When did the Cold War start? Why choose this date/event?

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Introduction

Cold War denotes tensions between two world powers that began after the World War II. The rivalry in this respect was between the United States and the Soviet Union. Cold War between the two nations last for almost half of the 20th century. The Cold War period was characterized by mutual suspicions and increased tensions. In addition, a number of international incidents occurred during the Cold War period that almost brought the world to the brink of World War III. On the same note, the Cold War phenomenon influenced international affairs and some of the crises and international incidents associated with the Cold War range from the Vietnam War, Hungarian Revolution, Cuban Missile Crisis and Berlin Wall among other Cold War related incidents. Further, Cold War also contributed to a class of beliefs and ideologies between communists and capitalist leaning nations all over the world. Other incidents that characterized the Cold War era was the creation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly by the United States and the USSR respectively. To this end, this paper analyzes when the Cold War began and reason for choosing the date or event.

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When did Cold War Start

Most historians concur that the Cold War began in 1947 and heralded rivalry between two world super powers of that era, the United States and USSR. Their rivalry was evident in their geopolitical undertones, the ideologies they embraced and the economic principles that they supported. Both the United States and USSR were allies during the World War II; however, the need to dominate world affairs after the World War II meant both super powers had to take their separate directions and became competing factions with intention to dominate each other in every aspect to reinforce their existence as world’s only super powers.

In order to outwit one another, it meant putting in place systems and structures that would ensure they are adept with each other’s maneuvers to dominate the world. These systems and structures played an important role in disrupting each other’s efforts to dominate world affairs. In essence, the systems and structures created by both nations contributed, for instance, to incidents such as espionage and proxy wars evident in Vietnam and Afghanistan respectively. Being superior over one another also meant significant investment in technology necessitated by the need to develop weapons that would provide one country the edge over the other. As a result, both nations ended up developing weapons of mass destruction and nuclear submarines. The competition or rivalry to dominate each other was not only on technological advancement, but also on economic, social and cultural front.Among some of the earliest events that marked the genesis of the Cold War emanates from the remarks of Winston Churchill on March 5, 1946 that was perceived as anti-communist. Churchill lamented that:

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An “Iron Curtain” was emerging in Europe and particularly Central and Eastern Europe capitals such as Sofia, Berlin, Vienna, Belgrade and Warsaw. These cities as Churchill noted than were within the grasp of the Soviet Union, and likely to be subjected to Soviet influence as well as being controlled from Moscow.

On other hand, the proponents of anti-communism points out that Stalin’s intentions of invading Berlin were to annex all of Eastern Europe. As such, it is the fear of alleged Stalin’s intentions for Eastern Europe that the Americans came up with a counter measure in the form of the Marshal Plan. The plan aimed at providing financial assistance to rebuild Western Europe economies in the aftermath of World War II. The United States needed strong European allies to counter the growing influence of the Soviet Union, particularly in Eastern Europe. The rivalry to outperform each other further led to another measure by the Soviet Union to counter the Marshall Plan, known as the Zhdanov Doctrine. As part of their charm offensive in the international arena, the Zhdanov Doctrine was intended to portray the United States as attempting to spread American imperialism across the globe. Conversely, the Doctrine in support of the Soviet Union’s endeavors portrayed the nation’s interest on eliminating imperialism and fascism and replacing them with democracy.

The rivalry between the two nations meant that they had to use all tactics in their sleeves to stay ahead in attempts to dominate world affairs. As a result, the United States counter reaction to the Zhdanov Doctrine was the “Long Telegram, which was written by the Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow, George Kennan. Kennan stated that:

Compared to Nazi Germany, the Soviet power is neither schematic nor adventurous and does not rely on fixed plans. He further insinuates in the telegram that Soviet Union is risk averse, overlooks the logic of reason, and is highly sensitive to the logic of force. As a result, Kennan in his “Long Telegram” point out that Soviet Union can easily withdraw, particularly when it encounters strong resistance.

In essence, Kennan’s Long Telegram is what contributed to the United States adoption of a policy to contain the spread of communism across the globe. Earlier on, the possession of atomic bomb gave the United States the upper hand over the USSR in terms of spreading its ideologies to other nations. However, in order to level the playing field, Soviet Union also came up with their own version of atomic bomb in 1949, which gave them leverage to also spread their agenda to targeted nations across the globe.

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The rivalry between the United States and USSR also contributed to the adoption of illiberal ideas such as McCarthyism that dominated America in the 1950s. The intensity of the rivalry between the two world powers created a more paranoid America that was obsessed with ensuring it was the only world super power. The influence of the two super powers over nations across the world informed their adoption of capitalism or communism. However, capitalist oriented nations appeared to perform better economically compared to communist based nations. In Europe, for instance, more people from the East appeared to flee to the West for their economic betterment. The erection of the Berlin Wall by the USSR, for instance, was necessitated by the need to prevent millions of people from fleeing communist leaning East Germany to a capitalist West Germany.

