This collection of Cold War topic articles has been written by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest or contribute another topic, please contact Alpha History.
The seeds of conflict
What is communism?
Without the call for ‘workers of the world to unite’, there could have been no Soviet Union – and no Cold War.
Soviet Russia was intended to be a workers’ paradise – but became a regressive totalitarian state.
Capitalism made the United States prosperous and powerful – but also paranoid about its place in the world.
The seeds of the Cold War were planted in 1945, as the fragile alliances of World War II began to fracture.
As observed by Winston Churchill, the steel grip of Soviet control descended on Europe in the late 1940s.
In 1947 the US president outlined his foreign policy and thus defined America’s Cold War position.
The US committed $13 billion to reconstructing Europe – and saving it from communist infiltration.
Conquered and occupied by four different powers, the divided Germany became the crucible for the Cold War.
An attempt to starve the Allies out of occupied Berlin was thwarted by the largest air supply campaign in history.
Cold War alliances
As their political divisions hardened, Europe’s Western and Soviet blocs developed their own military alliances.
The Cold War was dominated by fears of a war involving nuclear bombs, the most catastrophic weapon ever devised.
‘Reds under the bed’
Early 1950s America was gripped by a paranoid belief that communists had infiltrated government and society.
One of the enduring motifs of the Cold War was of spies, assassins and agents, carrying out secret missions.
In 1950 a junior senator from Wisconsin shot to national prominence with a series of startling allegations.
Cold War propaganda
The Cold War was waged through propaganda, popular culture and the reinforcement of social and political values.
The ‘Kitchen Debate’
A 1959 exchange between the Soviet leader and US vice-president articulated some important Cold War attitudes.
Once loyal to Stalin, the incoming Soviet leader soon broke with the authoritarianism of his predecessor.
The Space Race
The Cold War extended into the skies, as the US and USSR competed to break new ground in space exploration.
The Asian hemisphere
The Cold War expanded into Asia in 1949, when communist revolutionaries seized control of China.
The Chinese communist leader promised peasant-based socialism – promises that were later shattered.
In 1950 communist North Korea attempted to reunify the peninsula by invading US-backed South Korea.
The self-styled ‘Great Leader’ of North Korea placed himself at the centre of an intense personality cult.
America’s attitude to Asia was underpinned by the belief that communism was an expanding imperial menace.
In 1965 the US sent combat troops to Vietnam, a nation Washington believed was about to fall to communism.
Ho Chi Minh
Though painted as a dictator, Ho Chi Minh was a creature of Vietnamese nationalism and rising Marxism.
Escalation and complication
The Hungarian uprising
A 1956 attempt to resist and shrug off Soviet communism in Hungary was quickly crushed by the Red Army.
Gary Powers and U-2
The capture of a US spyplane created an international incident and a propaganda victory for Moscow.
The Soviet hierarchy continued its attempts to force the Allies out of the divided German capital.
John F. Kennedy
Kennedy’s presidency was relatively brief but proved critical to the course of the Cold War.
In 1961 East Germany responded to a civilian exodus by closing its borders and erecting a gigantic wall.
The charismatic, cigar-smoking Cuban revolutionary seized control of his island home in 1959.
Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cold War threatened to explode into nuclear war in 1962, after Soviet missiles were discovered in Cuba.
A 1968 attempt to create ‘socialism with a human face’ ended with the restoration of Soviet control.
Detente and dissolution
In the late 1960s the Cold War entered a period of relative calm and better US-Soviet communications.
Soviets in Afghanistan
The overthrow of a left-wing government in Afghanistan prompted a Soviet military invasion in 1979.
The election of a former actor to the White House in 1980 would prove a turning point in the Cold War.
The Cold War rebooted
The Cold War was reignited by Reagan’s determination to increase defence spending and rollback communism.
Glasnost and perestroika
The rise of a new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, led to a raft of political and economic reforms in the USSR.
The winds of change
In the late 1980s European socialism began to collapse from within, as people rallied and demanded change.
The fall of the Berlin Wall
East Germany remained the final bastion of Soviet socialism – until the fateful events of late 1989.