Tag Archives: Cold War

The Life & Games of Wernher von Braun

Tumultuous times do not only change history-at-large, but also the lives of individuals. A person might have to move to another country and start anew. It’s hard to continue a successful career after such a sharp break in life. It’s particularly hard if the first part of your career was based on the exploitation of slave labor in the service of a totalitarian dictatorship that warred against your prospective new employer. And yet, a German rocket engineer did just that – he developed rockets for the Nazis, transitioned, and then held a crucial position in US rocket development and the space flight program that put the first man on the moon. “How did he do it?”, you wonder? – Gather ’round while I tell you of Wernher von Braun.

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Specific and Universal Responses to Crises: The Truman Doctrine

These days, we experience one of the most violent foreign policy developments of the last decades: Russia has invaded Ukraine. It is the culmination of a crisis that has been in the making for years – at least since the Euromaidan protests of 2013/2014 ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian government and Russia subsequently annexed Crimea. During the entire crisis, the posture of western governments (most notably that of the United States) has been of great interest: Ukraine has sought a closer alignment with the West to gain economic and military assistance. At the same time, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been committed to rolling back western influence and to prevent further countries bordering Russia from joining the western alliances.

US posture has been not uniform over these eight years: The annexation of Crimea presented the Obama administration America with a fait accompli, and Obama reacted with lukewarm sanctions. Obama’s successor Donald Trump was proud of his alleged good personal relationship with Putin, watered down the sanctions, and even attempted to extort Ukrainian president Volodymyr Selenskyy by tying an aid package for Ukraine to Selenskyy’s announcement of investigating Hunter Biden’s business activities in Ukraine. Current president Joe Biden has taken a tougher line on Russia again, but the exact response to the ongoing crisis is still in flux.

That brings us to today’s article: How does the United States react to local crises in faraway countries? After all, most Americans (including many elected officials and bureaucrats) know little of the place in question. Still, America’s global role resting on its political, military, and economic leadership demands that these crises are addressed. This challenge was by no means smaller when America was just about to transition into the role of a global power in the 1940s. One event stood out among the developments back then: Rooted in two specific local crises, president Harry S. Truman’s speech on March 12, 1947, asking Congress to approve of a support package for Greece and Turkey would have far-reaching implications for US foreign policyuntil very recently.

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Mining, Decolonization, and the Cold War: The Congo Crisis

60 years ago, the Republic of the Congo – one of the largest newly independent countries in Africa – was embroiled in a bitter struggle. Four domestic factions claimed either their right to rule the country or to secede from it. The struggle was completed by the international agents ensnared it ranging from the old colonial power Belgium over the superpowers to the United Nations who wanted to preserve their business interests, score points in the Cold War, or redefine their international role. We need to look at the Congo’s colonial past before we can understand the Congo Crisis and, following this, its bloody legacy. As always, board games will guide our way.

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Glasnost and Perestroika

35 years ago, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was about to commence its XXVIIth party congress. Party congresses were rare events, held regularly only every five years. They thus marked an important occasion for the Soviet leadership to talk about past successes and lay out future plans. The XXVIIth party congress was the first one headed by the new general secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. He set out an ambitious reform agenda. For the next years, the Soviet Union – and the world – would talk about glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). This post is going to cover three questions: What did those terms mean? Which consequences did the policies that Gorbachev set in motion have? And, a question that is especially important to board gamers, who are used to assess events and policies by their strategic value: Were those policies beneficial?

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Decolonization in the Cold War (Decolonization, #3)

Sixty years ago, a whopping 17 former African colonies became independent nations. In commemoration, I’m doing a miniseries on decolonization on this blog. So far, you can read an overview over decolonization and a closer look at decolonization processes within a colony. Today, we’ll deal with decolonization in the international context of the Cold War. All too often, it is assumed that the anticolonial movements and newly independent states were mere pawns in the games of the superpowers. However, they had quite some agency of their own. As you rightly expect, we’ll look at how different board games deal with the complex relationship between the Cold War and decolonization. Continue reading

The Life & Games of Winston Churchill

Eighty years ago, the fate of the world hung in the balance as Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany. It is the legacy of one man that Britain fought on: Winston Churchill. This post will retrace his life from his early days through his deeds in war (World War I and World War II) and peace (the inter-war period and his later years). Unsurprisingly, a man of the historical importance of Churchill has inspired quite a few board games which will be our companions on the way.
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Yalta, Potsdam, and the New World Order (End of World War II, #1)

World War II ended 75 years ago. 1945 was thus a massive watershed year in history. The biggest war that had ever been fought came to a close, and a new world order was forged. I’ll explore the end of World War II in a three-part miniseries. As war is an instrument of politics to achieve a better peace, I’ll kick the series off with this post on the conferences at which the great powers discussed the winning of the war against the Axis as well as the peace and the new world order which would follow. Several such conferences were held from 1943 on, but this post will only focus on the last two – the Yalta Conference in February 1945, three months before the end of the fighting in Europe, and the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, two months after the end of the fighting. 1945 was the end of World War II, but was it also the beginning of the Cold War? We’ll look into that question as well. As usual, board games will feature! Continue reading

Twilight Struggle (Games about the Cold War, #8)

Ah, the Cold War. By now, a firm trend in historical board gaming. Every five minutes there is a new release full of Soviets and Americans and espionage and nuclear threats. But you know who liked Cold War board games before it was cool? – Yep, that hipster was me. I just went overboard and decided to dedicate the rest of my (short) academic life to those games. My original inspiration for that was a quaint little game which I found very interesting from both a gaming and a history perspective. And so I come full circle. The game which first prompted me to think about board games in an academic way now makes the last installment of my Games about the Cold War series – a worthy capstone. Its name is Twilight Struggle (Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews, GMT Games). Maybe you have heard of it.
Okay, enough of the irony. Of course you have heard of Twilight Struggle! Everybody has. The game, the myth, the legend! Twilight Struggle had such a massive impact on the development of board games and especially on those about the Cold War that it cannot just be analyzed by itself. Instead, after a short intro on what Twilight Struggle is, I want to share some thoughts on Twilight Struggle‘s paradigm shifts in Cold War board game design and its legacy.

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The Wall Must Go (Century of German History, #9)

I’m doing a series on German history in the 20th century on my blog this year. In intervals of 10 years, I pick a crucial event and explore it – with the help of precisely one board game. You can find the previous posts here:

Today, we go into very recent history: Only 30 years ago, the world was still divided into the power blocs led by the United States and the Soviet Union. The frontline of this confrontation known as the Cold War ran right through the heart of Europe – Germany, and even its major city, Berlin, divided by the Berlin Wall. We’ll look at what this wall meant, how influences from outside Berlin gave an impulse for change, how the Berlin Wall finally came down, and which way the divided country took afterward. The game to accompany all of this could be no other than 1989 (Ted Torgerson/Jason Matthews, GMT Games).

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Wir sind das Volk! (Games about the Cold War, #7)

Welcome back to the seventh installment in my series on board games about the Cold War! Today, our game will be Wir sind das Volk! (Richard Sivél/Peer Sylvester, Histogame). As usual, we’ll look at it in both game and academic terms. There are three aspects of Wir sind das Volk! which stand out to me: Its primacy of domestic politics, the decision-making aspect of the special cards, and the strong asymmetry of its two powers.

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