The Fear Felt Around the World

A Review of The Cold War: A History
by Martin Walker

Author Biography

Martin Walker, a historian, received his degree in history after attending Oxford and Harvard. He was born during the start of the Cold War; later he became a reporter and editor for London newspapers. He traveled all around Europe to cover high points of the war including interviews with Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, and George Bush. His early focus was US history during the twentieth century with his America Reborn.

From the bombing of Japan until the tearing down of the Berlin wall, the Cold War transformed the whole world. As the first line of Martin Walker’s The Cold War: A History states, the Cold War was, essentially, “the history of the world since 1945.”1 The nations of the United States and the Soviet Union, staunch allies against the Axis, became among the worst enemies of history. The tensions between the two nations grew more and more as the war waged on. Through several presidents and various premiers, the war went through generations each with more ideas and better technologies to eliminate the other. Bombs and spies were all over the news and the citizens of both countries lived in total fear. Each nation had different perspectives with different intentions, good or bad. All of their ideas came with an outcome that ultimately affected the entire world.

The Cold War had beginnings as far back as the Yalta Conference of 1945. Tensions first arose when Stalin neglected his promise to aid in the war against Japan. The United States finally resorted to using the A-Bomb on the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which made the United States into the first true nuclear power. The plans of the Manhattan Project were secretly shared between United States and Great Britain along with billions of dollars in supplies from their lend-lease agreement. Eventually Stalin found out about the trade and the CIA, he felt as if the Soviet Union was being excluded. By the end of the Yalta Conference, the vast majority had transitioned from loving Stalin as an ally to regarding him with disgust. George Kennan, Secretary of State, despised the Soviet Union and began the policy of containment. Kennan said that he was “tired of babysitting the Soviets,” and pushed to crack down on communism.2 The USSR was able to acquire plans on how to build the nuclear weapons and conducted their first test of the A-Bomb in 1949. During the Korean War, over 50,000 US troops were stationed in China; the United States was pushing to spread democracy into Korea and feared that communism, which many conservatives believed originated solely from Moscow and not independent nations, would take over. Thus, “people with brown and black and yellow skins paid the price of…a white men’s quarrel.”3 These nations all became a scapegoat to keep the war going. Although Stalin was upset that United States was stationed in Asia, the Marshall Plan helped to greatly boost the Japanese economy and their GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Through the election of 1952, the United States policy toward communism shifted once more when Eisenhower declared that he wanted to destroy communism, not contain it. Following Stalin’s death in 1953, the era of détente truly began with the installment of new premier Vyacheslav Molotov. United States took their opportunity to continue their research on nuclear weapons and developed the H-Bomb, but the Soviet Union beat them to it widening the much feared “missile gap” between the east and the west. In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite Sputnik; the United States tried to quickly counter the satellite with one of their own but when the rocket launched, it fell straight back to the ground. Feeling more inadequate, the United States increased their defense budget to 50% of the national budget. United States developed the U-2 spy plane to take pictures so that they could get an advantage on when and where the soviets were coming from. One U-2 plane was shot down over Moscow and although “the immediate American reaction was to deny that it had been on a spy mission,” the evidence of cameras, pictures, and cyanide pills made the truth obvious.4 During the Korean War, the United States’ GDP increased along with a stock market boom especially in aerospace stocks. In 1961, United States invaded Bay of Pigs in Cuba, a planned attack by Eisenhower’s administration which didn’t take place until President Kennedy was elected the following year. The invasion was a failure when Castro’s troops held back United States soldiers. United States was greatly embarrassed because the Soviet Union was aiding Castro’s troops, which made it seem that United States had lost a battle against communist Moscow. Kennedy made a trip with his advisors to Moscow to meet with Khrushchev only to find that the “missile gap” never existed.

