Program Details

Cold War Theater

Bill Thomas
Video Catch-up

Course Description

Human history moves in cycles. Russian history moves in circles. The revolving-door effect has created make-or-break opportunities for ten American presidents. Since World War II, Russia has gone from ally to enemy to charity case and back to enemy. But it's the adversarial phases of U.S.-Russia relations that will be examined in this series. Those make up three different cold war periods—1918-1933, 1945-1991, and 2000-present—each with its own political, diplomatic, and strategic challenges, though none combined all three like the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. While the Soviet Union existed, U.S. presidents proved themselves in a sort of "cold-war theater" by standing up to their counterparts in the Kremlin. It wasn't until Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived that American leaders had another all-purpose bad guy to test their resolve. We'll assess how that's going.


  1. U.S-Russia relations from the late 18th century through World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, and Red Scares in the United States.
  2. The establishment of formal diplomatic ties between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1933, ending the first cold war.
  3. The post-World War II cold war marked by the constant threat of mutually assured destruction.
  4. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the Putin presidency, and 20 years of subdued hostility in the latest cold war.

About the Instructor

  • Bill Thomas, author and veteran journalist, has been a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, a columnist for Roll Call and The Hill newspapers in Washington, and an editor and writer for the London-based Economist Group. He has authored or co-authored several books, including “Red Tape: Adventure Capitalism in the New Russia”, (Dutton) and “Club Fed: Power, Money, Sex, and Violence on Capitol Hill”, (Scribner's). Thomas, who's lived in Russia, wrote about the collapse of the Soviet Union for The Los Angeles Times and covered ensuing conflicts in three ex-Soviet republics. His articles have appeared in Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and many other publications.