How Did the Cold War Start and End?

Jay asks: When/How did the Cold War start and finish?

nuclear-missile2The Cold War was the geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle between two world superpowers, the USA and the USSR, that started in 1947 at the end of the Second World War and lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991.

The Cold War was marked by continuous rivalry between the two former World War II allies.  Conflict spanned from subtle espionage in the biggest cities of the world to violent combat in the tropical jungles of Vietnam.  It ranged from nuclear submarines gliding noiselessly through the depths of the oceans to the most technologically-advanced satellites in geosynchronous orbits in space.  In basketball and hockey, in ballet and the arts, from the Berlin Wall to the movies, the political and cultural war waged by Communists and Capitalists was a colossal confrontation on a scale never before seen in human history.

One of the earliest events in the origin of the Cold War arose from the anti-Communism remarks of British leader Winston Churchill.  On March 5, 1946, in a famous speech characteristic of the political climate of the time, he said:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an “Iron Curtain” has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.

What some historians call anti-communism, others analyze as fear, because Stalin, shortly after invading Berlin, had gone on to conquer all of Eastern Europe. The Americans responded to Stalin’s maneuvers in Eastern Europe with the Marshall Plan, a generous provision of free financial aid for the reconstruction of war-torn Western Europe.

The Soviets responded to the Marshall Plan with the Zhdanov Doctrine, unveiled in October of 1947.  The Zhdanov Doctrine claimed that the United States was seeking global domination through American imperialism, as well as the collapse of democracy.  On the other hand, according to this Doctrine, the Soviet Union was intent on eliminating imperialism and the remaining traces of fascism, while strengthening democracy.

The Americans reacted to the Zhdanov Doctrine with the so-called “Long Telegram,” written by George Kennan, Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow, saying in part:

Soviet power, unlike that of Hitlerite Germany, is neither schematic nor adventuristic. It does not work by fixed plans. It does not take unnecessary risks. [It is] Impervious to [the] logic of reason, and it is highly sensitive to [the] logic of force. For this reason it can easily withdraw—and usually does when strong resistance is encountered at any point.

Because of George Kennan and his Long Telegram, official US policy became the “containment” of Communism.

The Soviet Union and the United States, two nations that had never been enemies on any field, and which had fought side by side during WWII, were now undeclared enemies in a war that would never break out in the open, but which would last for more than fifty years.

When in 1949 the Soviet Union developed its first atomic bomb, the confrontation between the USA and the USSR escalated to the nuclear level, and humanity trembled at the prospect of a global nuclear catastrophe.

The 1950s introduced America to one of the darkest and most illiberal ideas in its political and social history – McCarthyism.  The government, and even private enterprise, recklessly accused thousands of Americans of being Communists or fellow travelers and sympathizers, and subjected them to interrogation, investigation and sanctions.

The outstanding features of McCarthyism were the Hollywood blacklisting of artists and intellectuals, and the notorious “Hearings” of the House Un-American Activities Committee- perhaps the most ironically named committee in the history of the United States.  McCarthyism became a broad political and cultural phenomenon that ultimately tarnished the benevolent global reputation of the United States.

The Cold War continued even after McCarthyism was largely exposed as paranoia and self-serving propaganda.  John F. Kennedy was elected to the presidency 1960, and shortly after, two crises erupted.  In August of 1961, the USSR erected the Berlin Wall, designed to stem the increasing number of East Germans who were fleeing Communist East Berlin to the West.  The exact number will never be known, but perhaps as many as two hundred East Germans were shot and killed trying to escape over the Wall.

Then in 1962, the Cuban missile crisis exploded, and the world was a breath away from nuclear war. How close did we come? During the crisis, a captain and political officer aboard one of the Soviet’s subs equipped with a nuclear missile came to believe a nuclear war had already begun and decided to launch their nuke against the United States.  The two, being in agreement, had the authority to launch. The only thing that stopped them was the vehement arguments from one man: Vasili Arkhipov, the man who saved the world.

What started the crisis? In 1959, Cuba had fallen under the leadership of Fidel Castro, who had rejected American influence to ally himself with the Soviets.  In the fall of 1962, American spy planes discovered that Castro was installing Soviet nuclear missiles capable of quickly striking targets in the US. The United States navy blockaded Cuba, preventing Soviet deliveries of war materials. For a heart-stopping time the world lurched toward nuclear war.  Eventually, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove Soviet missiles on the island in exchange for the American withdrawal of equally strategically placed missiles from Turkey.

From 1962 to 1975, the United States was involved in the war in Vietnam, where the Soviets supplied the Viet Cong with munitions; while during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1988, America supported the Afghan Mujahideen. Nevertheless American and Soviet soldiers were never to confront one other on a field of battle.

During the 1960s, the space race became a much more peaceful, and beneficial, battlefield- this time for technological and ideological superiority.  The Soviets took the lead on October 4, 1957, when they launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite.  They followed up by shooting the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space in 1961 and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963.  Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov was the first to leave his spacecraft and go for a spacewalk, almost getting stuck out there in the process. The culmination of the space race occurred on July 20, 1969, when the US responded to the Soviet achievements with the Apollo 11 landing on the moon and Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind.”

But it was the battles between the two nations over athletics that were, perhaps, the most entertaining – and the most harmless as well. Except for the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and the corresponding Soviet boycott of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, most sports contests had some underlying political tension but no overt political content. Two outstanding upsets – the first-ever defeat of the United States in an Olympic basketball tournament in Germany in 1972, matched by the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” defeat of the Soviet hockey team in the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York – have become legends of modern pop culture.

During the 1980s, the crumbling of the economic and political structures of the Soviet Union became increasingly apparent.   By 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the Soviet Union was embroiled in disastrous economic problems.  In addition, the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe were abandoning communism one after the other.

