The Red Scare: A Look at the History and Ideology of the Cold War


The Cold War was the result of crippling distrust between two national superpowers, namely the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The main ideological clash between the two was their adherence to communism versus democracy. After the Second World War, the victory of the “Big Three” (which included Britain, United States of America, and the Soviet Union) had differing views on the future of the countries involved.  The future of Poland and Germany were deemed to be of maximum importance and for this purpose, a conference was held in Yalta where it was evident that there was a major difference of objectives between the three nations. While the United States and Britain both wanted Germany made strong through means of militarization and Poland to be a free democracy, the Soviet Union, fearing the rise of Germany, wanted it to be a communist nation, saving themselves from a possible future threat. After the war, Germany was split with the Soviet Union in control of East Germany and France, Britain and the United States taking over West Germany. This division was bound to lead to future problems.

The untimely death of Franklin Roosevelt was the turning point for relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Harry S. Truman, the successor to Franklin Roosevelt, was staunchly against communism and claimed that if countries did not stand with the United States, then they stood with the Soviet Union and were seen as their adversary. This was the beginning of the straining ties and dubiety. When a superpower refuses to accept the neutral status of other countries, the global community falls on either one of the extremes, making it difficult to return to balance.

There were three major factors that led to loss of faith between the nations. Firstly, Stalin believed that the United States took longer than required to set up a second front in the midst of the war, deliberately allowing Germany to enfeeble the Soviet Union. Secondly, the exclusion of the Soviet Union during the creation of the atomic bomb by Britain and the United States led to further distrust between the nations. The third factor was the Marshall Plan, which was drawn up by the United States to remodel Europe in 1947. Under this plan, United States was willing to impart aid to any country as long as they put a stop to communist activities within their borders. This was a direct challenge to the Soviet Union.

Both nations stood firm in their beliefs. The period after the Second World War was one full of threats, dangers and uncertainty, giving rise to what came to be known as the Berlin Crisis. The Soviet Union had decided to block the entry of supplies into West Berlin through means of land and rail. The United States and Britain resorted to means of air transport to carry and drop supplies to the region. As a result, the Berlin wall was built by the Soviet Union in 1961 to keep people in the East permanently locked out from the West. This action by the Soviet Union strained ties to the extent of no return: the United States would take this as a challenge and would resort to any means necessary to combat the spread of communism.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was the next major event of the Cold War. The world stood in the face of a potential nuclear war. In the March of 1961, unhappy with Fidel Castro’s control in Cuba, the United States of America attempted to invade the island nation. However, the result was unsuccessful, and so the U.S. decided instead to discontinue trade with the Caribbean country. President Kennedy was stricken with paranoia when he was informed of the Soviet missile sites being set up in Cuba.  To prevent further transfer of Soviet militia stockpiles, Kennedy placed a naval blockade around Cuba. Realizing the damage and devastation a nuclear war would bring, both the United States the USSR  came to an agreement: the USSR would deconstruct the Cuban missile sites and the United States agreed not to invade Cuba and withdraw its weapons from Turkey.

Another element of the Cold War was the idea of MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. The main idea behind MAD was to possess more weapons than the enemy in order to deter them from attacking. Both parties also made military alliances with other allies to ensure supporters and fallback options if either of them attacked the other. For this purpose, the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the Warsaw Pact; the military alliance of the Soviet Union, were signed.

One strategy taken up by the United States was that of ‘containment’, which proved to be fairly effective in Greece, Guatemala, Iran, and Chile. The strategy aimed to contain these countries and their ideas. A brief period of ‘détente’ (meaning release from tension), lasted during the Cold War, resulting in the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks or ‘SALT’ and the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty. However, this period ceased upon the invasion of the Soviet Union into Afghanistan. In the midst of the Cold War, proxy wars occurred, in which the Soviet Union and United States were not directly involved, but backed nations indirectly. These instances include the Korean War, fought between North and South Korea; The Yom Kippur War, fought between Israel and various Arab states including Syria and Egypt; and the Vietnam War. Such indirect wars had a direct impact on the world community. The Cold War eventually came to an end with the falling of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and its disintegration into fifteen independent states along with the symbolic fall of the wall in Berlin. However, even today, a pervasive air of mistrust exists between the Western democracies and the Eastern communists.

Niyati Sharma

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