Cold War: Total War?

Though the Soviet Union and United States never directly engaged in military combat, both felt the repercussions for their support of other countries in conflict. The Vietnam War serves as an appropriate example. During the Cold War Europe and Asia were volatile regions teeming with governments adopting communist policies. As the United States intervened to protect the southern portion of Vietnam, the Soviet Union mobilized a limited number of troops and provided equipment for the northern region, which was fighting for a unified communist Vietnam.

Another example of the ongoing conflict between the rivaling nations was that of the Korean War. During this conflict, the Soviets trained and equipped the North Korean Army and supplied weapons to the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army. The US became involved when they joined the Korean War, supporting the South Koreans.

Ongoing tensions peaked with the arrival of nuclear weaponry. Both nations became technological superpowers with the development of weapons with nuclear capability. The arms race itself brought severe concerns to the US mainland when in 1962; Russia installs missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles away from Florida. Fidel Castro’s Cuban government feared an imminent invasion from the US and had Russia install missiles to deter them from doing so. This led to an American blockade of the waters in the region, impeding continued Soviet deliveries to Cuba. Fearing a nuclear confrontation, rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons evolved into talks of defensive measures, namely that of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). According to MAD, nuclear nations had first strike or second strike capabilities. A nation with first strike capability would be able to destroy the entire nuclear arsenal of another nation and avoid any reprisal. Second strike capability meant that a nation could respond to an attack with enough damage to make a first attack highly detrimental. By the 1950s, both sides had enough weaponry to destroy the opposer and had contested that they could launch an attack even after experiencing an attack from the other side. The prospect of Nuclear War eased actions the opposing side would consider a threat. This minimized form of detente helped ensure that nuclear weapons would not be used. The development of nuclear weapons led to breakthroughs in missile guidance technology and several different sophistications in military strategy. This increase in knowledge represents the level of concern and apprehension felt by both nations in that time.

When examining other fronts within the Cold War, one can conclude that the results of the decolonization of many of countries in Africa and Asia made the superpowers take a special interest in something other than East Asia and Europe. The developing nations of Africa became the stage for cold-war conflicts, with the United States and the Soviet Union competing for their allegiance, often through economic aid. At this time, various African nations revolted against European powers and began decolonization. Soviet Union saw Africa as a new place to influence and provided aid to any country that would adopt socialist policies. The US then became interested in Africa because of the growing Soviet influence and offered monetary and structural aid so that Soviet aid would not be taken. This continued throughout the Cold War. At the conflict’s close, most aid vanished. This withdrawal left many nations severely impoverished. An example of a country affected by Cold War conflicts was Ethiopia. An independent country ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopia was soon influenced by the Soviet Union. After the military successfully stage a coup, monarchy ended and the new government embraced socialism. The US stopped its support and the Soviet Union began aiding Ethiopia. The Soviet Union eventually stopped it support as well. This led to the fall of Ethiopia’s communist government. Many social problems continue to this day.

There are many ways in which the Cold War can be labeled a Total War. There were several different fronts in which the Soviet Union as well as the United States attempted to render the other incapable of engaging in war. From the expansion of military technology to include nuclear weaponry, to the support extended to foreign governments to prevent the spread of democracy and communism, the Cold War proved to be a crucial moment in the development of the global community. The ways in which the nuclear standoff affected the decision making and overall tone of the conflict indicate the conditions were those of a total war. The fashion in which one country’s actions impeded the other’s efforts became increasingly indicative of said conditions.

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