Though ideological enemies, the Soviet Union and the United States are allies against Hitler during World War II. At the end of theWar, Europe is divided and the one-time allies now confront each other. The United States has the atomic bomb.
The Soviet Union dominates Eastern Europe. Churchill warns about the consequences. Stalin insists that the governments of the Soviet Union's client states be pro-Communist. Impoverished after the war, Great Britain opts out as a world power.
The United States adopts the Truman Doctrine--it will defend freedom, worldwide. Secretary of State George Marshall plans to bolster economic recovery in Europe. Stalin sees this as a threat, and forbids his satellites to participate. The world divides.
Berlin is a Western enclave in Eastern Europe. The Soviets blockade the city, but the allies airlift in supplies. NATO is formed.In August 1949, Soviet scientists explode an atom bomb, establishing nuclear parity between the two world superpowers.
Mao Zedong proclaims the People's Republic of China--the country is now lost to the West. In June 1950, North Korea invades the South, with Stalin's blessing. The United States, backed by the United Nations, defends South Korea and confronts China.
The world is polarized across an ideological divide. Following Stalin's domination of Eastern Europe, and the loss of China,American democracy succumbs to a bout of anti-communist hysteria, but survives it. Eisenhower is elected President.
In the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union seems to be forging ahead. In October 1957, the Soviet satellite Sputnik orbits the earth-to the dismay of the United States, which is frustrated with its own unsuccessful space program.
Contemplating U.S. missile power installed around the Soviet periphery, Krushchev decides to install short and medium range missilesin Cuba, America's backyard. The sites are detected and the U.S. blockades the island.
Western Economies grow and prosper, fueled partly by armaments production. Rejecting their parents' affluence and the Cold War, theyoung protest and rebel. There is racial violence in U.S. inner cities.
Chinese Communists are victorious in the longest civil war in 20th century history. Mao Zedong's reforms are popular, but in 1958, he embarks on a series of catastrophic changes. A famine that kills 30 million people follows.
The North Vietnamese overwhelm U.S.-backed forces in the South and the United States steps up its bombing campaign. Nixon goes to the Kremlin to meet Brezhnev and signs the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT). Kissinger negotiates with North Vietnam and proclaims, "Peace is at hand." Nixon is re-elected, and the United States finally withdraws from Vietnam. In Europe, rapprochement between East and West culminates in the Helsinki Accord. Apollo and Soyuz meet in space.
Across the world, the two superpowers back surrogates engaging in ideological and, sometimes, physical conflict. In the MiddleEast, the United States arms Israel; the Soviet Union arms Syria and Egypt. In 1967 and 1973, the two weapons systems clash.
Afghanistan is a brutal war that costs the lives of almost 15,000 Soviet conscripts and an estimated one million Afghans. "It wasthe Soviet Union's Vietnam syndrome," says Soviet aide Anatoly Chernyaev.