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Stephen Michaelis HONR The American Worldview Dr. Falk March 15, 2013 The Coldest War The Cold War was unlike any other conflict in the history of man because of its symbolic, not physical nature. Conventional tactics were replaced with containment theory and psychological warfare as two superpowers, America and the Soviet Union, sought indirect means to extinguish each other. A war so unique has an even more remarkably rare turning point. The 1980 United States Olympic Hockey Teams astounding defeat of the Soviet Team marked the symbolic turning point of the Cold War. Looking at the events in the Cold War, the Miracle on Ice occurs right at the shift of momentum from the USSR to America. Not only did the victory show to the world that the United States was capable of overcoming tough odds to beat the Soviets, but it also gave Americans at home a renewed sense of pride and hope. In order to understand the symbolic importance of the Miracle on Ice, one must first examine the historical context that sets the backdrop. The Cold War began right after World War II was over. In 1947, the Soviet Union created the Communist organization Cominform for the purpose of gaining political control over surrounding countries.1 In response, The United States countered the growing East Bloc with Containment Theory, which proposed that Communism must be stopped from spreading by restricting it2. As time went by, the struggle between these

John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (Penguin Press, 2005). Gaddis, The Cold War, 28-29.

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two countries played out through proxy wars (such as Korea) and symbolic duals (such as the space race). The Miracle on Ice occurred on February 22, 1980 during the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games.3 The fact that the Miracle on Ice is chronologically located at the upturn of American success in the Cold War proves the claim that it is the symbolic turning point. Major events that precede the game mostly benefit the Soviet Union, whereas major events after the game reflect American successes and the decline of the Cold War. In the twenty years leading up to 1980, several significant Cold War events took place. In May of 1960, seven years after the disastrous Korean War, a US spy plane was shot down in Soviet territory.4 At first the United States denied the planes actions but soon admitted that it was taking surveillance photos of Soviet military bases. This incident was a big embarrassment for the United States, especially since it occurred two weeks prior to an important East-West summit.5 The next year held an even bigger embarrassment for America: the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency, a group of Cuban Exiles called Brigade 2506 attempted to invade Cuba from the sea and overthrow the government. The invasion was a complete failure; in addition to a hundred killed in action, 1,202 men from Brigade 2506 were captured. Most were publicly interrogated and sent back to the United States. As a result of the failed operation, Fidel Castros Cuban government gained in strength and then announced that

Wayne Coffey, The Boys of Winter (New York: Crown Publishers, 2005).

Peter Byrd, "Cold War, in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan (Oxford University Press, 2003).

Kenneth T Walsh, "Presidential Lies and Deceptions," US News and World Report, June 6, 2008.

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Cuba will adopt Socialism and become closer With the Soviet Union. 6 Notably, this event also showed the fallibility of U.S. imperialism to the rest of the world. Fast forward another year and the newly improved relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union leads to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev helped place nuclear missiles in Cuba to prevent the United States from attempting another invasion. Once the missiles were discovered by America, a 13-day standoff ensued. The missiles were eventually removed from Cuba but not after the terrifying reality of being so close to nuclear war. While the Cuban Missile Crisis is not regarded as an American defeat, it did show America how real the danger of mutually assured destruction was.7 A demonstration of Soviet power occurred in the year 1968, while Czechoslovakia was part of the Soviet Union. At this time, reformist Alexander Dubek was elected the First Secretary of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. The ideas that he brought were liberal too liberal for the Soviet Union to tolerate. Alexander Dubek only remained in power for seven months before the Soviet Union and several other Warsaw Pact countries invaded the country and put an end to his changes . The attempted reformation is now known as the Czech Spring and represents the Soviet Unions increasing dominance during the Cold War.8 Years pass and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union stay tight. Richard Nixon, who became President of the United States in 1969, was mostly focused on foreign policy while he was in office. In 1972, an investigation of break-ins to the Democratic

Alejandro de Quesada, The Bay of Pigs: Cuba: 1961 (Osprey Publishing, 2009). Gaddis, The Cold War, 28-29. Gaddis, The Cold War, 150.

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Party headquarters was launched. The investigation led to the discovery a huge scandal: the break-ins and other illegal activities were linked to the Nixon administration after Nixon attempted to cover it up.9 Once the Watergate Scandal became public in 1974, Nixon became the first President to resign. Although Nixons resignation speech was well-worded and succeeding President Gerald Ford pardoned him, the scandal put a permanent smudge on the reputation of the United States government and left the American people angry for being betrayed.10 During Nixons presidency, the United States Military was fighting Communism in Vietnam. This was one of the few conflicts in which American and Communist forces directly engaged each other. The reason why America was involved in Vietnam was to prevent the Communist North Vietnam from invading and controlling South Vietnam. American fighting units arrived in Vietnam in 1965. The War reached its peak in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, after which American units gradually exited. The American military completely left Vietnam in 1973. As the Vietnam War progressed, public opinion of the war became increasingly negative. In 1970, only a third of Americans believed that sending troops to Vietnam was not a mistake.11 Anti-War demonstrations and protests consumed city streets and college campuses. Reports of military abuse such as the Kent State Shootings broke out, enraging the public even more. Not only was the Vietnam War a failure for deployed U.S. troops, but it was also a political nightmare.

Alfred Lewis, 5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats Office Here, The Washington Post, June 18, 1972, A01. Melvin Small, A Companion to Richard M. Nixon (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).



