When I arrived in West Berlin in the summer of 1967, the world had been locked in a Cold War for 22 years. When World War II ended, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as super powers and, though allies during the war, neither trusted the other. The United States was a democracy whose economic base was grounded in capitalism. The Soviet Union was a communist state, in which all (or nearly all) property and resources are collectively owned by a classless society.
The United States had proven their nuclear prowess after leveling Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki three days later, prompting the surrender of Japan and the ultimate end to the war. In less than four years, the Soviets had detonated their first nuclear device and the world would spend the next 40 years balanced on the precipice of mutual destruction.
West Berlin would prove to be the epicenter of the Cold War. The city, some 90 miles inside the Soviet dominated East Berlin, West Berlin was split by the WWII allies into four sectors – a Soviet sector and British, American and French sectors — which, unlike West and East Germany remained under the control of the occupying forces until the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.
Outright war between the two superpowers was unimaginable. Each developed the capability to destroy the other ten times over. The Cold War, then, was fought by proxy wars, such as those in Korea and Vietnam, and through a heightened use of espionage. Each of the superpowers recognized that it was crucial to determine the capability of the other. Berlin, situated as it was well inside the borders of East Germany had, at any given time, more spies than any other city in the world. The winner in this war would ultimately decide who “won” the Cold War.
Many thought the fall of the Berlin Wall signified the victory of western democracies over the communist system. With the former chief of the KGB – the Soviet brand of National Security Agency – Vladimir Putin now the president of Russia who has crushed dissent with an iron hand, one has to wonder