In 1988, the Soviet Union abandoned its nine-year war in Afghanistan.  Next, Gorbachev refused to send military support to defend the previous satellite states of the USSR, greatly weakening their Communist regimes.  This was the backdrop for Gorbachev’s visit to East Berlin in the fall of 1989, where his speech advocating freedom of communication with the West spurred popular agitation in East Germany.  Demanding reunion with their families, East Berliners pulled down parts of the Wall and climbed across into West Berlin. The destruction of the Berlin Wall, of great symbolic importance, finished off the Iron Curtain, and the following year saw the reunification of Germany.

That same year, the Russian Confederation convened a new congress, electing Boris Yeltsin as president and passing laws that ousted the Soviets from Russia. This kind of political and legal instability continued throughout 1990 and 1991 as many of the Soviet republics gradually became de facto independent.  Most of the allied and pro-Soviet regimes in Eastern Europe finally collapsed, and Gorbachev wanted to end the Cold War.

Horrified by these developments, in August of 1991 extremist elements among the remaining Communist Party leaders confined Gorbachev to house arrest in his dasha in the Crimea in what became known as the August Coup.  Boris Yeltsin whipped up a violent resistance in Moscow, blockading the conspirators’ military vehicles.  He even persuaded the commander of a tank battalion to side with the Russians against the Soviets, at one point standing on a tank to address the crowds.  The coup was suppressed, and Yeltsin was hailed as a hero.

The failure of the August Coup marked the end of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin entered into agreements with the leaders of other Soviet republics for the dissolution of the USSR, replacing it in December of 1991 with a “Commonwealth of Independent States.” On December 25, 1991, Mikael Gorbachev, who was still the highest Soviet official, officially recognized the bankruptcy and collapse of the Soviet Union. The USSR was dissolved. The extremely powerful socialist state on the Eurasian continent that had influenced world history from 1922 to 1991 disappeared forever, and the Cold War finally came to an end.

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  • Well, the only thing I can say is, I am proud your my brother!!!
    Probably the best thing I have read online EVER!!!!

  • You missed your true calling. You should have been a teacher or professor. This is a great article, well researched, unbiased, fair and informative. I’m proud I’d your accomplishments, Theo. Keep up the good work.

  • You missed your true calling. You should have been a teacher or professor. This is a great article, well researched, unbiased, fair and informative. I’m proud of your accomplishments, Theo. Keep up the good work.

  • I have no comments for such a wonderful,informative,complete,wellwritten article, CONGRATULATIONS!!!


  • Furthermore, HUAC was established by a liberal Democrat, not a conservative Republican, which McCarthy was.

    And it turns out that the man who started it was, in fact, a Soviet agent himself:

    Samuel Dickstein (February 5, 1885 – April 22, 1954) was a Democratic Congressional Representative from New York and a New York State Supreme Court Justice.

    He played a key role in establishing the committee that would become the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which he used to attack fascists, including Nazi sympathizers, and suspected communists.

    Authors Allen Weinstein, and Alexander Vassiliev said in 1999 that Soviet files indicate he was a paid agent of the NKVD.

    The Boston Globe stated: “Dickstein ran a lucrative trade in illegal visas for Soviet operatives before brashly offering to spy for the NKVD, the KGB’s precursor, in return for cash.”

    Sam Roberts in The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case stated
    “Not even Julius Rosenberg knew that Samuel Dickstein had been on the NKGB’s payroll.”

    Kurt Stone wrote “he was, for many years, a ‘devoted and reliable’ Soviet agent whom his handlers nicknamed ‘Crook.’ “

  • House hearing “conducted” by a Senator? Bzzzt! Sorry. We have a lovely parting gift for you – a complete of the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1962 to further your education.

  • I used this think your lists on Listverse were good….. This just blew them out of the water. Amazing article Theo. Best thing I’ve ever read online. Ever!!

  • Uh, Senator McCarthy had nought to do with the House Committee of Un-American activities. You have swallowed the commie kool-aid. It was McCarthy who was smeared and lied about. The commie loving media who spread the lies, as they still do to this day.

    How’s your votes for the media loved massive Marxist Obama working for you?

    Oh, stop deleting comments that prove your ignorance.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Markon: Theo is Greek I believe, so I’m afraid he didn’t get to vote for “Marxist Obama”. 😉

  • I am reading this site pretty much everyday, but this is the very first time I feel the need to leave a comment. This is probably the best and most neutral article I have ever read about the Cold War. I simply can’t believe how one could write so beautifully and with so many details all these facts in only one article. Congratulations to the author and the site. This article is an educational and historically accurate gem.

  • Well researched? Really? The paragraph “The outstanding features of McCarthyism…” is not well researched! Have you people done any actual research? Like you know – all the available info. Sheesh you’d think research would be easier now that we have it at our finger tips.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Andy: Nobody bats 1000. Theo was researching a huge time period and having to try to pick out the most important bits and then sum them up in a very small number of words. The above mistake has been fixed.

  • There are numerous inaccuracies re: McCarthy. Senator Joseph McCarthy never sat on the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. Senators don’t sit on House committees, by definition. The Hollywood Blacklist was regulated by the industry itself, not Congress.

    The VENONA papers, in conjunction with declassified KGB files, show conclusively that there were Soviet spies at the highest levels of the American government, in the media, and working for defense contractors. This includes Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White, White House advisor Lauchlan Currie, and Pentagon signal room clerk Annie Lee Moss.

  • There are many errors in this article. When Winston Churchill gave his “iron curtain” speech in 1946 he was not the “British leader”. Clement Attlee was. Senator McCarthy did not set up the House Un-American Activities Commission. He never even sat on it. The USSR’s famous 1972 basketball victory over the USA did not happen in Berlin. It happened in Munich along with the rest of the ’72 games. I could go on but will leave it at that.
    Wales, UK.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Peter Crawford: Churchill was still a major British leader at that time. Theo did not say he was Prime Minister, just a “British leader”. He would, of course, go on to be Prime Minister again for a period in the 1950s.
      Thanks for catching the Berlin/Munich thing. Fixed! And please do go on. We are extremely concerned with accuracy here and if you ever spot mistakes in articles, please do point them out (hopefully politely). Nobody bats 1000. I’ve personally found several mistakes over the years I’ve been running this site in the OED, Encyclopedia Britannica, The Straight Dope, Snopes, etc. But we do try really, really hard to make sure articles are perfectly accurate and make sure we’re quick to fix any mistakes later found. So please, go on! 🙂

  • just curious how long comments that challenge some of your “facts” stay in moderation?

