The Cold War 1945-1991

The Cold War 1945-19912020-12-16T15:53:52+11:00

The Cold War 1945-1991


5 Hours

$290 per person + GST


Module 1: The Origins of the Cold War 1945-1953

 Participants will gain an overview of the origins of the Cold War from 1945 to 1953. The breakdown of the British, American and Soviet alliance at the end of World War II and failure to agree on the post-war future of Europe and Germany led to an ideological and geopolitical conflict that became entrenched by the middle of 1946. By the end of the decade, the United States had failed in its attempt to contain communism within Eastern Europe when China turned communist in 1949, followed by Korea in 1950. The activities in Module 1 will revolve around developing skills in source analysis so that teachers can more effectively teach students how to analyse and interpret different sources, and identify different perspectives, representations and interpretations of the past.

Module 2: The Development of the Cold War until 1968

Participants will gain an overview of the development of the Cold War to 1968. The ideological and geopolitical conflict led to a number of political ideas including the American policy of containment and the fear of the domino theory through South-East Asia. The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev condemned Stalin in the Secret Speech of February 1956 and declared an era of peaceful coexistence at the same time as promising to ‘bury’ the West. This ideological posturing was manifested in the arms race and the space race. Geopolitically, it led to potential open conflict with the Berlin Wall (1961), the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) and the Prague Spring (1968).

Module 3: Détente 1964-1980

 Participants will gain an overview of détente. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 gave both sides pause when faced with the grave threat of nuclear war. The Chinese development of the A-bomb in 1964 also introduced a third nuclear power that only widened the split between the Sino-Soviet alliance and a new multipolar world was ushered in. In Europe, the West German leader Willy Brandt attempted to normalise relations with the Eastern-bloc in the new era of Ostpolitik. But despite the outward thawing of tensions, events in Vietnam and the Middle East (1967 Six Day War, 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1979 Iranian Revolution) continued to draw in the superpowers. The activities in Module 3 will involve participants creating a series of ‘I Can’ statements to assist in their practice of formative assessment.

Module 4: The Renewal and the End of the Cold War 1980-1991

Participants will gain an overview of the renewal and end of the Cold War. Two events spelled the end of détente; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution. Ronald Reagan came to power on a wave of anti-communist sentiment calling the Soviet Union the ‘evil empire.’ When the Soviet reformer Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March 1985 and implemented his twin policies of glasnost and perestroika, American policies softened. A round of Superpower summits and pro-democratic movements in eastern Europe eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

About the Presenter:

Brad Kelly(BA, Grad Dip. Ed, MEd Leadership) is an author and writing coach based in Wollongong. He has 15 years of experience in the classroom and in curriculum leadership. He is fascinated by how teachers teach writing and how students learn to write. Brad spends his days observing, discussing and trying to understand insights into developing student writing. He has authored five modern history textbooks with Cengage Nelson including The Cold War 1945-1991 (2018), The World Order 1991-2011 (2018), Investigating Modern History (2018) and more. He has been a presenter at HTA NSW, TTA professional learning and consults schools on improving writing instruction. Brad is a tour leader with Academy Travel, and leads the Modern History teacher development tour to Germany and Russia. 

About the Cold War:

The Cold War was a long struggle between the incompatible social, economic and political systems of the Soviet Union and the United States that lasted from 1945 to 1991. That both sides joined forces to defeat the fascism of Nazi Germany during World War II was a remarkable achievement of cooperation. But at the end of the war, Europe lay in ruins and the long path to rebuilding presented a number of emerging differences between the two superpowers. The future of Germany and eastern Europe, the model of economic and political recovery and the presence of nuclear weapons in the world would shape the discussions.

Origins of the Cold War

In 1945, a series of conferences at Yalta and Potsdam attempted to negotiate these differences. For the Soviets, security on its western border and the need to protect itself against what is viewed as another capitalist invasion was its core concern. Stalin had come to understand the war not as a fight against fascism only, but as the inevitable conflict among capitalist powers. The United States, however, was committed to the ideas of national self-determination and free and open markets. It wanted a strong European recovery and that meant a strong Germany. As it was, it would take years – and in some case decades – for the finer details to be worked out.

The period immediately after the war led to the Soviets maintaining their positions in eastern Europe and the governments of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and East Germany were forced to adopt governments sympathetic to communism. The Soviets asserted their right to a sphere of influence in the region and the US President Harry S. Truman sought to box in communism in those countries. This came to be known as the Truman Doctrine – and the idea of containment was born. But Truman understood that without a significant economic recovery, the states of Western Europe would be vulnerable to the threat of communism and therefore adopted a $15 billion known as the Marshall Plan to aid economic recovery.

The four power division of Germany and Berlin was also a long running issue which came to a head in 1948. With the Western powers sectors – United States, Britain and France – anxious to find a resolution to the permanent unification of Germany and Berlin, they introduced a new currency which resulted in an angry Stalin blockading Berlin. The United States response demonstrated a strong commitment to Berlin and for over 12 months, they airlifted food in to support the West Berlin population. The final result of the crisis was the permanent division of Germany into West Germany and East Germany – along with Berlin.

But the 1949 was a decisive year in the superpower conflict. For all of Truman’s attempts to contain communism within the Soviet sphere and eastern bloc, the declaration of the People’s Republic of China on the 1 October 1949 opened up a second front in the Cold War. The fight against communism would now take place in Asia. When the North Koreans declared a communist state in 1950, the United States went to war as part of the first United Nations international military effort and fought an indecisive conflict until 1953. The spread of communism to North Vietnam left a very real fear in the United States that communism would spread throughout South East Asia.

