Did the Cold War Have to Happen?

From 1947-1991, the United States and Soviet Union had very hostile tensions and opposite ideologies. Was the eventual Cold War a useless battle of superiority, or was it truly inevitable?

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The "Arms Race" between the communist Soviet Union and capitalist United States.

Matthew Messina

From 1947-1991, the United States and the Soviet Union were at a Cold War. They prepared nuclear weaponry and were ready to drop their bombs. In the end, they signed multiple arms control treaties and never started World War III. If they had, it could’ve meant the end of humanity. There have arguably never been two countries so hostile, that didn’t go to war. Many people say that the Cold War didn’t have to happen and it was nothing more than egos and fear. While that is true to an extent, the Cold War was bound to happen. It happened because they had no reason to get along, opposite ideologies, and hostile tensions. 

In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to be the president of the United States. He would take our country out of the Great Depression and be remembered as one of the greatest American presidents of all time. Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin was already established as the leader of the U.S.S.R. He would continue to lead the Soviet Union until 1953. The media was very surprised at how well these two got along throughout Roosevelt’s extended presidency. 

This was amplified by their common enemy: the Axis Powers. The Allied Powers (the Soviet Union, the United States, and England) despised Japan and Nazi Germany so much that they were willing to put differences aside to fight in WWII together. The Soviet Union originally backed Germany, until they were betrayed. The Soviets and Americans had a clear common threat. 

The United States and the United Kingdom held scientific experiments to gain war advantages over the Axis Powers. This would, of course, lead to the nuclear bomb. It is important to note that the Soviet Union stole the information from their Allies on how to construct nukes. The Allied Powers won World War II and the two things keeping the Soviet Union and the United States friends perished within a month- Roosevelt and Nazi Germany. There would be no good friend or common enemy to stop the countries from feuding in the following decades. 

The United States and the Soviet Union were miles apart, of course. However, they were separated even farther in ideology. The U.S.S.R. was a communist nation that was based on the principles of collectivism- the practice or principle of giving a group priority over each individual in it. While the United States was a liberal nation primarily based on the principles of individualism- favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control. The two countries both believed that their ideology was the only way to treat humans. This was proven when Ronald Reagan famously called the U.S.S.R. an “evil empire”, for starving their citizens for war efforts. 

America was beyond scared of communism, to the point of violating the first amendment with the infamous 1920s “red scare”. In the Soviet Union, you had so little free speech that you’d be sent to a Soviet concentration camp if you praised capitalism. The two countries were beyond scared of each other’s ideology. They felt it was necessary to prove theirs was superior. 

There was so much bad blood between the two countries that most 3rd world countries were prepared for a nuclear WWIII. The biggest events of the Cold War that almost lead to the third World War were the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War. When the Soviets, Americans, and Brits split the country of Germany after WWII, the Allies gave the Soviet Union the West side of Berlin and onwards. This area was very repressed and economically poor. However, at the time, those citizens could walk over to the side of Berlin with capitalism, and have a party. This area was economically prosperous and enjoyable for citizens and visitors. 

In 1961, new Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev asked John F. Kennedy to leave Berlin. When he declined, Khrushchev put a wall between the West and Eastside, famously referred to as the Berlin Wall. JFK famously responded to this by saying, “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.” This wouldn’t even be the biggest crisis for JFK’s presidency. 

The Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the Cold War got to nuclear war. After communist Fidel Castro took over Cuba (an island near Florida), he received a phone call from Nikita Khrushchev. The Russians didn’t have enough missiles that reached America, however, there was a certain communist island near America that hated America. Khrushchev asked to position his missiles in Cuba in case of an American attack, and Castro agreed in the name of communism. He did this because America had short-range missiles in Turkey, near the Soviet Union. 

Despite the countries being on “good” terms, the Soviet Union had to match whatever the Americans did in this game of chicken. After two grueling weeks for our country, JFK and Khrushchev agreed to take their missiles out of the short-range territory. The rivalry was still there, however. As previously stated, America feared the worldwide spread of communism. There were multiple times that the Americans came to the aid of a 3rd world country fending off communism. 

In 1965, Lyndon Johnson saw that the Soviet Union was trying to take Southern Vietnam under their communist wing. He had the choice to let it happen, or help them go to war. Johnson decided to send thousands of young men to war. Two million humans would perish in this war, mostly civilians from Vietnam. During the peace movement of the 1960s, many citizens insulted the way Johnson handled the situation, forcing him to call back the troops. The U.S.S.R.-backed North Vietnamese would take over Vietnam two years later. There are many more reasons that caused bad blood between the United States and the Soviet Union, such as the 1980 Olympics and the Space Race. In the end, the world never went to war because the Berlin Wall was broken down in 1989, and the U.S.S.R. disbanded in 1991. 

The Cold War was one of the scariest times to be an American or Russian citizen, as the chance of nuclear annihilation was never far from reality. For instance, students at the time routinely learned how to avoid nuclear annihilation in school, with the famous “Duck and Cover” PSA. However, the Cold War had to happen, or it was at least bound to. The United States and the Soviet Union had no reason to get along, had opposite ideologies, and had hostile tensions.