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  • Hi, I’m John Green,

  • this is Crash Course World History

  • and today were gonna talk about the Cold War,

  • which actually lasted into my lifetime,

  • which means that I can bore you with stories from my past

  • like your grandpa does.

  • When I was a kid,

  • they made us practice hiding under our desks in the event of a nuclear attack,

  • because, you know,

  • school desks are super good at repelling radiation. [formica is magical stuff]

  • Mr. Green, Mr. Green!

  • Right, remember in elementary school

  • there was this special guest who’d defected from the Soviet Union, and he had--

  • --Like this crazy Russian accent and he kept going on and on about how--

  • Reagan should spit in Gorbachev’s face instead of signing treaties with him.

  • And I was like, whoa dude calm down. Youre in a room full of third graders.

  • And then for like months afterward on the playground,

  • we’d play Reagan:Gorbachev and spit in each other’s faces.

  • Those were the days.

  • Sometimes I forget that youre me, Me from the Past. [ahhhso sweet!]

  • Yeah, it’s just really nice to talk to you and feel like youre lis

  • Youre boring. Cue the intro. [ah ha! there it is.]

  • [BEST]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [EVER!]

  • So the Cold War was a rivalry between the USSR and the USA that played out globally.

  • Weve tried to shy away from calling

  • conflicts ideological or civilizational here on Crash Course,

  • but in this case,

  • theclash of civilizationsmodel really does apply.

  • Socialism,

  • at least as Marx constructed it, wanted to take over the world,

  • and many Soviets saw themselves in a conflict with bourgeois capitalism itself.

  • And the Soviets saw American

  • rebuilding efforts in Europe and Japan as the U.S. trying to expand its markets,

  • which, by the way,

  • is exactly what we were doing.

  • So the U.S. feared that the USSR wanted to destroy democratic

  • and capitalist institutions.

  • And the Soviets feared that the US wanted to use its money and power

  • to dominate Europe and eventually destroy the Soviet system.

  • And both parties were right to be worried.

  • It’s not paranoia if they really are out to

  • get you. [tinfoil hats, always in season]

  • Now of course weve seen a lot of

  • geopolitical struggles between major world powers here on Crash Course,

  • but this time there was the special added bonus

  • that war could lead to the destruction of the human species.

  • That was new for world history,

  • and it’s worth remembering: It’s still new.

  • Here’s the period of time weve discussed on Crash Course.

  • And this is how long weve had

  • the technological capability to exterminate ourselves.

  • So that’s worrisome.

  • Immediately after World War II,

  • the Soviets created a sphere of influence in eastern Europe,

  • dominating the countries where the Red Army had pushed back the Nazis,

  • which is why Winston Churchill famously said in 1946

  • that anIron Curtainhad descended across Europe.

  • While the dates of the Cold War are usually given between 1945 and 1990,

  • a number of historians will tell you that it actually started during World War II.

  • Stalin’s distrust of the U.S. and Britain kept growing

  • as they refused to invade Europe and open up a second front against the Nazis.

  • And some even say that the decision to drop the first Atomic Bombs on Japan

  • was motivated in part by a desire to intimidate the Soviets.

  • That sort of worked, but only insofar

  • as it motivated the Soviets to develop atomic bombs of their own

  • they successfully tested their first one in 1949.

  • From the beginning,

  • the U.S had the advantage because

  • it had more money and power and could provide Europe protection

  • what with its army and one of a kind nuclear arsenal

  • while Europe rebuilt.

  • The USSR had to rebuild itself,

  • and also they had the significant disadvantage of being controlled

  • by noted asshat Joseph Stalin.

  • I will remind you, it’s not cursing

  • if he’s wearing an ass for a hat. [way to hang your asshat on a technicality]

  • Oh, I guess it’s time for the open letter.

  • [professionally propels toward prop like a perfectly poised & practiced projectile]

  • An Open Letter to Joseph Stalin.

  • But first,

  • let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today.

  • Oh, it’s silly putty.

  • Silly putty: the thing that won the Cold War.

