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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: The Cold War Era

By Tom Morrow

The two Atom Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan ended World War II. They were the most terrible weapons ever devised (at that point in history) by mankind. Atomic powered weapons have the potential of destroying the world. Anyway, that fact began circulating around the world in the late 1940s.

Until 1948-49, it was believed the United States was the only nation in the world that possessed the A-Bomb. We found out too late that spies among the research and development team at Las Alamos, N.M., that developed the bombs were feeding the information to the Soviet Union (Russia).

While the Soviets helped us win World War II, and supposedly were our “allies,” it became quickly apparent they had their sights on conquering the world. As the Soviets gobbled up all of Central Europe (Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, East Germany and the Baltic states, the U.S. realized we were in a “Cold War” with Communism and Soviet aggression.

Loosely interpreted, “Cold War” is more a war of words and diplomatic maneuvering. There were several “close calls” for a ‘hot war” to break out between the Soviets and the so-called “Western powers,” (U.S., Canada, Great Britain, France, West Germany, Australia, and New Zealand), be luckily nothing ever developed other than blustering words, etc. The closest call to nuclear war was in October 1962. For 13 days the U.S. almost went to war with the Soviets when they began putting atomic warhead missiles in Cuba, which had become a communist state. President John F. Kennedy forced the Soviets to “back down” and dismantle everything.

While in the U.S. Navy between 1959-62, I had a very small role in the Cold War. I was an airborne assistant combat information officer flying patrols in the Pacific between Midway Island and Adak, Alaska. My crew’s job was to watch our radar scopes for any unidentified aircraft or possibly a missile sailing in the stratosphere toward Canada and the U.S. During two years of 11 to 13 hour flights, about the only thing popping up on our screens was an occasional errant airliner that had gotten off course or a flock of goony birds (Albatross) flying home to Midway Island. But, be assured, no Soviet aircraft or missiles got by French Frigate Shoals while we were on duty.

By the 1970s, both sides had become interested in making accommodations in order to create a more stable and predictable international system, inaugurating a period of détente that saw Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the US opening relations with the People’s Republic of China as a strategic counterweight to the Soviet Union. Détente collapsed at the end of the decade with the beginning of the Soviet-Afghan War in 1979. The early 1980s were another period of elevated tension, with the Soviet downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (1983), and the “Able Archer” NATO military exercises (1983). The United States increased diplomatic, military, and economic pressures on the Soviet Union, at a time when the communist state was already suffering from economic stagnation. In the mid-1980s, the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the liberalizing reforms of perestroika (“reorganization” — 1987) and glasnost (“openness” — 1985) and ended Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. Pressures for national independence grew stronger in Eastern Europe, especially Poland. Gorbachev meanwhile refused to use Soviet troops to bolster the faltering Warsaw Pact regimes as had occurred in the past. The result in 1989 was a wave of revolutions that peacefully (with the exception of the Romanian Revolution) overthrew all of the communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union itself lost control and was banned following an abortive coup attempt in August 1991. This in turn led to the formal dissolution of the USSR in December 1991 and the collapse of communist regimes in other countries such as Mongolia, Cambodia and South Yemen. The United States remained as the world’s only superpower.

The Cold War effectively ended in December 1991, when the Soviet Union to collapsed. The Berlin Wall separating the city from East and West Germany was torn down. In short,

the U.S. and its Western Allies militarily “outspent” the Soviet Union, causing them to go bankrupt, and collapse of the Soviet state — (a simple explanation). Other than China North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, today communism has all but vanished from governments around the world. Even the Chinese are more capitalistic than they are communistic. The current posturing by North Korea is an example of how a “Cold War” could easily turn “hot.” They are constantly baiting the U.S., but so far, no shots have been fired.


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