    • Daven Hiskey

      @AmicusC: All comments by new posters are held in moderation until me (the editor here) checks them. If it’s on a weekend, this can be all weekend. On weekdays, it just depends on what’s going on. This is a really busy time of year for this site (lots of things going on that will be announced soon), so right now longer. However, once you get a couple comments approved, your comments will no longer be held in moderation. It’s just a spam prevention thing. We literally get thousands of spam comments per day submitted. Most of them are filtered by our anti-spam bots, but if not for this added “moderation” layer for new commentors, quite a few would get through. Funny enough, sometimes it’s even hard for me to tell whether something is a spam comment or a real one. Spammers get more and more clever every year. 🙂

  • How can you write an article on the Cold War without mentioning Ronald Reagan? It was his visionary leadership in the 80’s that helped bring about the end of the Soviet empire. From covertly funding the Solidarity movement in Poland to openly demanding the destruction of the Berlin Wall, Reagan’s influence was essential to the West’s victory over Soviet communism.

  • Amazing, Senator McCarthy was so evil he took over Congress.

  • It is important to get facts as correct as possible, please read the following from the Wikipedia link you provided: “McCarthy’s hearings are often incorrectly conflated with the hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). HUAC is best known for the investigation of Alger Hiss and for its investigation of the Hollywood film industry, which led to the blacklisting of hundreds of actors, writers, and directors. HUAC was a House committee, and as such had no formal connection with McCarthy, who served in the Senate…”

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Steamboat Jon: “It is important to get facts as correct as possible…” I agree completely! Also, thank you for being polite in pointing out a mistake. 🙂

  • “the notorious “Hearings” of the House Un-American Activities Committee conducted by Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin”

    Well actually they weren’t. I’ll leave it to you to look it up.

  • Really great write-up. I agree that you should be a history professor. Your articles are always so informative and interesting. Would it be ok if we make suggestions on articles for you to write — you can be like our own personal historian. 🙂

  • Misstating the facts about the HUAC was an editing error. Theodoros II regrets the error and salutes the alert and intelligent readers who caught it. TIFO readers are kickass great!!!!!!

    Cheers guys.

    • No, it wasn’t an editing error. It was a bald misstatement of facts that have been known since the Venona Project.

      Does it always take this site 12 hours to ‘moderate comments’ or only when they are well-cited refutations of liberal propaganda like yours?

      • Daven Hiskey

        @Kathy: Theo does not have the ability to moderate comments. Only I do. As for moderation time, that varies wildly, as stated in a comment elsewhere in this thread.

      • Daven Hiskey

        @Kathy Shaidle: Theo was simply saying in his double checking of the facts during editing, he didn’t catch the mistake. That can happen. I, also, should have caught that when in turn editing Theo’s article but here we are. 🙂
        On your “bald misstatement of facts” and “liberal propaganda” comments, are you under the impression that Theo is trying to push some political agenda here? For your reference, he’s Greek, so I don’t think he’s got any such strong leanings in American politics. As for me, depending on the article, I’ve been accused of being extremely politically bias on both sides of the coin, which hopefully means I’m doing a good job of not favoring one side or the other, but taking the facts as they come in the articles I write.

  • If crumbling and political struc were what brought down the Soviet Union, why didn’t it collapse in 1921? Or during the famines of the 1930’s? Or during the Five Year Plan and Purge trials? Why has North Korea endured?

    You need to accept that Reagan’s leadership in Eastern Europe against the Soviets played a powerful role in the end of the Cold War.

  • So this is the result of years of Liberal propaganda. SENATOR McCarthy had nothing to do with the HOUSE UnAmerican Activities Committee. Senator McCarthy tried to get the Senate to investigate people who had already been listed as possible Communists who worked for gov’t departments – but Democrats refused to take action & censured him for trivial “scandals.” After McCarthy passed away his “wild” accusations that places like the State Department were riddled with Communist spies & sympathizers proved to be woefully underestimated. Many were high level bureaucrats.

  • HUAC was started by a liberal Democrat who turned out to be working for the Soviet Union.

  • Mr theo, tear down this article!
    No mention of Reagan, Thatcher or JPII in winning Cold War?
    Wow. No mention of Geneva summit between Kennedy and Khrushchev? Where the we will bury you shoe banger sized up the preppy pup from Hyannis Port and found him wanting as a “why” for Cuban missile crisis?
    And so on…

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Glenn: The problem there is Theo had the burden of encapsulating a huge time period with an amazing number of significant things going on in about 1000 words, which is the normal target for articles here. Obviously this one was much longer than that, but in an attempt to keep it from being 5,000 words, he had to cut some things out. 🙂

      • Like the truth? Does it always take this website 12 hours to ‘moderate comments’?

        The article is shot through with commonplace errors about McCarthy, HUAC etc that were soundly debunked 20 years ago with Venona and other revelations from the Soviet archives.

        • Daven Hiskey

          @Kathy: Sometimes longer. 🙂 I am the only one who has the ability to moderate comments on this site. If it’s the weekend and it’s your first comment, a comment might be held in moderation all weekend. On weekdays, it depends. In this case, it’s an extremely busy time right now here with us launching about 4 new things within the month and me setting them all up. Usually I check comments first thing in the morning and then irregularly throughout the day. However, I was awake until about 5am this morning (PST) working on those aforementioned new things and so comments were checked a little late as a bit of sleep was needed. 🙂

      • Riiiight… there’s room for two paragraphs on McCarthyism, but none for a mention of Reagan, Thatcher, Solidarity, or western rearmament, which precipitated the end of the Cold War.

        Also, this:

        “shortly after invading Berlin, had gone on to conquer all of Eastern Europe”

        is exactly backwards.

