The Cold War was a real war. I have read that by some estimates 30 million people died in wars and conflicts between 1945 and 1991, and most of these were linked to the global duel between the USA and the USSR.
The casualties included those in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict, the anti-Communist uprisings in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956, the Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot, the U.S.-backed death squads in Latin America, the Indonesians massacred in the overthrow of Sukarno, the wars in Africa between US-backed and Soviet-backed proxies, the Afghan war between a Soviet-backed regime and US-backed rebels, and countless other struggles now forgotten by the world.
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, in their book and TV documentary, The Untold History of the United States, said this tragedy for have been avoided but for one thing.
It was that the President of the United States in the years following World War Two happened to be Harry Truman, a warmonger, rather than Henry Wallace, a lover of peace.
This is not how it appeared to me at the time. I came of age in the early 1950s, and I thought the United States and its allies were in peril, the same kind of peril as in the 1930s.
The Soviet Union was as much a totalitarian dictatorship as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. By “totalitarian,” I mean that the government sought to subordinate all human activity, including science, art, literature, sport, education and civic life, to the control of the ruling party, and to demand not only passive acquiescence, but enthusiastic support.
Hitler and Stalin also were alike in that they killed millions of people, not for anything they had done, but for what they were. While historians now think that Stalin murdered fewer people as Hitler, this is not how things seemed at the time, and, in any case, Stalin’s body count was large enough.
But the most terrifying thing about totalitarianism was the idea that the ruling party could somehow get into the minds of its subjects, and experience slavery as a kind of freedom. George Orwell’s 1984 was an all-too-plausible vision of a future in which there was no individual liberty, no concept of objective truth aside from a party line and a Winston Smith could be brainwashed into loving Big Brother. These things seemed all too plausible.
Stalin not only ruled one-sixth of the earth’s surface, but commanded the loyalty of Communists worldwide. Millions of people, many of them idealistic, intelligent and courageous, believed it was their duty to subordinate their personal convictions and code of morality to a Communist Party line that put the interests of the Soviet Union above all else.
A revolutionary Communist movement is one thing. A worldwide Communist movement that subordinated all other goals to being an instrument of Soviet power was a very different thing.