During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union fought together as allies against the Axis powers, but the relationship was tense. Americans had long been wary of Soviet communism and Joseph Stalin’s thirst for power and territorial gains. The Soviets resented American’s refusal to treat the USSR as a legitimate part of the international community, as well as, their delayed entry into World War II. By the time World War II ended, these grievances ripened into an overwhelming sense of mutual distrust and enmity.
Most American officials agreed the best defense against the Soviet threat was a strategy called “containment.” Explained in his famous 1946 Long Telegram, diplomat George Kennan explained this policy: America’s only choice was “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” It was this strategy that provided the rationale for an unprecedented arms buildup in the U.S., beginning a deadly “arms race” that made the stakes of the Cold War perilously high.
Space exploration served as another dramatic arena for Cold War competition. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet’s launched Sputnik (Russian for “traveler”), the first artificial satellite and man-made object to be placed into Earth’s orbit. Unpleasantly surprised by Sputnik’s launch, in 1958, the U.S. launched its own satellite, Explorer I, designed by the U.S. Army. The Space Race was underway.
In 1947, in the midst of a post-war Red Scare, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) brought the Cold War home with a series of hearings designed to highlight communist subversion in the United States. This fight was mirrored by a growing concern with the Soviet threat abroad. In June 1950, the USSR took the first military action of the Cold War when the Soviet-backed North Korean People’s Army invaded its pro-Western neighbor to the south. Other international disputes followed, including the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year.
The Cold War continued for another 25 years before a final thaw. In November 1989, the Berlin Wall–the most visible symbol of the Cold War–was finally opened. By 1991, the Soviet Union itself had disappeared; and the Cold War was over.
Bundle up and examine the rivalry that brought the world’s superpowers to the brink of disaster in this week’s featured collection, The Cold War. Here’s a look at some of the episodes:
- Learn about the history and reach of The KGB, the agency of the former Soviet Union responsible for state security from 1954 to 1991.
- Declassified: Rise and Fall of the Wall looks at formerly guarded vaults and archives around the world to reveal untold stories about the brutal life and catastrophic death of the Berlin Wall.
- Deep within the former Soviet Union lays a classified subterranean world of Cold War secrets. Join host Don Wildman as he ventures behind the Iron Curtain to expose how the Soviets really prepared for a nuclear war in Secret Soviet Bases.
MORE IN THE VAULT:
From rare archival footage to unique first-hand accounts, watch the greatest generation win the deadliest war in history in WWII: The World in Crisis.
Match wits with the greatest military leaders and go behind the scenes of the most intriguing battles in history in Military Leaders.