Anti-Russian Propaganda During the Cold War

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

In this lesson, we will explore the 'us versus them' mentality between West and East during the Cold War. We will look at the way the Western nations characterized Communists and examine the use of propaganda images to stoke fears of nuclear annihilation.

Us Versus Them: Creating the Image of the Other

Propaganda is about black and white. In the media, propaganda uses allegory and constructs polarized images to create an 'us versus them' mentality. Governments, media producers, and advertising designers use propaganda to convince, compel, and attract their audiences. Take, for example, the race of Klingons in the television show Star Trek, which aired in the United States from 1966 to 1969. For those familiar with the franchise, consider what the Klingons represent. They're a nasty, hairy, barbaric race. In the Star Trek pantheon, the Klingons were invented to represent Soviet culture. The United Federation of Planets, which is represented by Captain Kirk and the Enterprise, symbolizes the Western Bloc: The United States and NATO. Television shows are just one example of the many uses of propaganda.

During the Cold War, a period lasting from the end of World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the world was divided between the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc. The Western Bloc consisted of the United States and NATO. The Eastern Bloc was said to be 'behind the iron curtain,' which separated the Soviet Union and other USSR-aligned nations, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and East Germany, among others.

This map identifies the Western and Eastern Blocs and their affiliated nations.
Eastern and Western Blocs

Both sides of the Cold War conflict produced their own scathing propaganda. In this lesson, we will examine Cold War propaganda aimed at defaming and antagonizing the Soviet Union.

Behind the Iron Curtain

The Soviet Union separated itself from the rest of the world by a metaphorical iron curtain, the imaginary boundary that blocked information and immigration between the Eastern and Western Blocs. The iron curtain existed even before the raising of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and this physical brick and mortar barrier became an immediate symbol of the division of Eastern and Western nations and their cultures. In a cultural sense, the East benefited from the separation because it allowed the Soviet government to control information, and therefore, control its people. Modern-day commonalities can be found in the control of information in communist states, including China and North Korea.

The hammer and sickle are the symbols of the industrial worker and the peasant. They serve as the emblem of the former Soviet Union and of international communism.
hammer and sickle

Anti-Soviet propaganda served a few purposes. First, a negative image of the Soviet Union helped the American people understand and put a face to its enemy. Anti-Soviet propaganda iconography included the Sickle symbol of the Bolshevik party and images of Communist leaders Lenin and Stalin. Do you see a resemblance to the Klingons?

Second, anti-Soviet propaganda functioned to promote fear and paranoia in the United States and Europe, thereby uniting Western nations against their common enemy. The American media ramped up national pride by creating the image of a threatening other. These images constructed a picture of the Soviet Union as a barbarous military aggressor that was pitiless, deceitful and snakelike.

It's a Mad Mad World

At times, the Cold War got hot. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, was an intense period in October of 1962 during which an impending nuclear war seemed imminent. Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, ordered nuclear missiles to be placed in Cuba to protect the Soviet nation from its Western neighbor. Americans were shaking in their boots. It's the closest we came during the entire four decades of the Cold War to a nuclear strike.

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