Victory over the Soviets (Fall 2012)
The Cold War was essentially a war against the spread of communism by the Western World against the Eastern Word spanning the nearly fifty years after the end of World War II. Several big events took place during this wartime period but one of the more noteworthy was the US victory over the Soviet Union in the medal round of the 1980 Winter Olympic men's hockey game. This victory heightened the feeling of American nationalism which, in turn, helped pave the way for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Tensions were high between the Soviet Union and the Western World following World War II. The allies sought to increase democracy in the east while the Soviets, who had suffered significant losses following the World Wars, wanted to expand their ideologies. The establishment of the Eastern Bloc and the USSR(United Soviet Socialist Republic) resulted in the United States taking action. With president Truman's announcement of containment, which was to stop communism from spreading, the US was officially involved in a cold war against the Soviets. The Cold War was fought through a series of proxy wars, meaning that the two super nations fighting never physically engaged in battle with one another. Because of this, it was often hard for the public to get a sense of who was "winning."
The main purpose for United States during the cold war was to keep communism contained. When the communist forces in Northern Vietnam tried to take over the French colonies in Southern Vietnam, the allied forces saw the need to stop them. However, since the French could not fight alone, US saw it as their duty to intervene in order to prevent communism from spreading. Conditions were rough for the soldiers and support was very low. Vietnam eventually fell to the communist forces, which effectively ended the war. Vietnam was the only war that the United States had lost in. For all of the money and lives that were spent in battle, there was little to show for it. The morale of the Unites States people as a whole was low following the Vietnam War. With no victory, it was hard for American's to be proud of what their country had just gone through. Many of them had lost loved ones in the conflict and had trouble seeing the reason for it. Additionally, the billions of dollars spent on this conflict resulted in rapid inflation and lower standards of living across the nation.
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, an action that the allies were fiercely opposed to. Because the country had their priorities elsewhere, there was talk of the Soviet Union not participating in the 1980 Winter Olympics. The fact that the United States was hosting the Olympics further fueled that rumor since the two were in the middle of a cold war with each other at that time. The Soviet Union did however compete in the games and were paired up against the United States in the most publicized event in the Olympics: the men's medal round hockey game.
Though the Soviet Union beat the United States team in an earlier exhibition game a week prior the actual Olympics, they were matched up again in the preliminary medal round of the games. In this round, the United States ended up beating the Soviet Union team, who had won the gold medal in hockey for the prior four Winter Olympic games, in what was dubbed the "Miracle on Ice". The United States advanced to final round and won Gold for their victory over Finland.
Because the United States and the Soviet Union fought through proxy wars, the Olympic victory was a huge accomplishment for the United States. The defeat provided the US with a tangible win over the Soviets, something that could not be accomplished in the war. Unlike on the front where oftentimes there was no exact way of identifying who the true victor was, this game had a single victor and the US team had the medal to prove it. This unarguable win had a noticeable change on the attitudes of the American people.
Though the win over Finland is what actually won the gold title for the United States, the Soviet victory is what meant the most to the nation. Even team coach Herb Brooks knew that the significance of the game stretched far beyond the realm of hockey saying that the Soviets were attempting to use their hockey team to show that their way of life was not bad. The game had the opposite effect on the Soviet Union though because they ended up not winning against the United States. The game was rebroadcast on ABC after the results had been announced and a whopping 40 million people were estimated to have tuned in to watch it. The results of this game were featured in newspapers nation- wide. The New York Times ran an article that headlined "Cheers Resound Across the Nation" which referred mostly to the victory over the Soviets rather than the gold medal win over Finland.
There was an increased feeling of pride in the people of the United States due to the win and American's nationalism grew as a result. There was a linking of athletic dominance to ideological superiority by the nation which led to more wide spread support of the war. Many people, including the then president Jimmy Carter, saw the Soviet defeat as symbolizing the victory of good over evil. People thought that because the United States had beat the Soviets once, they could do it again. This gave hope to the people and the morale of the nation was boosted.
The media helped with the thought that beating the Soviets could happen again. It made sure that the public knew that the United States team were the considered the "underdogs" going into the games being ranked 7th out of twelve teams. The fact that they were the underdogs made the victory that much sweeter for the United States. The media kept its focus on this one game from the1980 Winter Olympics rather than others because it is what the people responded the best to. Because there was such positive energy surrounding this game, all media outlets kept the focus on how the US beat the Soviets, even more so than the fact that the US won gold. This could have also had an effect on the public opinion of the war. The battle between good and evil that people had identified in the hockey game was being extended to the war too. Americans were beginning to sympathize more with the ideals of their country and against those of the Soviet Union leading to an increase in support for the war. Because Americans were so used to hearing that the Unites States beat the Soviet Union in hockey, they figured that it would happen in the war too.
