The Cuban Missile Crisis – a summary

The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 epitomized the Cold War as the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

In January 1959, after a two-year guerrilla campaign, Fidel Castro (pictured), a Marxist, aided by the charismatic Che Guevara, had disposed of Cuba’s thirty-year-old dictatorship. The Soviet Union’s premier, Nikita Khrushchev, was delighted by this turn of events and that a communist coup had taken place without Soviet encouragement (or bullying).

When Castro nationalized American assets in Cuba, the US responded by placing a trade embargo against Cuba. The Soviet Union came to Cuba’s rescue and the two nations bonded, Castro aligning Cuba to the Soviet cause. When they met at the United Nations in September 1960, Khrushchev and Castro embraced. ‘I do not know if Fidel is a communist,’ said the Soviet leader, ‘but I know I am a Fidelista.’

Bay of Pigs

The US, alarmed by this communist presence in their backyard, resolved to have Castro removed from power. On 17 April 1961 a US-backed band of Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs hoping to raise a counter-uprising against Castro, despite the assurances of the new US president, John F Kennedy, five days before, that the US would not intervene militarily to overthrow Castro. The invasion failed and over a thousand Cuban rebels were captured by Castro’s forces. Kennedy was heavily criticized, and internal support for Castro deepened as Cuba became firmly anti-American.

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Five Songs About the Cold War

Literature is typically the most reliable way to absorb accurate historical facts regarding the Cold War, but there are other platforms that can provide you with a deeper, emotional connection than text. We’re talking about music. While music is definitely open for interpretation, these contemporary songs, listed below, were specifically written about the Cold War and can give you a unique perspective on the Cold War era.

Back in the USSR – The Beatles, 1968

This very upbeat song has a melody that is easy to dance too, but if you listen to the lyrics closely the 1960’s song has a very satirical meaning. It isn’t pro-communist exactly, but it does manage to take a jab at Western attitudes towards the Soviet Union as well as mock British conservatives’ governmental campaign, “I’m Backing the UK.”

Children of the Grave – Black Sabbath, 1971

An anti-war protest song, released during the Cold War/ Vietnam era, directed towards the younger generation. The lyrics attempt to convince the younger generation to stand up for their power to exercise their rights as well as un-do the damage brought forth by their elders via protesting. In a nutshell the song warns the threat of nuclear war.

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When Winning is Not Enough: the East German Athletes that Made a Dash for Freedom‏

The 19-year-old man had spent a week watching the guards, learning their routine, as they patrolled the beach on the Baltic seaside resort of Boltenhagen.

The area was known by the East German secret police, the Stasi, as a favoured spot from which to escape to the West. He knew that each hour the guards had to switch off their spotlights for a few minutes to allow the bulbs to cool down.

The young man, Axel Mitbauer, a champion swimmer and member of the East German national swimming team, had already suffered at the hands of the Stasi. Known for his fraternisation with West Germans, he had been locked-up in solitary confinement for seven weeks, deprived of light and beaten up. But Mitbauer was made of strong stuff. On the night of 17 August 1969, he made his move.

When the right moment came, Mitbauer, smeared with 30 tubes of Vaseline against the cold water, slipped into the icy Baltic. Once the spotlights returned, he swam underwater. Using the stars as his guide, he swam 15 miles until, after four hours, he reached a lifebuoy and climbed aboard to rest. Six hours later, at 7 am the following morning, he was picked up by a West German ship. He’d made it.

In 1984, 24-year-old East German, Ines Geipel (far left), along with her teammates, had broken the world record for the women’s 4×100 metre relay, clocking-up a time of 42.2 seconds.

It was the crowning moment of her career. Ahead of them lay the Los Angeles Olympics and the chance for further glory. But Geipel fell in love with a Mexican athlete, a walker, and dreamt of living in the West. She soon came to the attention of the Stasi and back in East Germany was made to undergo an operation to remove her appendix. There, they took the opportunity to mutilate her stomach, thus destroying her career and her dreams and leaving her with debilitating stomach cramps.

Twenty years later, Geipel, whose own father had worked for the Stasi, renounced her world record, citing that it had been gained under the influence of drugs.


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East Germany v West Germany – Football and the Cold War

Football is more than just a game, writes Erik E. Cleves, as the “real” world unfolds, football becomes caught up in it, and particular matches have particular political symbolism. One such typical match was when West Germany played East Germany in the 1974 FIFA World Cup.

world cup 1974From the end of World War Two, divided Germany had become a focal point for the ongoing Cold War between East and West. While the World Cup in West Germany had been decided back in 1966, the early 1970s were full of political tensions that indirectly affected the 1974 World Cup: the USSR did not participate after they refused to play a play-off match against the newly installed Pinochet regime in Chile, and security during the tournament was intense after the Palestinian terrorist attacks at the Olympics Games in Munich two years before, as well as the fear of the German Rote Armee Fraktion, the terrorist Red Army Faction, more commonly known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang.

It was thus part of the Cold War tension that West Germany and East Germany drew each other in the first round of the 1974 World Championship, hosted by West Germany, to play in what was surely the most politically tense match in the history of the World Cup. (The two Germanys had started the process of normalization in the early 1970s, and had only recognised each other in the Basic Treaty of 1972.)

