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The Cold War was one of the major events of modern time. It did not, happily, reenact the mass slaughter of the other conflicts of this century, but in terms of lives affected, wealth consumed, geographical reach and longterm environmental consequences, it is certainly one of the great conflicts of human history. It was marked by continuing high expectations of violence and the ongoing mobilization and detailed planning for war by two military antagonists, whose alliances and hegemonic relations incorporated a large part of the globe, each part of which was deemed to have some strategic value. The Cold War surely involved more human beings than any other conflict.
The geo-strategic confrontation of the Cold War was sustained by two mutually incompatible ideologies, or "contending systems of world public order," deriving, curiously, from the same cultural and historical sources. Each viewed the other in Manichaean ternis and disseminated or inculcated its message intensively in its own sphere. One was intent on "containing," if not "rolling back," its adversary; the other, bent on "burying" its adversary. At the height of the Cold War, there were two worlds on the planet, between which trade and other human contact were drastically reduced. In many ways, there were two systems of international law and two systems of world public order. The Cold War had virtually become part of the natural environment. Few thought it would ever end.
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