Cold War was as deadly as any period

Published 8:03 am Friday, July 28, 2017

The Cold War period that immediately followed World War II is remembered as a struggle between superpowers, a time of division between East and West, and the deadly consequences of a number of wars, both hot and cold, or by proxy.

By the end of the period, when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, lessons were hopefully learned.

One, said Mower County Historical Society Director John Haymond, was that communism was a total failure. Haymond delivered his thoughts on the Cold War during a talk at the Mower County Senior Center on Thursday.

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But more importantly, he said, was how deadly the era was.

The 50 million lives lost during World War II, he said, were nearly matched during the Cold War era (1945-1991) in all the conflicts in which at least one superpower was involved.

“The human cost of the Cold War … was astronomical,” he said.

As lines were drawn, both literally and ideologically, there is a perception of an “us (U. S.) versus the Soviet Union,” said Haymond. But that is a narrow view, he said.

John Haymond, executive director of the Mower County Historical Society, gives a speech Thursday afternoon on the Cold War at the Mower County Senior Center.
Eric Johnson/

Any number of “hot wars” took place during the period, Korea and Vietnam among them, as well as “proxy” wars in which the U.S. and Soviet Union were heavily involved with military presence, weapons or with financial aid. Among those, but not limited to, were countries such as Laos and Cambodia, Angola and Greece, and Cuba and El Salvador.

The U.S., he said, fell into a philosophy of support for less than admirable leaders who, it was felt, were “at least better than a Communist.” As a result, the U.S. often positioned itself, at least covertly, to stand alongside politically corrupt leaders of regimes or revolutions.

“Just because someone was not a Communist (we found) doesn’t make him a good guy,” said Haymond. “Hopefully, the U.S. has learned from that time. You don’t get in bed with the Devil, because you will never be able to get out.”

Haymond outlined the founding — and eventual destruction — of the Berlin Wall, perhaps the most visible signature of the Cold War. He described the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949 — a success that stunned the world.

“It was a remarkable feat to keep Berlin alive,” he said, though over 100 in the multinational forces delivering the food died in the drops of food and clothing.

The indomitable spirit of both West and East Germans was demonstrated time and again, which seemed to get stronger as the wall took on breadth, from its original barbed wire presence to the masonry wall that eventually replaced it. Unlike the U.S. wall being debated today, that would “keep people out, this was inclusionary … to keep people in,” he said, noting that its mere presence raised questions about the attraction of Communism. If it was so wonderful, “why was everyone trying to leave it (East Germany)?” he said.

Perhaps more damaging to the German psyche was the constant fear of what would come from the Eastern bloc.

“That was year in and year out,” he said. “They always thought that Germany would be the battleground between the U.S. and Soviet Union.”

When the wall finally fell, in 1989, it was not due to any military action, but to social change within Germany itself.

“It did not end with some cataclysmic confrontation that everyone feared; it came with a great big sigh of relief,” Haymond said.

Ultimately, he said, it was a war fought at incredible cost — especially to citizens, who always make up the largest number of victims in wartime.

“The Cold War was a misnomer, if you were to evaluate all the lives lost,” Haymond said.