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  The Fortress and the Cold War  
 

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  What will happen when war breaks out .... K 1  How the large guns could shoot  
       
  Films about the Cold War K 2  The military threat  
       
  Research into the Cold War

K 3  Espionage and intelligence work

 
       
  The Cuban Missile Crisis K 4  Propaganda  
     
     
 

 

 
     
     
 

On the brink of the ravine
The Cold War and why it is so important to know the past.

 
     
 

By Peer Henrik Hansen, Historian, Ph.d.
Museum of the Cold War Langelandsfort, Øhavsmuseet 

 
 

 

 

 

 

For the younger generations it may be rather difficult to understand the lives of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents during the 20th century.  They lived their lives without internet and cell phones. Instead, they had to worry whether there was enough tinned food and water in the emergency shelter of their apartment building and whom they could trust in case of an emergency, if the Cold War would suddenly turn hot. Between 1945 and the end of the nineteen eighties, the danger of a global, all destroying war was omnipresent. The difficult years of the Second World War were followed by the so-called Cold War: a long-lasting political and military conflict, which brought the world to the brink of total annihilation.

The Cold War was an ideological conflict between the Western democracies and the dictatorships of the Eastern Block: which values should rule in society? How should one live one’s life and what influence should people have on their own lives? This battle was fought everywhere: in the UN-Security Council, at the workplace, in our condominiums, just to mention a few arenas of the Cold War.

The Cold War left behind traces in men and women, young and old. But the fear of the all destroying nuclear war, which was especially felt during the nineteen forties and –fifties, eventually became the status quo. The Cold War gradually became every-day life, but still remained omnipresent. The military exercises, the peace demonstrations and the weekly alarm exercises reminded people of the mortal danger that was posed by the super powers.

The ideological conflict between the Western Democracies and the international communist movement, which was waged from Moscow, had already commenced before the outbreak of the Second World War. But during the inter bellum, a number of new enemies entered the world stage: Fascism and National Socialism started to spread throughout Europe, which was still tired of the First World War. During a bloody revolution in 1917, the Russian communists had taken over power from the once omnipotent Czar and the oppressing aristocracy. For the people of the Soviet Union, the alternative to Czarism did not provide an improvement of their livelihood. Indeed, measures were taken to reduce unemployment and poverty, but in their places came new problems, such as arrests and deportations of

Uncooperative citizens, collectivization and fear of the secret police of the new communist rulers, the later KGB, made life difficult. Millions of people fell victim to the Communist Regime.

After the Second World War, the soviet system was transferred more or less seamlessly to the Eastern European countries, onto which the Soviet Union had forced its supreme power. Although the USA, the Soviet Union and Great-Britain had agreed that the East European countries should hold free and democratic elections, this agreement was not kept by the Soviet Union. The struggle against dictatorship in Europe had been in vain. National Socialist Germany had been beaten, but now the communist danger lay close to the Danish borders.

The geopolitical situation of Denmark meant that in a crisis, the country could become a participant in an armed conflict between East and West. But neither the politicians nor the population felt the desire to re-arm to such a degree, that the Red Army could be kept out of Denmark. The consequence was that Denmark broke with its historical principle of neutrality and joined the Western Democracies and the North Atlantic Pact, which later became NATO. It were the American nuclear bombs and the “musketeer oath” that added to Denmark’s security: if Denmark should be attacked, that would be seen as an attack on the whole pact. This way, Denmark had a certain amount of security. But already in the early nineteen fifties the Danish politicians knew that their state was considered a lost country. The country simply was on the wrong side of the front-line which ran through Europe, which NATO believed they could hold-on to in case of a conflict with the Soviet-Union and the East-European countries. The situation of Denmark, as a guardian of the waterways through the Baltic Sea, meant that the Soviet-Union and the Warsaw-Pact (which had been established in 1955 as a counterweight to NATO) kept an especially wakeful eye on the little country between the North Sea and the Baltic.

