End of Cold War
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In a traditional war, one individual proclaims victory over the other, usually as a result of a defeat in a battle or a catastrophic loss of life and/or property. The end of the Cold War, however, was not as dramatic. While the United States and the Soviet Union had been battling it out in the Cold War for over 40 years, the culmination of the war was not as cataclysmic as the end of World War II, for example. Instead, the end of the Cold War came with the collapse of the Soviet Union from within, entirely independent from any American military action. This decline from within would mark the end of the tensest period of time in American history and bring about a new era of freedom and democracy for Eastern Europe.
End of the Cold War and a Relaxed Soviet Union
Several generations after the death of Joseph Stalin, the leaders of the Soviet Union became more and more relaxed, both in terms of foreign relations with the United States and in terms of western influence on Soviet society. Concepts such as "glastnost" and "perestroika" became commonplace in these areas, meaning "openness" and "reform", respectively. Leaders such as Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev gradually opened foreign and economic relations with the United States and severely reduced the threat of nuclear holocaust that had plagued both societies for decades. As a result of these reforms, however, more and more citizens behind the iron curtain began to fight for their basic rights, calling for reforms and changes in the government and a greater representation in the government. Aside from any American influence, then, the Soviet Union fell apart from within, gradually losing its grip on nations throughout Eastern Europe and ultimately breaking apart to the various nations that exist today.