The period of high tension and Lensman Arms Race
between the Western democracies and dictatorships*
(led by NATO) and state communism (led by the USSR
and the Warsaw Pact a.k.a the "eastern bloc", with China kind of aligned with them 'til the Sino-Soviet split of '60*
). The nature of the 'war' means it didn't have a beginning or end as such, but Churchill's "Iron Curtain
" speech of 1946 to the Malta meeting of 1990 are popular dates. Red October
is the earliest start-date, the latest end-date being 25/12/1991, when Mikhail Gorbechev resigned and the USSR was officially dissolved. There was no direct fighting between the two superpowers*
although many indirect conflicts flared up, with one or both sides backed by one or both sides (Korea
, The Iran-Iraq War, The Angolan Bush War, Afghanistan, etc).
Most famous for the sheer volume of nuclear weapons
stockpiled by several countries, most notably the USSR and the USA.
Highly influential in many a Spy Drama
during this period, as setting or Back Story
, such as Airwolf
, The A-Team
Standard plot in western media involves U.S. as goodies, USSR as baddies (of course, it is vice versa in Russian media
). You could also have General Ripper
come in and accuse our heroes of being Commie spies
; or a third party trying to spark the war between two superpowers. May or may not involve an Archaeological Arms Race
or two for (Nazi
Now much harder to use for plot ideas, unless you're using missing ex-Soviet weapons as a Weapon Of Mass Destruction
or unemployed Soviet scientists to develop it. Or Alternate History
scenarios in which the war went hot (especially popular among Video Games
So what actually happened? To avoid cluttering the article, this will get a separate entry: History Of The Cold War
. However, broadly speaking, the history of conflict between the West and the Soviet Union can be divided into six sections:
- 1917-1930: Starts in Red October, in which the Bolsheviks seized power and waged the Russian Civil War. League of Nations forces intervened and (indirectly, for the most part) assisted the various nationalist and White Russian forces in their attempts to seccede from or take over Bolshevik Russia respectively. The various anti-Bolshevik factions were too ill-co-ordinated to prevail, though a fair few countries (like Poland) managed to succesfully seccede despite the Red Army's efforts to crush them. Witnessed Ur Example of the Red Scare - the United States being notably zealous in its crusade against socialism, at least until the later advent of McCarthyism. Fiction in this era tends to focus upon Bomb Throwing Communists, attempts to jumpstart a world revolution, and the chaos of the Russian Civil War.
- 1931-1945: A period of reduced tensions between the USSR and the rest of the world as Europe and Imperial Japan's lurch to the right wing in the wake of the Great Depression led to some tentative contacts between the USSR and the non-communist and non-fascist powers. This blossomed into a full alliance after the USSR was brought into the wider war in '41, though both sides still worked to expand their spy networks in each others' ranks. The fall of the Axis powers coupled with several high-profile scandals led to the conflict to quickly re-emerge in the post-war period. Expect fiction to portray the Soviets at best as heroic but not entirely trustworthy allies and conniving and treasonous enemies-in-all-but-name at worst.
- 1946-1962: High tension between the two sides, culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis and some fierce Sino-Soviet border clashes. Fiction here has direct Soviet involvement in evil plots.
- 1962-1978: The period of détente. You are more likely to see a rogue commander start up a False Flag Operation here without approval from the top. Witness the James Bond films You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me.
- 1978-1987: The "Second Cold War", with Communist China dabbling with Capitalism and kinda on the USA's side now. Arguably the first period with more nukes and primitive electronic computers. Direct Red Scare again and the home of Airwolf
- 1987-1991: Ronald Reagan goes go-karting with Gorbachev. Glasnost and the end of the Cold War. Expect the Renegade Russian to appear wanting to avenge his side's "loss" or a paranoid General Ripper trying to Make The Bear Angry Again for personal reasons.
Due to its sheer length, the Cold War
appeared by analogy in thousands of other works. See Space Cold War
for examples. Also, the whole affair had so many confusing elements that Conspiracy Theorists
arguing about it - see Enforced Cold War
Anime and Manga
Film - Animation
Film - Live Action
- The Passions of the Spies (Shpionskiye Strasti), a 1967 black and white Soviet animation, satirizes the whole spy war genre. More to say, it even dares to satirize the very Soviet propaganda, albeit in a friendly way.
- Doctor Strangelove famously lampooned the Cold War as a childish dispute aggravated by sexual insecurity.
- Reversing the concept, Ice Station Zebra, while the attention was paid mostly to the U.S. side, the film showed the importance of delicate balance, which kept the war cold, over having the upper hand.
- Role reversal: K-19: The Widowmaker, in which the crew of a Soviet submarine are the protagonists and American forces are the antagonists.
- X-Men: First Class is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the plot revolves around the Crisis being caused and then defused by mutants.
- One, Two, Three is set shortly before the Berlin Wall was built (in fact, that's the reason why the movie became a victim of Too Soon).
- The Debt, in the Flashbacks.
- Thirteen Days: About the the political infighting John F. Kennedy went through during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
- The Resident tetralogy is a lenghty series of Soviet spy films about a Russian emigre spying for CIA in Soviet Union. He's eventually caught by Russian counter-intelligence and performs a Face Heel Turn to become a KGB agent.
- Twilight Zone indirectly used the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union in both its original series and the 1985 revival. One — "A Little Peace and Quiet," the debut story of the 1985 revival — involves the use of newscats, depicting growing tensions between the United States and Soviet Union, much in the style of the first half of The Day After to set up the climax (nuclear war actually breaking out between the U.S. and USSR).