The Development of the Cold War

 When the Soviets successfully detonated its first nuclear device in August 1949, the nuclear club had its second member. This changed the face of the Cold War significantly. The need to contain communism was developed under Eisenhower who engaged in a massive build-up of nuclear weapons in an effort to deter the communists from being tempted to deliver the first strike. To do so would be suicide, he argued, because the retaliatory response would be so massive. It was Eisenhower who first coined the term domino theory amid the fear that communism was in the march in South East Asia, and justified the United States involvement in the Vietnam War.

In 1953, the death of Stalin bought to power Nikita Khrushchev, whose secret speech of February 1956 condemned Stalin and his policies as a false start in the revolution. For Khrushchev, Stalin was a criminal who came to power despite the wishes of Stalin. Khrushchev took a different foreign policy term with his idea of peace coexistence and for the first time he acknowledged that both capitalism and communism could live side by side.

The 1950s and 1960s were also characterised by a scientific and technological rivalry which took on new and dangerous dimensions. The arms race led to the development of huge nuclear arsenals with weapons of greater power and further reach. And when the rockets reached space, a space race was launched which showed the precision with which missiles could accurately reach their target. The rivalry led to the Soviets launching the first man into space and the Americans landing the first man to walk on the moon.

But the 1960s also featured a series of crises which demonstrated just how tense the relationship was between the two countries. In August 1961, in response to a massive emigration of talented and educated young people, the East Germany government constructed the Berlin Wall, a barrier which became the symbol of the Cold War. For over 28 years the Wall separated east and west until its fall in 1989. A more serious crisis occurred in the following October when the Americans discovered Soviet missile bases installed on the island of Cuba. It is difficult to imagine a more urgent threat to American security and for 13 days, the work was brought perilously close to the brink of nuclear war. The crisis shocked both countries and had the effect of kick-starting closer relations and understanding between the two countries and an attempt to curtail the threat of nuclear weapons was one outcome. In 1968, calls for democratic reforms in Czechoslovakia led to Soviet tanks rolling into the streets of Prague in a message to every other Warsaw Pact country that a challenge to the Soviet system would not be tolerated.


By the end of the 1960s, both the United States and the Soviet Union welcomed a pause in the tensions that had been ramping up for two decades. Thus began the period of détente. The rise of China as a nuclear force and its split with the Soviet Union meant that the world had become more complicated. A multi-polar world forced all sides to re-examine their relationships with each other. In Europe, where the West had been drifting towards closer economic ties with the formation of the European Economic Community, political leaders were anxious to minimise the threat with the Soviets. West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s olive branch was extended in the form of Ostpolitik, which took the tension out of European affairs by recognising Soviet influence and borders drawn up after World War II.

But geopolitical developments continued to threaten the peace. In Vietnam, the United States was drawn into a costly and unpopular war which severely diminished its standing on the international stage. At a time when it was dealing with its own domestic and civil rights issues, huge budget deficits and inflation rocked the country, partly as a result of the costs associated with the war.

The Sino-Soviet split however was an opportunity for the United States to place a wedge in what was previously thought to be the monolithic march of communism in the world. In 1972, the United States engaged China and with Richard Nixon’s first visit to the People’s Republic, he promised full diplomatic relations by the end of the decade. China was also awarded its place in the United Nations. At the same time the Soviet Union was busy achieving nuclear parity with the United States at a time when the Americans were reducing their arms race expenditure.

Events in the Middle East would also be a significant source of superpower tension. The United States support for the state of Israel meant that it was committed to support it militarily against neighbours including Egypt, Syria and Jordan – many of whom were forced to turn to the Soviet Union for backing. For the Soviet Union, the Middle East was on its southern doorstep and for the Americans it was the source of cheap oil. Wars in 1967 and 1973 led to an entrenched conflict between the Arabs and Israelis over borders. In 1979 the Iranian Islamic Revolution would reshape the Middle East.

The renewal and end of the Cold War

 The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Day in 1979 represented the end of détente and a deep anti-communist backlash in the United States. This is known as the renewal of the Cold War. In 1981, the former Hollywood actor and Republican Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President on the back of a strong anti-communist election campaign. In 1983, he referred to the Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire’ and his Strategic Defence Initiative – or Star Wars program – was an attempt to place a nuclear defence shield in space.

In March 1985 tensions simmered when a youthful reformer by the name of Mikhail Gorbachev rose to the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party. Gorbachev’s attempt to reform communism through his Perestroika economic restructuring and his Glasnost openness would lead to the popular revolutions throughout the eastern bloc. Gorbachev’s also wanted to withdraw from an expensive renewal of the arms race and he build a warm friendship with Reagan and both men made significant progress in reducing the nuclear stock piles of both countries.

By 1989, peaceful revolutions in Poland and East Germany had led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual collapse of communism in the Soviet Union. In attempting to reform communism, Gorbachev had destroyed it. Seventy years of communism and the effort to build a workers utopia had collapsed.

This is the story of the Cold War.

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‘My understanding of how to tackle this unit has improved greatly thanks to this course.’Sydney participant, Catholic.

‘Brad was informative and had deep content knowledge that was accessible to learn.’Sydney participant, Catholic.

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