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The Cold War (September 2, 1945 - December 25, 1991) was the conflict
between the United States and its NATO allies - loosely described as the West and the former Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies - loosely described as the
Eastern Bloc. A full-scale "east versus west" war never actually broke out, hence
the metaphor of a "cold" war, rather than a "hot" shooting war. Instead, the
conflict was fought primarily on economic, philosophic, cultural, social, and
political levels. It continued from the end of World War II until the break up of
the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Except for the Korean War, Vietnam War and
the conflict in Afghanistan, the aggression between those two parts of the world
never shaped in an armed conflict, but was conducted by or against surrogates
and through spies and traitors who worked undercover. In each of those
conflicts, at least one of the major powers operated mainly by arming or funding
surrogates. Because of that, the population of the major powers were rarely
directly impacted by this "war".
In the war between the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. a major arena was the strategy
of technology. This cold war also involved covert conflict, through acts of
espionage. Beyond the actual fighting and killing that went on through
intelligence services, the Cold War was heavily manifest in the concerns about
nuclear weapons and the wars which could be fought with them, as well as in the
propaganda wars between the United States and the USSR. It was far from clear,
going through these times, that global nuclear war would not result from the
smaller arenas of conflict, giving each of them an added degree of concern. These
pressures impacted many aspects of life throughout the world, much more so
than the actual fighting going on between intelligence services.
One major hotspot of conflict was Germany, particularly Berlin. Arguably,
the most vivid symbol of the Cold War was the Berlin Wall, isolating West Berlin
(the portion controlled by West Germany and allied with France, England and
the United States) from East Germany, which completely surrounded it. Many
East Germans risked death attempting to cross the defences surrounding the wall
to reach freedom in West Berlin, and many were killed in the attempt. President
Ronald Reagan's challenge "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" in 1988 seemed
mere grandstanding, yet the wall was torn down within two years -- not by
Premier Gorbachev's order, but by the citizens of East and West Berlin.
Causes of the Cold War
A major difference of opinion between the two sides was over the merits of the
political philosophy of communism. The West, which opposed communism,
called itself the "Free World" - arguably a misnomer, as many of the nations on
the Western side of the conflict were dictatorships. In some cases, the United
States overthrew democratic governments and replaced them with dictatorships
friendly to its interests, such as Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973.
The cold war was waged through attempts to gain influence over intermediary countries,
with popular conception making much of spies and traitors working undercover. The
Korean War, the Vietnam War and the conflicts in Afghanistan, Grenada, Chad,
Angola, Cuba and of course the Middle East were aspects of the Cold War. The war
was also fought by intelligence organizations like the CIA (United States), MI6
(United Kingdom), Mossad (Israel), BND (West Germany), STASI (East
Germany) and the KGB (USSR).
Intelligence agencies' role
The armies of the countries involved rarely had much participation in the
Cold War; the war was primarily fought by intelligence agencies like the CIA
(United States), MI6 (Great Britain), BND (West Germany), STASI (East
Germany) and the KGB (USSR). The major world powers never entered armed
conflict directly against each other, only through other countries or under the
banner of the United Nations (Vietnam).
The “agent war” of mutual espionage both of civilian and military targets
may have caused the most casualties of the Cold War. Agents were sent both to
the east and the west, and spies were also recruited on location or forced into
service. When detected, they were either killed instantly or exchanged for other
agents. Spy airplanes and other surveillance aircraft were likewise regularly shot
down upon detection.
Many observers of varied political persuasions today think that the United
States acted in ways their own constitution and national sentiment would not
support (such as fighting undeclared wars without the explicit approval of
Congress). Leaders in the U.S., both political and military, commonly cite the
perceived threat to their security as justification for their actions. In many areas
of the world, the local populations feel they were manipulated and abused by
both powers. Most anti-Americanism in countries such as Afghanistan is now
attributed to the past actions by the U.S. intelligence service. During the Soviet
conflict with Afghanistan, the U.S. funded and armed the Mujahedeen (Afghani
holy soldiers) in their fight to repel the Soviet occupation, but pulled out and left
them to economically fend for them-selves once the USSR had pulled out of the
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Questions (answer using full sentences):
1) Analyze this document and identify what strategies were used by the US and
USSR to “fight” the cold war.
2) What is wrong about thinking of the West as the “Free World”?
3) Was the Cold War a World Cold War? Why?
4) What were some effects on the countries caught between the superpowers?