Cold War Flags

What year did the Cold War start?


Anybody who lived through the Cold War years will remember a continuing state of tension between the Soviet Union and the West but how and when did it all start? Historians may differ on this point to some extent and when you ask them what year did the cold war start, some will say 1945 and others 1946.

The 1940’s

After fighting as Allies in World War II, relations soured very quickly after the conflict had ended. The alliance between the USA and the Soviet Union during the war was generally seen as a temporary one, united only by their opposition to Nazi Germany and essentially, both nations had very different political views that were never going to coincide.

Many observers have suggested that the start of the cold war occurred with the death of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945. His successor, Harry S. Truman immediately rounded on the Soviets and informed Josef Stalin that he would take a much harder line with them.

The Marshall Plan

Marshall Plan logoRelationships continued to deteriorate with the inception by the US of the Marshall Plan which was intended to rebuild parts of Europe that were damaged during the war. The USSR refused to allow any Eastern Bloc countries to take part and for many this was a clear indication that the alliance forged in the war was only ever going to be temporary.

The Berlin Blockade

By 1948, the cold war had begun in earnest and the Berlin Blockade only served to emphasise the tensions between east and west.

This was the first major post war crisis and the first to directly result in casualties. Post war Germany was under multi-national control but the Soviets were looking to take sole leadership of the capital Berlin so they blocked the Allies’ railway which in turn curtailed supplies into the city.

The Berlin airlift itself was intended to carry airborne supplies into the city. In the main it succeeded and the Soviets were defeated but the direct result was the formation of two German states.

The 1950’s and 1960’s

Cuban Missile Crisis MapThroughout the Cold War, there were points of calm, punctuated by sudden points of real tension and after the Korean War of the early 1950’s highlighted that fact, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 underlined it in full.

It’s hard to imagine now that many people at the time of the missile crisis genuinely thought that the world was coming to an end. Thankfully, the crisis was averted but for most observers, this was the defining moment of the Cold War.

The end of the Cold War

The Russian Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was another pivotal moment but ultimately the Soviets were the losers in a long and bitter conflict which resulted in many casualties.

From this point, relationships thawed towards the end of the 1980’s as Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev begin to strike accords and with the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cold War as we knew it was at an end.

 

Comments

  1. Caleb

    What about 1917? The United States intervened in the Russian Revolution, giving aid to the White Shirts making an attempt to stop the Communists. I guess one could say that some tension between Democracy and Communism existed then…

  2. Andy

    Yes, the history of conflict between Russia and the US goes back to the Russian Revolution – although before that relations between the US and the Tsarist Russia were actually pretty good.

    To my mind, the difference between Cold War and the post-Revolutionary conflict is that by the end of the Second World War, the risks of conflict between the two new superpowers were so much higher. Once both had nuclear weapons, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) came into play, pushing both sides away from actual (hot) war.

    But, even before that, in the period before the Soviet Union developed its first nuclear weapons, a conflict between the two superpowers would have been unimaginably destructive – although the US had (some) nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union had a massive military that many believe could have over-run the rest of Europe.

    As an aside – you’ve reminded me that I really should get around to writing an article about the US intervention in the Russian Revolution and Civil War (and the intervention by other countries – notably the British and Japanese). It’s a fascinating period.

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