The Cold War Series


Episode 1: Comrades, 1917-1945

Though ideological enemies, the Soviet Union and the United States are allies against Hitler during World War II. At war’s end, Europe is divided, and the one-time allies now confront each other. The United States has the atomic bomb.


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Episode 2: Iron Curtain, 1945-1947

The Soviet Union dominates Eastern Europe. Churchill warns of the consequences. Stalin insists that the governments of the Soviet Union’s client states be pro-communist. Impoverished after the war, England opts out as a world power. The United States assumes the mantle of world leadership.


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Episode 3: Marshall Plan

The US adopts the Truman Doctrine, pledging to defend freedom worldwide. Secretary of State George Marshall plans to bolster economic recovery in Europe. Seeing this as a threat, Stalin forbids his satellites to participate. The world effectively divides.


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Episode 4: Berlin

In Berlin, American, British and French sectors form a Western enclave in the Soviet zone of divided Germany. In June 1948, the Soviets blockade the city, but Western allies successfully airlift in supplies. In August 1949, Soviet scientists explode an atomic bomb, establishing nuclear parity between the two superpowers.


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Episode 5: Korea

In June 1950, North Korea invades the South, with Stalin’s blessing. The US, backed by the United Nations, defends South Korea and then is confronted by communist China. In mid-1951, the war grinds to a bloody stalemate, but eventually an armistice is signed. Aggression has been contained.


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Episode 6: Reds

Following Stalin’s domination of Eastern Europe and the loss of China, American democracy falls victim to anticommunist hysteria, but survives it. Eisenhower is elected president. In the Soviet Union, Stalin reinforces the climate of terror on which his rule is based. When he dies in 1953, the Soviet people mourn the end of an era.


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Episode 7: After Stalin

Thaw is conceivable with Stalin’s death. Khrushchev outmanoeuvres Malenkov for power and visits the West. Germans, Poles and Hungarians attempt to rise against Soviet rule. In 1956, an uprising in Hungary is ruthlessly crushed by Soviet tanks. The US, pledged to contain rather than overthrow communism, does nothing.


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Episode 8: Sputnik

In the mid’50s, the Soviet Union seems to forge ahead. In October 1957, the first Soviet satellite Sputnik orbits the Earth – to the dismay and fear of the US, frustrated by its own ineffectual space programme. In 1961, the Soviets launch Yuri Gagarin into space. America will have to meet the challenge.


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Episode 9: The Wall

The fate of Germany remains unresolved. West Germany has been admitted to NATO. Within East Germany, Berlin is divided between East and West by an open border. Thousands seize the chance to flee the communist system. To keep their people in, the East Germans – with Soviet backing – build the wall.


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Episode 10: Cuba

Khrushchev decides, with Castro’s agreement, to install short- and medium-range missiles in Cuba. The US detects the missile sites and blockades the island. the superpowers confront each other: rather than embark on nuclear war, they each step back. It was close.


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Episode 11: Vietnam

Vietnam has been divided since the end of French colonial rule. The North is run by communists, the South by anticommunists. Ignoring warnings against involvement in a nationalist struggle, the US commits its armed forces. American protests against the war mount. The US realises this is not a war it can win.


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Episode 12: MAD, 1960-1972

Throughout the ’60s, the US and the Soviet Union are locked in a nuclear standoff. Each realises that bombing the enemy could provoke retaliation and self-destruction. Nuclear strategy evolves into Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), in which both sides are guaranteed certain annihilation in the event of nuclear war.


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Episode 13: Make Love Not War: the 1960s

Western economies grow and prosper, fuelled partly by armaments production. Rejecting their parents’ affluence and the Cold War, many of the young protest and rebel. Radical violence erupts in inner cities. Rock music expresses a disenchanted generation’s mood.


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Episode 14: Red Spring: the 1960s

In the Soviet bloc, communist rule stifles ambition and achievement. Soviet defence expenditure cripples economic growth. The young lust for totems of America’s youth culture – blue jeans and rock ‘n roll. In Czechoslovakia, Dubcek attempts limited reform, but in 1968, Soviet force crushes the Prague Spring.


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Episode 15: China, 1949-1972

Chinese communists win the longest civil war in 20th-century history. Mao’s land reforms are popular but, in 1958, he embarks on a series of catastrophic changes. China maintains an increasingly uneasy relationship with the Soviet Union. In 1960, the Sino-Soviet split paves the way for President Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing.


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Episode 16: Détente, 1969-1975

North Vietnam launches a new offensive against the South. The US steps up its bombing campaign but seeks peace through diplomacy. Nixon and Brezhnev sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT). The US finally withdraws from Vietnam. Détente culminates in the Helsinki Declaration of 1975.


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Episode 17: Good Guys, Bad Guys, 1967-1978

The superpowers use surrogates to wage ideological and often physical conflict. In 1967 and 1973, American-backed Israel triumphs over Soviet-Backed Egypt and Syria. In Africa, the Soviets exploit nationalist, anti-colonial struggles. The US supports South Africa in its battle against communism.


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Episode 18: Backyard, 1954-1990

The US has always regarded Latin America as its own backyard. Fearing communism’s spread, it seeks to destabilise leftist governments. In 1973, the CIA helps overthrow Chilean President Salvador Allende. In the 1980s, it supports right-wing extremists in Nicaragua and El Salvador.


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Episode 19: Freeze, 1977-1981

Concern for human rights in the East grows; détente ebbs. The Soviets arm Eastern Europe; the US threatens to site missiles in Western Europe. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan ends détente. Promising tougher measures against Moscow, Reagan defeats Carter for the presidency. In Poland, martial law is imposed.


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Episode 20: Soldiers of God, 1975-1988

Afghanistan is a war that costs the lives of almost 15,000 Soviet conscripts and an estimated one million Afghans. The US supplies billions of dollars of weapons to unlikely allies – Islamic fundamentalists. The result is a Vietnam-style conflict which takes its toll on the Soviets and hastens the end of the Cold War.


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Episode 21: Spies, 1944-1990

Early CIA attempts to penetrate the Iron Curtain are thwarted. The US reacts with increasingly sophisticated technological intelligence – the U2 spy plane, satellite reconnaissance and electronic eavesdropping. Yet human spies remain important. Sometimes betrayers, sometimes betrayed, many spies pay with their lives.


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Episode 22: Star Wars, 1980-1988

Regan boosts US defence spending and proposes the Strategic Defence Initiative, an antimissile system in space. New premier Gorbachev knows the Soviets can’t match the US and wants to liberalise and reconstruct the economy. After summits in Geneva, Reykjavik and Washington, the leaders agree to drastic arms cuts.


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Episode 23: The Wall Comes Down, 1989

Dominoes fall: incredibly quickly, the Soviet bloc breaks up, virtually without bloodshed. First Poland, then Hungary, then East Germany slip away from communist control. Gorbachev makes no effort to hold them back with force. Amid scenes of jubilation, the hated Berlin Wall comes down.


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Episode 24: Conclusions, 1989-1991

The US proves the stronger, the Soviet Union implodes. German is reunified. Shorn of its empire and communist domination, Russia faces its future with its economy in chaos. The balance of terror that has kept the peace for more than 40 years vanishes. The Cold War has ended without the use of nuclear weapons.

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