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2021 Spring

HISTORY OF THE COLD WAR - IRS251 Spring 2021


Course
William Eddleston
For information about registration please contact our admissions.

Course Contents: A history of the Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, beginning with the wartime alliance in 1941 and ending with the "Year of Revolutions" in 1989.

The course begins by examining the uneasy alliance that developed in 1941 between the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union against the threat of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.  We will then trace the deterioration of this alliance after 1945 into hostile camps, and the intensification of superpower conflict in Asia during the 1950s. 

The death of Stalin in 1953 brought with it some hope for a relaxation of these tensions. But by the end of the 1950s and the early 1960s, the Cold War had entered its most dangerous period, with crises in Europe and the Caribbean (the successive Berlin and Cuban Missile crises) which very nearly resulted in a nuclear conflagration.

A period of so-called détente followed in the later 60s and the 1970s. But a relaxation in tensions between the two superpowers was paradoxically characterised by an intensification of conflict on the periphery of the superpowers’ spheres of influence – in South East, the Middle East and Africa. America’s unending war in Vietnam, and the war fought between the Arab states and Israel in 1973 - almost brought the world economy to the brink of collapse in the 1970s.

The Cold War would enter another intense phase – the so-called “Second Cold War” - in the late 1970s and early 1980s, almost resulting in the outbreak of nuclear war in 1983. Yet, just at the point where the conflict seemed at its most intense and irreconcilable, it suddenly and unexpectedly ended with the coming to power in the Soviet Union of Mikhail Gorbachev and the rapid collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe in 1989 and of the Soviet Union itself in 1991.

The full syllabus is here: 

/files/2733965/IRS_251_The_History_of_the_Cold_War_-_Syllabus_Spring_2021.pdf

Here is the course outline:

1. IRS 251 The History of the Cold War - Introduction to the Course

Feb 10

Description: Introduction to course requirements; Introductory quiz to determine existing state of knowledge.

2. Unlikely Allies: How Hitler and Hirohito Created the Cold War World

Feb 17

We look at the world crisis of the 1930s and 40s, which brought the United States, Great Britain and the USSR together in an unlikely alliance. We examine tensions in this wartime alliance; the relative contributions made by each ally to the victory against Nazi Germany, social revolutions in World War II Europe on the left and right, and the wartime treaties. The first class presentation seminar will look at the controversies and mythology surrounding the Yalta Conference of February, 1945.

3. The Origins of the Cold War, 1945-1946

Feb 24

The lecture looks at the period from the Yalta Conference, the defeat of Nazi Germany and Potsdam. Early tensions between the United States, Great Britain and the USSR – over Eastern Europe, Manchuria and Iran – are analysed. We examine the “three declarations of Cold War” from February-March 1946: Stalin’s Electoral Speech; Kennan’s “Long Telegram” and Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech. The seminar presentation and discussion in the second class will look at one of the most heated controversies in American history: was it really necessary to drop the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945; and was this action the “opening shot of the Cold War,” as some historians have alleged?

4. The Early Cold War Years: Europe and the Middle East, 1946-47

Mar 3

Description: The lecture focuses on the escalation of tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States throughout 1946-47: the Turkish Straits and Trieste Crises of 1946; the Clifford-Elsey Memorandum and the Truman Doctrine. Students will watch a section of the documentary CNN The Cold War – Episode 3 – Marshall Plan. The seminar for the second class asks the question, “Who or what was ultimately responsible for the Cold War, and was the Cold War inevitable?”

5. From the Marshall Plan to the Berlin Airlift, 1947-50

Mar 10

The class focuses on the division of Germany into East and West; the Berlin Airlift and its consequences for both Soviet foreign policy and the long-term division of Europe. General factors leading to consolidation of Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe between 1944-45 are explored. Students will watch and discuss the documentary CNN The Cold War – Episode 4 – Berlin.

6. The Early Cold War in Asia, 1945-54

Mar 17

Description: This class shifts the course’s focus briefly to Asia and looks at the Chinese Revolution and its geo-strategic consequences, the Korean War and the early stages of the Vietnam conflict. Students will watch a documentary on the Korean War – CNN The Cold War – Episode 5: Korea. Seminar 5 – NSC 68 and the Korean War – looks at the dual impact of National Security Council Document 68 (April 7th, 1950) and the Korean emergency which followed closely on its heels in July that year. Was the Soviet threat outlined in NSC 68 real – or a product of the McCarthyite hysteria? How did NSC 68 and the Korean War change the relationship between the American people, their government, their military and their allies?

