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Useful Notes / Cold War

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"There are now two great nations in the world, which starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans. Each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world."
Alexis de Tocqueville, written in 1835

See also our article on the History of the Cold War for more detail.

The period of high tension and Lensman Arms Race between the Western democracies and their alliesnote (led by the United States and NATO) and state communism (led by the USSR, the Warsaw Pact a.k.a the "eastern bloc", with China kind of aligned with them till the Sino-Soviet split of '60note ) and other emerging left-wing and communist movements. 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 Christmas Day 1991, when Mikhail Gorbachev resigned and the USSR was officially dissolved. Wikipedia specifically dates the timespan of the Cold War from the Truman Doctrine's announcement on March 12, 1947 to the finalization of the USSR's dissolution on December 26, 1991, the day after Gorbachev's resignation. There was never a direct military conflict between the two nuclear superpowers.note  Most of the fighting came as a result of Proxy Wars, with one or both sides backed by one or both superpowers (Korea, Vietnam, 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.

The fact that this was an era with no fighting did not hinder the Cold War from being highly influential in many a Spy Drama during this period, as setting or Backstory, such as Airwolf, The A-Team, etc. 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) technology.

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). Though recently it has seen a revival of interest, recent works try to take a more realistic approach to the era but it still uses the old tropes as and when necessary.

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 is just as much a history of the Soviet Union itself, and thus can be divided into six sections:

  • 1917-1930: Starts in Red October, in which the Bolsheviks seized power, unilaterally pulled out of the ongoing World War I to the chagrin and disbelief of world powers, sparking the Russian Civil War between the Whites and the Reds. League of Nations forces intervened and (indirectly, for the most part) assisted the various nationalist and White Russian forces in their attempts to secede from or take over Bolshevik Russia respectively. The various anti-Bolshevik factions were too ill-coordinated to prevail, though a fair few countries (like Poland) managed to successfully secede when the Red Army tried to march to Germany through Poland to aid the Bavarian Revolution (which was violently crushed). Success of the October Revolution leads to fears of a Revolutionary wave, leading to the Ur-Example of the Red Scare - the United States being notably zealous in its crusade against socialism, which in turn led to the rise of Fascist Italy and other movements who became the militant counter-revolution. 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: The Great Depression leads to a period of reduced tensions between the USSR and the rest of the world as Imperial Japan's lurch to the right-wing and the rise of Nazi Germany led liberals and centrists and the non-communist left in USA, UK, and France to ascendancy in order to check both Fascism and Communism. Communist International (Comintern) mounted a Popular Front in the mid-thirties and tried to intervene in the Spanish Civil War on behalf of Republican Spain. Attempts at a common alliance fell in the wake of the Munich Crisis, leading instead to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II. A grand anti-fascist alliance was formed when the Nazis invaded the USSR, followed by Imperial Japan's attack on America, though both sides still worked to expand their spy networks in each others' ranks. The fall of the Axis powers led to the conflict quickly re-emerging in the post-war period. Expect Anglo-American fiction to portray the Soviets as heroic but not entirely trustworthy allies at best, conniving and treasonous enemies-in-all-but-name at worst, or alternatively downplay and ignore their contributions to the war effort.
  • 1946-1962: The Chinese Civil War resumes (and in 1950 is won by the Chinese Communist Party), coinciding with and causing a sharp falling-out between the two sides which culminates in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The short-lived Sino-Soviet alliance (1949-1960) dissolves amidst Sino-Soviet border skirmishes. Fiction here has direct Soviet involvement in evil plots. The Space Race also begins with the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957.
  • 1962-1978: The period of détente. PRC-USSR relations worsen and the border clashes intensify, an all-out war between the two looks increasingly likely. 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 the PRC under Deng Xiaoping allying with the USA against the USSR and experimenting with opening up 'Special Economic Zones' along her coastline to capitalism. Arguably the first period with more nukes and primitive electronic computers. Direct Red Scare again and the home of Airwolf and The Return of Godzilla.
  • 1987-1991: Ronald Reagan starts making peace Gorbachev. In an attempt to rejuvenate European communism, Gorbachev institutes greater public and market freedoms with policies influenced by Western capitalism. These efforts, combined with Gorbachev's uncannily czarist Western-based public image, instead fuel increased dissent in the Soviet bloc, resulting in countless countries' populations revolting, ousting the old communist governments, and transitioning to capitalist ones, causing the Soviet Union to rapidly shrink more and more. China also institutes gradually increasing capitalist-inspired policies, doing away with the last vestiges of the Maoist old guard in the process, but maintains control as an authoritarian government via brutally massacring pro-democracy protesters in Tienanmen Square. 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.
  • Christmas Day, 1991: The Cold War ended. Having lost literally all of its territorynote , the Soviet Union officially dissolves with Gorbachev's resignation as premier. The New Russia, led first by Boris Yeltsin and then by on-again off-again Vladimir Putin, takes on the Soviet Union's UN Security Council seat and most of its debt.