William Lunch and Peter Sperlich, American Foreign Relations Reconsidered, The Western Political Quarterly 32, no. 1 (1979): 2144.

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Then the 1980 Winter Olympic Games came around. To the American public, the Soviet Union appeared invincible on the ice. At the time, the Soviet ice hockey team had earned a gold medal at every Olympics since 1964. They did not even lose a single Olympic game since 1968! The Soviets prided themselves on being professional athletes in every sense. They practiced year-round at top-notch facilities, taught by hockey legends at the time. Technically the players were amateurs, but they still practiced and played like professionals. It is not widely known that each player on the Soviet team was an officer in the Red Army. The effect of this was to demonstrate the might of the Red Army to the world and it was working.12 In contrast, the American team consisted of no more than gaggle of college and amateur players. Sports Illustrated described them as 19 fuzzy-cheeked college kids and a tall guy with a beard13. Led by Coach Herb Brooks, the team members had only practiced with each other for a few short weeks leading up to the Olympic Games. They were seeded seventh in the Olympics while the Soviets were seeded first. Just days before the Olympics began, the United States faced the Soviet Union in an exhibition hockey game that took place in Madison Square Garden, New York. After a devastating loss to the Soviets by a score of 10-3 the American team looked like it would need some magic if they wanted to win the gold medal. 14 And magic is just what they had. In the Olympic Games, The U.S. team won four games and tied one before advancing to the famous match against the Soviet Union. After hearing that

Coffey, Boys of Winter E.M. Swift, "A Reminder of What We Can Be," Sports Illustrated, December 22, 1980. Leonardo Shapiro, "U.S. Shocks Soviet Union in Ice Hockey, 4-3," Washington Post, February 23, 1980.



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the U.S. team triumphed 4-3, America celebrated. The switchboards of newspapers and television studios lit up with avalanches of calls from people bursting with pride, not merely in the teams victory over a seemingly invincible foe, but in a kind of national vindication after years of tensions with the Soviet Union and adversity in Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East and other world arenas.15 Things in America progressed from there. In January 20, 1981, one year after the Miracle, President Ronald Reagan entered office. Americans would soon discover how effectively he would deal with Cold War tensions. He proposed a groundbreaking missile defense program in 1983, called the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO). The purpose of this program was to establish some protection from incoming nuclear missiles in the event of nuclear war. Nicknamed Star Wars, the SDIO was criticized by many for being unrealistic. Regardless, the program did prove its worth by demonstrating that it could shoot flying objects using lasers and projectiles. While some people continued to try and discredit the program, the Star Wars program was a huge step in missile defense technology as well as in preventing or defending against a potential nuclear war. This gave the American public some reassurance about their safety and represents an overall successful move on the U.S. governments behalf. While the Star Wars program was being developed, trouble was brewing in Grenada. Revolutionaries in the country staged a violent coup and took over the government. In response, the United States formulated an invasion to enter the country and re-establish democracy. The Invasion, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury was a success: American forces overturned the

Robert D. McFadden ,"Cheers Resound Across Nation," New York Times, February 23, 1980.

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government and established a constitutional government in its place. Not only was this an important victory for American military forces, but it was also symbolized the triumph of American imperialism, further reinforcing Americas position as a superpower in the Cold War era.16 Another string of events including the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, independence of Hungary, fall of the Berlin Wall, end of the Soviet Empire, and reunification of Germany led to the ultimate downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991.17 The fall of the Berlin Wall is particularly important to understanding the larger figurative implications of Cold War events: the Berlin Wall crumbling beautifully represents the ultimate crumbling of the Soviet Union. To describe this argument visually, one may imagine a graph with an x-axis and y-axis. If time were graphed on the x-axis and American success in the Cold War on the y-axis, the relationship line would look like the letter V: decreasing initially then turning sharply at the 1980 Miracle on Ice and increasing rapidly from there until the end of the Cold War. In a war that was characterized by symbolic conflict rather than direct conventional combat, it is appropriate that the major turning point is a famous American popular culture symbol for American success. The victory of the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey team is described as a miracle, but it has deeper meaning than winning a simple game: The Miracle on Ice represented the turning point of the Cold War.


Ed Magnuson, "Getting Back to Normal," Time, November 21, 1983. Gaddis, The Cold War, 256257


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Bibliography Byrd, Peter. "Cold War, in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 2003. Coffey, Wayne. The Boys of Winter. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005. de Quesada, Alejandro. The Bay of Pigs: Cuba: 1961. Osprey Publishing, 2009. Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. Penguin Press, 2005. Lewis, Alfred. 5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats Office Here. The Washington Post, June 18, 1972. Lunch, William and Peter Sperlich.American Foreign Relations Reconsidered. The Western Political Quarterly 32, no. 1 (1979): 2144. Magnuson, Ed. "Getting Back to Normal." Time, November 21, 1983. McFadden, Robert D. "Cheers Resound Across Nation." New York Times, February 23, 1980. Shapiro, Leonardo. "U.S. Shocks Soviet Union in Ice Hockey, 4-3." Washington Post, February 23, 1980. Small, Melvin. A Companion to Richard M. Nixon. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Swift, E.M. "A Reminder of What We Can Be." Sports Illustrated, December 22, 1980. Walsh, Kenneth T. "Presidential Lies and Deceptions." US News and World Report, June 6, 2008.