Cold War

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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    "Yes, our strategy is insane. It's even called MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction."

    The period of high tension and Lensman Arms Race between Western-style democracies (led by NATO and the USA) and communism (led by the USSR, China, and the Warsaw Pact a.k.a "eastern bloc"), lasting roughly from the "Iron Curtain" speech of 1946 to the Malta meeting in 1990 - historians disagree on the precise start and end dates, with one going as far as to date its beginning to Red October. There was no direct fighting between the two superpowers[1] although many indirect conflicts flared up (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc).

    Most famous for the sheer amount of nuclear weapons amassed by several countries, most notably the USSR and the USA.

    Highly influential in many a Spy Drama during this period, as setting or Backstory, such as Airwolf, The A-Team, etc.

    Standard plot involves U.S. as goodies, USSR as baddies. Of course, you could also have General Ripper come in and accuse our heroes of being Commie spies.

    Now much harder to use for plot ideas, unless you're using missing ex-Soviet weapons as a Weapon of Mass Destruction or unemployed Soviet scientists to develop it. Or Alternate History scenarios in which the war went hot (especially popular among Video Games).

    So what actually happened? To avoid cluttering the article, this will get a separate entry: History of the Cold War. However, broadly speaking, the history of conflict between the West and the Soviet Union can be divided into six sections:

    • 1917-1930: Starts in Red October, in which the Bolsheviks seized power and waged the Russian Civil War. Western Allied forces intervened and clashed with the Bolsheviks both directly and through allies as they sought to either topple or contain the Communists while the Bolsheviks wanted to spread their Revolution Westward. Eventually ended with the Bolsheviks in control of the heartland of the Russian Empire but being stopped from progressing any further by the Western-backed Poles. Included the Ur Example of the Red Scare. Fiction in this era tends to focus upon Bomb Throwing Communists, attempts to jumpstart a world revolution, and the chaos of the Russian Civil War.
    • 1931-1945: A period of calming between the two as the rise of Hitler led to some tentative contacts between the two, though both sides still engaged in espionage even during their wartime alliance. The fall of the Axis powers coupled with several high-profile scandals led to the conflict to re-emerge. Expect fiction to portray the Soviets at best as heroic but not entirely trustworthy allies and conniving and treasonous enemies-in-all-but-name at worst.
    • 1946-1962: High tension between the two sides, culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fiction here has direct Soviet involvement in evil plots.
    • 1962-1978: The period of détente. You are more likely to see a rogue commander start up a False-Flag Operation here without approval from the top. Witness the James Bond films You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me.
    • 1978-1987: The "Second Cold War", arguably the first period with more nukes and computers. Direct Red Scare again and the home of Airwolf
    • 1987-1991: Ronald Reagan goes Karting with Gorbachev. Glasnost and the end of the Cold War. Expect the Renegade Russian to appear wanting to avenge his side's "loss" or a paranoid General Ripper trying to Make the Bear Angry Again for personal reasons.

    See also:

    Due to its sheer length, the Cold War appeared by analogy in thousands of other works. See Space Cold War for examples. Also, the whole affair had so many confusing elements that Conspiracy Theorists are still arguing about it - see Enforced Cold War.

    Examples of Cold War include:

    Anime and Manga


    • Doctor Strangelove famously lampooned the Cold War as a childish dispute aggravated by sexual insecurity.
    • Reversing the concept, Ice Station Zebra, while the attention was paid mostly to the U.S. side, the film showed the importance of delicate balance, which kept the war cold, over having the upper hand.
    • Role reversal: K-19: The Widowmaker, in which the crew of a Soviet submarine are the protagonists and American forces are the antagonists.
    • X-Men: First Class is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the plot revolves around the Crisis being caused and then defused by mutants.
    • One, Two, Three is set shortly before the Berlin Wall was built (in fact, that's the reason why the movie became a victim of Too Soon).
    • The Debt, in the Flashbacks.


    Live Action TV

    • 24 has used both ex-Soviet weapons and ex-Soviet scientists.
    • Airwolf had the eponymous helicopter stolen by its inventor and taken to Libya, with the intent of passing it on to the USSR.
    • The Professionals regularly had brushes with the KGB.
    • MacGyver, for the first three seasons.
    • The Colbert Report. Stephen is doing his best to re-start the cold war in his Cold War Update segments.

    Tabletop Games


    • One example of a role-reversal of the usual "West good, East bad" scenario is from the stage-musical Chess, in which both the American and the Soviet intelligence agencies are shown to be cruelly manipulative, differing mainly in style -- the Russian KGB agent bombastic and overbearing, the American CIA plant slick and cunning -- rather than substance.
    • The Crucible by Arthur Miller (himself a communist) is a thinly veiled criticism of Mc Carthyism.

    Video Games

    • Battlezone 1998 is the Coldwar IN SPACE With UNOBTAINIUM
    • The first two Metal Gear Solid games used ex-Soviet stuff, while the third was set in the 60s and starred an American agent in Soviet Russia, and effectively was a deconstruction of the nature of the Cold War.
    • Ace Combat 5 was basically a Cold War gone hot situation. Osea (the in-game equivalent of the US) and Yuktobania (USSR), though like its prequel Zero, it started to take a bit of a twist towards the weird near the end.
    • the Operation Flashpoint series
    • The Third Courier, a modern spy game set in Berlin, had the misfortune to be released in 1989, as the Berlin Wall was falling.
    • World in Conflict An RTT (Real Time Tactical) game set in 1989. Instead of the Berlin Wall falling, the USSR decides to go all in an attempt to destabilize NATO as means of keeping itself afloat. The game also has an expansion called Soviet Assault which shows the Russian side of the conflict starting from day one to right before the final battle for Seattle.
    • Call of Duty Black Ops first of the series to be set in the Cold War.
    • Call of Duty Black Ops 2: Features two cold wars, the historical one in the 1980s, and a fictional one between the US and China.
    • Wargame: European Escalation Another RTS game. Set between 1975 - 1985, the Cold War doesn't exactly go hot immediately in this one. In the first campaign, the conflict is entirely between East Germany vs. West Germany; it erupted due to a political incident involving a soldier crossing the Wall and the East German guards being way too overzealous in trying to catch him. Subsequent campaigns explore a Warsaw Pact rebellion with a Soviet crackdown, Able Archer '83 turning hot, and a Spetsnaz colonel's plans for revenge after the war spilling out from Able Archer turned nuclear.
    • Missile Command, which was not only set in the Cold War, but made during it. It hit so close to home, programmer Dave Theurer actually had nightmares about nuclear war while making this game.

    Web Comics

    • Westward is set in an Alternate History where the Cold War never ended. Initially this is just an interesting part of the story's background, but eventually the implications become quite important to the plot, and personally to some of the characters.
      • The continuation of the Cold War may have also led to the quicker development in space travel technology, with manned trips to Mars in the 1970s and the construction of a starship with a Faster-Than-Light drive (albeit one that's a Black Box) by the end of the 20th century.
    • In Jet Dream, Cold War politics are portrayed relatively realistically, but parodied in the "teen oriented" sister title It's Cookie! Those stories depict an East-West "Cool War" to win over the world's teens in a circa-1970 world where the watchword is "Fem Is In!" The "Cool War" is mostly fought as a battle between the West's flawless-but-expensive Gender Bender process and the East's quick-and-dirty Easy Sex Change procedures.
    1. Well, there was the whole Soviet pilots flying North Korean planes against Americans in Korea, the shooting down of Gary Powers, the fatal shoot down of Rudolf Anderson while flying over Cuba during the Missile Crisis... but you get the idea.