The Cold War wasn’t fought with a BANG, or a CRASH! It was influenced by the soft melodious music from a grand piano or from the soft scrape of wood from a chess piece. It was fought on the ice rink during the Olympics with the sounds of skates scraping the ice and the roar of the crowd. The Cold War was a continuing state of political and military tension between the powers of the Western world, led by the United States and its NATO allies, and the communist world, led by the Soviet Union, its satellite states and allies. The Cold War began after the success of the temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences. The US and USSR are separated by huge differences and a huge ideological gap. The only thing that had held the allies together was the need to destroy Hitler’s Nazis. When Hitler was finally defeated in 1945, the USA was a capitalist democracy; the USSR was a communist dictatorship. Both nations believed that they held the key to the future happiness of the human race.
The US and USSR once came to the point where they were going to use open warfare, but they didn’t fight, it was stopped within seconds. They did compete though; they used culture, and lots of it; from ballet to chess and from movies to sculptures. The two nations knew that if they were to ever fight, it would destroy them both. The people’s views of the Cold War conflict were influenced by the art and culture of the time. Throughout the decades following World War II (the Cold War lasted until 1991 when the Berlin Wall came down) there would be many problems that would stress the fragile peace between the two powers. Throughout it all artists would craft messages that would shape the feelings of the people. The best example of art shaping the feelings of the people, I feel, is the decade right before the end of the Cold War, the 80’s.
During the 80’s, Ronald Reagan was president (1981 – 1989). Reagan initially confronted the Soviet Union using a policy he called “peace through strength,” which increased military spending, had firm foreign policies directed against the USSR and supported anti-communist rebel movements in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Reagan later negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Together, they worked to end the Cold War.
During the Reagan years, music was one art form that influenced people’s feelings. People were frightened that there would be nuclear war. Lyrics have always had a way of pulling on our heart strings and staying in our minds. The lyrics from the Sting song, “Russians,” were a reminder that a lot of people didn’t want war and that the Russians and Americans, even with our differences, were the same in a very important way.
“We share the same biology, regardless of ideology, what might save us, me, you. Is if the Russians love their children too … How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy.” (Sting. “Russians.” 1985. The Dream of the Blue Turtles.)
The lyrics rang out into the world and further created impact by reminding everyone that nuclear war (Oppenheimer’s deadly toy) could be the outcome. Without the music influencing public opinion, there could have been a very different feeling toward the Russians. Another song, “Wild, Wild West” by The Escape Club made Americans again realize that the arms race that Ronnie (President Regan) was in could end in nuclear war.
“Sitting in a back room waiting for the big boom…
Got to live it up, live it up
Ronnie's got a new gun” (The Escape Club. “Wild, Wild West.” 1988. Wild, Wild West.)
Even children’s literature played a part in shaping people’s thoughts on the Cold War. The Butter Battle Book, written by Dr. Seuss and published in 1984, is a good example. The Butter Battle Book tells the story of a land where two hostile cultures, the Yooks and the Zooks, live on opposite sides of a long