7. New Look: Khrushchev and Eisenhower, 1953-56

Mar 24

The lecture for the first class departs from the death of Stalin in February 1953, possibly the pivotal moment of the early Cold War. Soviet armies withdrew from Austria, and Soviet diplomacy helped resolve crises in Korea and Vietnam. For a moment, a lasting peace settlement seemed within reach. But by 1956, the Iron Curtain was back in place. The lecture looks at the reasons why this happened. Students will watch sections of a documentary on the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising and the events in Poland in 1956. Students will also watch Peter Watkin’s classic 1965 documentary The War Game, which speculated about the circumstances in which a nuclear war between the superpowers might have broken out in the early 1960s, and what the likely consequences would have been for Britain.

8. The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003)

Mar 31

Documentary: The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003) Mid-Term Take-Home Exams Due - 11.30am. Mid-Term take home exams due. Students will watch the documentary The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003).

9. The Khrushchev Era: Nuclear Diplomacy, 1956-62

Apr 14

Description: The lecture looks at Khrushchev’s blustering “nuclear diplomacy”; Sputnik and the space race; the increasing Soviet and US involvement in the 3rd World; the growing Sino-Soviet split; the Quemoy and Matsu Crises; Eisenhower’s warnings on the military industrial complex; Kennedy’s electoral victory in 1960; the Vienna Summit and the Berlin Wall Crisis of 1961. The lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis is examined – the Bay of Pigs and the early assassination attempts directed at Fidel Castro. The seminar looks at the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 – the most dangerous crisis of the Cold War.

10. The Vietnam Quagmire, 1954-68

Apr 21

Description: Today’s class will examine the controversies surrounding America’s involvement in Vietnam. How and why did the United States become involved in a war for the preservation of French rule in Indochina? Should the United States have supported Diem? Was the decision to back the overthrow of Diem a disastrous one? Should America have pursued a more aggressive strategy in Vietnam – or was the war always and unwinnable – and immoral – one? The documentary (CNN The Cold War – Episode 11: Vietnam), post-documentary discussion and seminar will examine all of these questions.

11. The Rise and Fall of Détente, 1969-1980

Apr 28

Description: The lecture looks at the origins of Détente in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially in relation to Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik and the Sino-Soviet split. European arms control agreements are a particular focus. By 1979, Détente was collapsing under the weight of European suspicions regarding the Soviet modernisation of their intermediate missile capabilities; Third World crises, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the American domestic rebellion against the postwar liberal consensus. The seminar and discussion in the second class focuses on the critical period between 1977-1980, with the collapse of Détente and the development of the so-called “Second Cold War” of the 1980s.

12. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and the Second Cold War, 1979-85

May 5

Description: The lecture dissects some of the inaccurate and unfair mythology regarding the Détente period, and President Carter’s role in the late Cold War in particular. We examine the Camp David Accords, the Chinese Alliance and the rise of Solidarity and the Eastern European dissident movement. Reagan’s foreign policy in Central America, the Caribbean and the Middle East is held up to critical scrutiny. The seminar and discussion for the second class examines the controversies surrounding the role of the Reagan administration in ending the Cold War.

13. Mr Gorbachev’s Revolution, 1985-89

May 12

Description: The final lecture will examine the causes of the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern and Central Europe from the 1980s to the early 90s. The final seminar of the course will examine the revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe in 1989: their causes, course and consequences. Students will watch and discuss CNN Cold War – Episode 23 – The Wall Comes Down.

14. The Collapse of the Soviet Union, 1989-91

May 19

Description: The hopeful period of glasnost and perestroika – and the miraculous revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe – finally give way to disillusionment and rebellion, justifying Tocqueville’s dictum that “the most dangerous time for a bad government (or system) is when it begins to reform itself.” The last class looks at the end of the Soviet Union, focussing especially on Gorbachev’s role in bringing this about. Students will watch and discuss CNN Cold War – Episode 24 – Endings. Assignments/deadlines: Final Essays Due. Essays to be uploaded to the Unicheck Assignment on NEO LMS by Wednesday, December 16th at 23.59/11.59 pm.

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