The Cold War at it’s most fundamental was a clash in political and economic ideologies: capitalism and communism. The nations aligned with capitalism, or The West, were led by the United States while the nations alinged, willingly or not, with communism were lead by the Soviet Union or USSR. It grew out of the waning days of World War II. As the Soviets drove the Germans back toward Berlin they came into possession of most of the countries of Eastern and South Easern Europe: Poland, Hungaria, Bulgaria, Romania, among others. The Allies, who were allied with the Soviets against Germany were concerned that Stalin would not liberate these countries after driving the Nazi’s out and tried to get assurances from Stalin that his forces would indeed leave after the war and these countries would be free to govern themselves. This did not happen. After the war, the USSR continued to occupy most of these countries, including eastern Germany which was then divided into capitalist West Germany and communist East Germany or the German Democratic Republic (GDR) which was neither democratic nor a republic…discuss. Basically, after WWII the alies told Russia “Get out of Eastern Europe!”, the Russians said “Make us!” and the two sides stood and stared at each other across the Iron Curtain (a phrase coined in a Winston Churchill speech) for the next nearly half century. Meanwhile on the other side of Asia, the communist forces of Mao Zedong defeated the nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-chek turning the worlds most populace country red.
That half-century, the two sides engaged in a struggle to contain the other and bring as many nations as possible onto it’s side. It’s called the Cold War because the two main advesaries, the US and USSR, never engaged each other in open warfare. They pawed at each other through espionage and war between proxies like the Korean and Vietnam wars (though Soviet and American pilots did face each other in the skies over Vietnam, but neither nation acknowldged this). Though there were those who advocated outright war with the Soviets, Patton the most notable, the threat of nuclear war overshadowed everything. However, at the time of Patton’s, eh, “admonishments”, immediately after the end of WWII in 1945, the USSR did not yet have nuclear capability. But they had a lot of dudes in Europe. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
By the 1950’s both nations had substancial arsenals of nuclear weapons and the spector of world annihilation was a very real and legitimate fear. Both country’s were aware of the devastation that nuclear war would do, and though there were a few close calls, the Cuban Missile Crisis being the most famous, cooler heads always prevailed and no nukes were ever launched. The doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) went along way to keeping a relative peace between the advesaries. By this time both superpowers had an entourage of like-minded nations, willing or otherwise, along side them. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the West and the Warsaw Pact on the communist side. WWIII was a very real possiblity.
Over the next few decades there were various crises and flashpoints but never a face to face meeting of the superpowers, other than the skies over southeast Asia. All the while, for the people living in countries behind the Iron Curtain life was hard as personal freedoms were repressed, economies stagnated, and individual political will was non-existent. One party, the Communist Party, ruled the day behind the walls. Meanwhile, those countries in the West thrived. Personal freedom was guaranteed, economies were growing, and leaders came and went by the will of the people. Never was the dicotomy more apparent than in the Germany’s. By the 1980’s the communist system was showing it’s age. Though the system had been on the decline behind the scenes for some time, to those on the outside this was not apparent. The events of 1989 surprised nearly everyone. The people behind the curtain began to speak out against an unjust system, and their leaders couldn’t silence them anymore. In that year the Berlin Wall was torn down by demonstraters and by 1991 the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist.
In China however things weren’t not as good for democracy. The then leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, while encouraging a freeer market, capitalistic, economy, was not prepared to allow those under his rule political freedom. A student demonstration for democracy in Tiananmen Square in Beijing was violently put down on his order in April of 1989, the very same year that German demonstraters had torn down the Berlin Wall with virtually not consequences.
So, I have no idea if that even answered your question. If not, please ask more questions. That’s kind of the point of this blog.