The Cold War: What We Know Now (That We Didn't Know Then)

Susan Lindee / University of Pennsylvania

Despite common understandings of the Cold War, it was not actually a bipolar “long peace” or simply an ideological clash between communism and capitalism, that ended in 1989. As we now know, it was as hot any other war. It was not just about ideology. And it did not end in 1989.

The Cold War arms race transformed the Earth. It brought technologies, weaponry, people, air bases, missiles, and detonations to places once invisible, inhospitable, irrelevant, and unknown – including tropical paradises, frozen landscapes, deserts, islands, and to airless, cold places in space and the upper atmosphere and under the sea. These were sites of engineering and scientific feats of astonishing scale and cost, including missile silos in Greenland’s moving ice, massive bunkers underground, and ambitious new satellites that circled in space and took surveillance photographs even of the most inaccessible landscapes of the USSR.