The Cold War turned into a war between the intelligence services. Espionage, surveillance and subversive activities soon became part of normal everyday life. Contrary to the U.S.A., which did not have intelligence service prior to the Second World War, the Soviet-Union had been active in the West for decades and possessed a tightly spun web of agents and communist sympathizers there.

It was quite easy to infiltrate the open communities of the West, whereas it was extremely difficult to do so in the closed societies of the Soviet-Union and its East-European satellite-countries, with their effective security services, which could both prevent their own citizens from leaving the country as well as the infiltration of foreign agents.


During the second half of the nineteen forties, the U.S.A. and Great-Britain secretly started to support the rebels in the Baltic States, Poland and the Ukraine. Agents were dropped by parachute or landed with motor torpedo boats. It was hoped that the local rebels would provide information about the soviet power structure and could be induced to oppose the soviet occupation power. Due to the high security level of the Soviet secret services, the leaders of the opposition were easily traced and then replaced by intelligence agents. In other words, the West kept sending their agents straight into the waiting arms of the KGB. These activities were stopped in the nineteen fifties, after many lives had been lost.

Apart from the subversive activities, which the East and the West performed against each other, the Cold War also led to a number of arguments and conflicts. The communist takeover in Czechoslovakia and the blockade of Berlin in 1948, the Korean War, the uprisings in the GDR, Poland and Hungary as well as McCarthyism, all were part of the Cold War and showed how strong an influence the Cold War had on daily life in the whole world.

The Cuban Crisis in 1962 showed clearly how dangerous a game the Cold War was. The Soviet-Union secretly tried to station rockets with nuclear warheads on Cuba and had, over an extended period of time, shipped weapons to that country. A number of these ships had passed through Danish waters, where they had been spotted and photographed. Denmark was one of the countries from where these Soviet ships with deck loads of nuclear weapons had been discovered. The U.S.A. tried to prevent the re-armament of Cuba by instigating a naval blockade. In October 1962 the situation came to a head. Many people feared that a Third World War was imminent. Secret negotiations culminated in a political and diplomatic understanding between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union and the following decade brought a certain détente in the relationship between the superpowers.

By the end of the nineteen sixties and –seventies the student protests, the Vietnam War, the ideological terrorism and the wars for independence in the third world, caused the East-West relationship to deteriorate. The fear of a nuclear war was again omnipresent.

The end of the Cold War started in the nineteen eighties. The U.S.A. increased the financial pressure on the Soviet-Union by starting-up a number of high-tech projects, with which the leaders in the Kremlin could not compete. Among others, the U.S.A. presented the SDI-programme (strategic arms initiative a.k.a. “star wars”), an initiative to build a protective shield against inter-continental missiles. The Soviet economy was bankrupt and could hardly keep-up in the arms race with the U.S.A., an arms race which the Soviet-Union itself had initiated. The pressure on the communist leader, however, also came from the inside.

 

In Poland, the trade union Solidarność had been founded in 1980. It was an organized opposition to the communist regime. During 1980 the growing desire for freedom and self-determination put a steadily growing pressure on the communist leadership and in 1989 the whole Eastern Block slowly started to break apart. Hungary opened its borders to the West and eased its travelling restrictions. Consequently, thousands of East-Germans started packing their suitcases in order to reach the West through Hungary. The East-German leadership had erected the Berlin Wall in 1961, in order to stop their people from fleeing from to the West. And when, decades later, the East-German regime started to shake on its foundations, on the 9th November 1989 the border between East- and West-Berlin was opened. Suddenly, people from East and West embraced each other and there was dancing on top of the Berlin Wall. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania gained their independence and, after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, a number of new states came into being. 

Today, things look differently. There are still a number of dictatorships in Europe and there is a lot in the world one can worry about: hunger and climate catastrophes, terrorism and a lot more. But the acute danger that the world will be obliterated in a nuclear war is over. We are still confronted with the same questions over which the Cold War was fought: Do we want to be the boss over our own lives and live with each other in peace? Or do we accept that our life is suppressed by fanatical dogmas and totalitarian ideas?

 

 
 

 

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