The Cold War




Inside The Cold War


This page tells kids the story of the Cold War. It's designed for adults to use for classroom activities with middle school students, but some elements may also be thought-provoking or interesting for teens. There are even puzzles and coloring sheets at the bottom for younger kids. This is not a history of the Cold War, but instead an understandable, accurate and brief "story" for children curious about this chapter of American history, which in many cases was an important part of the lives of their parents and grandparents. 


Kids can also help their eligible veteran parents and grandparents get the free Cold War Recognition Certificate from the U.S. Government. See the easy steps to get this honor here.

Teachers should review the page first to identify which content is suitable for their students' age and state of development.


[Note for grown-up visitors: We're told teachers of older students and also adult Web surfers find this page a useful source of Cold War facts and sort of Cold War for Dummies. We're happy to have you visit as well; the basic concepts here are for all ages. Teachers may also be interested in our History of China for Kids page here.]

Notes for Teachers: 

Get a Cold War Activity Book (Reproducible) -- Click Here

The So-called "Cold War 2" is in the  News Now: Learn More Here

The Current Crisis in Ukraine has a Fascinating Link to the Cold War; See it Here

Why is this American Air Force Plane Dropping Candy

on Germany, a Country in Europe?

And Why Are These Children Separated by a Fence?

It's All Part of the Cold War  -- You Can Learn About It Here


The Cold War started soon after the end of World War II,  the most destructive conflict in the history of the planet. America and its allies, including Great Britain and the Soviet Union, defeated Japan and Germany. Many millions of people perished in the war and the conflict revealed the depths of human savagery, including the Holocaust in which Germany killed men, women and children because they were Jewish or belonged to some other disliked group.


At the end of World War II, America and the Soviet Union were the strongest countries left standing. There were major differences between them. The Soviet Union was a communist country, where the government controlled the economy, and was ruled by a brutal dictatorship. The United States was a democratic country with a free economy. But at first, they remained friends.


Americans were so happy the war was over.




Most just wanted to get back to normal life.



But soon after the end of World War II, the Soviets began imposing communism on other countries. Their country had been devastated by the war and they felt they deserved to have control over enemy countries, as well as territories they had dominated before the conflict.
In 1947, U.S. President Harry Truman announced that America would help the countries of Greece and Turkey fight attempts to turn them into communist countries and allies of the Soviet Union.
This is often viewed as the beginning of the Cold War. It's called the Cold War because even though the main struggle was between the Soviet Union and America, they never engaged in a direct, all-out "hot war" from the beginning until the end in 1991.
After World War II, Germany and its capital Berlin were divided. The Soviets controlled part of it and America, along with its allies Britain and France, the rest. In June 1948 the Soviets decided to make a move to control Germany, the most important country in Europe. They blocked all the roads and railroads into Berlin, making it impossible for those living in the American and allied parts of the city to get supplies. America responded with the "Berlin Airlift" to fly in everything a city needed to keep going.  This totalled 2,325,510 tons of cargo, including coal for heating, food and milk, machinery, soap, medical supplies and newspapers.  The U.S. Air Force even sent a baby camel for the children of Berlin. American pilots were known for dropping candy with little parachutes from their planes for the kids of Berlin.
 "Vittles" the dog flew 131 missions during the Berlin Airlift with his master, an Air Force officer. Vittles was in the air so much they made a special parachute for him. Luckily he never had to use it (his master did have to bail out once when Vittles was not on board; the parachute worked and he was soon reunited with his dog.)

But the Berlin Airlift was very serious business.


Twelve American planes crashed, killing 30 U.S. servicemen and one civilian.


After about a year, the Soviets gave up and started allowing ground transportation back into Berlin.


Was It Worth the Price?


“Without the help of the Americans [and their Allies], I wouldn’t be here,” recalled a woman who was a 7-year-old girl during the airlift. “I wouldn’t be alive to enjoy the freedom you brought to us Germans.”

Conflicts: Hot and Cold

Soon after the Berlin Blockage ended, North Korea, with the support of the Soviet Union and China, invaded South Korea, an American ally.


The Korean War was one of the "hot conflicts" of the Cold War, in many ways a "proxy war" between the U.S. and Soviet Union in which the Soviets used other countries, or proxies, to do most of their fighting. The Soviets supplied the North Koreans and also huge numbers of Chinese troops fighting America and its allies. While they tried to hide it, the Soviets also participated directly, flying fighter planes and operating anti-aircraft guns that shot down many U.S. planes.  Korea was followed years later by the Vietnam War; almost 100,000 Americans died in these conflicts, along with many more from other countries. Americans also perished or were captured while conducting Cold War spy flights near or over communist countries, or performing intelligence missions or other activities in support of the United States. The stories of some American heroes from the Cold War are still secret.


For Americans who served in the "hot conflicts" and sacrificed, were wounded or gave their lives -- and the families of these service members -- the Cold War was just as terrible as any other war.


