. Joseph Stalin who had virtually allied himself with Hitler in 1939 to launch World War II, blamed the War on "capitalist imperialism" and threatened Western Europe. President Truman decided to support Western Europe. The Cold War was a period of intense East-West competition, tension, and conflict, but always short of full-scale war. The American policy throughout the nearly 50 years of the Cold War was once of "Containment". It was first enunciated by George Kennan writing as "X" in a celebrated article on Foreign Affairs. In the Nuclear Age, war between super powers was unthinkable. America sought to contain the expansion of the Soviet Empire while internal forces would weaken Soviet imposed Communist regimes from within. World War II had left Europe devastated. A staggering 40 million people were killed in World War II. In an effort to promote economic recovery, the United States implemented the Marshall Plan. (It was not called the Truman Plan because that would have doomed it in the Republican controlled American Congress.) The Plan was proposed by American Secretary of State George C. Marshall in 1947. Eventually over $12 billion (in 1948 dollars) was provided. Berlin was at the center if the Cold War. Stalin decided in 1948 that he could blockade Berlin and force the Western allies out and the people of West Berlin into submission. Ironically the people of West Berlin were saved by American and British pilots, in most cases the same men that only 3 years earlier had been bombing German cities and had reduced Berlin to ruble. President Truman was determined that the United States would not leave Berlin and a massive airlift was organized and even during the winter, more supploes were reaching Berlin than before tht Soviets had instituted the blockade. America did not withdraw from Europe after World War II as it had done after World War I. Stalin helped bring about that commitment. Stalin seized total control of Czechoslovakia in 1948, ending all pretence of democracy. But it was the Soviet blockade of West Berlin that made it clear that a strong Western military capability was necessary to counter Soviet power. The United States helped organize the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)--a mutual assistance military treaty. Even befoire the Soviet blockade was lifited, the United States and 11 other countries on April 4, 1949 signed the treaty. [Hudson, p. 62.] After the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, the Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists resumed in earnest. The Communists had by 1948 defeated the Nationalists on the Mainland and Chian Kai-shek and his remaining forces fled to Taiwan which had been liberated from the Japanese. The success of the Communist Revolution led by Mao-Tse-Tung in 1949 brought a massive change in Chinese society. As the Cold war intensified, a wave of anti-Communist hysteria developed in America. The North Koreans Army crossed the 38th paralle on June 25, 1950 to forcibly unify Korea. President Truman immediately ordered war material be provided the South Koreans and then cmmitted U.S. forces to the defense of South Korea. Stalin and his sucessors encountered much more difficulty subjecting the people of Eastern Europe to totalitarian rule than the Russian people. The Soviets brutally suppressed attempts by Eastern Europeans to overthrow Soviet imposed governments: East Germany (1953), Poland (1956), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1978), and other outbreaks--especially in Poland. The Cold War was to be won or lost in Germany. The country was even with deminished borders the powerhouse of Europe. The Red Army and Stalin's ruthlessness early owned settled the matter in the minds of most Germans. The question became more one of whether America had the determination to support the Germans in the face of the Soviet threat. The Western Allied in 1949 began to allow the Federal Republic of German to administer the Western occupation zones and formally ended ocupation in 1955. The Cold War is often seen as a bi-polar struggle between East and West. The reality was much more complicated. France had been humbled by the Germans in World War II. After the War, France attempted to resurrect its colonial empire. This led to two failed colonial wars (Vietnam and Algeria). In search of an independent defence capability, France under General De Gaulle built an atomic bomb and pulled out of the NATO combined command.There were proxy wars and competition for influence in the newly independent countries of the developing world, many of which introduced Soviet command economics. India adopted a command economy with a democratic political system. Many other countries discarded all but the trappings of democratic government. There was also an arms race between the two superpowers. America and the Soviet Union adopted client states in the Third World to support their respective sides. After Stalin died in 1953, the Cold War became more unbalanced. There were periods of relaxation followed by resumed confrontation. Nikita Khrushchev shocked the Communist world when he denounced Stalin at the 1956 20th Party Congress. A power struggle followed Stalin's death in 1953. Ukranian Party boss Nikita Khrushchev emerged victorious in that struggle. Perhaps his single most important achievement was launching the De-Stalinization process in 1956. While Stlalin was a mass murder, Khrushchev was even more dangerous. His behacior was often crude such as when he took his shoe off and banged his desk at the United Nations when a speaker displeased him.

Turning Point (1961-62)

The Cold War is called cold because there was no direct military conflict between The United States and the Soviet Union, the two major nuclear powers. There were military conflicts, but none directly between America and the Soviets. We now know this never occurred, but at the time there was no guaranteed that the Cold War might turn into a very hot World War III. Two events occurred during the Khrushchev-Kennedy era that significantly reduced the change of a nuclear holocaust and turned the Cold War into primarily an economic struggle between the two nuclear superpowers. Both of these actions were initiated by Khrushchev who believed that the new young American president would not dare confront the Soviet challenge. The first event was contruction of the Berlin Wall (1961). Here Khrushchev was acting at the pleading of East Germans who saw their people escaping to the West. This was at the time seen a a victory for the Soviets. In effect in ended direct cinglict between America and the Soviets in Europe. President Kennedy saw this and decided to acquiese. It shifted the central locus of the Cold War from Europe where America and Europe to the Third World where there was no direct confrontation. Next Khrushchev took a far more dangerous step, deploying nuclear armed balistic missles in Cuba (1962). Here Kennedy did not acquiese and the result was nearly a nuclear holocaust. In the end it was Khrushchev who backed down and removed the missles. Krushchev's lost of prestuge and reckless behavior resulted in his removal (1964). It also reated an elemnt of caution in Soviet behavior. They were content to the Cold War becoming an economic contest. They firmly believed that Comminism was a superior economic system and Capitalism could not compete. Here they were fundamentally wrong. Communist regimes could generate military power. Socialist plannd economies could not, however, generate wealth. And by turning the Cold War into an economic comepition, the Soviets were condemning themselves as the Communists put it to the 'dustbin of history'. There were other Cld War struggles, but this settled the central conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Late-20th Century Phase (1961-89)

