"For if war and hell have the same dimensions
Both are as paved with the best intentions,
and both are as full of profiteers." -- Stephen Vincent Benet

Historian Derek Leebaert details the cost of the Cold War to America -- foreign aid, propaganda, intelligence gathering, military deployment, and the more subtle costs of "time wasted, talent misdirected, secrecy imposed, and confidence impaired." He laments the missed opportunities America had as it entered its period of uinprecedented prosperity and influence; instead of combating world hunger, building a national transportation system, or even working to extend the US's economic boom past the heyday of the '60s, its leadership and its people were preoccupied with the shadowy, exaggerated threat from "world Communism," and in their fears of "appeasement" or "losing" this or that distant "bastion of democracy," all but squandered the resources of two generations. "Material benefits certainly arose from this struggle," Leebaert notes, "but most were short-lived or could have been otherwise achieved. ...Throughout the Cold War, enormous amounts of talent were used for fundamentally unproductive purposes. The Cold War consumed the energy, genius, and character of people ranging from first-rate mathematicians to military officers who might otherwise have spent their time revitalizing cities or revamping the automotive industry." The energies and resources spent span the gamut from bankers and CEOs debating foreign policy to "millions of man-years" lost "in places such as Kiska, Alaska belowdecks in some stinking supply ship in the Pacific or stenciling jeeps at Fort Ord.... Most of these men's first impressions of public service was that it wasted their time. Later, when others were conscripted after them, they believed it wasted their money as well." Not only were institutions put in place, but Cold War personalities rose to the top. Politicians and journalists who traded in fiery rhetoric were rewarded, calmer and more moderate types were downgraded. -- Derek Leebaert

"The Cold War did not metastasize overnight sometime during 1947 or 1948. It was brought about by the ghosts of the Great War of 1914 to 1918, and it took thirty years to attain full, deadly life. The first World War had made the second one almost inescapable; it ensured that politics and war technology, rather than trade and general civilized habits, would frame international relations. It become ever more difficult to achieve a just an enduring world system. Once the precedent was set, the next likely step was for it to be countered by its mirror image in a rival tyranny. Lenin became Hitler's alibi. Communism enabled Hitler to fulminate about ultimate danger and to posture as the savior of Germany. The Cold War and all of its sacrifices would have been extremely unlike without World War I's destruction of the old European order. Our children will keep hearing the guns of August even as they embrace the wonders ahead." -- Derek Leebaert

"The Cold War began as a contest for a ruined Europe, but soon it was leaping from continent to continent into realms that neither side knew, fueled by issues that neither understood. It was woven into old Latin American intrigues and into the hot, emergent politics of just-minted states in Asia and Africa, and it brought new threats, prizes, resources, and rationalizations -- as well as dishonesties -- into the fight. ...The Cold War's duration meant that its demands could grind at the whole world for a lot longer than any ordinary war. Nothing that persuasive can be switched off solely by the passing of what occasioned it, in this case the disappearance of the Soviet Union. The Cold War remains an unwanted part of millions of lives, and it will so remain well after our generation. The past dies hard. Tolls exact themselves, even when forgotten." -- Derek Leebaert

"Many of the attitudes and institutions that America is taking into the new century have their roots in an adventure that cost more and shaped more lives than any other in history. Today's world has been molded by the Cold War, as has the world of skill levels, technology, business, and finance. Debates about missile defense, energy, taxes, and terrorism all reflect the experience of these decades just past. So too does the way that America is responding after being attacked in September 2001 -- the new fight itself being an outgrowth of the struggle." -- Derek Leebaert

The Cold War's defense spending cost the US heavily. Because of war-level spending, the 1950s construction of the nation's roads and highway infrastructure was done on the cheap, as was the building of the nation's education system. The 1960s vision of the "Great Society" was never funded properly. The '70s growth of entitlements and regulations was hard to fund with the level of defense spending required by the Cold War; facing down the USSR while cutting taxes caused economic havoc. And once the Cold War was officially over, the military-industrial complex was quick to throw its weight behind a new "war," this one on the vague spectre of "global terrorism."

The effect on American foreign policy was equally skewing. "Washington assumed that whatever happened to, say, Angola ('Portuguese, right?') or Penang ('Where?') would likely bear on the military balance in divided Germany or on Moscow's belief in US 'resolve.' Buying the goodwill of kleptocrats (a fascinating cadre created by Cold War aid) or upholding democracy in lands where it had never arrived was too often claimed to be tied to global strategies -- ones that existed only in the minds of their proponents that existed only in the minds of their proponents and that make little sense to those looking back on them today. What Winston Churchill called 'the Great Republic found itself propping up a sinister array of third-world criminals who insisted on being called heads of governments." -- Derek Leebaert

Leebaert writes that the Korean War (1950-53) "would institutionalize the means of open-ended conflict. Whether or not they wore uniforms, [Americans] could start committing their careers to national security. It became a business like any other, promising to cover a lifetime. From 1950 on, it was easy for a substantial para-bureaucracy to drive its roots outward from Washington into the plains, cities, and mountain power stations, through great corporations, distinguished universities, and discreet law firms. This was a curious growth, spreading branches at extraordinary speed but often flourishing best in the shade." From now on, US military spending would not be confined to Europe, but would be lavished upon French Indochina (Vietnam) and British Malaya. French and British officials reminded the US "that half the world's rubber and a third of its tin came from the Malay Peninsula, and that the road to Kuala Lumpur went through Vietnam." The idea of the "domino theory" was born in British and French insistence that if Indochina fell, Malaya would be next, as would the independent nations of Thailand, Burma, India, and who knew what else. "Everything seemed so infernally interconnected." -- Derek Leebaert

Labor unions and the civil rights movement both suffered tremendously from their perceived connections to international communism. The internal purges and dissension within the labor unions cost them membership and influence in Washington, and slowed the efforts by their more left-leaning members to combat racial discrimination. The civil rights organizations found their own efforts to combat racism in the workplace and in society hampered by the accusations that they are havens of Communist infiltration. (The fact that both sets of organizations did, indeed, "harbor" known Communists, many of whom were ideologically sound but loyal to their country, but a few with ties to the USSR, only exacerbated the situation.) It didn't help when federal agencies used the excuse of anti-Communism to fire blacks who filed discrimination suits. Even the NAACP's director of its Legan and Education Defense Fund, Thurgood Marshall, found himself gingerly cooperating with Hoover's FBI in rooting out Communists from the NAACP's ranks. The ACLU did the same. The FBI repaid the favors by targeting Marshall, the ACLU leadership, and other "leftists" for surveillance, harassment, and baseless accusations of "Communist" complicity. -- Derek Leebaert

"The immediate consequence of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia was a wholesale abandonment of morals. Laws against divorce were loosened, promiscuity was encouraged, and marriage was demeaned as a 'bourgeois institution.' Providing a battle cry for the sexual anarchists, Vladimir Lenin had famously said that the act of sex should 'be as simple and unimportant as drinking a glass of water.' American liberals have used their hegemonic control of...newspapers to create a charming world in which women apparently cannot bear to keep their shirts on." -- Adolf Hitler

"It was a crushing defeat for the liberals, not because liberals were necessarily Communists, though many were, but because they had been morally blind to Communism.... Liberal elites defended traitors. In response to the Soviet threat, the Democrats consistently counseled defeat, supplication, and retreat." -- Ann Coulter