        • Daven Hiskey

          @PabloNH: Are you under the impression that Theo is trying to push some sort of political agenda here? If so, see my comment to Kathy.
          As to your second comment, the Soviet occupation of part of Germany, including part of Berlin, began in 1945, at the end of WWII. They wouldn’t go on to conquer much of Eastern Europe until after.

          • 1. No. I am under the impression that you have no idea how the Cold War ended.

            2. Or how it began. You have the order of events backwards; Berlin was one of the last places the Soviets occupied.

          • Daven Hiskey

            @PabloNH: Do you have some sources on that one? From everything I’ve read, here’s one source for your reading pleasure, they took Berlin at the very end of the war and continued to occupy East Berlin after the Battle of Berlin, which made it quite the hotspot for the early days of the Cold War.

        • @ PabloNH
          This is my last comment for this article since (especially) Daven and I covered pretty much everything. I picked your comments and claims because you gave me the perfect chance to show how you guys operate and blatantly abuse historical facts by throwing them out there and try to make a point. You also abuse Daven’s kindness with your hostile comments. In all honesty sir, I am under the impression that you are the one who has NO IDEA how the Cold War started or ended.
          You keep talking about the Berlin Blockade and you think you “schooled” us or gave us a lesson or something. In reality and from my awesome but short experience with the site so far, I can easily notice that all (people like) you manage to do with such behaviour and hostile commentary is exposing your own lack of knowledge. It’s a bunch of people against one man -Daven- and you keep throwing irrelevant and innacurate “facts” hoping that one man won’t be enough to respond to all this nonsense. That probably gives you a sense of “victory” and “superiority” or the satisfaction that you made a point. In reality you absolutely made no point and you are FAR from the truth.
          Berlin was one of the very first, if not THE first places that was divided right after the end of the war in Europe in 1945. That’s an UNDENIABLE AND HISTORICALLY ACCURATE fact now. The victorious powers divided the city into four sectors, analogous to the occupation zones into which Germany was divided. The sectors of the Western Allies formed West Berlin, while the Soviet sector formed East Berlin. East Berlin’ Soviet occupation started in 1945 and was completed in 1949. We are talking about Berlin’s OFFICIAL OCCUPATION here, so please don’t throw the Berlin Wall in this and make yourself look even less educated.
          Just because the Western allies managed to expose the Soviets -FOR ONE YEAR ONLY- who falsely thought at the moment that they could dominate the whole area completely, you think that you make a point? So what are you trying to say here because you have me really confused now….That the eastern regions of Berlin were not under Soviet influence from 1945 because of the 1948-1949 crisis? You also claim -if I am not mistaken- that the Berlin Blockade was the “cause” that started the Cold War…….hahaha REALLY? I usually don’t ever disrespect readers, but in this case I can’t help it. I mean you are so blatantly wrong about the historical facts here, yet you feel comfortable enough to insult others. My friend, The Berlin blockade that started officially on 24th of June 1948 and ended on the 12th May 1949, was ONE of the first major international crises of the ALREADY EXISTING Cold War. If you are trying to tell us that the NAME East Berlin would be in valid only after 1949, then Bravo you are right but we know that already. Just because the NAME East Berlin was “invented’ officially in 1949, the geopolitical areas that the specific name covered back then were not under Soviet occupation since 1945? Please enlighten us here or please do some better research:

          So just because the Western Allies exposed the “dominance” of the Soviets in the area for less than a year, in your head that means that East Berlin was not officially OCCUPIED by them (Soviets) or something? Now I would HONESTLY really love to see how you would guys write such article with your “official” historical sources 🙂
          It would definitely be fun to watch. Venona project, Reagan smashed the Soviets, untold stories by spies and secret journalists, the berlin Blockade started the Cold War, Winston Churchill wasn’t a British Leader and so on. Woooohooooooo! 🙂
          On a serious note now and without being sarcastic, I would suggest you to take a better look on the Soviet/Communist regime timeline in Eastern Europe. Things are not as simple as some might think and maybe there are more versions of the truth than the one we arrogantly want to believe. I tried to touch all these versions of truth in this article and deliver a neutral piece. That’s all.
          One last question. Since you seem to be a little too obsessed with Berlin: Are you one of the many (truth is that there are many unfortunately) who consider that the end of the Cold War came with the Fall of Berlin Wall? If that’s the case can you please answer a question of mine? If let’s say The August Coup -that took place after the Fall Of Berlin Wall- was successful and these hardcore Soviet Communists regained the power, would the Cold War be over because of the Fall of Berlin Wall? Just wondering 🙂

  • Took down all the comments pointing out your many mistakes. Domna says ” You should have been a teacher or professor”. This is unfortunately true.

    • Daven Hiskey

      As a general note to everyone, I’m noticing here a lot of comments instead of just saying “Hey, I noticed a mistake…” and politely pointing it out, are more being extremely confrontational and even in some cases insulting. As I said elsewhere, we are extremely concerned with making sure everything is perfectly accurate here. It’s one of the main reasons I started this site, to provide a place where you know what you’re reading has been well researched by highly credentialed authors (Theo being one of the most highly credentialed of the bunch). Further, we don’t abandon old articles, re-checking facts if any mistakes are found. (Nobody, and I mean nobody, bats 1000, no matter how hard we try).
      That said, rudeness (or inappropriate language- this is a family site) is never appreciated and I’ll sometimes delete such comments regardless of what the commentor was talking about. For your reference, Theo does not have the ability to delete comments by other people. So any deletions are not by the author, but by me. I do then re-research and fix the mistakes if any are found, but if you want your comments approved, a little civility is needed.
      In the end, it’s not whether a comment is pointing out a mistake, whether in the article itself or in someone’s comment below it, as you see from all those that have been approved here- it’s the general civility in the comment. Basically, I don’t appreciate commentors attacking other commentors nor my authors. It’s just not the type of community I want here. And, believe me, in another popular site I’ve run, I made the mistake of allowing such things in the name of getting more user interaction. It proved to be a major mistake.

