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It was called a "cold" war because the two sides never directly engaged in war with each other, instead using diplomacy, deterrence, money, ideology, subversion, propaganda and proxies to try to best each other. The main reason this happened, as opposed to eventual direct armed confrontation, was due to each of the "superpowers" possessing nuclear weapons, which, to most sane people, made the idea of a "hot" war unthinkable. (In fact, both sides worked to make a nuclear war an impossibility, referred to as Mutually Assured Destruction.)
Most of the events of the time period were related to the Cold War in some way. One of the superpowers usually took sides in almost every conflict, usually provoking a response from the other. Even minor things like the movement of a well-known ballet star from one country to the other could be seen as part of the Cold War.
There is a recurring battle among Western historians over who "started" the Cold War, with traditionalists blaming Joseph Stalin and revisionists blaming Truman. Most current scholars believe that between the mutual suspicion and the strongly differing plans for the post-war system, the question is really moot. However, the fact that the Soviet Union was already spying on the US before the end of WWII while the US was instead concentrating on Germany provides evidence that the USSR bears more blame than the US. Which is nice and convenient, since they're not around to complain about getting dumped with the blame. Anyway, the winners get to write history, or end it.
There is also debate today over who ended the Cold War. One conservative party claims that
Jesus Saint Reagan singlehandedly ended the Cold War with a speech in front of a wall. However, it is mostly accepted that it was a combination of internal difficulties in the USSR (namely a large military budget, ethnic tensions and the fact that command economies really suck), Gorbachev's attempts at reforms, a Pope, and pressure from various US presidents. It is an oft-forgotten (and inconvenient) truth that the Soviet Union's downfall was a surprise for all parties.
Defeating the Soviets required the clandestine takeover of dozens of countries and acquiring full control over "The Grand Chessboard" of Asia, home to more than 2/3 of the world’s energy reserves. Pretty much every war of the past fifty years has been runoff of this goal. Many political scientists have declared that the bipolar system that accompanied the Cold War was a very stable system, and many fear that the current unipolar world could end up more war-prone than before; however, many also believe that the data so far suggests otherwise. The number of countries possessing nuclear weapons has steadily increased over two decades, so it's not all sunshine and roses though.
 Effect on United States culture
“”Thus were two generations of Americans treated by their overlords until, in the end, at the word 'communism' there is an orgasmic Pavlovian reflex just as the brain goes dead.
The Cold War had a profound effect on the culture and attitudes of the United States, and the lingering effects of these changes are still present in the average American's worldview today. The Cold War spawned McCarthyism and the fear of communists everywhere, accompanied by a slew of anti-leftist propaganda. Though McCarthy and his compatriots were eventually dismissed as demagogues and fear-mongers, they did manage to significantly affect the American psyche, instilling a knee-jerk hysteria of socialism and communism into many Americans. These undertones can still be seen today in the actions of anti-Obama protestors, many of whom are most concerned about Barack Obama's supposed "socialist" sympathies. Americans.
The Cold War also influenced cinema and popular culture, and many of the films produced during this era are based upon the concepts of MAD, the bipolar state of world politics, or the Cold War culture.
 See also
- What we almost brought upon ourselves
- Dr. Strangelove, one of the most chilling (or hilarious) movies to come out of the Cold War.
- War on terror - Folks, make sure to trade in your old, outdated Communism for the new and improved Terrorism! Features include: excuses to bomb any country, and starting wars without declaring them! No fuss, no muss! And don't forget folks that with Terrorism™ you can keep your wars going forever! It's sure to be a hit with all of your defense contractor friends!
- ↑ Even the Olympic Games were a symbolic battleground between the countries associated with each side.
- ↑ Centre Stage in the Cold War, Torontoist
- ↑ The Cold War's Unexpected Ending, Willson Center
- ↑ The Ghosts of ’91, Slate
- ↑ For example, the libertarian Cato Institute
- ↑ Dreaming War, 2002 (originally published in Vanity Fair, 1999)
- ↑ An in-depth article and discussion of Red Scare propaganda at UPenn
- ↑ See Wikipedia for a comprehensive list