The Fear Felt Around the World
A Review of The Cold War: A
by Martin Walker
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
matched by the speed of its transition to energy
conservation.”14 For the schools he very briefly
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
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.
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
Cold War burning for so long. In the end, “republics end
with luxury, monarchies with poverty.”17
review by Stephen McKinley
- Walker, Martin. The Cold War: A History. London:
Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1993, 1.
- Walker, Martin 37.
- Walker, Martin 60.
- Walker, Martin 133.
- Walker, Martin 169.
- Walker, Martin 185.
- Walker, Martin 277
- Walker, Martin 83
- “America Reborn: A Twentieth-Century Narrative in
Twenty-six Lives.” Random House Inc.
- Michalek, Krzysztof. "The Journal of American History."
New York. Sept. 1995, 821.
- Michalek, Krzysztof 822.
- Michalek, Krzysztof 822.
- Michalek, Krzysztof 822.
- Walker, Martin 239.
- Walker, Martin 114.
- Walker, Martin 116.
- Walker, Martin 347.