How Cold Was the Cold War?

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13977

It wasn't a war that happened during winter on snow-covered fields. In fact, it wasn't a war at all, though wars did result from it. Just what was the Cold War, and why is it called that?


Verbal Communication, World

English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Cold War was the time after World War II when the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) became the leading world powers. These two countries battled each other for influence and control over different countries and the world.

Two Systems

The United States and the Soviet Union were run on two very different systems of politics and economics. Politics concerns the government — how the people are governed. Economics concerns how the money system is controlled.

The Soviet Union had a communist government. Communism is a system where no one can own anything except the government. The government controls everything. No rights, such as free speech, are guaranteed to the people.

The United States was founded on the concept that all men have rights, and the government is there to protect those rights. Its Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, among others.

America operates under a capitalist system. Capitalism is where people can own things and trade freely with others.

The U.S. wanted to prevent the Soviet Union from spreading communism worldwide. That was the main focus of the Cold War.


map of Europe in 1989

The Soviet Union controlled several European countries, including Poland, Bulgaria, and East Germany. Europe was divided between communist-controlled countries and democratic countries, and this divide was called the Iron Curtain.

The Soviets wanted to control the German capital of Berlin, which was divided among the Allies after World War II. The Soviets tried to block Berlin from getting supplies from the outside. Instead of giving up Berlin, the Western countries flew supplies into the city. This was called the Berlin Airlift.

Later, a large wall was built, which divided the two communities — communist on one side and democratic on the other. The Berlin Wall became another symbol of the divide between East and West.


flags of the MATO member countries

Because the communists controlled much of Europe, some democratic Western countries decided to ally. They formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and pledged to help each other in case of an attack by the USSR.

In response to that alliance, the communist countries formed a coalition called the Warsaw Pact.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Rusty Soviet missile from 1962 Caribbean crisis standing in la Cabana fortress, Havana, Cuba

At one point, it looked like there would be a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. This happened when the USSR began to install nuclear missiles in Cuba.

The U.S. government was firmly against having this danger so close to its shores. It looked like the U.S. would invade Cuba, which would have led to a war with the USSR.

However, after thirteen agitated days, the two sides negotiated an agreement, and war was avoided.

Proxy Wars

Vietnam War memorial

Though the U.S. and Soviet Union never entered into a war with each other, they did take sides in different conflicts around the world. These conflicts are called proxy wars.

Proxy wars occurred in Vietnam, Korea, Israel, and Afghanistan.

After learning about the Cold War, test your knowledge in the Got It? section!

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