More confident in its power, the United States advanced rapidly in nuclear technology. With U-2 spy planes and the revolutionary ICBM long-range missiles, they outpaced the Soviet Union by far. The United States had established nuclear silos in England, France, Germany, and Italy, all ready to attack and annihilate the Soviet Union. The USSR was more advanced in the short and intermediate-range missiles but they couldn’t reach the United States from Moscow. In a meeting Khrushchev decided “to install nuclear missiles in Cuba,” where even their short-range could his D.C., even though Castro did not approve.5 War tensions grew; Kennedy and Khrushchev were ready to attack but neither side wanted to initiate what would have been World War III. Shortly after a test ban treaty was signed which prohibited underground testing, limited the number of nuclear weapons, and most of all got the missiles out of Cuba. “After Kennedy’s death…[the] 1960s saw a remarkably global convulsion,” with more competition and more battles.6 The Gulf of Tonkin incident allowed President Johnson to step up involvement in the Vietnam war but also marked the beginning of the first domestic riots especially within black cities. Other countries were seeing United States as trying to make enemies with all communists domestic and foreign. Germany’s tactic to get United States out of Vietnam was to force for an exchange of gold for the USD that was paid from World War II causing inflation. When President Nixon was elected his goal was to pull the troops from Vietnam and get out of the war. A period of détente started but to President Nixon détente was not a time of peace or relaxation but instead a time for Europe and Asia to reestablish their economies and stability. Nixon resigned just before he was impeached. A cruise missile was developed which became mass produced by the hundreds and spread all throughout Europe.

In Afghanistan, a dispute took place between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, which was aided by the United States and Britain. As a result, an international decision was made to get rid of the missiles and only use the SI style rockets for defense only. Although the Soviet Union had caught up to United States with the quantity of missiles, United States was dedicated to creating quality with accuracy. The soviets began to fear the electronics, “intelligence noting a nuclear-capable aircraft being placed on stand-by…” which were kept in Europe.7 Electronics parts were being shipped in from Japan and eventually Japan launched a test rocket and became the fourth nation to enter into the nuclear age. At a conference in Geneva a formal decision was made to cutback the number of missiles to 6,000. The Soviet army was reduced by 500,000 men and 5,000 tanks in Eastern Europe. NATO used the technique of cascading, which gave various amounts of ammunitions, missiles, and tanks to other countries. As the Kremlin began to fall, more countries such as China broke away. As far as outcomes of the war, the price of oil greatly increased from the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the United States the number of people in poverty was double that of Britain or Japan.

According to Martin Walker, the many nations involved in the Cold War had different ideas of what the “right way” actually was. For example, the Soviet Union wanted to establish communism in Berlin, but for United States the “right way” was to establish a democracy in Berlin. Even President Eisenhower’s promise was “not to contain Communism but to confront and to defeat it.”8 Although United States saw themselves as doing the right thing, other countries saw them as becoming a world police. When George Kennan started his policy, it became the United States’ job to contain communism and prevent it from spreading into Europe or Asia, a mission that led to the Korean War and later the Vietnam War. To the Soviet Union, communism was the right way and they tried to lead by example by showing the GNP and GDP increase with the decrease in labor unions and elimination of the social status. From Walker’s point of view, as a British journalist, it is not a biased opinion of liberal vs. conservative. He tends to make Britain seem like a hero in the background of the war. For example, he showed that Britain was unhappy with the United States selling grain to the Soviet Union, but he still showed the loyalty of Britain as ally of United States.

At the time that Martin Walker wrote The Cold War: A History, the Cold war was nearing its conclusion. The Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, the Soviet Union had its first free elections, and the Soviet Archives had finally been released. He wrote it as a documentary of the specific events that took place during the war from a first hand view. “[He] served as bureau chief for Britain’s The Guardian,” which shows that he was involved in the media of the war.9 Being born just a few years after the bombing of Japan and the beginnings of the Cold War, he lived his life through the whole period. Not only did he research the Cold War, he woke up and saw it his entire early life in the newspapers and eventually in his job.

