Summary of the Cold War: 1947 – 1991

After the Second World War had ended, a defeated Nazi Germany was split between the Allied Forces (particularly between the United States, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and France, which were the most prominent of the group), an exhausted fascist Italy was undergoing a phase of change, and the nation of Japan had been forced to accept defeat and surrender after two major nuclear attacks by the United States.

The people of  Europe no longer had to carry the fear of being killed together with them when going out of their houses in their hometowns; citizens of England wouldn’t have to be paranoid of potential enemy bombardments, and no longer would they need to seek shelter in the nearest  Metro station. The menacing enemy had finally been defeated. The world could be at rest after six exhausting years of fighting. Truces were signed. Mass weapon production had been reduced to a mere amount. International relationships seemed to have improved. The old war-plagued world was transforming into a stable and peaceful one. This was, at least, what the people of the new world, had perceived of it. Right beneath the newly formed layer of peace, tolerance, and love, a new threat was lurking.

The two nations that seemed to have brought peace to the world, were now about to bring it to its irreversible demise.


Even after the fall of Rome and Berlin, the Japanese war machine was still up and running; the fierce Asian warriors refused to halt their attacks (which were primarily targeting US forces), and kept on devastating American ground and naval troops by utilizing intense waves of kamikaze (suicide blast) attacks. There was little to no chance for US troops to neutralize oncoming kamikaze attacks; they were unpredictable and very sudden. Even if attacking enemy pilots would be shot and killed in the air; the chance of the aircraft loaded with explosives gliding down on friendly forces was very high; Japanese ground troops strapped with dynamite would charge towards the enemy -aware of sudden death-and detonate the explosives; killing dozens. These vicious attacks were taking thousands of American lives. The collateral damage had already surpassed tens of millions of dollars. The United States had to stop the war somehow in order to prevent further damage and bloodshed. The Japanese refused to surrender despite their losses and the fact that they were now practically fighting alone. The US had with two choices: either continue the war and seek assistance from the USSR – the US foresaw that they would be victorious in the war against the Japanese if their Soviet ally would attack from one side and they would attack from the other – or, proceed with the Manhattan project. The latter course of action would see the manufacturing of the first atomic bomb by a group of American, Canadian and English scientists lead by the mastermind Robert Oppenheimer to be used against the Japanese enemy.

Photograph of a US Marine running through Japanese fire in Okinawa, Japan on 7 June 1945. Colorization by Marina Amaral.

The Soviets refused to help the US counterattack Japan, proclaiming that the Red Army and the Russian State had already suffered enough loss due to the war against Nazi Germany. With the USSR’s refusal, the United States resorted to their only remaining option; proceed with Project Manhattan.


The Anglo-American cooperation proved to be very fruitful in 1945, when the scientists working with Project Manhattan proved that they had grasped the power of the atom. Two atomic bombs- nicknamed Little Boy and Fat Man- were detonated in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively, causing approximately 200,000 deaths, enormous territorial damage, and causing physical and mental anomalies to most inhabitants in the vicinities of the detonation areas. Japan had been devastated and had no other choice but to accept its defeat.

The devastation caused by the Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on the 9 August 1945. Colorization by Marina Amaral.

American victory against Japan finally marked an end to WWII, the most devastating event humanity has witnessed to date. As mentioned previously, the spontaneous peace was about to crumble from within, and this would happen because of the instantaneous paranoia that had been spread right after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As much as it was a marvelous scientific achievement, the atom bomb proved itself to be just as dangerous to its own creator.

The leading countries of the world had acknowledged that if they wanted to protect themselves from such danger as the one of nuclear annihilation – they would need to fight fire with fire – they had to build their own nuclear warheads. One of the first countries to engage in such acts was the USSR.


Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union at the time, was known to be a very paranoid man. During his reign, Stalin had sent millions of citizens of the USSR to labor and concentration camps (known as Gulags) in the far eastern snowy plains and mountains of Siberia and had killed millions of others. These ruthless actions were taken because Stalin had feared that these people posed a threat to his power and they must be stopped. His sole paranoia had caused nationwide genocides that had significantly weakened the power of the nation.

Photograph of Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until his death in 1952. This was taken at the Kremlin in Moscow in 1932. Colorization by Klimbim

After the second world war, the Soviet Union immediately started cutting ties with the United States. This happened primarily because:

The USSR had had a communist regime and on the contrary, the US had a capitalist, democratic-driven system which the Bolsheviks had declared as the worst enemy of common prosperity. They had contradicting ideologies.

After Germany had been divided between the Allies, the US (backed by the UK and France) planned on helping the German people rebuild after the aftermath of the Allied bombardments and attacks, but the Soviets had the opposite in mind. They would never let Germany become the superpower it had been in both world wars ever again, so it would never be able to threaten the Union.

The most significant cause of the Soviet-American breakup was the apparent militaristic superiority the US had gained over the USSR with the manufacturing of the first atomic bomb. This had made Stalin more furious and paranoid than ever. He knew that the USSR needed to acquire such militaristic power in order to gain influence and become a prominent nation in the vastly-changing international arena, and also to be able to counter a potential threat of such scale.