  • Oh, by the way. Reagan won the cold war.

    Google is your friend!

    • Daven Hiskey

      @venona: A friend who never calls? 😉 As for the “Venona” part, see Theo’s comments on that below.

  • In Dat I think Otherwise True enough though.

  • Why have you not yet posted Kathy Shaidle’s replies, in which she gives this article a thorough spanking?

    We’re watching and waiting….

    • Daven Hiskey

      @brewin: The one where she starts with “The author is an idiot.” I don’t approve comments like that, regardless of what else is said. She could have said “The author is an idiot, but this is the greatest site in the world and the editor is both a scholar and a gentlemen,” and I would have deleted it. 😉

      • Well, there are sites that care about the truth, and sites that care about fragile egos. It’s clear which one this is.

        • Daven Hiskey

          @brewin: Don’t worry, our egos are intact. You can’t run a site where a couple million people a month read your work and not develop a thick skin. But, as I said, I can’t abide rudeness. For some odd reason the anonymity of the internet invariably brings out the worst in many people who would normally be civil in person. I’m told by others who run popular sites that the easy way to solve that (besides just shutting off comments, as many do) is simply to switch to using a Facebook comment system where the person’s comment shows up on their Facebook page as well- amazing how quickly people go back to being civil when people they know in real life might read their thoughts- but I hate using someone else’s system that I have no real control over long term.
          In the end, I’m always up for a good debate. I love it actually and given the amazing amount of smart, well educated people that read this site- with the majority of our readers here being Bachelor’s degree or above according to the various analytics services I use- I’ve been able to have some great discussions over the years on various topics and have learned a lot through this. It’s one of the great things about running this site.
          But starting an argument with insults, rather than facts and reason, is just a poor way to have a constructive conversation. And, frankly, in the majority of those cases, the people aren’t looking to have a good discussion over something anyways. It tends to be more about making themselves feel superior in some way, with them not really usually being interested in any actual real response- they just want people to see how *smart* they are. Or they are just comment trolling, which in either case isn’t a recipe for constructive exchange of ideas.
          Be civil, and regardless of the ideas you present, your comments will get approved here. Be rude, whether to another commenter here, an author, or myself, and you’ll have wasted your time writing it as it will get deleted. There’s enough negativity in the world without subjecting people to reading it here.
          I realize some disagree with that policy and want the freedom to call others all sorts of insulting names here rather than simply let the strength of their argument determine things, but just my personal policy. As I said elsewhere, I made the mistake on a previous site I ran in allowing that sort of thing. Certainly there ended up being a large, very active community there, but in the end it was all negativity as everyone who was interested in having civil, constructive discussions ended up leaving and what was left was a community that embodied the lowest common denominator of the internet. This time, I’m determined to see that group leave and keep around those who are actually interested in good discussions.
          So, please, point out mistakes if you see them in the articles. (I hate mistakes in articles here even more than I hate internet rudeness.) Or, add information you know that wasn’t included in the article or even theories you have on why something happened or the like. Or, if you’re not sure something’s a mistake, but think the history books got it wrong, leave a comment. I love a good debate like that. But, again, leave a comment that starts with “That’s the stupidest comment I’ve ever read, moron!” and you might as well stop writing there.

  • Is this the famous Theo of Listverse, Toptenz, Gunaxin etc? This guy is a legend. He’s pure awe

  • The account is pretty good but there’s a number of key events during the Cold War of great importance which were missed entirely. The first is the Korean War, 1950-53, which saw the first armed confrontation between the United Nations and the People’s Republic of China. This had a large Soviet involvement, as they were arming China and the North Koreans.

    A second key event missed in this account was Yom Kippur in 1973. This was probably the high water mark of the Cold War, being the second and final direct confrontation between the US and the USSR.

    What’s also missing here is the Soviet suppression of internal dissent within the Warsaw Pact nations, notably Hungary in 1956 and Prague Spring in 1968. These along with the Danzig strikes in Poland in the 1980s made it increasingly evident that the USSR could only retain its hegemony over eastern Europe through increasing amounts of force to suppress internal dissent.

    More needs to be said about Containment as well. Kennan’s formulation led directly to the creation of NATO, which was to contain Soviet expansion into Europe. However in the 1960s John Foster Dulles expanded Containment to include Asia as well. This resulted in the creation of SEATO and was the principal factor in John F. Kennedy’s and Lyndon Johnson’s intervention in Vietnam.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @cgh: Thanks for that info! Good Stuff!

    • @cgh: You are 100% right, but I am afraid that you and some other people who complain overlook (I believe some in purpose too) the simple fact that the premise of this article was how the cold war STARTED and how it ENDED. I could have focused exclusively on the key factors that caused the cold war and the key factors that ended it. Instead I did a really honest and generous attempt to cover as much as possible inside the limit of 1500 words, but I see that some people are going to complain no matter what. Some will even accuse me for being a Cultural Marxist, a liberal idiot and why not a Soviet Spy too, right? 😉 I hope you realize that every single topic in this article could have been the main subject for a separate article. I also left the “Domino Theory” outside and I wonder how no one noticed that, since it is an extremely important part of the cold war too. I just couldn’t cover everything and I informed Daven about it before I even submit the article. I thought and hoped the readers would understand that.
      As for some readers who claim to “spank” or “school” this article. If you pay attention closely their “sources” is what some spies or journalists said and what some conspiracy theories “indicate”……….I am sorry but I can’t take into account “sources” as: “The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case stated” or ” Reagan won the cold war” and so on.
      As for the Venona project, last time I checked it remained a top secret for decades and was not officially declassified until 1995. Still many scholars and historians reject it and consider it a topic of great dispute to this day, yet some people in here will act like it’s the absolute authority and the one and only source of the one and only truth. I believe that when it comes to history, we should not be that arrogant about things we didn’t even witness with our own eyes. What we ALL know is what we have been taught. I don’t see why some people act like they have the key of wisdom and knowledge.
      Like I said to Daven, I always try to write my articles as neutrally as possible and I respect History as a topic and all its secrets that we might never know. I try to go by what we know as the official version of history. Did some of you really expect me to write something like “Reagan smashed the Soviets and won the war like a boss?” Really now? This is a serious site, not Cracked.
      If I wanted to be biased and play the “Conspiracy Theory” game too, trust me guys I could have easily done so and I could also hint that the moon landing was a hoax, or accuse the USSR of disguising men as women to dominate in women’s Olympics events. Even though I find conspiracy theories exciting in most cases, I will try to seek historical accuracy even if it’s against my personal beliefs and theories. I went by the official books here and if you exclude the mistake about HUAC, I don’t think I did that bad.
      In my opinion, some of the people embarrass themselves with this kind of commentary and fanaticism about their “facts” with no basis in reality. So they would like to read a piece whose author slanders one side and makes the other look great? If that’s the case, I suggest they watch Rocky 4 or Battleship Potemkin and pick sides. Now if some of you got the sources and 100% accurate information about the Venona project, how Reagan won the cold war and so on, please share with us and enlighten the world about matters that historians and analysts have failed to give certain answers for decades now.
      And hey Nick, I don’t know about being “famous” but I think I am the Theo you are talking about 🙂

