The Cold War and a world on the brink of annihilation

The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki set the world on a frightening path, and one we’ve not reached the end of

Patrick Hollis
4 min readMar 30, 2024
In a nuclear war, no one would win (Photo: Pixabay)

The Second World War was brought to an end in August 1945 in the most devastating way the world had ever seen. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were reduced to rubble and thousands of innocent civilians killed were lost, bringing about the Japanese surrender that the Allies were so eager for.

It brought the most costly war in human history to an end, but the use of atomic bombs was a first for the world. Yet the act of doing so set the world on a whole new, far more terrifying path towards the future.

The day that the Enola Gay dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, the course of the 21st century was altered. It was effectively the start of The Cold War, and efforts from the USA and the Soviet Union to build more nuclear weapons than each other were set in place from then.

The decades that followed were some of the most tense in recent history. People on both sides were terrified, and the launch of one missile would essentially mean total nuclear war and the end of civilization. It was argued that certain world powers would want to strike first but when it was realized that no one could win a nuclear war, attitudes changed.

Nuclear weapons were stockpiled with billions spent on them under the hopes and expectation they would never be used. This didn’t prevent the tensions from reaching boiling point on multiple occasions, with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis perhaps being the closest the world has come to a nuclear holocaust that would have brought life as we know it to a destructive and abrupt end.

The crisis stretched across 13 days, during which the USA and Soviet Union stood eyeballing each other on the precipices of destruction. A US spy plane photographed nuclear missiles on the communist island of Cuba. Their leader Fidel Castro had been a long-term supporter of the Soviet Union and as a deterrent against the USA. this was perceived as an act of aggression and President John F Kennedy was faced with the potential of needing to order military action that could see the confrontation turn nuclear.

The division of Germany after the Second World War was a key moment in The Cold War (Photo: Pixabay)

The threat of war increased during the crisis, but luckily it was brought to an end with a peaceful compromise. Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles of the USA and removed a set of its own from Turkey. The fragile agreement was made, and the crisis was over. Just how close the world came to nuclear war was only realised years later.

Through the 1970s and 80s, the Mutually Assured Destruction theory (MAD) was worked on. This was the idea that no nation would launch nuclear weapons because as soon as they did, hundreds and even thousands of missiles would be launched by their enemies, and by the end of it all, the earth would be a wasteland with millions of dead civilians.

World history from the end of the Second World War onwards is heavily influenced by the unsettling prospect of nuclear war. Nations scrambled to build their nuclear arsenal and then quickly realised that firing even one would result in there is no turning back.

As the leaders of countries around the world become more powerful and in many cases more unstable, the fear of nuclear war remains. Being the person to greenlight a nuclear attack is something nobody wants, but despite this leaders have the all-important access codes should that dark day ever come.

The adage ‘those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ has rarely been more true in this situation. The Cold War was a tense and frightening period for the world, and in hindsight, it can be said that the world was agonisingly close to a nuclear conflict the likes of which we would never see again.

A return to this level of tension, with the likelihood of weapons being far more powerful now then 30/40 years ago, and we might not be so lucky.



Patrick Hollis

I am a journalist with an honours degree from Coventry University. I’m a published author and journalist with several years experience in the industry