1974 World Cup

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The Marshall Plan and the Cold War

The European Recovery Program, commonly known as Marshall Plan, is usually remembered for the economic support provided by the United States for the rehabilitation of European countries ravaged by the Second World War. But the US was motivated by more than just economics and today a far more important role is accredited to the Marshall Plan. By way of example, Andreas Enderlin points to two influential works dealing with the Marshall Plan and its implications for the Cold War. The publications were published in 1995 and 2005, the ten-year gap alone promising two differential points of view on the motives that lay behind the Marshall Plan.

United Europe

Published in 1995, Klaus Schwabe examines the traditional view of the Marshall Plan in his work Der Marshall-Plan und Europa. In a speech given in 1947, the then US Secretary of State, George Marshall (pictured), declared that the ‘official goal’ of the Marshall Plan was the unification of Europe. The program met with great approval in the United States. However, the future Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, realized, along with others, that the Soviet Union would render a united Europe impossible. So instead the US concentrated on forming a united Western Europe, motivated, to use Schwabe’s words, by a ‘rational utilization of Europe’s economic potential’ and an ‘alternative for Europeans against communist propaganda’.

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Cold War – Timeline

7 May: World War Two: Germany surrenders

14 August: World War Two: Japan surrenders

5 March: Britain’s former prime minister, Winston Churchill, delivers his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech.

12 March: US president, Harry S. Truman, proposes the ‘Truman Doctrine’.

5 June: Announcement by US secretary for state, George C Marshall (pictured), of the European Recovery Program, commonly called the Marshall Plan

25 February: Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia

24 June: Start of the Berlin Blockade

4 April: NATO established

12 May: End of the Berlin Blockade

23 May: Formal division into East and West Germany

29 August: Soviet Union detonate their first atomic bomb

1 October: People’s Republic of China founded

February: Start of the McCarthy era

25 June: Start of the Korean War

19 October: China enters Korean War

1 November: USA detonate world’s first hydrogen bomb

5 March: Death of Stalin

16 June: Uprising in East Germany

27 July: End of Korean War

21 July: Vietnam divided at the 17th parallel between North and South Vietnam

14 May: Formation of the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe

25 February: I his ‘Secret Speech‘, Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, denounces Stalin’s method of rule

June: Polish Uprising

23 October: Start of Hungarian Uprising

November: Suez Crisis

10 November: End of the Hungarian Uprising

4 October: Soviet Union launches the first satellite, or Sputnik, into space

January: Chairman Mao launches the Great Leap Forward

1 January: Fidel Castro takes power in Cuba

September: Khrushchev visits USA

26 September: Start of Vietnam War

May: US U-2 spyplane shot down over Moscow

12 April: Soviet astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, becomes the first man in space

17 April: US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion

12-13 August: Berlin Wall erected

October: Cuban Missile Crisis

June: US president, John F. Kennedy, visits West Berlin

22 November: Assassination of John F.Kennedy

2 August: Gulf of Tonkin incident escalates Vietnam War

16 May: Chairman Mao (pictured) launches the Cultural Revolution

5-10 June: Arab-Israeli Six-Day War

4 April: Assassination of Martin Luther King

20-21 August: Soviet tanks crush Czechoslovakian ‘Prague Spring

20 July: USA lands first man on the moon

February: Richard Nixon visits China

26 May: SALT I signed

15 January: Nixon halts US bombing of North Vietnam

30 April: North Vietnamese tanks enter Saigon

6-25 October: Arab-Israeli ‘Yom Kippur’ War

8 August: Nixon resigns following Watergate scandal

30 April: South Vietnam surrenders marking the end of the Vietnam War

1 August: Helsinki Accords signed

16 October: Karol Wojtyla is appointed Pope John Paul II

1 April: Islamic republic proclaimed in Iran with the Ayatollah Khomeini (pictured) at its head

24 December: Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan

13 December: Martial law imposed in Poland and Solidarity banned

1 September: Soviet fighter plane shoots down a Korean civilian airliner

26 April: Explosion at nuclear power plant at Chernobyl

12 June: Ronald Reagan visits West Berlin

15 February: Completion of Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan

16 June: Reburial and state funeral of Hungarian leader, Imre Nagy, killed shortly after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956

June: Student uprising in Beijing

24 August: First post-war, non-communist eastern European government comes to power in Poland

7 October: East Germany celebrates fortieth anniversary

9 November: Fall of the Berlin Wall (pictured)

17 November: Start of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia

25 December: Execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu in Romania

11 March-4 May: Baltic States declare independence from the Soviet Union

3 October: Germany re-unified

12 June: Boris Yeltsin elected president of the Russian Federation

1 July: Warsaw Pact dissolved

June: Last Soviet tanks leave Eastern Europe

19 August: Failed communist coup in Russia

8 December: Founding of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

25 December: Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, resigns

31 December: The USSR is formally dissolved

Read about the Cold War in The Cold War: History In An Hour by Rupert Colley, published by Harper Press and available in digital formats and audio.

