To the Brink and Back: The End of Detente and the Rise of the New Cold War, 1977-1983
Winningham, Donald A.
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The study of history is necessarily a study of events: what happened, for what reason, and what bearing does this have on the rest of history? The history of the Cold War, while attempting to illustrate and make sense of what actually happened, must also be a history of what did not happen. Never before in human history have the stakes of international political wrangling been higher. While both the United States and the Soviet Union possessed the means to end life on earth countless times over, the leaders of these nations were complex, fallible human beings, often misinformed and poorly advised, always subjects to entrenched political interests and limited by their own knowledge, prejudices and abilities. The history of the Cold War has turned out to be a history of restraint, but this restraint was not predetermined. At this point in history, it is easy to look back on the Cold War and conclude that it was simply forty-five years of senseless political posturing and saber rattling, but for those living during the period, the possibility of nuclear apocalypse was real, and the world was brought to the brink on more than one occasion. Here we will examine the anatomy of an international political crisis. How is the world brought to the brink of nuclear war and back again? The world could have been absolutely destroyed. It was not. The following chapter of Cold War history could have been written as a prologue to a period of nuclear war; instead it is written as one of the final chapters in a Cold War that would soon end, ushering in a safer, if more confused, international situation for the twenty-first century.