  • [gotta be a Reagan joke in there somewhere]

  • This is exactly the kind of useless consumer good

  • that would never have been produced in the Soviet Union.

  • And it is because we had so much more consumer spending,

  • on stuff like silly putty, that we won the Cold War.

  • Go team!

  • Dear Joseph Stalin,

  • You really sucked.

  • There was a great moment in your life, at your first wife’s funeral,

  • when you said, “I don’t think I shall ever love again.”

  • And then later,

  • you had that wife’s whole family killed. [solid case for NOT putting a ring on it]

  • Putting aside the fact that youre responsible for tens of millions of deaths,

  • I don’t like you because of the way that you treated your son, Yakov.

  • I mean, you were really mean to him

  • and then he shot himself and he didn’t die

  • and you said, “He can’t even shoot straight.”

  • And then later, when he was captured during World War II,

  • you had a chance to exchange prisoners for him, but you declined.

  • And then he died in a prison camp.

  • You were a terrible leader, a terrible person, and a terrible father.

  • Best wishes, John Green

  • Alright, let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

  • Europe was the first battleground of the Cold War, especially Germany,

  • which was divided into 2 parts

  • with the former capital, Berlin, also divided into 2 parts.

  • and yes, I know the western part was divided into smaller occupation zones,

  • but I’m simplifying.

  • In 1948, the Soviets tried to cut off West Berlin,

  • by closing the main road that led into the city, but the Berlin airlift stopped them.

  • And then in 1961, the Soviets tried again and this time they were

  • much more successful building a wall around West Berlin,

  • although it’s worth noting that the thing was up for less than 30 years.

  • I mean,

  • Meatloaf’s career has lasted longer than the Berlin Wall did.[Oh y-- NOOO!!]

  • The U.S. response to the Soviets was a policy called containment;

  • it basically involved stopping the spread of communism

  • by standing up to the Soviets wherever they seemed to want to expand.

  • In Europe this meant spending a lot of money.

  • First the Marshall Plan spent $13 billion on re-building western Europe

  • with grants and credits that Europeans would spend on American consumer goods

  • and on construction.

  • Capitalism’s cheap food and plentiful stuff, it was hoped,

  • would stop the spread of communism.

  • The US also tried to slow the spread of communism by founding NATO

  • and with CIA interventions in elections [looked better on paper]

  • where communists had a chance, as in Italy.

  • But despite all the great spy novels and shaken not stirred martinis,

  • the Cold War never did heat up in Europe.

  • Probably the most important part of the Cold War

  • that people just don’t remember these days is the nuclear arms race.

  • Both sides developed nuclear arsenals,

  • the Soviets initially with the help of spies who stole American secrets.

  • Eventually the nuclear arsenals were so big

  • that the U.S. and USSR agreed on a strategy appropriately called MAD,

  • which stood formutually assured destruction.”

  • Thanks Thought Bubble.

  • And yes, nuclear weapons were, and are,

  • capable of destroying humanity many times over.

  • [regardless of Iran's access to Photoshop]

  • But only once or twice did we get close to nuclear war:

  • during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and then again in 1983,

  • when we forgot to give the Russians the heads up that we were doing some war games,

  • which made it look like we had launched a first strike.

  • OUR BAD! [closer to ultimate fail than epic fail]

  • But even though mutually assured destruction prevented direct conflict,

  • there was plenty of hot war in the Cold War.

  • The Korean War saw lots of fighting between communists and capitalists,

  • as did the Vietnam War.

  • I mean, these days we rememberthe domino effectas silly paranoia,

  • but after Korea and especially China became communist,

  • Vietnam’s movement toward communism seemed very much a threat to Japan,

  • which the U.S. had helped re-make into a vibrant capitalist ally.

  • So the US got bogged down in one of its longest wars

  • while the Soviets assisted the North Vietnamese army in the Viet Cong.

  • But then we paid them back by supporting the anti-communist mujaheddin

  • after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

  • Of course, as we now know, nobody conquers Afghanistan

  • unless you are the mongols.

  • [The tune of truly tendering terror to tons of tearfully troubled tribes]

  • So after 10 disastrous years, the Soviets finally abandoned Afghanistan.