      • Theo, entire LIBRARIES have been written about every single paragraph, not just essays. The problem any writer has with the start and finish of anything is that it’s difficult to do without a huge introductory section of what came before. Under the circumstances, given the space, this was a pretty good job as I noted at the outset.

        Part of the problem in coming to terms with the Cold War is that we’re still too close to it. We have only just barely passed its apparent conclusion. It’s going to take at least another half-century to understand the full scope of its impacts. It’s only now, for example, that we are having a full understanding of the consequences of WWI, let alone its continuation WWII.

        Another part of the problem is that far too much of the critical information about the conflict is still sitting locked up in government archives. And until its released, our knowledge is going to remain highly incomplete.

        A final point is that the Cold War could only be a cold war, not a hot one. There were at least three occasions in which the US and USSR would have gone to war with each other in any other century. One thing and one thing only prevented that. Mutual fear of nuclear weapons. No one was willing to go to war when fighting meant losing far more than could ever be won. And this, mutual fear if things got out of hand, was the defining characteristic of the Cold War. So, to a degree unheard of in human history, it was fought only by proxies on a highly limited basis.

      • Ever hear of the Berlin Blockade? Think it might have something to do with how the Cold War began?

        • Daven Hiskey

          @PabloNH: Yes, he has heard of the Berlin Blockade. His knowledge on this particular subject is pretty remarkable actually. I really should maybe post the email back and forth Theo and I had while he was working on this. 🙂 For the record, Theo thought this topic needed to be broken up into many separate articles, and wanted to. He emailed me while working on it lamenting the fact that he was having to leave out an amazing amount of interesting stuff that really should be mentioned, for the sake of keeping the word count reasonable.
          I don’t think people are fully appreciating the difficulty of encapsulating a subject that could easily be expanded into a good series of books on just the cause of the war alone, in such a way that it’s realistically consumable on an entertainment site.
          Yes, there is a lot of very significant things that happened during the Cold War that aren’t mentioned. Check Theo’s references if you want more information on them- he even purposefully included some extras just for people who wanted to learn more on areas that weren’t covered in the article. Or, if you’re particularly knowledgeable on the subject (which I’m sure some of you are), please expound upon it here. Those make phenomenal comments!
          For a time, I used to explicitly mention that below articles- that if you know some related interesting fact not included in the article, leave it in the comments! I did this as many, many of the topics dealt with here, people have written full books on them, so we certainly can’t include all the interesting stuff. While we don’t go all OMGFacts on you, we like more detail and drastically better researched than that, we also can’t go all Frances FitzGerald on you either. It just doesn’t work on an entertainment site. Given that the majority of complaints here on our articles are that we are too detailed most of the time, I like to think we usually strike a happy medium.
          To be fair to Theo, he was apparently right based on the comments here, in that I should have let him break it up into many distinct articles. 😉

      • First let me say that I agree that much of the inflammatory language and personal insults that have accompanied some of the criticisms of your article are unnecessary and counter-productive. Part of the reason for such hostility from writers who take a dim view of communist ideology is that we (yes, I include myself in that group) have read and listened our entire lives to a never-ending army of statist appologists who ignore, deny or downplay the deprivations of Marxist regimes or who attempt to draw a moral equivalency between Marxist regimes and the United States. 20th century history is pretty clear that such a moral equivalency is wholly unsupported by the facts. Please allow for the lifetime frustration of those of us who have had to listen to people who, with a straight face and occasionally, with faux indignation, have defended the most prolifically murderous regimes which have ever existed. In our view, the Cold War really was, undeniably, a battle between good and evil.

        Having said that, it is understandable that there will be substantial disagreement as to how to describe the cold war in a very limited space. Here are my two cents of input:

