Cold War Era: Tensions, Triumphs, and a Legacy of Creativity
The Origins: WWII Endings and the Inception of the Cold War
Soon after WWII ended, the Cold War transpired. It would not be fair to say that one nation was particularly at fault since many say that the Cold War was inevitable, as the Soviet Union was for communism, and we were not. The two countries both wanted to prove to one another that one was more economically and politically superior. Though it may have been documented as a frightful era to those living during that period, the Cold War led to many significant outcomes like the race to space, a sprout in creativity, and lastly, the race to the “arms bomb.”
In 1945, one major war ended, and the Cold War commenced soon after. Though many history textbooks explain that the Cold War began in 1945 and ended in 1991, many historians will argue with the point that the Cold War originated during World War 2. (WWII) Stalin’s distrust of the United States and Britain, growing as they refused to invade Europe, opened up a second front against the Nazis. Some people may even surmise by saying that the overall decision to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan was to intimidate the Soviets. This did not necessarily go as planned because the Soviets were only then motivated to create their own powerful bomb, which they did and successfully worked on in 1949.
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Soon after the surrender of Germany, the discomfort of the alliances from Britain, America, and the Soviet Union became noticeable, causing the alliance to collapse. By 1948 the Soviet Union had placed communist-leaning governments in Eastern European countries that the USSR had seized control of from the Nazis during the war. This incident caused America and Britain to worry about communism spreading to the western part of Europe and possibly becoming worldwide. In 1949, the United States, Canada, and its European allies formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The Space Race: A Cosmic Competition of Superpowers
The race to space was actually one of the more prominent things that came from the Cold War. During this time, two Great Powers, called the Soviet Union and the United States, emerged after World War II. These two great powers competed to send people, animals, satellites, and different types of technology into space. Much of the Cold War related to the space race, which started when the Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR for short, launched the first Satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957.
Only a few years later, the USSR sent the first man into space. Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth, naturally becoming the first cosmonaut. Inevitably, this created panic and uneasiness in America. It had become very clear just how far the Soviets had come scientifically and culturally. So, just how did America respond to all of this? Well, John F. Kennedy publicly came out with the bold statement: “to land a man on the moon before the decade is out.”
In 1958, the U.S. sent Explorer 1, designed by the U.S. Army under the supervision of Werhner von Braun. In the same year, Dwight Eisenhower publicly signed an order starting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (NASA) This federal organization’s main objective was dedicated to space exploration. On July 16, 1969, U.S. astronauts Edwin Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins set off into space on the Apollo 11 mission. After landing successfully on the moon on July 20, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. His famous quote still impacts people to this day, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Though Kennedy was not able to see his vision of landing a man on the moon, his determination to do so played a significant role in the United States of America winning the race to space.
The Arms Race: Atomic Dominance in a Tense World
After WWII, the best way to treat the threat of the Soviet Union was by implanting a strategy called “Containment.” The containment strategy also provided the rationale for an unparalleled buildup in the United States. In particular, American officials encouraged the development of atomic weapons, like the ones that had discontinued World War II. This started the race for the “arms bomb.” The Soviets decided to test an atomic bomb on their own. President Truman responded by saying “that we would build an even more detrimental bomb called the hydrogen bomb, or even cooler, the “super bomb.” All this talk about atomic bombs caused the stakes to be high during the Cold War.
The first Hydrogen bomb was dropped on Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and this clearly showed how powerful the atomic age could be. This bomb created a 25-square-mile fireball that vaporized an island, blew a massive hole in the ocean floor, and had the power to destroy half of Manhattan.
Cultural Renaissance: Cold War-Inspired Creativity and Entertainment
The Cold War created a sprout in creativity in many around the United States. During this era, many movies, comic books, and shows were even based on events that were happening. Movies were coming out left and right about atomic wars and possible nuclear strikes. This only heightened the fear that many Americans had about being annihilated at any time.
On the brighter side, many popular and well-liked comic book and movie characters were inspired by the Cold War. Spider-Man, Superman, the Hulk, and a few other superheroes are just a few that may cross a few minds. Spider-Man and the Hulk both have something to do with radiation, which played a critical role during the atomic age. These things may not have appeared significant to some people at that time, but they have inspired many other people to create better entertainment for the future.
- Gaddis, J. L. (2005). The Cold War: A New History. Penguin Press.
- Zubok, V. (2009). A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev. The University of North Carolina Press.
- Brzezinski, Z. (1993). The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century. Scribner.