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A Brief History of the Cold War

The Cold War occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union spanned from shortly after World War II ended until the early 1990s. The conflict was a power struggle between the two countries, with the main theme being the U.S. trying to promote and spread democracy while the Soviet Union was trying to promote and spread communism. The period of the Cold War included espionage, weapons development, propaganda, military tensions, political confrontations, invasions, and even competition in technological development such as the space race. While the two powers never directly fought each other, many monies were devoted to the defense spending, especially in the nuclear arms race.

There were phases of relatively peaceful periods, but there were also tensely confrontational periods. One of the first confrontational periods occurred during the ë40s in what is known as the Berlin Blockade. After the Allies won World War II, the Soviet Union remained in Berlin. The other Allied Forces were working towards an independent Germany, but Soviet officials were opposed to that, as they had already been invaded by Germany twice in the past. The Soviets blocked off all land and rail routes to western Berlin to try to maintain control. Other Americans and British troops ended up airlifting food and supplies to the people behind the blockade. The Soviets eventually lifted the blockade.

After World War II ended, the U.S. and Soviet Union agreed to jointly administer Korea. While the U.S. helped Syngman Rhee come to power in a democratic South Korea, the Soviet Union helped pro-communist leader Kim Il-Sung gain power in North Korea. The Korean War, in which North Korea invaded South Korea, further intensified the Cold War.

The next big altercation in the Cold War was the Berlin Crisis of 1961. During the ë50s, many Germans left the Soviet occupied eastern zones to go to the democratic western zones for better jobs. By 1961, the Soviets came up with a way to stop the migration to the western zones and the Berlin Wall. The wall was built quickly by almost 32,000 combat and engineer troops in August of that year. Germany, the city of Berlin, and entire families were divided for years, with between 100 and 200 people being killed while trying to illegally cross. The Berlin Wall would stand as a reminder of the Cold War until it came down in November 1989.

The two countries came to blows again a year after the Berlin Wall was built with the Cuban Missile CrisisPresident John F. Kennedy , fearful of the expansion of communism, planned a Cuban invasion, but when Cuban leader Fidel Castro got word of it, he began building nuclear missile bases in Cuba with the support of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev . When the U.S. reconnaissance saw the missile bases being built, Kennedy and the United Nations Secretary General came to an agreement with the Soviets that the missiles would be dismantled if the U.S. promised not to invade Cuba.

The Soviets occupied Afghanistan in 1979 to promote a Marxist government there. Eventually, seeing this as part of the Cold War, the U.S. got involved and assisted the anti-Soviet Pakistani intelligence forces. The Soviets finally withdrew from the country in 1988.

After years and years of military and political confrontations, the Cold War finally dwindled down in the late 80s/early 90s, due in part to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev passing reforms that allowed more political and social freedoms to the people. The Soviet Union finally collapsed into independent nations in 1991.

Timeline of the Cold War

July 4, 1946: The Philippines, a United States protectorate, gains its independence.
October 1, 1946: Nazi war criminals receive sentencing at the Nuremberg trials.
October 17, 1946: Winston Churchill proclaims “an iron curtain has swept across the continent (Europe),” beginning the Cold War.
March 24, 1947: The 22nd Amendment is passed by Congress.
January 20, 1949: Harry Truman is sworn in as President for a 2nd term.
January 20, 1949: Alben Barkley is sworn in as the 35th Vice President of the United States.
April 4, 1949: North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is established by BelgiumCanada, Denmark, FranceGreat Britain, Iceland, ItalyLuxembourg, the NetherlandsNorwayPortugal, and the United States.