The Cold War affected America both while it lasted and after it ended. It changed the world's political climate and brought it to the brink of nuclear war on at least one occasion.
During the Cold War As long as it lasted, the Cold War kept American life off balance to one degree or another. Incidents like the Cuban Missile Crisis had Americans terrified of imminent nuclear war. Fallout shelters and bomb drills were commonplace. The United States became involved in unpopular military conflicts in Korea and Vietnam in the name of stopping the spread of communism. The red scare and McCarthyism changed the face of politics in America.
After the Cold War When the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, many Americans did not realize the world's geopolitical landscape was shifting. The U.S. no longer fears the Soviet Union in the same way but the enemy has become less defined. Small countries have obtained nuclear weapons or the capacity to make them, and these often radical countries are more of a threat than the Soviet Union had been. Americans have been affected by global terrorism, even within the nation's boundaries.
National Defense Education Act When the Russians sent the first satellite into space, America responded by passing the National Defense Education Act. This Act funded higher education and low-cost student loans. It led to the rise in students attending college by millions of students.
Improved Defense Technologies The Cold War led to the development of sophisticated submarines in the U.S. and the rest of the world, including ones with ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines. These submarines meant even more advanced warfare tactics that took place above and underwater. Also, the Cold War also saw its share of improved military tactics and strategy, including the offset strategy, which brought strikes, stealth and intelligence utilization to a new level.
Impact on Popular Culture The tense atmosphere of the country due to the Cold War had many effects on everyday popular culture. This included movies, comics and books. The paranoia that was spread during this time was re-introduced during 9/11 attacks. Also, the media bombarded the public with specific imagery and tone, which is today criticized for being misconstrued and inaccurate. There was a rise in horror and science fiction movies, which echoed the feeling of anxiety and unease. Most of the messaging was about good versus evil, promoting conformity above all else.
Rise of the Counterculture Throughout the Cold War and soon after its end, a counterculture was emerging. These included the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley as well as other national-level organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society. Throughout the entry of the U.S. in Vietnam and beyond, these organizations forged ahead in counterculture and protests. They were joined by civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The anti-war sentiments grew, as anti-war anthems grew in popularity. Musicians like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez became well known. Through the years, the opposition to the war became so overwhelming that it began affecting governmental decisions. The Cold War is credited as being one of the first catalysts of this type of peaceful counterculture movement.