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The Cold War, 1945-1991
Overview, Key Understandings & Questions

Time Period Key Understandings

  • The struggle for political power can motivate nationalist response among the citizenry
  • Contrasting influences of communism and democracy can lead to difficult and fragmented transitions in political states
  • Geographic containment does not mean ideological containment
  • Ideological wars do not have physical endings
  • The legacies of political leadership and social policy cannot be erased
  • Weapons of mass destruction increase the impact and importance of political policy
  • Nationalism can motivate both national unity and domestic terrorism
  • The global focus on human rights influenced political regimes and economic structures

Key Questions

Beginnings of the Cold War

  • How does a "cold war" differ from a conventional war? Why did the superpowers work to avoid open warfare during the Cold War?
  • What kinds of tensions existed between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War? In what ways was the Cold War a legacy of World War II?
  • What role did the Marshall Plan play after World War II? How did it affect power dynamics between the West and the Soviet Union?
  • How was the Korean War tied to the ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union?
  • How did the development of the hydrogen bomb affect the course of the Cold War?

The Freeze: Tensions Escalate

  • Why did Nikita Khrushchev's plans for de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union meet with failure? What did this mean for the future of the Cold War?
  • Why was the space race so important to both the United States and the Soviet Union? How did competition in this area add to the sense of hostility between the two superpowers?
  • Why did East Germany build the Berlin Wall? Why would the wall become an iconic image of Cold War tensions?


  • How did the policy of détente seek to reduce Cold War tensions? Why were the two superpowers willing to engage in this policy? What challenges did promoters of détente face?
  • How were anticolonial conflicts around the world affected by the interests of the two superpowers? Why did they become involved in such conflicts?
  • Why do you think nationalist, radical, and domestic terrorist groups were able to lead influential movements during the period of détente?
  • How did Cold War rivalries affect events in the Middle East?

Expansion of Soviet Influence

  • During the Cold War, how were American and Soviet values seen as conflicting with each other? Why do you think each side viewed the other as such a threat?
  • How was mutually assured destruction (MAD) a central concept of the Cold War period?
  • Why did Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba become part of the Cold War struggle between the two superpowers? How did the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis affect Cold War tensions?
  • How could the results of the Brezhnev Doctrine be viewed as both extending the Cold War and contributing to its eventual end?

Fall of the Soviet Union

  • How did the end of the détente policy among the Cold War superpowers accelerate the fall of the Soviet Union?
  • How did the Helsinki Accords' position on human rights contribute to the decline of the Soviet Union?
  • How did the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan affect Soviet relations with the United States? How did Ronald Reagan demonstrate that the U.S. was no longer pursuing détente?
  • How did Mikhail Gorbachev bring a new approach to Soviet interactions with the U.S.? How did his policies change life within the Soviet Union?
  • Why do you think the final collapse of the Soviet Union was largely peaceful?

MLA Citation

"The Cold War, 1945-1991." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2020, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/Display/2156985?cid=246. Accessed 28 Feb. 2020.

Entry ID: 2156985

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