In A.D. 1945, war was beginning...
World War II ends. In opening moves, the Red Army of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics jockeys with the armed forces of the United States of America and the United Kingdom for position in the former empires of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Despite a self-determination policy established at the Yalta Conference, the Soviets begin instilling communism in Eastern Europe, and supporting communist movements in Asia.
George Kennan, writing under the pen name of "X," proposes a strategy of "patient, but firm and vigilant, confinement" of this Soviet Menace, leading to the 1947 Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, which build up the other nations of the Free World, and the National Security Act, which establishes a Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency. The United States continues to hold a monopoly on nuclear weapons until the Soviets explode their first bomb in 1949, officially beginning the arms race to end all arms races.
The first shots of the Cold War are fired as the Korean War begins. The United States ends up submitting to the Korean People's Army, who establish North Korea just footsteps away from Seoul. Elsewhere, France is getting bitch-slapped by Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, and the People's Republic of China is threatening to beat the living bejeezus out of Chiang Kai-shek's army in exile in Taiwan.
Massive retaliation is the order of the day, and throughout this decade, everyone believes that Armageddon is around the corner. Schoolchildren duck and cover; buildings have fallout shelters. The Red Scare hits a peak in America, under the leadership of Joseph McCarthy. America and Russia equip their respective halves of Germany with new weapons, scaring each other's European allies. World War III appears to be coming, if not already underway.
Communism and capitalism are now entrenched through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Warsaw Pact. While the Soviets are leading a fairly tight alliance, America's coalition is beginning to stumble: the Suez Crisis of 1956 shatters their radical ideas about a bipolar world as Britain and France ally with Israel to take the Sinai against American wishes. In the meantime, the Soviets crush dissent within their alliance, stopping the Hungarian Revolution.
Sputnik. ICBM's. Then, the Berlin Wall, a graffiti manifestation of the Iron Curtain descending upon the world. Dwight Eisenhower is staring down Nikita Khrushchev. Nobody knows what's coming, but everybody knows it's going to suck.
Russian queen to Cuba: check. Florida is staring in the face of annihilation, and the American heartland trembles. John F. Kennedy calls Khrushchev's bluff and demands that the missiles be removed. If Khrushchev goes forward, it's the end of the world. America's king is saved. Russia's king is also saved. Phew.
The hotline is installed between Washington, D.C. and Moscow. The Limited Test Ban Treaty is signed. Mushroom clouds are no longer expected over Nebraska, although they're still feared. Now, the war takes on a different, more clandestine tone. Communists are put down in Vietnam, while capitalists are put down in Czechoslovakia.
China and the Soviet Union form two dysfunctional halves of a Communist bloc, while the United States, Western Europe, and Japan form the three slowly diverging poles of the Free World, united in defense and bitter enemies in trade.
Detente. Richard M. Nixon, one of the last Americans expected to be civil to the USSR, sits down with Leonid Brezhnev for the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty talks. Vietnamization signals a temporary end to America's overseas commitment, and to top it all off, a table tennis tournament in China sets off a cascade of events that bring Nixon to Beijing, the PRC to the Security Council, and Taiwan to... well, God knows where.
The gold standard is gone: credit is the way of the future. New York City, London, and Tokyo take turns every day dictating the state of the global capitalist economy. The need for oil brings the Middle East into the picture and gives OPEC a domineering role in policy. Technology is making the West richer, but the communists are having trouble competing. Europe's empires are all dead; the developing world is now independent and hungrier than ever. In short, while Africans and Asians starve, Europeans and Americans get fat, and Russians and Chinese try to keep in step.
Jimmy Carter brings human rights back into foreign policy, and starts a crusade for peace that lasts for about four years. Anwar Sadat goes to Jerusalem to begin a peace process with Menachem Begin that finds Egypt and Israel shaking hands at Camp David. America becomes the dominant power in the Middle East. Soviet Russia gets diddly.
Carter also cuts off aid for allies he feels are ethically unworthy. Argentina and Turkey are two lesser examples: a greater one is Iran, where Carter's policies incite fundamentalist Muslims to take to the streets and topple the Shah's regime. Detente is over. The Soviets are in Afghanistan. SALT is dead on arrival. World War III is coming back. We're all going to die. Ronald Reagan shows up in dramatic form and smacks Jimmy Carter aside. "Kill the bastards," he says.
U.S. defense spending peaks, swallowing upwards of 50% of the federal budget. In Reagan's first term, defense secretary Caspar Weinberger, who had slashed social spending under the Nixon administration, appropriates billions of dollars to a 600-ship navy, a wildly advanced strategic bomber force, and the mother of all defense programs, the Strategic Defense Initiative. The kings look vulnerable. The bases are loaded with two outs. It's nil-nil, going into extra time.
After two Soviet leaders die in rapid succession, Mikhail Gorbachev rises to power. He inherits a Soviet Union that can kick anyone's ass, but where vodka is the only industry showing any kind of growth, and where the only personal computer costs $17,000 to build and is noticeably inferior to the Apple II. Chernobyl doesn't help, either. Soviet Russia is definitely in trouble, and the status quo is only going to exacerbate the problem.
So Gorbachev does the same thing Lyndon B. Johnson did in Nam: gradual buildup. Glasnost. Perestroika. Russia opens up. Pepsi is sold on the streets of Moscow, and long lines form around McDonald's. Ronald Reagan starts granting Gorby audiences. Things are looking up.
Now Gorby is talking about disarmament, but nobody is listening. Americans and Europeans blink, then go back to building missiles and selling junk bonds. Finally, a treaty is drawn up to eliminate intermediate nuclear forces, and several people can be heard cheering softly.
The economy in Russia is still in the toilet, so Gorbachev plays another card: cutting back aid to Eastern Europe and North Korea. The year is 1989. Democratization begins. Poles vote for Solidarity. Hungarians and Austrians open their borders. The Baltic States assert their independence. Czechs and Slovaks riot in the streets.
East Germany decides to stop defending the Berlin Wall. Everybody gets drunk, tears it down, and parties on its disemboweled remains.
States begin dropping off of the USSR itself. Nobody is willing to admit what is happening, but it happens soon enough: on January 1, 1992, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics disbands without even leaving a suicide note. Leningrad becomes St. Petersburg. Cockroaches put away their party favors for the time being, and Russian scholars in the West go back to school to learn Arabic. The Cold War is over. Now the fun is about to begin.