These reasons had prompted the two leading nations of the world into a type of conflict that had never been seen before. This conflict did not involve an all-out war between the two countries involved. No beaches were stormed, no artillery shells were fired, no tank wheels rolled. Instead, spies were deployed, nuclear missile silos were constructed, clandestine operations were carried out. One thing that this conflict had in common with the previous conventional conflict was the separation line drawn between nations, in two ways. The first way saw countries aligning themselves with either the US or the USSR through the Western or the Eastern Bloc. The second way saw nations being separated from within by proxy wars ignited from the rising tensions of this new form of conflict.

Famous author George Orwell named this new worldwide dispute very adequately. This 45-year era of conflict goes by the name of “The Cold War”, a name which is able to explain the nature of the whole conflict using only two words.

Photograph of famous British author, George Orwell. Colorization by Marina Amaral

During the Cold War, the White House and The Kremlin were going through several tense political discussions, while the CIA and the KGB were constantly making moves to outsmart one-another in order to get the upper hand in the situation, and both countries’ armies were at a state of readiness. The divided city of Berlin had become a chessboard, and the ones playing were the US and the USSR; both desperately trying to win, but none took any risks. The game was a very slow and tense one.


The Cold War had bred many other small-scale wars from within, such as those in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. The aforementioned came to be known as proxy wars; conflicts in which each side is aligned with a major power which pulls the strings. The Northern Communist Korea, the Viet Cong of Vietnam and Afghan troops were all supported by the Soviet Union in their respective disputes against the democratic Southern Korea, the anti-communist Vietnamese fighters and the Mujahideen rebels, which were all supported by the United States.

But amidst all of these conflicts, none truly reflects the threat posed by the cold war better than the 13 tensest days of the entire era; which came to be known as The Cuban Missile Crisis.

Photograph of Fidel Castro, Communist President of Cuba from 1976 until 2008. Colorization by Mads Madsen

After the US had deployed nuclear missile sites in Italy and Turkey, the Soviets felt threatened and considered America’s actions as acts of aggression. To make matters worse, the CIA had recently failed to topple the Communist Government of Cuba in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and the latter immediately sought help from their biggest communist ally; the Soviet Union. The USSR agreed to ‘protect’ Cuba via militaristic reinforcement. They sent several naval fleets to the shores of the country, circumferred the seaside, deployed warheads all across the nation, armed its military and revolutionaries to the teeth with Soviet weaponry, and constantly sent armed aircraft to patrol the Cuban airspace. Russian nuclear bombs now had a full reach all across US territory. Soviet presence in the west now fueled paranoia among the American citizens more than ever. Current US President John F. Kennedy knew that the only way to resolve the heated situation was to negotiate diplomatically with the Soviets, or else, a war with no winner would be commenced. Humanity had never been closer to throwing itself into the abyss of nuclear fire.

The United States had deployed units near Cuban territory as well, and Kennedy had gathered with the best advisors and generals to discuss terms regarding the actual situation.

Photograph of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 taken by George Tames. Colorization by Manuel De Leonardo


In one case during the conflict, an American naval unit submerged a signal flare to alert a Soviet submarine to get to the surface. The explosion of the flare startled the submarine crew, making them think that the war had been commenced. Every man got to his place and everyone was waiting for their captains’ orders. There were three captains, two of which had already agreed on launching the nuclear torpedoes. The remaining captain, Vasili Arkhipov had very wisely concluded that if the war had started, many successive explosions would be heard, and not just a mere faint explosion. This man had just prevented the Cold War from going hot, and presumably prevented a full thermonuclear war between the United States and The Soviet Union.

Photograph of John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev shaking hands on the 4 June 1961.

The end of the Cuban Missile Crisis was marked by the agreement of mutual retreat and the disabling of atomic bomb sites deployed in foreign countries after tense discussions between Kennedy and USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev. Both presidents’ diplomacies together with Arkhipov’s decisiveness were the only factors able to prevent a nuclear war which was very close to happening.


After a few years, Soviet influence started to weaken. The economy had been stagnant for decades due to the isolationist communist ideology. Several coups and uprisings showed that the “Union” was a more formal than factual term. Projects designed to strengthen the nation were failing. The Chernobyl Disaster in 1986 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 showed that the Soviets were a competent nation no more. The almost century-long communist empire was crumbling. On Christmas day 1991, the last leader of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev announced on live TV that the Soviet Union would soon cease to exist. The Soviet flag was lowered from its stand in the Kremlin for the last time at 7: 32, December 26th, 1991. This event, the dissolution of the USSR, simultaneously marked the end of The Cold War, an era of conflict in which for 45 years, the world held its breath.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signing the INF Treaty in the East Room of the White House on the 8 December 1987.

This article was written by Lum Borovci. Be sure to follow him on Instagram.

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