The cold war: Historical Causes and Reasons why it went on for nearly fifty years
The Cold War was a post-World War II confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union; then known as the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). The absence of a direct armed conflict or military combat between the two sides forms the basis for the name; the Cold War. It is not uncommon to come across people who think that the Cold War began after World War II. But this is erroneous given that the foundation for this standoff was laid long before 1945.
The Second World War created the climate for the expansion of the Soviet Union. Having shown its military might to the rest of Europe, and the defeat of Hitler, Stalin wanted to control the region. The Soviet influence that began getting to Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe was worrisome to the United States. But President Roosevelt, the then president of the United States never wanted to hurriedly confront the soviets. The bad intentions of the Soviets however continued and the end of the Second World War in 1945 marked a rise in the Soviet speed in spreading its wings. The eastern part of newly dismantled Germany was quickly grabbed by Soviet powerbrokers. The west went to the allies: France, Britain, and the United States.
The spread of Soviet influence on its own was not the issue. The preference of opposing economic and political philosophies was a concern too. The Soviet-style was characterized by the suppression of dissent, guided elections, and dedication of personal effort to the state. The United States preferred democracy with individual liberty and respect for human rights. It, therefore, became a concern that if the Soviets kept on spreading their wings to other parts of the world, the forces of their dark leadership style would spread. The conventional thinking in the west, therefore, became the devising of means to curb this Soviet influence.
The realization of both sides that there was hostility hastened their steps. in 1950, North Korea, and the already communist regime invaded South Korea. By this time the two countries had an icy relationship. Truman had risen to power in the United States, and the Truman Doctrine was that the Soviets had to be controlled. The recent attainment of the atomic bomb emboldened him and he appeared ready to deal with the soviets. The Soviets too made their own arms race and by 1960, the world was almost getting into a nuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis happened during the presidency of J.F. Kennedy. Diplomacy combined with threats of retaliation and international pressure on an increasing number of nations that stood for American-style democracy made the soviets move their missiles away from the island of Cuba.
The Cold War dominated world politics for a long time due to the relative strength of the Soviet Union. Since it had nuclear weapons, it was not easy to intimidate it into submission. In fact, they were ahead in space exploration; having launched Sputnik I in 1957; an act that made the US fear an attack from space by the Soviets or the usage of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on the US (Lightbody 52). The United States also had displayed a sense of entitlement with a claim for high moral ground in the field of respect for human rights; an issue the Soviets mocked due to the failure of the larger American society to economically integrate African Americans. The powerlessness of the United Nations to control the two powerful countries also made the crisis take close to half a century. The collapse of the Soviet Union ended the standoff leaving the United States as the sole superpower.
The Vietnam War
Nearly related to the Cold War was the Vietnam War. The bone of contention was ideology. Communism was taking root; a fact that worried the United States. The escalation that was engineered by the invasion of South Korea by North Korea was a major factor. The United States got directly involved after the defeat of the French by a small communist force in 1954. The United States saw this as a victory for communism over capitalism and moved in to help the French regain their foothold; something that never happened. It is a war that is remembered with bitterness and regret by the United States due to the thousands of lives lost and no victory won.
Lihgtbody, Bradley.The Cold War. New York: Routledge, 1999.