The Cold War was a major event in the history of the world. It has been seen as a struggle for supremacy between two major ideologies of the 20th century—the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist United States of America. Even though this ideological hatred had been in existence since the beginning of the century, neither power had acted on it, until after the end of the Second World War in August 1945. The major drive for the Cold War had been the fear of nuclear domination.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a cold war as “a condition of rivalry, mistrust, and often open hostility short of violence esp. between power groups”. The term “cold” has been used in the English language to describe a condition in which someone intentionally gives another an unsympathetic treatment, such as “cold shoulder”. In diplomacy and world politics, a cold war goes to a much higher level. In the second half of the 20th century, USA the capitalist nation and USSR the communist nation turned on one-another. They raced against one-another in power play, sending satellites and men to space, and even trying to win the other nations to their sides. Many events resulted in the consequence of this, including the deaths of several million innocent human beings. These included the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Here are some facts to understand the Cold War better:
- The famous Berlin Wall was a result of the Cold War. When the Second World War effectively ended in August 1945, Germany, one of its Axis participants, was invaded by the major Allied Powers; the Soviets had the Eastern Germany under their control, whereas the English, the French, and the Americans had control of West Germany. The powers on both sides eventually turned against one-another on ideological basis (the West was capitalist and the East was Communist), ultimately placing their own puppet governments in both the parties; West Germany was democratic and East Germany was dictatorial. The Berlin Wall was constructed by the Soviet Communists in Berlin, capital of united Germany. The citizens under the East German government were very dissatisfied and so, they left to start afresh in democratic West Germany. The construction of the Berlin Wall made sure that this came to an end. This caused British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to remark that “an iron curtain has descended upon us”.
- The Korean War of 1951-53 was not really a war. It was merely a few months of tug-of-war kind of struggle between the North Koreans, backed by Communist China, and the South Koreans, backed by the Americans. The North invaded and occupied the South for a few weeks, before it would be overrun and the situation got reversed. A few weeks later, the situation tilted once more in favour of the North Koreans, and vice-versa. This lasted, till they both decided to come to an armistice in 1953, which effectively divided Korea along the 38th parallel, as we know it to-day. An armistice is not a peace settlement, merely the end of a physical war.
- The Americans entered into the Vietnamese War with the French only when they realised that the Vietnamese were inclining towards Communism. In fact, their leader, Ho Chi Min, was a Communist himself. Vietnam had been a country that had long followed Chinese cultural and political leanings since the ancient times and so, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it was now becoming increasingly leftist (since China became Communist in 1949). When the French finally left Indo-China, the Americans swooped in to take over. The Americans and the Russians both went after the Asian, African, and Latin American countries and pressured them to follow one ideology—either capitalism or communism.
- Although the United Nations Organisation and the Non-Aligned Movement were meant to be neutral bodies and resist the onslaught of the ideological battle, they still couldn’t help leaning towards capitalism and communism, respectively. The UNO was heavily financed by the Americans, whereas the NAM countries, like India, Indonesia, and Argentina, often sought Soviet help. However, countries like Cuba and former Yugoslavia, though were Communist and sought Soviet help, managed to hold their own against its influence for a long time.
- Despite both of them having heavy Communist leanings, still China and Russia couldn’t stick together throughout the Cold War. Their relations of goodwill fell apart in the mid-1960s, when Stalin died and his successors weren’t as good as him. Chinese Premier Mao Tse-tung was not pleased by the Premiers who followed Josef Stalin, because of the less aggressive policies that they followed. Nikita Khruschev succeeded Premiership of the Soviet Union and began the process of “de-Stalinisation”. In fact, Mao didn’t consider them to be true Communists at all. Having said that, Mao himself cannot be considered to be a true communist.
After discussing the five facts above, it becomes imperative to understand what capitalism and communism truly are. Capitalism is a right-wing ideology; its national trade is mainly controlled by private entities. It is both a political and an economic ideology. Communism is a form of left-wing government, which is more dictatorial and believes in the leadership of the proletariat over the bourgeois. It does not believe in private ownership and staunchly stresses on public ownership. This definition of Communism was provided by the first person to talk openly about left-wing politics—Karl Marx. But, Marx did one major mistake and that was not to think Communism through and through. In other words, he told us how the proletariat would defeat their bourgeois leaders and gain leadership themselves, but he forgot to tell us how he expected a communist government to be run after that. Hence, different leftist leaders who considered themselves to be Communist had different theories about this, which didn’t exactly match up. They didn’t make too much sense, either. Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky were such leaders in Russia and they all had three different theories; Mao had a different theory, which was loosely based on Stalin’s version of a communist government.