Unlike earlier conflicts, the incredibly powerful nuclear weapons held by the Soviets and U.S., and later other countries, threatened a war that could end life on earth as it was known. The "arms race" involved each side increasing the number and power of its nuclear and regular weapons.



These weapons made made any confrontation between the U.S. and Soviet Union very dangerous.




Nuclear missiles and bombs meant that just about everyone in America and the Soviet Union was a risk. Kids at U.S. schools had to practice for an attack. They would hide under their desks or in the hallway.


Back in Berlin, in 1961 the communist East Germans and their Soviet friends suddenly put up a barrier, soon to be called the "Berlin Wall." They wanted to stop people who were running away to the free part of German.
The wall separated Berlin and the rest of German into pro-Soviet and pro-American sides; the communists used dogs, guns and landmines to keep their people from escaping.
The wall got so high that people had to climb ladders to wave to their family and friends on the other side.
If people tried to cross the wall, East German guards shot them.


Even kids were separated by the wall.

While the Berlin Wall stayed up, there were many other Cold War confrontations around the world. In 1962, a super-fast American U2 spy plane spotted Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, a country close to the State of Florida. The U.S. and Soviet Union came frighteningly close to a nuclear war before the crisis was resolved. Other incidents included conflicts in the Middle East, such as the 1973 Yom Kippur attack by Soviet allies against Israel; the crushing of popular uprisings against the Soviets in several countries; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. American intelligence officers even helped fighters loyal to the Dalai Lama battle Chinese occupation of Tibet.


In just about every part of the world, there was some sort of fighting, demonstrating or spying related to the contest between America and its allies and the Soviets and theirs. While the communists committed many atrocities, and sought to install dictatorships, some of America's allies also violated human rights. American politicians debated whether resistance to communism sometimes justified brutal tactics.

America's Economy Grew Much Stronger than the Soviet's

That meant the US could develop and afford the best tanks, airplanes and other military technology in the world, plus deploy that technology and well-trained soldiers around the world. Meantime, the Soviets -- whose communist economic system didn't work -- were falling farther and farther behind.

Soviet confidence also declined after the nation invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Over the next decade, the Soviets lost many men and much money. The US supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the Afghan resistance; they downed numerous Soviet aircraft and played a key role in the conflict, which has been called the "Soviet Union's Vietnam."

[Ironically, during the Cold War, the US was fighting on the same side against the Soviet Union as Islamist extremists, such as Osama Bin Laden, who were later involved in terrorist attacks against America, including 9/11. This reminds historians of the fact that America supplied arms and other support to the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany during World War II, even though allied strategists worried the Soviets would turn against America after Germany was defeated. In history, alliances can change relatively quickly, and sometimes countries decide to choose the "lesser of two evils." The US supported some anti-communist dictators during the Cold War because it was believed they were better than the communist alternative and that their countries might one day become democracies. In several cases, including South Korea, this did indeed happen.

During the Soviet Afghanistan war, a common saying among US observers was that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend," meaning that if Afghan resistance fighters were the enemy of America's enemy, the Soviet Union, the Afghan fighters should be treated as an American friend.]

"Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down this Wall!”

In June 1987, President Ronald Reagan visited Berlin and issued a challenge to the Soviet Union. “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace,” he said, sending a message to the new head of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
President Reagan was also increasing America's military spending and supporting fighters battling Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan. Gorbachev, realized his country could not keep going as before, started to make changes.

By 1989 It Was Clear the Soviet Union Was Close to the End

East Germans began demonstrating and escaping. When the communists tried to keep some control by relaxing restrictions, the demonstrations grew even larger until crowds starting pulling down the wall. In the past, East German authorities would have responded by shooting. But now, they gave up. East and West Germany were soon unified, becoming one country again under a democratic, pro-U.S. government.

After the wall fell, the Soviet Union itself followed soon after. It was officially dissolved in December 1991, creating the Russian Federation and, in effect, freeing most of the various countries forced in the Soviet Union.


America and its allies had won the Cold War.

Legacy of the Cold War

The Cold War left a complicated inheritance to people today. Because of the conflict, the world still has a large supply of nuclear weapons and other terrible armaments. Many countries were left with debts and environmental damage. China remains a dictatorship and Russia and the United States often disagree on important issues. Korea remains separated and the people in the North, the communist side, are treated brutally by their government. Many American families, and those in other countries, lost loved ones. Some American soldiers have never come home (see

On the other hand, America and its allies were able to prevail without another World War. That allowed people across the world to have freedom and the right to help determine their own futures. For many people, the costs of the Cold War were high, but worth it in the end.

Did Your Parents or Grandparents Serve During the Cold War?

If So, They May Be Eligible for the U.S. Cold War Recognition Certificate

The Certificate is provided by the U.S. military at no charge. Have them get details by clicking on the document.
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