Containment. Nuclear threats. Sputnik. The Red Scare. These are some of the terms most associated with the Cold War, a period of political tensions and anxieties between the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and their influences) and the Western Bloc (the US and its NATO allies) from the mid-1940s until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Although the name may suggest major armed conflicts, the Cold War was in fact a time of “proxy wars,” where neither side fought or engaged directly with each other. Instead, the US threatened military “containment” of communist power, while both sides participated in an arms race. Despite having recently used horrific and deadly atomic bombs in Japan to bring an end to WWII, the US went on to encourage further nuclear weapon development during the Cold War period. The Soviet Union not only responded with their own nuclear tests, but they also launched into orbit the famous first satellite, Sputnik, which caused the US to develop a satellite of their own (Explorer I). With fear of possible nuclear attacks, Americans across the country began investing in bomb shelters, and the US government began blacklisting anyone they believed might be involved in communist activity, ultimately affecting many in the Hollywood entertainment industry. In the end, these actions only further contributed to the tensions, fear, and hysteria of the Cold War era.
Over 25 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the US’ cross-cultural relationships are once again marked by anxiety and tension, especially after the 9/11 attacks. Douglas Field suggests that this is a “return to a rhetoric of anxiety: a renewed concern to fortify national boundaries; a drive to combat and contain an international threat to America; and a continuing struggle to identify and detain these ‘shadowy, entrenched enemies’” (2). Kathleen Starck also believes that these tensions are ultimately rooted in the Cold War period: “contemporary political, economic, scientific and social/cultural leaders still belong to a generation which was thoroughly socialised by the Cold War. These, in turn, are the people parenting, educating, managing and governing” (2). While the state of American politics today is riddled with claims that the Trump administration colluded with the Russian government, the country’s anxieties are not limited to the US-Russian relationship. In fact, as the administration continues to pit the nation against various communities, the political tensions have extended to other cultures and countries, including the Middle East, China, North Korea, and Mexico. Most importantly, while our production is set in the modern day, Starck’s assertion helps us to understand how this tumultuous political history (in)directly informs the attitudes, presumptions, and actions of the characters.
To get a sense of the anxiety and fear that pervaded daily life during the Cold War, below are two educational films on surviving nuclear attacks and bomb shelters from the 1950s.
For a timeline of Cold War history, check out the infographic below.
“Cold War History.” History.com, A+E Networks, 2009, http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/cold-war-history.
Field, Douglas, editor. American Cold War Culture. Edinburgh University Press, 2005.
Starck, Kathleen, editor. Between Fear and Freedom: Cultural Representations of the Cold War. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.