Some historians argue that while the conflict between the US and USSR ended in 1991, the Cold War as a whole has yet to truly end, with lingering tensions between the US and Russia and between the US and the world's remaining communist countries continuing to pop up in the public consciousness, and nuclear weaponry remaining a strong point of concern. In The New '10s in particular, a number of analysts postulated that America was particularly caught up in a sort of neo-Cold War with North Korea, the only communist nation to maintain a Soviet-esque level of aggression towards the United States, complete with constant showcases of their nuclear firepower for the sake of intimidation. Others argue that the US's tensions with China are a new form of Cold War based more in economic strength than military firepower, and that the US's numerous diplomatic conflicts with Russia post-1991 are simply continuations of the Cold War without the Soviet Union, partly due to Putin being a former KGB agent and repurposing KGB tactics in his domestic and international policy.

See also:

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 are still arguing about it - see Enforced Cold War.


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     Anime and Manga  


  • Early Marvel Comics, published in the early 60's, tended to include a lot of Cold War-related plots. Iron Man in particular fought a lot of Communist agents of one sort or another — Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, even the Black Widow first appeared as a Soviet spy before defecting to the U.S., and of course Tony's origin has him escaping from the North Vietnamese. The Incredible Hulk owes his origin to a Soviet spy, Igor Drenkhov, who deliberately allowed the gamma bomb to detonate while Bruce was in the target area. And Reed Richards launched his rocket to beat the Soviets in The Space Race.note  Years later in The '80s, the U.S.S.R. would have its own super team, the Soviet Super-Soldiers. Due to Comic-Book Time, all of these Iron Curtain characters have been subject to retcons in the last couple of decades, as the Cold War recedes further and further into the past.

     Fan Fiction  

     Film - Animation  

  • 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.

     Film - Live Action  

  • The Bedford Incident is a 1965 thriller about an American destroyer chasing a submarine in the North Atlantic.
  • Boris and Natasha is a comedic parody of the Russian spy tropes.
  • Bridge of Spies tells the true story of how American lawyer James Donovan defended the Soviet spy Rudolph Abel at trial and later negotiated a Prisoner Exchange, sending him back to the USSR in exchange for a captured US pilot.
  • Dr. Strangelove famously lampooned the Cold War as a childish dispute aggravated by sexual insecurity.
  • The much earlier film Fail Safe is a more bleakly realistic version of what a computer-caused Nuclear Error could lead to. The film focuses on the American President and his Soviet counterpart desperately trying to prevent World War III.
  • From Russia with Love is another Cold War era film where the prize is military secrets. A Russian woman supposedly might give James Bond Russian military secrets.
  • The prize in The Hunt for Red October is for the USA to win a military advantage against the USSR, by capturing stealth submarine technology. The Cold War was all about strategic advantages between US and their allies versus USSR and theirs.
  • Reversing the concept, Ice Station Zebra, while mostly paying attention to the U.S. side, 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.
  • Lord of War starts in this era. Later, Yuri subverted Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell; he's positively thrilled that the Soviet Union collapsed, because it's great for his business, especially as he's got an uncle who's ex-Soviet Army with warehouses just full of arms...
  • 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 Distanced from Current Events).
  • In Pickup on South Street, the plot revolves around a group of commies trying to get hold of a microfilm with top-secret US government information.
  • The Resident tetralogy is a lengthy 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 Heel–Face Turn to become a KGB agent.


