The Cold War: 46 Year Stalemate

Reification During the Cold War

The theme of reification, or othering, was an extremely prevalent part of the Cold War not only for the United States, but for the USSR as well. As any nation on the brink of war, the US attempted to, and succeeded in, convincing Americans that they were on a different, higher level than that of their enemies, the Russians. Differentiating one group from that of another group not only builds unity, but it only adds to the already prevalent dislike that was flourishing between the nations, in this case. The concept of othering applies not only to the Cold War, but to what we have learned in class so far, precisely, one of Cohen’s 7 monster theses: “The Monster dwells at the gates of difference.” For something to truly be considered a monster, according to Cohen, it must be different that everyone around it, in some way shape or form.

1940's Important Event: Yalta Conference

Towards the end of the war, in February 1945, the heads of the main three Allied countries met on the island of Crimea on the Baltic Sea. Essentially, the meeting was planned so that they would talk about what would happen to Germany after its inevitable defeat. It laid out how land was going to be distributed after the war, which of the newly formed USSR-influenced countries could join the newly formed United Nations, and the future of the fight against Japan. Stalin agreed to join war against Japan 90 days after the surrender of Germany. A buffer zone of land was given to the USSR so that they could set up Communist puppet governments. This would become a point of contention between democrats and republicans during the cold war; the republicans accused the democrats of giving up land to the USSR without a struggle.

1950's Important Event: Sputnik

On October 4, 1957, the USSR launched the first man-made object into the Earth’s orbit. The satellite didn’t really do anything except orbit the Earth, but the sheer fact that the Russians beat us in the space race caused an intense fear in the citizens of the US. This fear was only heightened by the fact that Sputnik could be seen in the night sky, and when you couple that with Americans fear of nuclear war, it was a terrifying experience not only for the citizens, but for the military and government of the USA as well. After the surprise launch, and the failure of the US to produce a viable spacecraft before the Soviets, a lot more money was put into scientific education, with the hope that children who were scientifically literate would eventually be able to compete with the children of the Soviet Union. Additionally, NASA was created, and with the proper funding, was able pass the Soviets and win the race to be the first to land on the moon.

1960's Important Event: U2 Incident

On May 1, 1960, a high-altitude U2 spy plane, piloted by Gary Powers of the US, was shot down during a photographic mission over the Soviet Union. Because the airplane flew at such high altitudes, the United States military was convinced that it was impossible to shoot down. For the most part, they were right, until one missile clipped the plane and it crashed to earth. The pilot parachuted out, and was captured deep in Soviet territory. The US attempted to cover up what happened, saying that Powers was experiencing oxygen issues, and crashed north of Turkey, and died in the crash. After that, Khrushchev proclaimed to the west that Powers was alive, and was being held in Moscow. This was a major blow to the US government, as it was finally exposed to American citizens that they not only covered up the crash, but the US actually did fly into Soviet airspace, against what was previously stated by the US military. These revelations undermined the trust a little bit between the United States government and its people.

1970's Important Event: Takeover in Chile

In the early 70’s, the country of Chile was run by a socialist named Salvador Allende. His economic policies worked at first, but by 1972 his economic plan had come to a screeching halt, and with it, so did the entire country. The CIA helped fund opposition newspapers and propaganda against socialism and Allende. Waiting until the country of Chile was in economic ruin, the US decided it was time to overthrow the socialist leader of the country, Allende. In 1973, a US-funded military coup bombarded the presidential mansion of Allende; allegedly, he committed suicide during the bombardment. The US-backed general, Augusto Pinochet took control of the country, and proceeded to rule it with an iron fist. Pinochet did little to help the country, and in fact, his harsh rule, random killing and torture practices, and his inability to timely draft a constitution only further plunged Chile into chaos.

1980's Important Event: Grenada

In early 1983, US-backed Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was executed, and military rule began in Grenada. Consequently, the US and various Caribbean countries invaded the country in an attempt to overthrow its Communist leader, Hudson Austin. Encountering minor resistance from Grenadian and Cuban soldiers, the country was taken over in a matter of days. Overall, it was a monumental success, with the newly-formed communist regime toppled and only 19 American lives lost. The US public was greatly in favor of the invasion, as were the citizens of Grenada. However, prominent countries like Canada and the UK were strongly opposed to the invasion, as the country posed no threat to the United States and no crimes against humanity were being committed. The US announced that it would set up a constitution and appoint a new government.

1990's Important Event: Germany Reunited

After the first free elections in Soviet-backed East Germany in March 1990, negotiations between the GDR (east) and FRG (west) began. This culminated in the formation of the Unification Treaty in October 1990, which essentially granted sovereignty to the entire German country. Later, in November of 1990, a treaty with Poland was agreed upon which finalized the borders of the newly unified country. The reunification cost a phenomenal amount for the country of Germany, mostly paid for by what was formerly West Germany. Even though West Germany was essentially footing the bill for the reunification, most business in East Germany collapsed due to the newly-gained competition with the US and Western European businesses. To this day, the German government still allocates funds to the eastern part of Germany in order to develop it and bring it up to the level of the rest of the country.

The Concept Of
Mutually Assured Destruction

During the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States had enough nuclear weapons between themselves to destroy the world at least six times over. And yet, although a series of close calls that threatened to annihilate the relative peace and stability of the world, the two superpowers remained so reluctant to use their weapons that nuclear war, the one thing that citizens of both nations feared most, would never actually occur. Despite the numerous incidents, close calls, and near misses, the United States and the USSR, through an unspoken understanding called ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, kept nuclear war an impossibility during the Cold War.


