What was the Cold War about?


What was the Cold War about?

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In *very* simplified terms, USA and Russia both came out of WWII with a lot of political, economic, and military power. Russia didn’t want USA to get more power. America didn’t want Russia to get more power. Russia wanted more power. America wanted more power.

This put America and Russia at odds with each other.

Technologically, militarily, politically, and economically they were rivals.

This put America and Russia at odds with each other.

America wanted everyone to be aligned with them whether they were allies or not and so spent a lot of effort on spreading ‘capitalism’ and installing pro-america rulers. Russia wanted everyone to be aligned with them whether they were allies or not and so spent a lot of effort on spreading ‘communism’ and installing pro-russia rulers.

This put America and Russia at odds with each other.

The problem was… nukes. America was able to produce nukes and had the technology and logistics to deliver them anywhere in the world. Russia was able to produce nukes and had the technology and logistics to deliver them anywhere in the world.

Nobody wants to be nuked.

America and Russia did everything they could to hamstring each other’s efforts around the world but tried their damndest to not actually cross the line into direct conflict where one side might get desperate enough to try and use nukes which would immediately result in the other side also using nukes.

It wasn’t a war. But it wasn’t *not* a war. It wasn’t a hot war with soldiers and tanks and planes directly fighting the enemy. It was a cold war with subterfuge and proxies and puppets.

So what was it about? The same thing war is always about. Power.

Immediately after WWII ended, the dominant ideology in the world was the US ideology of self determination. The basic idea was that every country would have its own, democratically elected government and disputes would be solved through the UN. Given America’s political, economic, and military power immediately after the war, it was able to get everyone to agree to that view of the world – at least on paper.

Shortly after the UN was set up, the Soviet Union was still in control of large parts of Europe and Asia that had formerly been occupied by Germany and Japan. It was suppose to peacefully leave those areas under its occupation so that democratic elections could be held, but that’s not what happened.

What happened was that the Soviets began a massive purge, similar in scale to the holocaust. German and Japanese prisoners of war were sent to labor camps where they were worked to death, while anyone deemed to be anti-communist in Soviet controlled suffered similar fates. The Soviet Union then installed pro-Soviet puppet governments everywhere they were in power and took steps to ensure that Mao Zedong took control of China.

The Soviet Union also adopted an official foreign policy of supporting communist insurgent groups all over the world with the explicit aim of overthrowing democratic governments and installing pro-Soviet puppet states.

As to Europe and the US, the Soviet’s official foreign policy was that they would invade Western Europe as soon as doing so was feasible, and they began a massive military buildup for that express purpose.

Following this, the French and English refused to decolonize their African and Asian colonies, as they had *sort of kind of* agreed to do during WWII, citing the fact that all of the indigenous decolonization movements had ties to the Soviet Union.

The US response to this was to shift its foreign policy to one aimed at supporting governments that opposed Soviet backed guerillas, regardless of the democratic leanings of those governments.

And that’s basically the history of the Cold War – the Soviet Union slowly converted its economy until most of the economic activity inside of it was aimed at supplying weapons to anti-western guerillas in the third world and propping up its various puppet states. The US was able to successfully resist the Soviet attempts to take control of the third world without destroying its own economy, and the Soviet economy eventually fell apart, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union, led by Russia, was very communist. The USA was (and still is) very capitalist.

Those two ideologies, when taken to such an extreme degree, are almost impossible to reconcile. They have a fundamentally different understanding of property rights, so they cannot comfortably trade with each other or even establish roughly compatible legal systems.

But they couldn’t really just ignore one another either. World War II had taught everyone a sort of cosmopolitan political theory: you can’t isolate yourself from other countries. Conflicts in one part of the world will inevitably pull you in, so it’s better to stay involved in the first place and prevent things from getting out of control.

Technology was also making isolationism impossible: instant global communication, mass air travel, etc.

Moreover, much of the world was kinda up for grabs. In the wake of WWII, the huge colonial empires controlled by England, France, and Japan were quickly unraveling. The most notorious “proxy conflicts” of the cold war, like the Korean War and Vietnam War, came directly from that situation. These colonies were becoming independent countries with an open future, and they had *internal* divisions between communist and capitalist factions. It would have required impressive restraint for the two superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviets, to stay away from those conflicts.

However, they both had large arsenals of nuclear bombs. So they couldn’t have an all-out war with each other; it might destroy the entire world.

So instead, they had a “cold” war: doing everything possible to damage, antagonize, and gain leverage over one another without starting a “hot,” real war. Espionage, covert support for insurgencies, technological competition, attempts to embarrass the other or tarnish their reputation, etc.

OOC, and totally without judgment, what prompted OP to ask this question and what is their background? I’m just interested in what sort of person would be unfamiliar with the Cold War and what is prompting their interest in it now. No worries if you’re not comfortable sharing.

Immediately following WW2, both Russia and the United States became the dominant superpowers. Russian and American technology advanced at a rapid pace, and both wanted to prevent the other from spreading their influence globally. This created tension between the two nations that threatened to ignite another war and was only exacerbated by the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then the Space Race.

This is extremely dumbed down and doesn’t even begin to touch on the depth of the political and socioeconomic divides of the two nations. I would highly recommend reading some history books to get a better understanding of the situation.