     Live Action TV  

  • 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 Doctor Who episode "Cold War".
    • The original series episode "Warriors of the Deep" is set in the future, when there is a cold war going on between two "power blocs," but it's not clear whether it's a continuation of the (at the time) present Cold War or a later, unrelated one.
  • In It Takes a Thief (1968), Al Mundy smuggles something or someone across the Iron Curtain practically Once per Episode.
  • 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.
  • MacGyver (1985), for the first three seasons.
  • Person of Interest. The episode "Cold War" shows Greer's origins as a spy for British Intelligence during the Cold War, and parallels are drawn between that conflict and the contemporary one between the Machine and Samaritan; fought in secret through surrogates to avoid the massive devastation that would occur if the two Artificial Superintelligences confronted each other directly.
  • The Klingons in the original Star Trek existed mostly for parables about the Cold War. When the Cold War ended in real life, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country ended the cold war between the Federation and the Klingons.
    • One time travel episode of the original series, "Assignment: Earth," involves the Enterprise crew accidentally getting caught up in a plan by aliens to prevent a nuclear war between the superpowers.
    • "The Omega Glory" has the crew discover a world whose history exactly parallels Earth's, except that their Cold War ended in nuclear annihilation.
  • Soviet series TASS is authorized to announce... features good KGB guys and corrupt CIA agents struggling over a coup d'etat 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 Colbert Report. Stephen is doing his best to re-start the cold war in his Cold War Update segments.
  • The Professionals regularly had brushes with the KGB.
  • The 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).
  • One episode of You Can't Do That on Television has the Russians threatening to take over the show. They do succeed in replacing all the green slime with red slime.


  • The music video for Miike Snow's My Trigger is set during the Cold War, with the United States' President and the Kremlin's leader both being pressured into going for the nukes. In the end, neither one goes for it.
  • Herman Van Veen (creator of Alfred J. Kwak) made a 1983 song called ''De bom valt nooit" (The bomb never drops), referring to a potential bombing from the Soviet Union.

     Professional Wrestling  

  • 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, villains 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.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Twilight Struggle has the geopolitical jockeying by both superpowers as its main theme, with two players taking control of either side and seeking to spread their influence throughout the rest of the world.
  • Nuclear War plays this for Black Comedy, as players attempt to eliminate their opponents' populations through propaganda and then full-blown nuclear exchanges. The End of the World as We Know It is a common result.


  • 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.

     Video Games  

  • 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 were set after the Cold War — though Russia played roles in both — but the third is set in 1964 and stars an American agent operating in Soviet Union, and effectively was a deconstruction of the nature of the Cold War. Peace Walker is set in 1974, where the Cold War superpowers are jockeying for influence in Central America. The Phantom Pain takes the series to 1984 with one of the game sections covering the Soviet-Afghan War.
  • Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War was basically a Cold War gone hot situation. Osea (the in-game equivalent of the US) and Yuktobania (USSR), though like its prequel Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, it started to take a bit of a twist towards the weird near the end.
  • The Operation Flashpoint series.
  • 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 is set in the Cold War, specifically The '60s, with missions that cover many historical events such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion and some of the middle stages of The Vietnam War like the Battle of Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive, as well as featuring real life figures such as Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy.
    • Call of Duty: Black Ops II features two cold wars, the historical one in the 1980s, and a fictional one in the 2020s between the US and China.
    • Call of Duty: Black Ops III is set during yet another fictional one, this time with fictitious factions in the "Winslow Accord" (NATO with the addition of China, India, and several Middle Eastern states) and the "Common Defense Pact" (the eastern half of the European Union along with Russia and several African states). The game even has you briefly take part in a proxy war, where the WA-backed Egypt fights against a CDP-backed "Nile River Coalition".
    • Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War goes back to the historical Cold War, once again the 80s in particular.
  • 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: a Soviet fighter collides with a 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 1969 campaign is set during the western portion of the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict.
  • The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is set in the Midwest in 1962, with XCOM meant as an early response unit against communist invasion rather than aliens.
  • In Xenonauts, the player takes command of a multinational paramilitary organization whose objective is to thwart an Alien Invasion. The twist: it's 1979, and the tension is high.
  • You Are Empty takes place during the Cold War in an alternate universe where Stalin still reigns in 1955 and where the Soviets have managed to create a tower that can radically alter human behaviour and genome. It is implied that this effect extends to the entire globe.
  • Sniper Elite is nominally set during the last days of World War II, but most of your missions involve preventing critical intelligence from falling into Soviet hands or supporting anti-Soviet insurgents, making the game less about the end of the Second World War and more about the start of the Cold War.
  • Flashpoint Campaigns is set in a standard Cold War gone hot in Germany scenario at the end of the 1980s.
  • Phantom Doctrine is an espionage themed turn-based strategy title set during the 1980s. Naturally the CIA and KGB (along with various other shadowy organisations) are involved.


  • 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.

     Web Original  

  • Bedtime Stories (YouTube Channel) has the "Four Submarines" episode, which is set in 1968, when four different submarines mysteriously vanish. For the USS Scorpion and Soviet Submarine K-129, it's been heavily theorized that their losses were due to engaging or being engaged by enemy forces for spying.

     Western Animation  

Alternative Title(s): The Cold War