Conversely, the mutual suspicions between the two super powers were to a greater extent, became a threat to human survival on planet earth as evident with the incident of the Cuban missile crisis. Both countries had developed nuclear weapons and viewed each other as a threat to their very survival. In the race to spread capitalism and communism across the globe by the two super powers, suspicions and tensions between two nations became more pronounced. For instance, when Fidel Castor became the leader of Cuba, and his subsequent rejection of the United State and its leaning towards the USSR made the United States more uneasy. Cuba’s association with the Soviet Union meant its sworn enemy was getting closer to its territory since Cuba neighbors the United States.

In order to contain Soviet Union’s efforts to undermine the United States influence in the Americas, the U.S. established systems and structure necessary to enhance its spy on USSR activities in Cuba. For instance, enhancing its spy on Cuba contributed to the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles installations that why capable of striking the United States quicker compared to being launched from Eastern Europe. The jostle for power and influence across the globe by the two super powers led to myriad of antics that included installations of nuclear missiles closer to each other’s territories. While the USSR installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, the United States also installed theirs in Turkey, a closer range to strike the USSR. Further, in order to undermine each other’s might in the war field, both nations engaged in proxy wars. In Vietnam, for instance, the Soviet Union supplied munitions to the Viet Cong. Similarly, the United States supported the Afghan Mujahedeen during Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan. Other front that the two nations took their rivalry was in the arena of space technology. Their rivalry in the space arena contributed to more benefits for the world as both countries installed satellites in the space that serve the world to date. However, while the Cold War lasted for about half a century, capitalism as embraced by the United States appeared to win while communism crumbled gradually. In the long run, the Cold War that started in 1947 ended the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the establishment of the United States as the sole world super power.

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Why choose this date/ event

I choose this event because it marked the beginning of a rivalry between two world powers, which despite lasting for a half a century posed a threat to the survival of the human race. Both countries were armed with nuclear weapons and any escalation of rivalry between them would have led the world to WWIII and subsequently, the extinction of planet earth. In the WWII, both countries fought as allies and it was expected that their relationship would continue even after the WWII. However, conflicting interests meant both countries had to take their separate route. While the United States emphasized capitalism, the Soviet Union, on the other hand, supported communism. Due to the influence that both countries wielded then, they mistrusted each other thus leading to adoption of different beliefs and ideologies in matters related to politics, leadership and interests in the global arena. The consequences of mistrust between the two nations for the better part of the 20th century were appalling. For instance, it contributed to the significant development of weapons of mass destruction and millions lost live in regions that the United States and Soviet Union were involved in proxy wars.

In addition, the beliefs and ideologies adopted by both nations led to unequal world were capitalist leaning nations benefited while communist based nations languished in poverty. The beliefs and ideologies supported by the United States enabled capitalist oriented nations to embrace free elections, democracy, economic empowerment and free will. However, a focus on individualism as emphasized by capitalism created social divide between the rich and poor. Conversely, ideologies supported by Soviet Union contributed to communist nations eliminating free election, creating dictatorial governments and lack of free will. However, in communist nations, social divide was less pronounced due to a focus on collectivism rather than individualism.

Conclusion

The Cold War that started in 1947 after WWII was as a result of mistrust between two nations considered then as the world’s only super powers. The mistrust took both countries in the route of destruction as both nations made attempts to suppress each other’s influence in the global arena. The policies they adopted to contain each other contributed to incidents that almost brought the world to the brink of WWIII. Both nations perceived each other as a threat to their very existing and used all means to remain relevant in the global arena that also included developing weapons of mass destruction and engaging in proxy war to weaken each other’s influence in the international platform. In the end, the belief and ideologies adopted by both countries is what led to the collapse of one faction. Soviet Union’s communist ideologies failed to sustain economic development in nations that leaned towards the USSR. Conversely, capitalist ideologies ensured that the United States remained the sole super power after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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  1. Amadae, S. M., Rationalizing capitalist democracy: The cold war origins of rational choice liberalism,Chicago,  University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  2. Churchill, W., Iron curtain speech, Toledo, Great Neck Publishing, 2009.
  3. Cull, N.J., The Cold War and the United States information agency: American propaganda and public diplomacy, 1945-1989, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  4. Engerman, D. C., Staging growth: Modernization, development, and the global cold war, Armherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.
  5. Gaddis, J.L., The United States and the origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947, New York, Columbia University Press, 1972.
  6. Gaddis, J.L., The United States and the end of the Cold War: Implications, reconsiderations, provocations, New York, Oxford University Press, 1994.
  7. Hixson, W.L., Parting the curtain: Propaganda, culture, and the Cold War, 1945-1961, Basingstoke, Macmillan.
  8. Kennan, G. F., ‘ Moscow embassy telegram# 511:‘The long telegram,’ Containment: Documents on American Policy and Strategy, 1945-1950, 1945, pp.50-63.
  9. Leffler, M.P., A preponderance of power: National security, the Truman administration, and the Cold War, California, Stanford University Press, 1992.
  10. Rose, L. A., The Cold War comes to Main Street: America in 1950, Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 1999.
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