Cold War/Hot Wars

At the height of the Cold War, historians had already started debating its origin, asking themselves when this political impasse had begun. Was it 1917, when the Bolshevik Revolution replaced Tsarist Russia? Was it 1945, with the defeat of fascism by the Grand Alliance of the West and the Soviet Union? Or did the Cold War really start in 1947, when United States president Harry Truman issued the doctrine that bears his name? In 1999, the Pentagon — headquarters of the United States military decisively cut this historical knot by setting down its own decision. It issued a certificate to the 22 million Americans who had served in the armed forces during the period that the Pentagon regarded as the official Cold War September 2, 1945, when Japan surrendered in World War Two, to December 26, 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved. On that day, the United States could declare victory in its Cold War. Its ultimate triumph was not to contain the USSR but to destroy it.

The Cold War had global implications and effects. It severely weakened Europe, which in 1945 lay in ruins. It destroyed, divided, and occupied the key pre-war European continental state, Germany. Except for division, the same fate befell the most dynamic pre-war Asian state, Japan. The Cold War brought to the fore two new world powers, the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Neither had much experience in guiding world politics. The United States, for instance, had not deigned to join the League of Nations. For much of the inter-war period, the USSR also stayed aloof from the League, seeing it as a capitalist country club. Yet in 1945, these two states were thrust into their new position as world leaders. As part of this task, each superpower assembled camps. Just as Poland lay in the Soviet camp and was expected to act as a compliant ally, so too Canada was counted on to defer to American world power. The unique national interests of such countries must now take second place to global strategic issues.

For Canadian diplomats and politicians, this delicate balance of speaking for national interests while playing on the American team posed problems. One of the most successful in walking that tightrope was Lester B. Pearson. But even Pearson found that being adept on his feet did not necessarily win him respect in Canada or the United States. The tense Cold War era also challenged Herbert Norman, who learned that one misstep could send him plunging.

Diaries, Journals or Reminiscences