Cold War History at a Glance

By Levine, Alan J. | The World and I, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Cold War History at a Glance

Levine, Alan J., The World and I

Alan J. Levine is the author of seven books, including The Strategic Bombing of Germany, the Pacific War, Race Relations Within Western Expansion, and the recently published The War Against Rommel's Supply Lines.

The study of Cold War history has suffered greatly from many simple conceptual problems and mistakes. As most students of the subject have probably noticed, the field abounds with logical fallacies, misstatements, factual errors--even, to be blunt, lies--and innumerable dubious or erroneous assumptions that all too often are embedded in the very phraseology which Cold War historians have employed. The purpose of this paper is to analyze at least a few of these troublesome issues. It may not provide simple cures but will, I hope, point out the diseases.

Not a little trouble has been caused by the very name Cold War. The term abounds with false concreteness. It gives the impression that it refers to some discrete historical event or era on which there is some basic agreement, like World War I or II, but it does not actually do so. When we speak or write of World War II, for example, it is generally understood that we are referring to a distinct conflict that began in 1939 and ended in 1945, with a known lineup of forces. There is even a high degree of agreement on the meaning and moral issues of the events involved. While some will argue that the war "really" began in July 1937 with the Japanese invasion of China, and others hold that it was not truly a world war until 1941, even these alternative readings are relatively few, readily understood, and of limited importance.


No such underlying agreement exists in relation to the Cold War--not even on the appropriate dates. Some hold that it began with the Bolshevik Revolution, some others that it really started during World War II as soon as the Soviet government was certain that Russia would win the war. Many say that it developed during 1945--46, started at some distinct point during those two years, or began as late as 1947. I have never run into anyone who dates the start after that, but a fair number of authors hold that the "original" Cold War, which they see as starting in the 1940s, ran out of steam in the 1960s, only to have a "second Cold War" begin in the 1970s. (Some older authors, especially in Britain, had already seen a "first Cold War " that ended with Stalin's death and the Korean armistice, only to start up again in the late 1950s.)

Often, these varying dates are connected to basic assumptions about the nature of the conflict and the moral issues involved--often, but not always. Both hard-line anticommunists and inveterate Soviet apologists (D.F. Fleming, for example) have traced the Cold War to 1917. On the other hand, back in the 1950s, there was a tendency for Soviet apologists or those who were (for lack of a better term) "soft" on the Cold War to date its beginning quite late, usually from the Truman Doctrine speech of 1947. Later revisionists, however, writing in the 1960s, tended to drive the starting date of the Cold War backward, so their favored dates tended to coincide with, or overlap, those of orthodox historians. Orthodox, of course, is yet another term that conceals considerable disagreement. We need merely compare the conceptions held by, say, Adam Ulam, with the perhaps more conventional work of Herbert Feis, to name two of the more capable older writers who fit into that designation, to realize the considerable disagreements that it always contained. (The much-talked-about postrevisionist school seems to contain differences almost as great.)

It may be argued that the problem of dates is of limited importance, but it is a pointer to the fact that there is no agreement on what the Cold War was about, who started it, or even who constituted the primary antagonists. Was the Cold War a duel between the United States and the USSR, as is fashionable to suppose, or was it a struggle between the Western world as a whole and the Soviet Union, with a varying cast of minor allies on both sides? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Cold War History at a Glance


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.