If you would like to amend or add to this timeline, please contact us with your suggestions.

Svetlana Alliluyeva (Lana Peters), Stalin’s Daughter

22 November 2011 saw the death of Lana Peters in Wisconsin. To those who came into contact with her, she was simply a lonesome frail 85-year-old with a rather strange accent.  But she was, in fact, once known by the name of Svetlana Stalin and she was the daughter of Joseph Stalin.

Peters’ arrival in the US in 1967 gave the West a huge propaganda coup – the defection of Stalin’s own daughter was the ultimate proof of how terrible life was behind the Iron Curtain. She had even been prepared to leave behind her two adult children, aged 22 and 17, in the Soviet Union.

‘I have come here to seek self-expression’

In her first US press conference, in 1967, she acknowledged the father’s monstrous rule but insisted that the blame for the murder of millions of Soviet citizens could not be laid purely on one man – it was the regime and its ideology. ‘I have come here to seek the self-expression that has been denied me for so long in Russia,’ she said. Shortly afterwards, she wrote Twenty Letters To A Friend, which went on to become a bestseller. A follow-up autobiography, Only One Year, sold equally well. With time she became more critical of her past – she publicly burnt her Soviet passport and accused her father of being ‘a moral and spiritual monster’.

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The Man Who Tried to Bury Stalin – Khrushchev and De-Stalinization

On 31 October 1961, a small but symbolic event took place in Moscow. The embalmed body of former Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, was re-interred behind the Kremlin Wall. It was a symptomatic relegation for the man once known as the Great Leader who, for the eight years since his death, had lain on public display alongside Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet state. The man who ordered that Stalin be reburied under several layers of concrete, was his successor and former protégé, Nikita Khrushchev.

But no amount of concrete can keep down the ghost of Joseph Stalin.

Nikita KhrushchevThere is no excuse for repression

Fifty years on, few speak of Khrushchev (pictured). But Stalin’s shadow still looms large over Russian society. A poll run in April this year, by the VTsIOM (All-Russia Centre for the Study of Public Opinion), found much support for Stalin, the man who ‘received the country with a wooden plough, and left it with a nuclear missile shield’.

In 2009, a new plaque was unveiled at a Moscow metro station that included a line from the former Soviet national anthem: ‘Stalin brought us up to be loyal to people, inspired us to labour and feats’. Imagine today seeing a quote from Hitler in the Berlin underground?

It gets worse – in July 2011, a new statue of Stalin was unveiled in the Russian town of Penza, 390 miles southeast of Moscow. Sixty years ago, Khrushchev went to great pains to have two Stalin statues removed from the same town.

Putin and Medvedev – who won the war?

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Fidel Castro’s Prison Letters – a Revolution Inscribed from Incarceration

If the ‘History Will Absolve Me Trial’ was the stage for Fidel Castro’s oratory skills, the prison letters are valuable historic documents that shed light on the revolutionary and thinker, who paved the way for revolution from a cell in the prison on the Isles of Pines.

On October 16, 1953, Fidel was sentenced to 15 years in prison for orchestrating the Moncada Barracks attack. (Pictured is Castro on his arrest in July 1953 following the attack). Not one resigned to defeat, Fidel sought the opportunity to further his cause and coordinate strategy for the next phase of the revolution.

In a meticulous manner which was also seething with passion for a cause, he sought to portray the injustices of the Batista regime (Fulgencio Batista, President of Cuba 1940 to 1944, and 1952 to 1959), the illegitimacy of the presidency, compassion for the fallen revolutionaries at Moncada, and political propaganda aimed at enhancing his philosophy. His gift for erudition left Batista’s torture tactics on the sidelines. If anything, the trial had served to forward Fidel’s name to the people, the majority of whom sought or yearned for the end of the tyrannical regime.

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Norman Wisdom and the Cold War – Big in Albania

A friend of mine recently returned to England after an adventurous trip around south-eastern Europe, taking in the sites of Montenegro, Croatia and Albania. She was very complimentary about the first two but rather damning about the latter. My colleague is Canadian and also fairly young, having been born in the seventies, so she asked me who was this guy the Albanians kept talking about, a guy called Norman Wisdom.

A household name

Aha, I said, Sir Norman, 95 years-old and a classic British comedy icon. OK, Wisdom’s slapstick humour looks a bit dated now and not really suited to our sophisticated tastes but he remains a household name in Britain – well, to anyone over 40. And, it seems, a household name in Albania.

During the long, forty-four year rule of Stalinist dictator, Enver Hoxha, Norman Wisdom’s films were amongst the few bits of Western culture or entertainment that were allowed in this small, cut-off, forgotten country called Albania, or, to use its correct title of the time, the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania. Films like Trouble In StoreA Stitch In Time and The Early Bird, made in the fifties and early sixties, had Wisdom playing the hapless Norman Pitkin, fighting against the big men in suits smoking on cigars. Hoxha saw Pitkin as the ultimate proletarian, waging a one-man war against the capitalist world of corporations and big money. This, the dictator dictated, was appropriate communist viewing for Albania’s comedy-starved masses and, as a result, our very own Norman became a huge hit in Albania.

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