During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union fought together as allies against the Axis powers. However, the relationship between the two nations was a tense one. Americans had long been wary of Soviet communism and concerned about Russian leader Joseph Stalin’s tyrannical, blood-thirsty rule of his own country. For their part, the Soviets resented the Americans’ decades-long refusal to treat the USSR as a legitimate part of the international community as well as their delayed entry into World War II, which resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Russians. After the war ended, these grievances ripened into an overwhelming sense of mutual distrust and enmity. Postwar Soviet expansionism in Eastern Europe fueled many Americans’ fears of a Russian plan to control the world. Meanwhile, the USSR came to resent what they perceived as American officials’ bellicose rhetoric, arms buildup and interventionist approach to international relations. In such a hostile atmosphere, no single party was entirely to blame for the Cold War; in fact, some historians believe it was inevitable.
To clarify a point from the video, Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman missile launch control officer claims the secret code to launch the US missiles was 00000000. The US military denies this.
The Cold War - All Episodes:
Gail “Hal” Halvorsen was a C-54 pilot who became known worldwide as the “Candy Bomber” during the Berlin Airlift in 1948. This is the touching story of one man’s efforts to bring a little joy to the children of a defeated enemy with two sticks of gum and candy tied to handkerchief parachutes. Halvorsen’s simple act of kindness was the beginning of a mission that brought hope to the children of a blockaded West Berlin.
On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army poured across the 38th parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south. This invasion was the first military action of the Cold War. By July, American troops had entered the war on South Korea’s behalf. As far as American officials were concerned, it was a war against the forces of international communism itself. After some early back-and-forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled and casualties mounted with nothing to show for them. Meanwhile, American officials worked anxiously to fashion some sort of armistice with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider war with Russia and China–or even, as some warned, World War III. Finally, in July 1953, the Korean War came to an end. In all, some 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the war. The Korean peninsula is still divided today.
On July 26, 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, the joint British-French enterprise which had owned and operated the Suez Canal since its construction in 1869. Nasser’s announcement came about following months of mounting political tensions between Egypt, Britain, and France. Although Nasser offered full economic compensation for the Company, the British and French Governments, long suspicious of Nasser’s opposition to the continuation of their political influence in the region, were outraged by the nationalization. The Egyptian leader, in turn, resented what he saw as European efforts to perpetuate their colonial domination.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a tense, 13-day political and military standoff in October 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. In a TV address on October 22, 1962, President John Kennedy (1917-63) notified Americans about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact a naval blockade around Cuba and made it clear the U.S. was prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to national security. Following this news, many people feared the world was on the brink of nuclear war. However, disaster was avoided when the U.S. agreed to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s (1894-1971) offer to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for the U.S. promising not to invade Cuba. Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.
On the morning of October 16, 1962, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy informed President John F. Kennedy that U.S. surveillance aircraft had discovered the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from American soil. It was the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Explore 10 surprising facts about the moment when the Cold War turned red-hot.
An international diplomatic crisis erupted in May 1960 when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) shot down an American U-2 spy plane in Soviet air space and captured its pilot, Francis Gary Powers (1929-77). Confronted with the evidence of his nation’s espionage, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) was forced to admit to the Soviets that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been flying spy missions over the USSR for several years. The Soviets convicted Powers on espionage charges and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. However, after serving less than two years, he was released in exchange for a captured Soviet agent in the first-ever U.S.-USSR “spy swap.” The U-2 spy plane incident raised tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets during the Cold War (1945-91), the largely political clash between the two superpowers and their allies that emerged following World War II.
The nuclear arms race was central to the Cold War. Many feared where the Cold War was going with the belief that the more nuclear weapons you had, the more powerful you were. Both America and Russia massively built up their stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
On August 5, 1963, representatives of the United States, Soviet Union and Great Britain signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons in outer space, underwater or in the atmosphere. The treaty, which President John F. Kennedy signed less than three months before his assassination, was hailed as an important first step toward the control of nuclear weapons.
After World War II drew to a close in the mid-20th century, a new conflict began. Known as the Cold War, this battle pitted the world’s two great powers–the democratic, capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union–against each other. Beginning in the late 1950s, space would become another dramatic arena for this competition, as each side sought to prove the superiority of its technology, its military firepower and–by extension–its political-economic system.
A satirical American interpretation of the globe, under US President Ronald Reagan (1981 - 89).
When Mikhail S. Gorbachev (1931-) became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985, he launched his nation on a dramatic new course. His dual program of “perestroika” (“restructuring”) and “glasnost” (“openness”) introduced profound changes in economic practice, internal affairs and international relations. Within five years, Gorbachev’s revolutionary program swept communist governments throughout Eastern Europe from power and brought an end to the Cold War (1945-91), the largely political and economic rivalry between the Soviets and the United States and their respective allies that emerged following World War II. Gorbachev’s actions also inadvertently set the stage for the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which dissolved into 15 individual republics. He resigned from office on December 25, 1991.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the prospect of communist subversion at home and abroad seemed frighteningly real to many people in the United States. These fears came to define–and, in some cases, corrode–the era’s political culture. For many Americans, the most enduring symbol of this “Red Scare” was Republican Senator Joseph P. McCarthy of Wisconsin. Senator McCarthy spent almost five years trying in vain to expose communists and other left-wing “loyalty risks” in the U.S. government. In the hyper-suspicious atmosphere of the Cold War, insinuations of disloyalty were enough to convince many Americans that their government was packed with traitors and spies. McCarthy’s accusations were so intimidating that few people dared to speak out against him. It was not until he attacked the Army in 1954 that his actions earned him the censure of the U.S. Senate.
Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) led the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, serving as premier from 1958 to 1964. Though he largely pursued a policy of peaceful coexistence with the West, he instigated the Cuban Missile Crisis by placing nuclear weapons 90 miles from Florida. At home, he initiated a process of “de-Stalinization” that made Soviet society less repressive. Yet Khrushchev could be authoritarian in his own right, crushing a revolt in Hungary and approving the construction of the Berlin Wall. Known for his colorful speeches, he once took off and brandished his shoe at the United Nations.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-73) became the 36th president of the United States following the November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). Upon taking office, Johnson, a Texan who had served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, launched an ambitious slate of progressive reforms aimed at alleviating poverty and creating what he called a “Great Society” for all Americans. Many of the programs he introduced–including Medicare and Head Start–made a lasting impact in the areas of health, education, urban renewal, conservation and civil rights. Despite his impressive domestic achievements, however, Johnson’s legacy was equally defined by his failure to lead the nation out of the quagmire of the Vietnam War (1954-75). He declined to run for a second full term in office, and retired to his Texas ranch after leaving the White House in January 1969.
Mikhail Gorbachev was the first president of the Soviet Union, serving from 1990 to 1991. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his leadership role in ending the Cold War and promoting peaceful international relations.