        1. The Cold War was fundamentally ideological. The US was founded on the idea that a centralized govt. should be vigorously and formally restricted in its spheres of activity in order to prevent that govt. from becoming tyrannical. The USSR, on the other hand, was founded on the implicit idea that govt. should have unlimited power including the power to violently suppress any and all opposition. The US attempted to maximize personal political freedom within a practical system of govt. capable of overseeing a large country while the USSR system simply sought to maximize political power and control using a sales pitch which promised a form of unattainable utopia.
        2. The Cold War conflict went way beyond mere military confrontation to include the cultural and philosophical undermining of both unaligned and aligned countries as well as the US and USSR themselves. Since the USSR could not generate wealth or technological innovation with anywhere near the alacrity of the US, it could never really hope to defeat the US militarily since the US could always pay much more to project its cultural and military influence. Also, the reality of personal freedom in the US was a powerful counterpoint to the mere promise of utopia provided by Marxist ideology. What all this meant is that the only way for the USSR to realistically defeat the US was by internal subversion.
        3. The leftist narrative regarding “one of the darkest and most illiberal ideas in [US] political and social history – McCarthyism” has to be viewed in the context of point 2 above. Humans react very negatively when they feel that they are being manipulated, thus, it is imperative for attempts at internal subversion to remain clandestine. McCarthy openly and publicly pointed fingers at the very real effort by Soviet backed agents to undermine the US govt by influencing govt policy. McCarthy’s and other anti-communists’ efforts were and are intolerable to Marxist agitators and the so the “red-scare” narrative continues to be pushed to this day. Much of the alleged controversy over Venona, I believe, is really just part of the effort to delegitimize any concerted attempt to shine light on the activities of those promoting Marxist ideology. It struck me as I waited in line at a supermarket soon after the fall of the Berlin wall, that, although the market had analog wristwatches with a white face upon which a red hammer and cycle were printed on display for sale (a kitchy trinket, presumably), that same market would never think of selling the same type of watch with a swastika printed on it. Marxist and communist ideas are still taught in a sympathetic way in educational institutions throughout the West despite the frequent declaration that communism is dead.
        4. Ignoring Reagan’s role in the collapse of the USSR is irresponsible. Before Reagan, the US had been pursuing the policy of detente – essentially a policy of non-confrontational co-existence with the USSR. There are differing opinions as to whether or not detente was a policy promoted in the US by Soviet agents, but it is a fact that detente was, from the perspective of the USSR, the best possible policy for the US to adopt since it allowed the Soviets to vigorously export Marxist ideology unopposed while continuing its efforts to infiltrate and undermine the US, culturally and philosophically. Reagan explicitly rejected Sec. of State Henry Kissinger’s public declaration that the US had lost the ideological battle with the USSR and that it was his [Kissinger’s] job as SofS to negotiate the US’s best 2nd place finish. Reagan threw out detente entirely, instead adopting a policy of deliberate, unapologetic diplomatic and ideological confrontation from a position of military superiority. Foreign countries have erected statues of Reagan in prominent public spaces. Has any country erected statues of Gorbachev? Mentioning Reagan is not merely partisan or ideological cheerleading. John Paul II, Thatcher, Lech Walesa, Solidarity and Reagan are at least as important to mention in the context of the end of the Cold War as Gorbachev.
        5. Identifying the exact beginning and end of the Cold War is probably not possible in a definitive way. Theo’s answer are reasonable, I think, although it should be mentioned that the ideological conflict between the Soviets and the US predated WWII and existed even during the war. The Soviets and the US were briefly allies of convenience and never truly friendly.
        6. A couple of factoids derived from an ex-patriot Ukranian that I know:

        Yeltsin was standing on a tank taken from a museum in the iconic photos of his defiance. The tank was a great prop, but had no ammunition.

        The coup by the hardline communist at the very end failed largely because they had not caught up with technology. The hardliners seized the tv and radio stations thinking that by doing so they would prevent communication amongst their opponents. The opponents, however, were able to communicate and co-ordinate using phones and fax machines.

  • Too many errors and inacuracies.. check your facts again.

  • The lack of fact checking (nobody bats 1000) would be serious grounds for a fail if presented to a prof as is. You don’t get to post factual writings riddled with inaccuracies and not expect some blow back. This piece was not characterized as opinion. The nicey nice comments only identify and perpetuate the vacuousness of far too many people. Research, research and more research.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Andy: Do you perceive the Encyclopedia Britannica as an institution that has a “lack of fact checking”? You will find here that we have a drastically lower rate of errors than they. Because even the most prestigious organizations make mistakes (I’ve yet to find one that I haven’t found errors in their content), numerous reputable sources are required of my authors. (I even once accidentally psyched out one of my best authors back in the day who never made a single error in the dozen or so articles she submitted that I could find or any commenter since, and was a phenomenal writer; but the potential for making an error, which was inevitable eventually, literally was keeping her up at night when she knew one of her articles was going to go up. Very unfortunately for me, this became too much and she stopped writing here.)
      As for how I go about making sure things are as accurate as possible here, for starters, I typically only hire extremely well educated people or people who are experts in a certain field (and then have them mostly just write about topics in that field in those cases). I also particularly look for people who have a great amount of experience in research, which is the most important skill here, given the diverse topics we deal with.
      For your reference, Theo has a Juris Doctorate as well as a Master’s Degree in legal history, a First Certificate in English from Cambridge, and speaks four languages fluently. They don’t come much more well educated than him and people in the legal field tend to be amazing at research in my experience. 🙂
      I then drill into them how on TIFO, accuracy is King, more than grammar or any other such thing. I want accuracy. (Though I’ve learned from my previous mistake and now also make sure to point out that they will at some point make a mistake and if they write here long enough, many, and not to stress about it; but just try to make as few of mistakes as humanly possible.)
      After my authors research and write on a topic, I then typically read their article. Next, I typically re-research the topic myself paying close attention to any finer details I think in the initial read-through might be inaccurate. I also at this point look over their sources for information. I then give the article another read through to see if I missed anything and make any changes, if necessary.
      Even with all this, mistakes occasionally occur. It’s literally impossible for this not to happen. I don’t mention the Encyclopedia Britannica’s error rate of 2.92 errors per article to insult them in any way (they are one of the best), but simply to point out that even one of the most prestigious fact collecting institutions in the history of humanity still can’t “bat a thousand”. And, indeed, have a surprisingly poor record (at least I was surprised), despite the extreme efforts they put into fact checking.
      What separates us, The Straight Dope, the OED, Encyclopedia Britannica, etc. from so many others, is that we all care an amazing amount and try really hard to “bat a thousand” on our facts, even if it’s impossible. The vast majority of fact websites out there don’t even bother to try and in many cases would rather not, as the misinformation is usually good for a lot more page views and the extra time it takes to research something deeply could have been used to make several articles, instead of 1, which is good for search traffic too, particularly once your site has developed a great search rank. I started this site largely because of the lack of quality fact websites out there, so this is an issue close to my heart.
      “The nicey nice comments only identify and perpetuate the vacuousness of far too many people.” Don’t confuse what I’m saying here. I don’t at all mind disagreement whether with myself, an author, or a commenter. In fact, I love a good discussion, which is why I’m taking the time to write this rather than what I’m supposed to be doing (getting four new major things ready to launch on TIFO within the next two to three weeks- basically, participating in the discussions in this thread today has meant another night of going to bed around 3am-5am for me :-)). But I really enjoy it, even when sleep-deprived.
      It’s rudeness I can’t abide. Personal insults add nothing to the discussion, except perhaps say a bit about the character of the individual making them. Please, by all means disagree, but be civil about it is what I’m saying. 🙂

