The Cold War that took place between Russia and America during much of the 1900s is one of the most fascinating struggles in world history. At odds starting out in 1947, things only began to really thaw between the two powerhouses in the eighties and nineties which is a long time for major countries to have each other in their crosshairs. Never coming to full-on war, there were still several instances in which they indirectly fought by taking opposite sides in other battles but somehow things never came to a head between them. That is something humanity should be thankful for as each had an arsenal of nuclear weapons in the end that was large enough that mutually assured destruction seemed to be only a few mistakes away at any moment. Reflecting on the importance of this era, and the people within it, we decided to put together this list of the fifteen most chilling photos captured during the Cold War.
In order for a photo to be considered for inclusion here, it first and foremost needs to have been taken in between 1947 and 1991, the recognized end of the Cold War. The photo also needs to pertain to the long-simmering aggression in between Russia and America that took place throughout those years. Next, there needs to be something about it that is likely to give an uneasy, fearsome feeling to the viewer when put in the proper context. With that in mind, let’s get to the list.
15. Korean War Devastation
It may seem dismissive to refer to a war as an offshoot but the involvement of The Untied States and Russia in The Korean War is just that. Started when North Korea invaded South Korea, America fought on behalf of the South while the North was aided by China and assisted by Russia. As such, it involved the two players in the Cold War on opposite ends of a battle but never in direct contact so they were able to go without declaring war on one another. This image was taken on a Korean battleground in 1950 and shows “A grief-stricken American infantryman being comforted by another soldier. In the background, a corpsman methodically fills out casualty tags”.
A photo of the Berlin Wall in Germany, you may be wondering what this has to do with the Cold War and that is quite simple. When East German leaders met with Joseph Stalin, one of his ministers suggested they restrict movement in between the two sides of the country. At first, a barbed-wire fence was put up and guarded but things were significantly ramped up from there. According to a transcript of a phone call between Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev and an East German politician, the idea for the wall came from the Nikita, although that is disputed. Either way, the existence of the Berlin Wall was linked to the German allegiance to The Soviets during the Cold war which is why this photo was worthy of inclusion here. A picture of a hand reaching above it, if you ask us it is the epitome of what made it such a sad structure. Known to have broken up many families that happened to live on different sides of it, the only purpose of it was to divide people who might have otherwise had intertwined lives.
13. Duck and Cover
In the history of mankind never have we had as much destructive capability as the Russians and Americans did during the height of the Cold War. The two largest Nuclear powers that have ever existed, the arms race between them resulted in them manufacturing more nukes than it seemed possible they could ever use in order to one-up one another. After the United States had dropped two such bombs at the end of the Second Wold War, people knew the destructive possibilities and due to the omnipresent tensions between the two countries they lived in fear. In an irrational attempt at providing solace to themselves, their children were taught to duck under their desks and cover up if a nuclear weapon was dropped nearby. A fruitless effort as we know the benefits of such an action are negligible, it is awe-inspiring to reflect on the fact that the world was so close to destruction at the time that this foolishness was taught in school.
12. Russian Strength
A photo that was taken during the May Day celebrations in 1954, this image of Russian Army men marching in unison is chilling on multiple levels. While we can only see a small amount of men due to the limitations of the angle the picture was taken at, the implication is that there are many more men off-screen. A showing of Russian might during the era, it is further evidence of their tireless efforts to put together a force to rival any others in the world. It is also a crazy picture to see as it makes it clear that the Soviet Army, an entity that was largely seen as evil in America at the time, was made up of regular men doing their duty. Seeing them as actual people instead of the red menace further brings into focus the possible calamity of the Cold War.
The propaganda used on all sides during the second World War is something that has been discussed a great deal over the years but for some reason, it seems though that isn’t always the case. For example, the use of dramatic images to convince the American people to see Russians as dastardly during the Cold War doesn’t appear to be discussed a lot. A great example of the type of garbage put out during this lengthy struggle, of course, it isn’t based any kind of fact. The ability of this type of media to make some people see other people from around the world as horrific is a powerful and awful tool in the quiver of the rich and powerful. The fact that it was used so effectively in Nazi Germany to convince people to see Jewish People as grotesque should have been argument enough for it disappear from the world but sadly that wasn’t the case. Instead, this reminds us of the efforts of some to turn us against our fellow man based solely on lines on a map.
10. Cuban Missile Crisis
An image of John F. Kennedy speaking to the American people about the Cuban Missile Crisis, it is an artifact that proves how close to all out war these two countries came. An incident in which America learned that Russia was deploying missiles in Cuba, if the move was left unchecked it gave the Soviets a huge advantage in any potential war. Unable to leave such an encroachment unchecked, the President publicly announced a blockade which saw any Russian attempt to send boats to Cuba as an act of aggression towards America. Had that happened America would have been drawn into war with the country, unless they were willing to look weak, and such a battle would’ve resulted in untold violence. An event that somehow managed to come to a peaceful end, to date it is arguably the closest Earth has ever come to true calamity. An image of the moment the President made the danger to the world clear as a bell, it stands as quite possibly the most frightening telecasts in the history of the world.
9. Joseph McCarthy
This is an image of former senator Joseph McCarthy, who has come to symbolize the American version of Big Brother for a lot of people. A politician that used the fear of Russia at the time of the Cold war to put himself into an increasingly powerful and well-known position in America, he managed to make himself into his own kind of judge and jury. An arbiter of public opinion for a time, he was able to call everyday people, Hollywood types, fellow politicians, and people of seemingly every walk of life in front of him and ruin them. His bread and butter was to accuse someone of being a communist, bring them in front of the world and do his best to force an admission out of them. Not even content at that, he also did his best to convince them to implicate others in order to save their own hide. This level of power falling into the hands of a single man in a civilized society like America is something the world must fight against.