In September of 1995 in the Journal of American History, Krzysztof Michalek criticized Martin Walker’s book. He believes that the book is a good source of information “even though the author is not very innovative in his general approach.”10 The main countries, the superpowers, are the only real countries explained in the book, the only others are because of some sort of direct tie to one of these countries. He believes that Walker focused too much on the political aspect of the war and not enough on the general East vs. West conflict. He also specifically states that Walker was “contradictory, if not misleading,”11 when he uses the common idea that the 1980s was a different cold war. Michalek does like the way that the consequences were explained within the last chapter but believes that the summation of the United States’ end war results were not professionally analyzed. Michalek calls the book a “black and white perspective”12 of the war. He believes that the “author promises too much and offers too little.”13 Also, in Kurkus Reviews, it was agreed that Walker tends to focus on the political standpoint and that those few countries take up most of the war with few exceptions. Also the book was written from the point of view of a journalist, not necessarily a true historian.

Walker’s book is a great source of historical information, but also the political aspect of the war. He discusses mainly the increase or decrease in the economies, or how having United States troops stationed in another country can increase the GDP. As far as the actual events, he does give information about what happened but he then quickly explains how it affected the country politically, economically, or socially. He never discusses how international sports or media were affected. For example the killing of the Olympic athletes was never in the book but would have demonstrated how hard the war actually hit the common man. Japan’s willingness to “Japan’s readiness to suspend consumption to produce wealth “was matched by the speed of its transition to energy conservation.”14 For the schools he very briefly gave an example of a bomb drill but then he goes into how there was an increase in the number of people that applied to colleges in California. He should have discussed what students were taught, how people were informed, and how it affected their every day lives on a personal scale, not just national. Also, he does not place enough emphasis on the emotion that might have been felt by Khrushchev, Kennedy, or any of the other leaders. When the Soviet Union had missiles in Cuba, the two countries were on a verge of setting off a true war to end all wars with nuclear warfare. Or even when the Berlin wall was being constructed and there was a tank standoff, the tanks were literally within 200 feet of initiating a war. According to Walker, having troops stationed in other countries would help increase that countries economy with their spending. Politically it showed that the tensions just grew and grew as the war went on. It seemed the more things that would happen, the greater the United States’ embarrassment was. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a political disaster that seemed that they were just picking and choosing enemies. Also, the failure of the first United States satellite launch was a “wry tribute to both Soviet achievement and American failure - ‘Phutnik,’”15 that made the Soviet Union seem more superior then United States.

The Cold War brought the world into a new kind of fear, not simply one of losing loved ones in the war, but a fear of the total annihilation of an entire country, a war that could essentially wipe out the whole human race. “The United States faced an increasing threat,” that might mean an end to the world.16 Economically the war helped create allies with countries such as Japan which in today’s society, they are among the most technologically advanced. Before the Cold War, wars were fought in battle fields where men in the military would fight; the cold war brought the fight into the homes of the citizens with the possibility of a nuclear missile launch.

The Cold War was a war that spanned across five decades of total fear. People all around the world were scared of the unthinkable. The conflict between East and West was the true factor that drove the war on. It wasn’t until the tear down of the Berlin wall that the fear finally subsided. The ongoing mentality of “right vs. wrong” was the fuel that kept the Cold War burning for so long. In the end, “republics end with luxury, monarchies with poverty.”17

review by Stephen McKinley

  1. Walker, Martin. The Cold War: A History. London: Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1993, 1.
  2. Walker, Martin 37.
  3. Walker, Martin 60.
  4. Walker, Martin 133.
  5. Walker, Martin 169.
  6. Walker, Martin 185.
  7. Walker, Martin 277
  8. Walker, Martin 83
  9. “America Reborn: A Twentieth-Century Narrative in Twenty-six Lives.” Random House Inc.
  10. Michalek, Krzysztof. "The Journal of American History." New York. Sept. 1995, 821.
  11. Michalek, Krzysztof 822.
  12. Michalek, Krzysztof 822.
  13. Michalek, Krzysztof 822.
  14. Walker, Martin 239.
  15. Walker, Martin 114.
  16. Walker, Martin 116.
  17. Walker, Martin 347.

© 2006 Irvine High School

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