In this final episode in the series we examine the end game of the Cold War and look at how the gradual thawing of the conflict began. This was the era that began with detente and ended with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Neither Reagan nor Thatcher believed in the high ideals of detente. They spoke the language of new weapons and renewed aggression towards communism. Thatcher's foreign policy was confrontational and confident. She, just as Reagan, saw no reason to compromise with or accept communism. In Thatcher, Reagan saw a great ally and the chance to expand its nuclear sphere of influence. At the same time, the Soviet Union was suffering the effects of life under a succession of failed rulers. The economy was collapsing and there was growing dissent among the nations in the Soviet Empire. One by one countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia rejected Soviet rule and established their own independence. Russia had lost its superpower status and with it had gone the need for cold war. But did the end of this period in history bring about the positive social changes that everyone predicted or did it leave behind it a world empty of order, just as dangerous but in a different way? Time has yet to tell but it is certain that history has not quite finished with America and Russia.
As the 1960s began, a generation was growing to adulthood which had known only the cold war. In those early years of the 1960s there was an idealistic hope. John F Kennedy had been elected as president and he talked of the torch being passed to a new generation. There were hopes that he would break the cold war deadlock and bring an end to the conflict. These hopes were dashed when he engaged in a stand-off with Nikita Khrushchev over Russian nuclear bases being built in Cuba. Kennedy was not the kind of man to back down and a tense few days ensued with the world waiting to see who would give in first. In the end, both sides gave a little; Russian returned its missiles to the Soviet Union and the US removed their missiles from Turkey. But the damage had been done and by the end of the decade both leaders would be gone; one deposed by his own parliament and the other killed by a sniper's bullet. The end of the decade was a dark time for peace. The nuclear club grew with the explosion of Chinese and French nuclear weapons, and conflicts in far away places like Egypt, Israel and Vietnam led the American people to question their country's involvement in wars that were happening in places that they had never seen and didn't care about.
The escalation of the Cold War meant that the whole world began to take sides. Rather like children attaching themselves to gangs in the schoolyard, the two superpowers gathered teams of allies, supporters, henchmen and followers. The world became a giant chessboard, with nations as squares of the board to be captured. As the cold war became a way of life, technology moved fast to keep up the pace. The launch of the American U2 spy plane and the Russian satellite Sputnik brought about a new chapter in the cold war story; now both sides could see what the other was up to. While the US was concentrating on the threat in Europe, it nearly missed the threat appearing in its own backyard. A revolution, supported by Russia, had overthrown the ruling dictator and replaced him with the legendary Fidel Castro. This period in the Cold War's history is one of significant events and great change. The Berlin Wall appeared overnight and made East Berlin a prison, and two new players joined the game, determined not to concede any points to the other side. Nikita Khrushchev and John F Kennedy would come to symbolise a period of the Cold War where the whole world would truly have to hold its breath.
From the ruins of world war the battle lines of the cold war had emerged. Old wartime alliances had dissolved and friends and enemies had changed place. The weapons of war had also changed; the building of nuclear weapons had changed the rules and each side now raced to develop their own nuclear capabilities. The US had been first but when Russia detonated its own nuclear bomb in 1949 the impetus to build ever more destructive weapons accelerated. In Episode Three of the series we examine how the rise of Communism in countries all over the globe made the cold war not just a fight for land but a fight for the minds of the people of the world. As China becomes a communist regime the US begins to fear the spread of these new politics with an almost maniacal ferocity. As always throughout history, the tide of change brings fear and suspicion and US Senator Joseph McCarthy begins his witch-hunts and suspected spies are caught and executed. The cold war was a game where each side knew the limits but as a new decade dawned there appeared to be no chance of the cold war thawing out any time soon.
The story of the cold war proves that an individual can leave his or her mark on history. It is certain that the personalities of the leaders of America and the Soviet Union in those first post war years shaped history and plotted the path of world events. The second episode of this series examines how America solidified its position as a new superpower and how the Soviet Union, under the iron fist of Stalin, continued to spread the word of communism. Britain, exhausted by world war and lacking in resources, began to break up her Empire. Britain gradually reduced its position on the world stage and America stepped in to fill the void. At the same time the relationship that had developed between Russia and the US during the final stages of World War II slowly began to disintegrate as both sides grew to see the other as a threat to their respective ideals.
The Cold War lies at the very heart of the story of the 20th century. This conflict reduced the world into the simplest of divisions - us versus them. But it was, to coin a phrase, a looking glass world. To cross to the other side was to see the same threats and evils somehow back to front and upside down. In both East and West the cold war world was a place where the man next door could be a spy, an informer; a place where hysteria and suspicion could be enough to prove guilt. In this six part series we examine the origins of this conflict and take a closer look at what motivated each side. In this first episode we focus on the early part of the 20th century and see how revolution in Russia and the aftermath of two world wars led to divisions and alliances between the worlds most influential governments. How were the seeds of the cold war conflict sown, and is there any truth to the view that the cold war was a threat created by governments on all sides to keep their populations in line?
The Cold War lies at the very heart of the story of the 20th century. This conflict reduced the world into the simplest of divisions - us versus them. In this six-part series we examine the origins of this conflict and take a closer look at what motivated each side.
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