The victory gave people a reason to celebrate and helped distract from the bad economy following the Vietnam War. With rising gas prices, rapid inflation, and worry about the looming crisis in Afghanistan, the defeat could not have come at a better time for the United States. Because the team was so effective in giving hope to the country in such a bad time, they were awarded the Samuel S. Beard Award. This award is a division of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, a Nobel Prize, awarded to outstanding service by individuals under the age of 35. They received this award because they affectively altered the public opinion of the war and boosted the confidence of the nation.
The dominance that the United States showed over the Soviet Union in hockey helped America feel like it had regained the control that been questioned when fighting in the war. With the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and Prisoners of War being held in Iraq/Iran being the focus during the period immediately preceding the Olympic games, the defeat of the Soviet team provided a much needed distraction. This win had a positive effect on the confidence level of America and the opinions American's had on their country. Due to the increased American nationalism, there was more support for the war effort which had a very positive effect on the military.
President Carter took the opportunity to build up the military of the United States following the Olympic Games at a time when the people were more supportive of the war. When Reagan took office, he continued to do this as well. This lessened the gap between the sizes of the US forces in comparison to the massive amount of Soviet forces. Following the Olympics, the Cold War became much more militaristic due to the increased size of the US military. The period of the Cold War following 1980 is often referred to as the Second Cold War because of this shift in tactics.
The Soviet Union was not able to expand the size of its military to counter the American expansion because it did not have the budget for it. They already were investing too much in their massive military leading to less spending for the civilian sector. Because the military was allotted so much, the country suffered economically and there was a lower quality of life. This led to a decrease in Soviet support of their military. The addition of a new Soviet leader who was concerned about reversing the poor economy negatively affected the Soviets participation in the war. Because the Soviets' main concern was not on the war at that time, it allowed the Western allies to gain the upper hand. The hockey victory caused the decreased military activity of the Soviet Union which led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and the end of the Cold War.
The victory of the United States over the Soviet Union in both the Cold War and the 1980 Winter Olympics Men's medal round hockey game are representative of two of the major history forces that we have studied in class. Because the Cold War was about conflicting political ideologies amongst powerful nations, it can be illustrated by the politics and government theme whilst the hockey game, since it was covered and spread around so heavily by the media, signifies the theme of science and technology. These forces, though not specific to either the defeat of the Soviet Union during the Olympics or the collapse of the USSR, are applicable to the victorious situation which confirms a more important idea that history repeats itself. Because both of these forces relate greatly to the victories of the United States over the Soviet Union and are also applicable to events occurring nowadays, they represent a bigger, more important aspect of history.
The containment of communism was the main goal of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Oftentimes during the war it was hard for the public to gauge who was winning, resulting in an overall feeling of dissatisfaction about the war and low morale. When the United States men's hockey team beat the Soviet Union in the medal round of the 1980 winter Olympics, it represented so much more than a win at the games. The highly publicized victory resulted in an increase of nationalism, which in turn, paved the way for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
- Allen, Kevin. "College kids perform Olympic miracle."ESPN Classic. USA Hockey, 23 1997. Web. 5 Dec 2012. <http://espn.go.com/classic/s/miracle_ice_1980.html>.
- Jefferson Awards. "National Winners." Jefferson Awards for Public Service. Jefferson Awards.org, n.d. Web. 5 Dec 2012. <http://www.jeffersonawards.org/pastwinners/national>.
- McFadden, Robert. "Cheers Resound Across the Nation."New York Times [New York, NY] 23 Feb 1980, pg. 16. Web. 9 Dec. 2012. <http://www.proquestk12.com/bulletins/10JAN/Retroview/lifted_the_spirits.pdf>.
- Nickerson, Craig. "Red Dawn in Lake Placid: The Semi-Final Hockey Game at the 1980 Winter Olympics as Cold War Battleground." Canadian Journal of History of Sport. (1995): 73-85. Web. <http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=7b8cc9d3-cbf1-48bf-a5e8-8ae202898264@sessionmgr14&vid=2&hid=10>.
- Saum, Shane. "The Olympic Cold War." . UCLA, 01 2010. Web. 5 Dec 2012. < http://sdsu- dspace.calstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10211.10/585/Saum_Shane.pdf?sequence=1>.
- Sitikoff, Harvard. "The Postwar Impact of Vietnam."Modern American Potery. Oxford UP, n.d. Web. 5 Dec 2012. <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/vietnam/postwar.htm>.
- Wikipedia, . "Cold War." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 04 2012. Web. 5 Dec 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War>.
- Wikipedia, . "Vietnam War." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 03 2012. Web. 5 Dec 2012.