Cold War and Its Legacy Term Paper

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¶ … Cold War and its legacy. The Cold War between America and the Soviet Union had its origins at the end of World War II, when the two former allies began to look at the world and each other through different eyes. The Cold War was between the U.S.A. And the U.S.S.R., but it affected the entire world, and led to a legacy that is still viable and important today.

Today, it may be difficult to look back and understand the origins and continuation of the Cold War. It seems perhaps childish posturing and overt ideals of world domination that set off the Cold War and helped it continue for over four decades. One expert on the Cold War talks about the origins of the Cold War and how the viewpoints have changed over the years. He writes, "In America two views of the Cold war once dominated the discussion. The traditional or orthodox approach blamed the Russians for the outbreak of the Cold War, Soviet Russia being portrayed as relentlessly expansionist and ideologically motivated" (Whitcomb 1-2). The second view saw the U.S. As "provocative" in some of her actions with the Soviets, and the Soviets being reactionaries to these overtures, quests for power and even imperialism (Whitcomb 2).

However, it was even more than two superpowers edging each other for power and dominance. Many writers believe that after World War II ended, and peace came to the world, a new idea dominated the minds of many, and it was "us vs. them." Writer John Kenneth White notes, "A new politics of 'us' and 'them' was emerging -- one that pitted FDR's 'common man' against his former ally, the intellectuals -- and the red specter of communism was the bright line that separated the two" (White 53). This mentality began after the war ended, and spread throughout the country and the world, with both sides suffering from it (White 53-54).

The Cold War grew as more people succumbed to the "us" versus "them" mentality, but there was another very compelling reason the Cold War came to be and grew through the 1950s and 1960s. America had the atomic bomb, and the Soviet Union did not, at least at first. Initially, President Truman advocated sharing knowledge about nuclear energy with an international organization as a way to drive Soviet-American relations to greater bargaining and agreement. The Russians, at the end of World War II, were moving toward dominance of certain Eastern European countries, such as Romania and Poland, and the U.S. hoped to use the bomb as a way to diffuse Soviet dominance and reach accords with them. Ultimately, the Russians resented Truman's lack of communication about the bomb before it was used on Japan, and when Truman did not offer up the technology to an international group for management, resentment began to fester (Whitcomb 44-46, 68). A writer for the Library of Congress elaborates, "After World War II, Joseph Stalin saw the world as divided into two camps: imperialist and capitalist regimes on the one hand, and the Communist and progressive world on the other" (Van Hoesel). Thus, the two world powers seemed diametrically opposed in their trust of each other, and indeed with their dealings with each other, and this had a direct effect on relations, and ultimately led to what would become the Cold War. In addition, when the Soviet Union acquired nuclear technology, the two sides mutually distrusted each other, believing that one would use nuclear aggression against the other, which would ultimately lead to an Armageddon around the world. There were strategic arms agreements in the 1970s, but still, the Cold War raged on due to distrust and the ability for both countries to use the bomb at a moment's notice (Van Hoesel).

While many experts believe the atomic bomb and Russian aggression formed the foundation of the Cold War, not all analysts agree with that assessment. Another writer notes, "Rather, the Cold War was fundamentally a moral struggle between good and evil, between freedom and tyranny. The idea that the Cold War 'was really about the imposition of autocracy and the denial of freedom' is, as John Gaddis has pointed out with admirable directness, a 'fact that many of us had become too sophisticated to see'" (Nichols 234). That idea may seem too simplistic to some, but it does underline the theme of "us" versus "them" that permeated the time and seemed to help drive the Cold War into being.

Another major cause of the Cold War was Russian aggression in Europe after World War II ended. In 1946, just a year after the war ended, Winston Churchill called the Soviet Union's aggression an "Iron Curtain" that was slowly descending over Europe (McMahon 26). The Soviet government imposed rule over Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria, and tool over East Germany (hence the wall between East Berlin and West Berlin) as well. Many analysts worried that the Soviet Union would capitalize on a growing leftist sentiment in Europe, especially in the areas that had been hit hardest by the war, and that they would gain more control and support in European nations via this sentiment than political power.

The Cold War escalated and diminished throughout the nearly 50-year history of the conflict. It escalated with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the Soviets placed missiles in Cuba and then finally backed down after a naval blockade instigated by President Kennedy, and it escalated again in 1968 when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1980 (Van Hoesel). Yet by 1991, the Soviet regime had fallen, and communism disappeared in Europe, to be replaced by capitalism and more freedoms, if not full democracy in many areas. Many people believe it was Mikhail S. Gorbachev's rise to power that ultimately led to the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold war. Gorbachev made all the major concessions that led to the fall of the Soviets, and the dramatic changes that took place in Europe. Gorbachev had new ideas about everything from nuclear weapons to security issues, and it was Gorbachev who made many of the initial overtures toward diplomacy and concessions with the United States that led to the end of the Cold War (McMahon 160). Gorbachev and his chief foreign minister believed the arms race had become "self-defeating," and that communism had failed in Russia in many ways, and so, they took the Russian people to a new level of freedom and democracy (McMahon 161).

One of the most enduring legacies of the Cold War is the space race, which occurred largely as a result of technologies that grew and expanded after World War II. The Soviets were the first to launch a satellite into space (Sputnik in 1957), although both powers had been experimenting with rocket power since the war ended. Writer Whitcomb continues, "On October 4, 1957, Soviet Russia launched the world's first man-made satellite in space -- a scant two months after they had fired the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile. These two events precipitated a virtual panic in the West" (Whitcomb 157). This also seemed to indicate the Soviets enjoyed more technology and better scientists than the Americans did, and this led to the space race and the development of the Mercury and Apollo space programs, whose ultimate goal was to send men to the moon in American rockets. While the Soviets actually put a person in space before the Americans (Yuri Gagarin in April 1961), the Americans followed closely behind, and ultimately dominated the space race (McMahon 75-76). This space race has left a legacy of space exploration and discovery through NASA and other agencies. Not only did it lead to the first man on the moon, it has led to the development of many other technologies, such as the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and the Hubble Space Telescope, all outstanding legacies in their own right.

Many political scientists and experts believe the Cold War helped continue the power and importance of the President of the United States, who was often called upon to deal with Soviet actions, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, quickly and effectively to appease and even save the American people. One of these experts writes, "As Kennedy and Nixon intimated, it was the Cold War president's job to define objectives, set the course, and steer the ship of state through years of foreign policy struggle with the Soviet Union" (White 316). However, this expert did not foresee the events of 2001 in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. He believed that after the end of the Cold War, American presidents "[C]an no longer capture the imagination of their audiences as the undisputed Leader of the Free World" (White 317). The terrorist attacks and the resulting war with Iraq have made that prediction ring quite false. President Bush has used this war to again declare himself the "undisputed Leader of the Free World," something that many Americans, perhaps used to the era… [END OF PREVIEW]

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