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The Cold War has provided many opportunities for viewing historic sites, and while not all of these sites are remembered for good reasons, they are very interesting to travellers.


The Cold War began in 1945 at the conclusion of World War II (World War II in Europe and the Pacific War) and continued until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, leaving the United States standing as the world's sole superpower. It was a key period in modern history, because it occurred primarily due to rivalries between capitalist and communist societies, and was also a power struggle between the world's superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States. While there are still communist countries as of 2019, most of them are only communist in name but capitalist in practice, and generally, it is considered that capitalism won the war.

During the Cold War, the border between the capitalist and communist parts of Europe was known as the Iron Curtain. While the two superpowers never went to war with each other, both sides were often indirectly involved in various proxy wars through their respective allies.

In many ways, the Cold War is a very present thing. North Korea remains a communist country, and China is politically quite similar, though it has adopted capitalism within its economic system since 1978.

The use of the terms "first world" and "third world" to refer to developed and developing countries respectively had its origins in the Cold War. During the Cold War, the United States, its Western allies, Israel and Japan were called the "first world", the Soviet Union and its communist satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe were called the "second world", and all other countries, which were mostly poor and underdeveloped, were called the "third world".


While World War II had brought the United States, United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China into an uneasy alliance by necessity, the lack of a common enemy after the end of the war, and competing political ideologies led to a break between the United States, the United Kingdom and their capitalist allies on one side, and the Soviet Union and its communist allies on the other. China would rapidly descend into civil war following the defeat of Japan, which pitted the then-ruling Nationalists against the Communists, with the Communists emerging victorious in 1949, and the Nationalists being forced to retreat to Taiwan.

Following the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1953, his successor Nikita Khrushchev would embark on a de-Stalinization policy, in which Stalin's cult of personality was suppressed, and his human rights abuses were revealed and denounced. This greatly offended Chinese leader Mao Zedong, who had admired Stalin greatly, leading to the Sino-Soviet Split in 1961. Following this split, the United States would attempt to court China as an ally against the Soviet Union, starting with then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger's secret visit to China in 1971, and culminating in Richard Nixon's historic visit to China and meeting with Mao in 1972. This would be followed by the normalization of ties between the United States and Communist China under the Jimmy Carter administration in 1979. China would subsequently ally itself with the United States against the Soviet Union during the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and also joined the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.


  • Canada's Cold War Museum, in Carp, west of Ottawa, is housed in what is popularly known as the "Diefenbunker" (named after the Canadian leader Diefenbaker). The underground bunker was built to protect the Canadian government from nuclear attack. In addition to preserving and promoting Canada's Cold War history, the museum offers a variety of visitor programs and services.


Multiple topics cover the Cold War era:

Key rivalries in this time period include:

  • The Korean War, which left a bitterly-divided North Korea and South Korea divided by a heavily-fortified demilitarized zone
  • The ongoing nuclear arms race between the United States of America and the Soviet Union
  • The Cuban revolution, Cuban missile crisis and U.S. embargo of the island nation
  • The Indochina Wars, which ended in a humiliating U.S. withdrawal and full communist control over Vietnam
  • The Chinese Civil War pitted the Kuomintang (Nationalists) against the Chinese Communist Party, resulting in a win for the Communists in the mainland and the retreat of the Nationalists to Taiwan in 1949.
  • The race for space, which began with Sputnik in 1957 and ended with multiple US moon landings in 1969-1972.
  • The civil war in Nicaragua, beginning with the fall of (U.S.-backed) Somoza and ending with a bizarre combination of military victory and electoral defeat for the left wing FSLN

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