  • Reagan convinced the Saudis to open the oil taps and drive down the price of oil which destroyed the USSR’s only real source of hard currency.
    Then he upped the military spending ante with Star Wars and other build ups, and took the position on the cold war that his strategy would not be containment or appeasement but “We win, they lose”.
    Teddy Kennedy of course tried to hijack Reagan’s efforts to end the cold war by secretly contacting the Russians.
    I guess that’s why the Poles put up statues of Reagan but not of Drunk Teddy.

    Up until the fall of the wall the left was still insisting how wonderful and powerful the soviet economy was, it was only after Reagan and others destroyed it that they started talking about how their economy was on it’s last legs anyway…

    As for Venona, it confirmed that Hiss was a communist, an incovenient little fact that was also proven in the ’50s.
    Hiss was in the State Department and went to Yalta as part of FDR’s delegation.
    McCarthy thought having an communist spy in the team negotiating with the communists was a bad thing…..

  • Seems the biggest comeback against pointing out the blatant errors in this piece is that we’re a big bunch of meanies….life is tough, it’s a lot tougher if you are stupid.

  • Until Obama sold out Eastern Europe – and now the Middle East – to Putin’s Neo-Soviet Russia. The Cold War is now finally over – and Obama lost it. The Western world listens to Putin – not him.

  • i used this info for my research paper for school i didnt plagerize dont worry thanks for the great info

  • We’ll done and I’m in midlle school

  • im lookingfor the typical man in the cold war and i cant seem to find it

  • Nice article but still a little biased, and short on conflicts that were publicized as anti commie propaganda. Firstly in Ukraine, we backed “ukrainian patriots” who were ex Nazis until 1954. Then we fought Korea against Communist coup. Then Vietnam they won. Then we backed Terrorists against the Afghan Commies 2 years after their coup drawing the USSR into defend their new allies. Every country that shows any communist Ideal is targeted .. Even the Pinko Commies of Canada in the 60 and 70s.

    Will be interesting to see a country that actually follows Marxism without tyranny and being immediately declared a enemy of the world. There is one now but I won’t mention it. Wouldn’t want the Nazis to get excited its tiny and no threat.

  • Good read. I enjoyed it.

  • You said that the Zhdanov Doctrine was a response to the Marshall Plan, but how could a Doctrine released in 1947 be a response to the 1948 Marshall plan

  • Thank you for this article. I am taking a college course called The 1960’s Real having the American Dream. I had to do a paper on the Cold War. Needless to say i learned much information here. I am grateful.

    I understand about having to fit in 45 years of events into 1000 words or less (yes I read every comment). I applied you for getting in the most important facts in about what started the war. You did a great job.. and I am hoping I get an A+.

  • I have a typo.. its should be Reshaping the American Dream

  • And it’s applaud not applied

  • I am studying the Cold War in history right now and I have a study guide due on it and I came here to see if I can find anything that I learned from my class on here and I have found so far everything I have learned on here and more! So thank you for doing this for everyone that needs it, it was really helpful for me thank you again!

  • But I did find that it does have one typo. The Cold War ended in 1990 not 1991.

  • Ziemowit Pierzycki

    What started the cold war? I would say the actual point in history when the cold war started was when the allies realized that Stalin had other ideas for Europe than they agreed upon and started executing the plan.

    The signs were there for a long time, but during an end-of-WWII party in England, one of the Russian diplomats made a sarcastic comment; which set off a diplomatic storm between the allies and realization of things to come.

    This article is missing a lot of historical information which is very shameful to United States history.

  • hey it me here i love article it is good me pass year 12 exam with these hot tips. i just w anna say thank my dad love result and he love you! tank again, marx.

  • “The Soviet Union and the United States, two nations that had never been enemies on any field…”
    This is actually in error. The US sent a division to Russia in the early 1920’s to fight the Bolsheviks. Very few in the US remember this; very few from the former USSR forget it.

  • Nice read. But I have to say the US involvement in Europe, which led to the Cold War, was mainly sentimental & economic. On hindsight,I would say it was unnecessary & not so beneficial to US interest.
    The Cold War has been replaced with another type with Putin winning all the way. I think Trump has realised the current “war” is needless & serves US interest very little. Rather US is devoting so much finances maintaining the apparati that it uses to grandstand Russia. Finances that can be channeled to more useful programs if the situation with Russia is less tense.
    Smart man Trump…..

  • I think this is a very useful articles, that is well researched. There is always going to be co troversy whenit comes to historical events, because we can’t go back in time and read everyone’s mind to discover why they did what and what the specific conzequnemces of someone’s actions where. BUT we can look at the cold hard facts and make reasonable inferences which, for the most part, are correct.

  • your article should go into more detail and you should also fix the errors

  • Good Job!! I Am Using This For A Research Project That I Have To Do In History Class!!Thanks for info!!

  • It should be dacha and not dasha

  • I appreciated your article. I saw there were some ppl commenting on the inaccuracies, but for me it was just what I was hoping to learn. I wasn’t reading it to do a graded term paper or anything, I was just trying to get the basic idea behind what the cold war was, and I learned that along with what lead up to it, and how it ended. I wasn’t going to remember the details anyway. So I appreciated your article… was easy to read and not overly long. Thanks!

  • “The Americans reacted to the Zhdanov Doctrine with the so-called “Long Telegram,” written by George Kennan”

    How is this possible when the Long Telegram came in 1946 and the Zhdanov Doctrine wasn’t made known until September 1947?