The Cold War was one of the most devastating episodes in the world’s political history. It involved aspects of political as well as economic tensions between the two super powers of the time: the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR) (Painter 112). In order to effectively understand the Cold War, one needs to recall the destruction that the two powers had witnessed, especially during the Second World War. Since the U.S. and the USSR both possessed nuclear weaponry, direct military combats would have led to self-destruction. Ideally, the U.S. was trying to stop the spread of communism. As a result, other nations took sides either with the U.S. (Western block), the USSR (Eastern block), or remained neutral. Since there were no direct combats, the Cold War was characterized by rivalry in sports events, nuclear race, espionage, spread of propaganda, competition in technological development, efforts to lure the support of neutral nations, military coalitions, cultural infiltration, aid or sanctions to different states and the like. Specifically, this essay seeks to outline how cultural infiltration and the spread of propaganda in America led to the Cold War development at home and abroad. While the American approach to spread propaganda and infiltrate cultures would protect or advance their interests, such actions greatly exacerbated the spread of the tensions. However, some authorities propound that this also deterred the outburst of war through concealing sensitive information and replacing it with half truths or lies.
The U.S. was instrumental in the progression of the Cold War. It is important to note that the Cold War took place not only in America but also abroad. Some of the components of the Cold War were the 1961 Berlin Crisis, the Vietnam War, The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Suez Crisis, the downing of flights such as the Korean 007, Berlin Blockade, Korean War among others. In all these cases, the U.S. played a critical role in the escalation of war. This was particularly because of the instances of cultural infiltration and propaganda.
The US sought to spread propaganda against the USSR and the Eastern Europe Communist Party in order to destabilize them. In his Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War,Walter Hixson describes the effect of propaganda and cultural infiltration in fuelling war abroad. According to Hixson (ix),
“Although these efforts usually remained on the periphery, I have found that they were more significant than often recognized. Washington sought to destabilize the Soviet and the Eastern European Communist Party regimes, first through psychological warfare and finally through an ultimately more effective, albeit longer term program of gradual cultural infiltration. Despite misperceptions and a lack of priority accorded to such efforts, Washington had succeeded in “parting the iron curtain”’.
The U.S. use of propaganda somewhat kept war out of the country itself, thus fuelling it abroad. According to Hixson (ix), culture and propaganda were national security policies for averting war in America. However, a close scrutiny would demonstrate the same increased tensions in all states involved, which was the basis of the Cold War. In the view of Hixson, the effect of these strategies in the U.S. was relatively small compared to how it was in other countries. However, there are explicit studies that depict the two approaches as weapons of the Cold War. Moreover, they were instrumental in escalation of tensions, especially through partial diplomacy, among counties outside America, in the Eastern block in particular. To effectively spread propaganda abroad, the U.S. used broadcasting, diplomacy, print media, cultural exchange programs, international exhibitions and film.
The U.S. used cultural expansion as a way of influencing the outer world. This was conducted in various ways. For instance, the period of the Cold War saw the increase in exportation of technology and ideological concepts emanating from capitalism, as opposed to communism, such as consumerism, affluence, individual freedom and middle-class status. Since communism was directly opposite to what capitalism stood for, the Soviet Union intensified its push to spread its ideals. A good example is the Vietnam War in which the U.S. spread its ideas to the South while the USSR strengthened its grip in North Vietnam.
Cultural infiltration was also done through other means in a bid to escalate war. One of the best examples was the increased land lease by the U.S. in Western Europe. This was supposed to counter the effect of and investment of Russia in that part since it was already strong in Eastern Area. In addition, cultural infiltration was conducted through military occupation and the Marshall Plan. There is no doubt that, being one of the greatest players, the U.S. army was able to train other armies in a bid to fight Russia. Although at the face value it may appear as a mere training, the systems of military training in those countries, even till now, are based on the U.S. system. Most significantly, economic aid was a key way of cultural infiltration. Through aid, America was able to dictate conditions and terms; these terms most frequently introduced adoption of capitalism as an economic and political ideology and a consequently explicit rejection of communism. The best examples of countries abroad that were culturally infiltrated through this approach are Austria, West Germany, Italy, and France among others. The Marshall Plan would crown it all: through the economic assistance, it meant that a greater part of Europe would conform to the U.S. ideals as well as economic culture.
The spread of propaganda led to counter-reaction on the part of Russia. For instance, Hixson (xii) observes that the USSR began to jam radio signals to avoid the spread of propaganda by the U.S. When compared to war abroad, the effects of Cold War at home, on the basis of the two approaches, were less significant. It was evident that there were internal wrangles, especially among government officials, on how the war was to be approached. Moreover, perhaps the most significant effect at home was the increased action by the civil rights movements as well as student movements. Most of these groups were opposed to the U.S. involvement in Cold War because it did not only have financial implications but also led to loss of lives.
The approach adopted by the U.S. to fight the Cold War led to a bigger conflict. Attempts to infiltrate cultures abroad and spread propaganda led to counteractions from the USSR and the entire Eastern block, thus exacerbating war. For instance, the USSR counteracted the spread of radio propaganda by jamming radio signals. At home, there were not only differences in the way the war was to be approached, but such activities increased protests across the country. There is no doubt that the approach applied by the USA in stopping communism had effects at home and abroad. Moreover, more effects were felt abroad than they were experienced at home.