Cold War: Decades-long power struggle between two superpowers
After World War II, two new powers emerged in the world – the Soviet Union, which advocated communist ideology, and the United States, which advocated capitalist ideology. As they were forces that could influence any event in the world, they made many interventions in world politics to demonstrate their power without directly using weapons. The Cold War was an ideological, technological, and political rivalry that lasted until the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Let us take a look at the significant political developments of that time.
World War II
After World War II, the boundaries of world politics that existed till then began to change. In 1945, the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and France defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan, which were the world's greatest powers at the time. These powers divided Germany into four parts and made it their territory. Later, the German territories under the United States, France, and Britain were unified to form West Germany. The region under the Soviet Union became East Germany.
As World War II involved all the world's major powers, its impact extended beyond Europe. The war caused devastating losses in South Asia, China, Myanmar, and the northeastern parts of India.
The United States and Britain feared that the rise of the Soviet Union would also affect Western Europe.
Though the Soviet Union was an ally of the United States, Britain, and France in World War II, it distanced itself from the others after the war. The Soviet Union pursued communist ideology, as opposed to the capitalist ideology promoted by the United States, Britain, and France. Later, they became two political blocs that could wield their influence on any global issue.
The United States launched the Marshall Plan to keep the countries of Western Europe on its side to counter the challenge of the Soviet Union.
In the final days of World War II, when Japan was about to surrender, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. According to History.com, critics say that this was done to prove that America was the world's greatest military power.
The Marshall Plan
Under the leadership of the Red Army of the Soviet Union, left-wing governments came to power in Eastern Europe. The United States and Britain feared that the rise of the Soviet Union would also affect Western Europe. The Cold War intensified in 1947-48. The United States launched the Marshall Plan to keep the countries of Western Europe on its side to counter the challenge of the Soviet Union. According to this plan, aid was given to the countries facing any crisis, and thus they were kept on the US side.
Containment of the Soviet Union
According to History.com, the containment strategy was a policy approach adopted by the United States to protect Western democratic values against the political and military growth of the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. American diplomat George Kennan described the containment strategy as "a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the United States, there can be no permanent modus vivendi (agreement between parties that disagree)." America, according to Kennan, "has only one option to proceed – long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of expansive Russian tendencies."
In 1947, US President Harry S. Truman made the containment of the Soviet Union a top priority, laying the groundwork for the Cold War by introducing domestic policies to prevent communism from taking root in the United States. According to Britannica, this action helped set the tone for the next four decades of the United States foreign policy.
The Arms Race
The United States continued to encourage its scientists to develop nuclear weapons such as those used at the end of World War II. This was how the arms race began. In 1949, the Soviet Union successfully tested its atomic bomb, ending America's monopoly as the only nation possessing nuclear weapons. In response, the United States announced that it would develop a more destructive nuclear weapon, the hydrogen bomb, or what was known as the super bomb. The Cold War continued to intensify by maintaining a warlike atmosphere.
The United States tested the first hydrogen bomb at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1952. It showed the world how dangerous nuclear weapons are. This hydrogen bomb created a fireball of about 25 square miles in area. That fireball obliterated an entire island. On August 12, 1953, the Soviet Union tested its first hydrogen bomb. The US and Soviet experiments and counter-experiments continued in later years, too.
In this episode, we talked about incidents that led to the Cold War. In the next part, we can discuss the Space Race and the end of the Cold War in detail.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
How would you describe the term "Cold War" to your students?
Can you think of the reasons for the Cold War?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children, and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others'.
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