The most visible aspect of the Cold War was the Berlin Wall - the Wall the Communists built between East and West Germany. The Wall changed this. It did stop the flow of people West, although heart rending sights of small numbers of people braving the increasingly lethal dangers of the Wall moved West Germans. President Kennedy visited Berlin in 1962 to demonstrate American resolve in this vulnerable outpost of freedom. The most dangerous point of the Cold War was the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviert Union secretly began installing balistic missles in Cuba capable of hitting Atlantic coast American cities. A major development in the Cold War was the split between the Soviets and Chinese in 1964. There were efforts to pursue detente during the 1970s. Vietnam is the most controversial war in American history. Even after several decades the debate over the war continues. American Presidents Kennedy and Johnson committed American combat troops primarily as part of a Cold War commitment to fighting Communism. The reality in Vietnam was much more complex. American officials failed to perceive the nationalist dimensions of the War. The developing fissures in the Communist world were also not appreciated. Perhaps the most serious miscalculation was the military assessment of the ability of North Vietnam to resist American military power. The Indonesian military in 1965 overthrew the Sukarno regime claiming that the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was planning an uprising. The actual plans of the PKI are still murky, but over 1 million Indonesians were killed by the military for expected PKI sympathies. It was one of major attrocities of rhe 20th century. Another major even more radical change occurred during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), one of the most violent and tragic episodes in modern Chinese history. It was inspired by China's leader Mao Tse Tung and known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Mao thought that the Chinese people were losing their revolutionary zeal. He thus conceived of a cultural revolution to destroy once and for all the culture of pre-Communist China. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, after years of struggle, defeated the Cambodian military and seized the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. What followed was one of the most sinister and senseless acts of genocide ever committed by a government on its own people. The Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979. Unlike the other major conflicts in world history, in the end the Cold War was not settled by force of arms. It was the example of the West, especially the success of free market economics and political democracy that defeated Communism. [Mandelbaum] The Soviets in Western Europe used the growing pasifist movement in Western Europe to promote disarmament--disarmaament of the West. Stalin once asked mockingly how many divisions the Pope had. In fact the entire edifice of Stalinist in Eastern Europe began to unravel in Poland. The two principal forces were the Polish Catholic Church and an illegal free trade union movement--Solidarity. Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev played a central role in ending the Cold War. The Soviet economy was clearly failing. With a faltering economy, the Soviets could not successfully compete with America and the West. Gorbachev sought to rationalize the Soviet system through Glasnost and Perestroika. The relaxation of the police state role and the openness that he sought in effect destroyed the Soviet Union and its Eastern European Empire. Gorbachev was unwilling to use the instruments of state security to suppress the people of Eastern Europe and the nationalities within the Soviet Union. In the end the Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991. This was not Gorbachev's intention, but he inadvertently launched a new undivided and much freer Europe. [Hitchcock] President Ronald Reagan envisioned a smaller Government, a greater America. At the end of his two terms in office, the President Reagan viewed with satisfaction the achievements of his innovative program known as the Reagan Revolution, which aimed to reinvigorate the American people and reduce their reliance upon Government. He felt he had fulfilled his campaign pledge of 1980 to restore "the great, confident roar of American progress and growth and optimism." It is difficult to assess to what extent this stress or the internal weakness of the Soviet system resulted in its demise. Probably a combination of the two. Some view Reagan as genial, but poorly informed and unengaged. Others credit him with the destruction of Soviet Communism.


Deutscher, Issac. Deutscher is Trotsky's biographer.

Gellately, Robeet. Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War (2013), 496p.

Gray, William Glenn. Germany's Cold War: The Global Campaign to Isolate East Germany, 1949-69 (University of North Carolina), 251p.

Harrison, Hope. George Washington University. Library of Congress Panel, March 5, 2003.

Hitchcock, William I. The Struggle for Europe: The Turbulent History of a Divided Continent (Doubleday), 513p. This is a thought provoking, well researched book. The author has gained access to never before used Soviet archives. We do not agree with all of his conclusions. The author in many instances, for example, tends to explain Soviet actions as response to American policies rather than the inherent nature of a brutal, expantionist regime.

Hudson, G.F. The Hard and Bitter Peace: World Politics Since 1945 (Praeger: New York, 1967), 319p.

Kennan, George. Foreign Affairs.

McCullough, David. Truman.

Mandelbaum, Michael. The Ideas that Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the 21st Century. Prados, John. Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby (Oxford Unicersity, 2003), 380p.

Stafford, David. Spies beneath Berlin (Overlook), 211p.

Taubman, William. Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (Norton), 876p.

Vidal, Gore.

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