The Cold War and WWII

Published 09 Oct 2017

Sometimes we doubt, whether the Cold War has been a “real” war. We might think that the Cold War was hardly a “real” war due to the absence of real military actions between the nations. On the one hand, “the reality” of war is not limited by military operations. On the other hand, the history of the Cold War is filled with military examples of a “real” war. That stage of historical development requires thorough re-consideration through the prism of its chronology and the most important events. WWII will become a good basis for comparison, because for many of us the Second World War remains the most vivid representation of what “real” war is.

One of the major problems of this research is what we consider to be a “real” war. Under the term “real” we imply military actions, millions of deaths, and millions of injured, with several nations involved into the conflict. There are numerous definitions of what war is. A war can imply an armed conflict against an enemy, or can appear in the form of a violent opposition between two different nations. In this context, the Cold War hardly looks like “real” war. It seems that the Cold War was nothing more than visible political opposition and competition between the two powerful nations – the United States and the Soviet Union. However, those who hold such erroneous perceptions about the Cold War are not aware of the numerous critical events which took place at that period, and which could easily turn the Cold War into a “real” war.

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As WWII started with the German invasion to Poland in 1939, the Cold War began in 1945, with bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States. The nuclear attack has caused multifaceted military and political effects on the history of the Cold War. First, it has pushed the United States ahead of the world’s arms race. Second, it has caused thousands of deaths, and in many aspects this event has turned a quiet political opposition into a “real” war. Certainly, we may argue that neither bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nor the explosion of hydrogen bomb in the United States in 1952 were the displays of the Cold War as a “real” war. Certainly, those events did not involve the two political powers into direct military opposition, but the Cold War was and remains primarily a military conflict. It would be correct to call the Cold War the “the continuous armed race”, in which each of the two states was trying to prove its military leadership. We can easily call the Cold War “World War III”, because it has led to irreversible political and military consequences not only for the USSR and the USA, but for the whole world. The Cold War has completely changed the political opinion of what a “real” war could be, and has divided the world into the two large political camps. WWII has resulted in the same division of the world politics and geography, in which one of the camps supported the Nazis, with the other fighting for freedom of the occupied nations.

In many instances, the historical course of WWII was similar to that of the Cold War. When Germans entered the Polish territory in 1939, the Allies have immediately dismissed all opportunities to resolve the conflict peacefully. When the Soviet Union tested its “A-bomb” in 1949, the world community has realized the seriousness of its military intentions, the seriousness of the military threat to the nations in conflict, and to the world in general. The German attack of the Soviet Union (1941) has become the turning point in the course of WWII. The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) has become the critical stage of the Cold War between the two superpowers. The German invasion into the USSR has led to the complete defeat of the Nazi Germany in WWII. Simultaneously, the end of the Missile Crisis in Cuba has indicated the complete defeat of Khrushchev as a political leader, and the political and military success of Kennedy.

In this context, the Cold War looks very similar to “real” war, as we traditionally imagine it. A “real” war always involves two or more conflicting parties. A “real” war is characterized by continuous or occasional military campaigns between the conflicting parties. A “real” war always ends with the defeat of one of the conflicting camps, or with a peaceful agreement between the parties. The Cold War was characterized by active involvement of the two superpowers into the conflict. The Soviet Union has forever engraved its military revolutionary interventions into the history of East Berlin, Prague, and Budapest. The United States has confirmed its status as the first world superpower. The Cold War has peacefully ended as soon as the two superpowers decided to forever terminate their armed race, and to start the new mutually beneficial stage of political, economic, cultural, and other relations. This is why we can easily conclude that the Cold War was nothing else but a “real” war, from the very beginning, to its end.

For some reason, we never take the Cold War as a “real” war in its traditional meaning. In reality, we do not look deeper into the historical contents of the Cold War period. We view the Cold War as the time of the growing political tension between the two superpowers, but forget about the critical military operations which took place at that stage of historical development. We constantly associate WWII with the meaning of “real” war, and erroneously conclude that the Cold War was the time of “quiet” multifaceted opposition between the Soviet Union and the United States. However, why do we call the Cold War a “war”? The current research has already answered this question.


  • John Lewis Gaddis “The Cold War” London : Penguin, 2007.
  • Derek C Maus “The Cold War” San Diego : Greenhaven Press, 2003.
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