- 24 has used both ex-Soviet weapons and ex-Soviet scientists.
- Airwolf had the eponymous helicopter stolen by its inventor and taken to Libya, with the intent of passing it on to the USSR.
- The Professionals regularly had brushes with the KGB.
- MacGyver, for the first three seasons.
- JAG has throughout the series many references to the Cold War, the former threat of the Soviet Union, and with particular emphasis on that nasty proxy war in Vietnam.
- The Colbert Report. Stephen is doing his best to re-start the cold war in his Cold War Update segments.
- In It Takes A Thief 1968, Al Mundy smuggles something or someone across the Iron Curtain practically Once an Episode.
- Soviet series TASS is authorized to announce... features good KGB guys and corrupt CIA agents struggling over a coup d'etait plot in some fictional Black Africa state.
- The FX show The Americans takes place in the early eighties and focuses on two Russian KGB deep undercover agents in America.
- The Doctor Who episode "Cold War".
- Playing off Cold War tensions, many promoters would create Russian heels by taking ordinary Americans, giving them a Russian (or other USSR-state) accent and having him "promise" to destroy the lead pro-American face in the promotion he was working in. Many of the best known came well after the Cuban Missle Crisis, but still, villians like Ivan Koloff (1970s) Nikita Koloff (mid-1980s, until his face turn) and Nikolai Volkoff (mid- to late-1980s World Wrestlng Federation) were very effective in building heat and drawing audiences wanting their hero of the time to destroy said villian.
- One example of a role-reversal of the usual "West good, East bad" scenario is from the stage-musical Chess, in which both the American and the Soviet intelligence agencies are shown to be cruelly manipulative, differing mainly in style — the Russian KGB agent bombastic and overbearing, the American CIA plant slick and cunning — rather than substance.
- The Crucible by Arthur Miller (himself a communist) is a thinly veiled criticism of Mc Carthyism.
- Battlezone has the Cold War go hot - IN SPACE! The Soviet Union and United States fight over Bio Metal on various planets in the solar system right after the first lunar landing - which were basically faked, shown in the intro to the first level where right behind Apollo 11 is an entire moon base, which can be used to make fantastic hover tanks and weapons. The events of the game are totally covered up until Battlezone II (set in the late '90s)
- The first two Metal Gear Solid games used ex-Soviet stuff, while the third was set in the 60s and starred an American agent in Soviet Russia, and effectively was a deconstruction of the nature of the Cold War.
- Ace Combat 5 was basically a Cold War gone hot situation. Osea (the in-game equivalent of the US) and Yuktobania (USSR), though like its prequel Zero, it started to take a bit of a twist towards the weird near the end.
- the Operation Flashpoint series
- East vs. West, a greatly anticipated game from Paradox, begins in 1946 and continues through till 1991.
- The Third Courier, a modern spy game set in Berlin, had the misfortune to be released in 1989, as the Berlin Wall was falling.
- World in Conflict An RTT (Real Time Tactical) game set in 1989. Instead of the Berlin Wall falling, the USSR decides to go all in an attempt to destabilize NATO as means of keeping itself afloat. The game also has an expansion called Soviet Assault which shows the Russian side of the conflict starting from day one to right before the final battle for Seattle.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops first of the series to be set in the Cold War.
- Call Of Duty Black Ops 2: Features two cold wars, the historical one in the 1980s, and a fictional one between the US and China.
- Wargame European Escalation: Another RTS game. Set between 1975 - 1985, the Cold War doesn't exactly go hot immediately in this one. In the first campaign, the conflict is entirely between East Germany vs. West Germany; it erupted due to a political incident involving a soldier crossing the Wall and the East German guards being way too overzealous in trying to catch him. Subsequent campaigns explore a Warsaw Pact rebellion with a Soviet crackdown, Able Archer '83 turning hot, and a Spetsnaz colonel's plans for revenge after the war spilling out from Able Archer turned nuclear.
- Missile Command, which was not only set in the Cold War, but made during it. It hit so close to home, programmer Dave Theurer actually had nightmares about nuclear war while making this game.
- A very great many scenarios from the Steel Panthers series deal with either the numerous "brushfire wars" between clients of the two sides, or with hypothetical conflicts where the war turns hot.
- Codename Panzers - Cold War: when the a Soviet fighter collided with U.S. cargo plane, which is enough to provoke the USSR to attack West Germany, instigating a war between the USSR and NATO.
- Graviteam Tactics: the campaigns Operation Hooper and Shield of the Prophet are set within 1970s and 1980s proxy conflicts of the Cold War in Afghanistan and Angola. The Zhalanashkol campaign is set during the western portion of the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict.
- Westward is set in an Alternate History where the Cold War never ended. Initially this is just an interesting part of the story's background, but eventually the implications become quite important to the plot, and personally to some of the characters.
- The continuation of the Cold War may have also led to the quicker development in space travel technology, with manned trips to Mars in the 1970s and the construction of a starship with a Faster-Than-Light drive (albeit one that's a Black Box) by the end of the 20th century.
- In Jet Dream, Cold War politics are portrayed relatively realistically, but parodied in the "teen oriented" sister title It's Cookie! Those stories depict an East-West "Cool War" to win over the world's teens in a circa-1970 world where the watchword is "Fem Is In!" The "Cool War" is mostly fought as a battle between the West's flawless-but-expensive Gender Bender process and the East's quick-and-dirty Easy Sex Change procedures.