  • Some of those mujahedeen later became members of the Taliban,

  • though, so it’s difficult to say that anyone won that war.

  • But it wasn’t just Asia:

  • In Nicaragua, the US supported rebels to overthrow the leftist government;

  • in El Salvador,

  • the US bolstered authoritarian regimes that were threatened by left-wing guerrillas.

  • The United States ended up supporting a lot of awful governments,

  • like the one in Guatemala, which held onto power through the use of death squads.

  • [like i said, looked better on paper]

  • Frankly, all our attempts to stabilize governments in Latin America

  • led to some very unstable Latin American governments, and quite a lot of violence.

  • And then there were the luke-warm conflicts,

  • like The Suez Crisis where British and French paratroopers were sent in

  • to try to stop Egypt from nationalizing the Suez canal.

  • Or all the American covert operations to keep various countries from

  • fallingto communism.

  • These included the famous CIA-engineered coup to overthrow

  • Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq

  • after his government attempted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry.

  • And the CIA helping Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet overthrow

  • democratically elected Marxist president Salvador Allende in 1973.

  • And lest we think the Americans were the only bad guys in this,

  • the Soviets used force to crush popular uprisings in Hungary in 1956

  • and in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

  • So, you may have noticed that our discussion of the Cold War

  • has branched out from Europe to include Asia, and the Middle East,

  • and Latin America.

  • And in fact,

  • almost every part of the globe was involved in some way with the

  • planet being divided into threeworlds.”

  • The first world was the U.S., Western Europe and any place that

  • embraced capitalism and a more or less democratic form of government.

  • The Second World was the Soviet Union and its satellites,

  • mostly the Warsaw Pact nations, China and Cuba.

  • The Third World was everyone else and we don’t use this term anymore

  • because it lumps together a hugely diverse range of countries.

  • Well talk more about the specific economic and development challenges

  • faced by the so-calledThird World countries,”

  • but the big one in terms of the Cold War, was that neither the U.S. nor the Soviets

  • wanted any of these countries to remain neutral.

  • Every nation was supposed to pick sides, either capitalist or communist,

  • and while it seems like an easy choice now,

  • in the 50s and 60s, it wasn’t nearly so clear.

  • I mean, for a little while, it seemed like the Soviets might come out ahead,

  • at least in the Third World.

  • For a while, capitalism, and especially the United States,

  • seemed to lose some of its luster.

  • The US propped up dictatorships, had a poor civil rights record,

  • we sucked at women’s gymnastics.

  • Plus, the Soviets were the first to put a satellite, a man, and a dog into space.

  • Plus, Marxists just seemed cooler,

  • which is why you never see Milton Friedman t-shirts...

  • until now available at DFTBA.com.

  • I like that, Stan,

  • but I’m more of a centrist.

  • Can I get a Keynes shirt?

  • Yes. That, now that’s hot.

  • But Soviet socialism did not finally prove

  • to be a viable alternative to industrial capitalism.

  • Over time,

  • state-run economies just generally don’t fare as well as private enterprise,

  • and people like living in a world where they can have more stuff.

  • More importantly, Soviet policies were just bad:

  • collectivized agriculture stymied production and led to famine;

  • suppression of dissent and traditional cultures made people angry;

  • and no one likes suffering the humiliation of driving a Yugo.

  • But why the Cold War ended when it did

  • is one of the most interesting questions of the 20th century.

  • It probably wasn’t Ronald Reagan bankrupting the Soviets,

  • despite what some politicians believe.

  • The USSR had more satellite states that it needed to spend more to prop up

  • than the U.S. had to invest in its Allies.

  • And the Soviet system could never keep up with economic growth in the West.

  • But,

  • probably the individual most responsible

  • for the end of the Cold War was

  • Mikhail Baryshnikov. [Um...]

  • No? Mikhail Gorbachev?

  • Well, that’s boring. [and far less lycra-clad]

  • I always thought the Soviets danced their way to freedom.

  • No? It was Glasnost and Perestroika? [not the cultural resonance of White Nights?]

  • Alright.