"Neither side would allow themselves to believe the other side was as frightened as they were."
— Senior British intelligence officer, quoted in Peter Hennesey's The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010 (2010) p.1
"The Cold War didn't just end, it was won!"
— Society of the Strategic Air Command, Motto
"For 40 years we were led to think of the Russians as godless, materialistic and an evil empire. When the Cold War ended, we suddenly discovered that Russia was a poor Third World country. They had not been equipped to take over the world. In fact, they were just trying to improve a miserable standard of oppressive living, and couldn't. They had to spend too much on arms build-up. We didn't win the Cold War; we bankrupted the Russians. In effect, it was a big bank exhausting the reserves of a smaller one."
—Norman Mailer noting the Soviet state's inability to reign in the military-industrial complex (>30% of GDP in the '80s)
Both superpowers overstretched and distorted their economies by a massive and enormously expensive competitive arms race, but the world capitalist system could absorb the three trillion dollars of debt — essentially for military spending — into which the The 1980s plunged the U. S. A.; till then the world's premier creditor-state. There was nobody, at home, or abroad, to take the equivalent strain on Soviet expenditure, which, in any case, represented a far higher proportion of Soviet production — perhaps a quarter — than the 7 per cent of the titanic U.S. GDP ... The U. S. A. by a combination of historical luck and policy, had seen its dependencies turn into economies so flourishing that they outweighed its own. By the end of the 1970s the European Community and Japan together were 60 per cent larger than the U. S. economy. On the other hand, the Soviets' allies and dependents never walked on their own feet. They remained a constant and vast annual drain of tens of billions of dollars on the U.S.S.R. Geographically and demographically,the backward countries of the world, whose revolutionary mobilizations, Moscow hoped, would one day outweigh the global predominance of capitalism, represented 80 per cent of the world. In economic terms, they were peripheral...In short, the Cold War, from the start, was a war of unequals.
— Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes
"Some American politicians and pundits are too quick to claim that containment of Soviet Communism worked. Those who do usually have even today only a very vague idea about the country that was the target of containment. Reagan's overzealous admirers continue to claim that his anti-Communist crusade and SDI won the Cold War. [However,] it was Reagan the peacemarker, negotiator, and supporter of nuclear disarmament, not the cold warrior, who made the greatest contribution to international history. [...] However misguided, Gorbachev's 'new thinking' ensured a peaceful end to one of the most protracted and dangerous rivalries in contemporary history. [...] Gorbachev and those who supported him were not prepared to shed blood for the cause they did not believe in and for the empire they did not profit from. Instead of fighting back, the Soviet socialist empire, perhaps the strangest empire in modern history, committed suicide."
—Vladislav Zubok, A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (2007), pp.343-344
Indeed, as I explain in 'Camus and Sartre', the Cold War itself, its demand that everyone take sides in a pitched struggle of good against evil — to which Sartre and Camus fell victim and became accomplices in their distinctive ways — converted the authors' tragic world-historical conflict into a mere morality play. If one was right, it seemed, then the other had to be wrong, and their story lacked complexity and interest...Both adversaries deserve to be seen with understanding and sympathy, as well as critically...After their split, the Cold War's either/or demands would dominate the Left: supporting revolutionary social change often meant becoming indifferent to political freedom; defending political freedom often meant rejecting the only significant project challenging capitalism. Much of the Left learned to justify one side or the other. Thus were the hopes of a generation to move toward socialism and freedom — both Sartre's and Camus' hope in the postwar period — to be dashed. People on the Left were pressured to make an impossible choice between what became Sartre's grim realism (communism as the only path to meaningful change) and Camus' visceral rejection of communism (which left him unable to identify himself with any significant force struggling for change). Sartre and Camus voiced the half-rights and half-wrongs, the half-truths and half-lies of what became the tragedy of the Left—not only in France but across the world — for at least the next generation.
— Ronald Aronson, "Sartre versus Camus: The Unresolved Conflict".
Was there a single "communism" in this century? After Marx's First International association of Communists came three more Internationals. Each of them bitterly denounced its predecessors as the bearers of a false ideology. Regimes calling themselves Communist installed a bewildering variety of economic and social systems...one party's Marxist-Leninist faith was another's vile heresy. They rarely acted as allies and frequently fought one another on the battlefield. The USSR and China fought steadily along the Amur River. Communist Vietnam invaded Communist Kampuchea, and then Communist China attacked Communist Vietnam...what did Stalin's disciplined, urban-based industrializing system have in common with Mao Zedong's reliance on the rural peasantry and the wild Cultural Revolution? Did the fanatical Mao and the pragmatic Deng Xiaoping share a genetic code? Pol Pot, who massacred his countrymen in Cambodia, had more in common with the anti-Communist Idi Amin than with the Communist Fidel Castro. The impulses and historical conditions giving rise to these regimes in various countries were vastly different. Even their terrors were dissimilar: Chinese and Vietnamese repression stressed re-education; the Khmer Rouge massacred categories of people; Stalin permanently transplanted real and imagined enemies. The only thing linking the Communist regimes was that each constantly attested that it was Marxist-Leninist — and that other Communist regimes were not. After all, Ethiopian colonels and Yemeni bandits used to claim that they were Leninists too, and nothing was easier than calling one's country a "people's republic."
— J. Arch Getty, The Future Did Not Work