IDEOLOGICAL CONFLICT IN THE COLD WAR
Lasting from the end of World War II in 1945 until the early 1990s, the Cold War was one of the most significant events of the 20th century. While the Cold War is remembered for many of the important events that occurred during its timeframe, including the major wars in both Vietnam and Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the buildup and fall of the Berlin Wall, it is also remembered for the ideological conflict that occurred during the time.
The Cold War was essentially a ‘face off’ or completion between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II. At the time, the Soviet Union was a communist nation that was based on the principles of collectivism, while the United States was a modern liberal nation based primarily on the principles of individualism. This means that the Soviet Union was positioned on the far-left side of the economic spectrum, while the United States was position on the right side. This difference in ideology was a major source of the conflict between the two nations because throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought to expand communism to other regions and the United States sought to stop it with its policy of containment. As such, many people now view the Cold War as a conflict of the left and right sides of the spectrum, among other things.
This conflict was famously characterized by British Prime Minister as an ‘iron curtain’. Less than a year after the end of World War II, Churchill delivered a speech that introduced the Cold War era term ‘iron curtain’. His March 5th, 1946 speech at Fulton, Missouri, United States was titled the “Sinews of Peace”. It was a significant step in the early stages of the Cold War. He used the term ‘iron curtain’ to describe the line in Europe that divided Western Europe from Eastern Europe. The Western European nations were self-governing and based on the western principles of capitalism and democracy, while the Eastern European nations were under Soviet communist control. Throughout the rest of the Cold War, many of the most significant events can be best understood, by viewing them as part of this ideological conflict.
For example, in both the Korean War and Vietnam War, the Soviet Union was seeking to expand communism into the countries while the United States was fighting to stop the spread of communism and instead support the values of capitalism and democracy. This can also be seen in the events of the Berlin Blockade. Essentially, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, attempted to blockade the West Berlin which was in Soviet-controlled East Germany. By carrying out the blockade, Stalin had hoped to end the Allies (Britain, France and the United States) control of West Berlin and therefore spread communism and limit capitalism. In response, the United States carried out a massive air campaign called the Berlin Airlift. United States President Harry S. Truman refused to give in to the Soviet’s and fought to keep control over West Berlin. As such, it can now be viewed as an ideological conflict wherein each side was trying to promote their own ideology while trying to limit the other.
To better understand the ideological conflict of the Cold War it is first important to understand the main principles of capitalism, communism, democracy and dictatorship. During the Cold War, the United States was based upon capitalism and democracy while the Soviet Union was based upon communism and dictatorship.
IDEOLOGIES OF THE UNITED STATES
At its heart, capitalism is an economic system based upon the values of individualism and promotes individual liberty over government regulation and control. For example, laissez-faire capitalism is a form of the ideology that translates to “leave us alone” meaning that the government should remain out of the economy and instead allow individuals to freely carry out their own economic affairs. The development of capitalism as an economic system, sought to reject the idea of government control of the economy and instead put the focus on individuals. On the economic spectrum, capitalism is a right-wing ideology that is fundamentally based on: private ownership, competition, free trade, self-reliance, self-interest, and the principles of supply and demand. Capitalist societies are often based on free-market economies. This system differs from communism wherein the government usually controls the means of production and makes all important economic decisions.
Democracy is a political system that is associated with the idea that power or authority in a society rests with the people. In general, the people exercise their authority through elections in which they choose others to represent their interests in a formal legislative structure. This system differs from dictatorships wherein many of the decisions are made by the government which is often a single person and single political party.
IDEOLOGIES OF THE SOVIET UNION
Communism is an economic system that is based on the principles of socialism, especially the earlier development of Marxism and the ideas of Karl Marx as expressed in the Communist Manifesto. Similar to Marxism, communism is centered on the idea of establishing a society based upon public ownership of the means of production and the removal of any form of social classes. For example, communism generally focuses on the conditions of the working-class, and the wide income gap that existed in laissez-faire capitalist societies. Communist countries such as the Soviet Union are also often dictatorships. Communism differs from capitalism because it focuses on the government having much more control over the economy, and is often referred to as a command economy.
A dictatorship is a form of government in which most or all authority of the country is in the hands of a single individual; the leader. While the term has been used several times throughout history, most common usage of the term is in relation to different types of dictatorships that existed in the 20th and 21st centuries. For example, famous dictators include: Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, Benito Mussolini in Italy, Kim Jung-un in North Korea and Fidel Castro in Cuba. In general, a dictatorship is the opposite of democracy, which is a system of government in which the people hold the power and the ability to choose who represents their government. Essentially, in a democracy the people have the power over the major aspects of government and have the responsibility to elect their leaders. In contrast, a dictatorship is ruled by a single person who generally acts to protect his own position and power over the welfare of the citizens.