8. Cursed Couple?
If you’ve never heard of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg then we’re sure that you are far from the only one. An image of them after they had been detained on Espionage charges, this married couple would never go back to the life they once knew. Accused of giving the Soviets intel on how to make atomic bombs, these seemingly normal or even meek looking individuals were thought to be guilty of crimes that endangered millions of people. Ultimately put to death for their crimes, at the time of their passing in 1953 there were many who felt they were innocent and pleaded for clemency on their behalf. However, according to a counter-intelligence program called the Venona project decrypted Soviet messages revealed they were guilty even if Ethel took a lesser role. It also came to be known that the information they provided wasn’t as important as once thought but the fact that seemingly everyday people could be convinced to betray their countrymen is frightening.
7. Relationship Born
When China was rechristened as The People’s Republic of China after Chairman Mao took power in 1949 it was a real boon to Russia. Having another major country ruled by communist leaders had obvious benefits for Stalin which is why a photo like this one seemed like an inevitability. A meeting that took place between the two leaders in Russia, it was here that they negotiated the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance. An agreement that gave the new Chinese government credibility by them being acknowledged by a world leader, they also received a three hundred million dollar loan from the Russians. In return, it gave Stalin, even more, power in his fight against America as another ally joined his side and vowed to fight on his side under the right circumstances.
6. Stress in a Photo
We already wrote about the Cuban Missile Crisis and how important it was to the survival of humanity as a whole that it came to an end without the deployment of Nuclear weapons. A matter of such delicacy and ego that neither side could be seen as backing down, the alternative path appeared to assure such destruction. It is only through negotiation between the two party and cool tempers that never came to pass. As such, it was imperative that the President have the steadiest of hands, especially with some advisors wanting to pursue war, so we owe a debt of gratitude to his resilience. A picture of JFK and his brother Robert in the midst of the political machinations, it communicates the stress the pair must have been under. Many would have miscalculated as a result of such a situation and it is frightening to contemplate the fate of so many people falling on the shoulders of simple human beings.
5. Nuclear Propaganda
This is an image that shows how profoundly America feared the possibility of falling under the control of the Russians during the Cold War, this came from a 1961 Christian comic book. Attempting to show life as horrific, we actually see an authority figure brandishing a whip over the head of a worker trying to drink some water. Ever worse, it shows a man being shot by a firing squad for calling in sick to work. Considering this was part of a comic book for Christian kids, the fact that they pulled no punches shows how even kids lived in a world ruled by terror at the time.
4. Nikita Khrushchev
The two most famous recent Russian leaders are Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin but Nikita Khrushchev is a man whose importance in the Cold War should not be underestimated. Taking over power in Russia after a several-year-long power struggle that followed Stalin’s death, he lessened the brutality of the regime, denouncing Stalin’s purges but wasn’t friendly when it came to America. Notable also for having told a group of western Ambassadors “we will bury you”, this man kept the Cold War in full swing right up until he was deposed in 1964. Pictured here in the midst of addressing the UN in 1960, this is one of the dramatic moments at a meeting held by that organization as he called a Filipino representative a “toady of American Imperialism”. As such this photo is the personification of what made him a danger to any country without Soviet ties.
A picture of nine of the members of the “Hollywood Ten”, this group of film writers, producers, and directors were blacklisted at the height of the so-called red scare. Alleged to be members of the Communist Party by their peers, ten men refused to answer the question of congress, despite others doing so and walking away with their careers and lives in better shape. Cited for contempt of congress, they stood against what they saw as an attack on their freedom of thought and freedom of speech even though it was a dangerous stance to take. All sentenced to prison time and fines for their “crimes”, they were punished by their industry as well by being blacklisted which was meant to halt their careers for life. In the case of some, including Dalton Trumbo, they took on pseudonyms in order to continue on but the fact that they were put in that position is a dark chapter in American history. The fact that a political battle with Russia allowed such a situation to place in America that recently is scary to contemplate.
2. Nuclear Test
In the 1960s America continued to experiment with nuclear weaponry in an effort to understand just how destructive they can be and perfect them. In this 1962 photo of one of those tests, a group of people can be seen observing as a bomb that was named “Small Boy” ironically enough was set off. A picture of one of the many tests undertaken at the time, the thing that made it stand out was the date it was taken and the human element. The fact that our species created devices that cataclysmic is horrific enough but knowing that those folks that stood by to observe the testing were putting themselves at great danger makes it even worse. They didn’t fully understand how deadly just being near such a blast was at the time this photo was taken but it is frightening that even when these bombs were tested they still managed to kill.
1. School Safety
We already touched on the impact that the fear of nuclear war had on children growing up in the midst of the Cold War but this is a photo that shows just how far it went in some cases. Looking like it is just a cement slab used as a playground for children, there is actually a lot more going on in this photo than the uninitiated could possibly realize. An image published in a magazine from the 1960s called Popular Science, it shows the top of a school that is housed underground. One big bomb shelter, it was designed to protect children and teachers from the peril of the time and could accommodate as many as five-hundred forty children. The idea that children needed to spend their days cut off from the outside world and without the opportunity to see the sun outside of breaks in order to be safe is shocking even if the design is impressive