By 1950, both the world superpowers had begun to stockpile a wide array of nuclear weapons, and consequently, the first hints of an immediate nuclear counterattack in the case of a bombing began to be understood by the top military generals of each side. And thus, the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction was born. The concept is strikingly simple. It’s known that both the USSR and the US have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the other. If an attack is made on the opposite country, for any reason whatsoever, then that country will launch a counterattack of equal or greater force against the insinuating country. The cycle continues until both countries, and likely the entire world, are left in ruin. Furthermore, the concept of M.A.D. explains that under all circumstances, the annihilation of your enemies is not worth the guaranteed annihilation of yourself, and that alone is what stops a country from launching a nuclear weapon in the first place. After the guarantee of destruction is understood by both parties, what remains is an incredibly tense standoff between world powers which culminates in a relatively established peace. Because even the use of conventional bombs would likely lead to nuclear war, a tense stalemate between the countries formed. In order for M.A.D. to be a viable theory, the force of the destructive weapon must be impossible to defend against and must be shared by both sides, so therefore, without nuclear weapons, M.A.D. is not a relevant theory because no other force known to man has the ability to cause mutually assured destruction.


However well the concept of M.A.D. may work, there were always competing strategies that stood to undermine its effectiveness. The military strategy of M.A.D. was not the only one in effect during the Cold War between the United States and Russia. Both powers frequently used a form of brinkmanship, a very dangerous strategy that threatened to undermine the understanding between the countries, to get the other side to back down in a conflict. Essentially a worldwide scale game of chicken, the concept of brinkmanship is equally as simple: both sides compete to see who can push the other side so close to nuclear war that the threat of that nuclear war is enough to cause them back down in the face of annihilation. The concept is dangerous because it pushes the two sides closer to that indefinable point where one of the countries will snap and launch a nuclear warhead, effectively ending human life on this earth. American and Russian advocates of M.A.D. understood that investing in massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons was vital because high levels of nuclear weapons assured that each side would view the other’s arsenal as a credible threat.


While the threat of a nuclear holocaust has never been more undeniably real than it was during the struggle, the Cold War saw the world’s two superpowers push each other to the brink on many occasions, saved only by the assurance of immediate destruction through the understanding of a simple military strategy: the guarantee of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Capitalism Vs. Communism

Although there were many reasons for the staunch dislike between Russians and Americans during the Cold War, no single reason created more shared animosity between the US and the USSR than the differences between the economic theories of communism and capitalism. The differences in the communist and capitalist economic philosophies caused the US and the USSR to stray further and further away from each other after the end of WWII, culminating almost immediately in a 46 year stalemate known as the Cold War.


Although there are many differences between communism and capitalism, most have to do with the amount of freedom given to citizens of each respective country. The first difference is with their philosophies. Communism was created with the intention of eliminating social classes and giving the workers the same power as the other classes, effectively equalizing everybody in the country. Under communism, individuals don’t own anything for themselves; instead, the government owns the entire country’s means of production. Because nobody owns any businesses for themselves, this effectively eliminates social classes. Consequently, everybody in the country is essentially equal. This varies greatly with the US’s system of capitalism. Basically, capitalism is an economic system where the vast majority of the country’s means of production are privately owned and operated. Under capitalism, business owners and non-business owners alike buy, sell, distribute, and produce materials to be sold on the open market for personal profit. This differs from communism on a number of levels, one of which being that communist workers do not work to make a personal profit, but instead work to better the government, who will, in turn, better the economy under ideal conditions.


Another main difference between the two economic theories is the concept of a free market. Under capitalism, the prices of goods, items, and services are influenced completely by the collective buyers and the sellers of each good or service. Additionally, the buyer and seller, uninfluenced by the government or another entity, make their own decisions on whether or not they want to reach an agreement on the price and purchase of an item. This leads to competition between vendors, which usually lowers prices and increases quality. In contrast, the communist form of government uses a system of controlled markets. Controlled markets are markets where the government regulates and controls the means of production of goods, the costs of these goods and services, and who is allowed to buy what when.


The differences between communism and capitalism caused a great deal of animosity between citizens of each country. Capitalist Americans hated the idea of not being able to own personal property or businesses for a number of reasons. First, they hated it because they were accustomed their whole life to being able to own businesses and spend money as they please, so the idea of the government owning all means of production was completely foreign to them. Second, they saw that the communist system allowed little room to accumulate wealth and better their lives, which is one of the principles that the United States was founded on. The communists hated the fact that a free economic market effectively caused the poor, working class to remain poor, with no chance of reaching the economic status of the wealthier, socially elite people. To communists, the concept of capitalism was on par with the saying “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” In addition to their strong dislike of the free trade markets, communists hated that capitalists thought only of themselves, making personal profit a priority over the betterment of their homeland and for the betterment of the working class.


In conclusion, despite the fact that communism and capitalism greatly differ, it is indisputable that they were both created with the same goal in mind: To improve the lives of the citizens of their respective countries. Unfortunately, the governments of the USSR and the USA demanded their citizens hate the citizens of the other country, solely because of their beliefs and views on how best to advance the lives of their people.