The Cold War was a 40-year pissing contest in which the entire world's population kept a constant eye on the news, with a never-ending fear that one side or the other would whap their big, red Armageddon button first. But as we've mentioned before, much of what we think we know about this period in history comes served beneath a heaping helping of horse-shit gravy. For example ...
5Myth: The USSR Got A Head Start In The Space Race When They Launched Sputnik
The Space Race was history's ultimate dick-measuring contest -- a competition between the U.S. and the Soviets to see whose dick could reach the friggin' moon. And in October 1957, America collectively gasped when the USSR launched their Sputnik program, thereby accomplishing a true technological marvel: placing the first artificial satellite in orbit.
To quell the growing American inferiority complex and prevent space from becoming downright filthy with commies, America put on its space boy pants and established NASA within a year of Sputnik's launch.
The first week was just seeing how many Gs the scientists could reach spinning on the lone office chair.
Why It's Bullshit:
As you can probably imagine, when news of Sputnik 1 circling the cosmos reached President Eisenhower, he completely shit his pants ... if, by "shit his pants," you mean "breathed a contented sigh of relief." Oh, sure, the public freaked out about the commies taking over space, but as far as the U.S. government went, well, the Soviets were doing exactly what they wanted them to do.
See, prior to the launch of the Soviets' Sputnik program, Eisenhower's inner circle was more concerned with the legalities of space than with the technicalities of how to get there. Thanks to America's crack team of rocketry geniuses (aka former Nazis), the U.S. could have beaten Sputnik by a good year if it hadn't been for our legal worries -- namely, borders that, at the time, were considered to extend upward to infinity and beyond. So, by launching an object into orbit, other nations could potentially protest the U.S.'s illegal violation of their airspace every time it buzzed by overhead. But, by lobbing one tiny, metal beach ball into space, the USSR had just sent those concerns up in rocket smoke by setting a precedent. They paved the road for everyone else, thanks to the Russians' innate talent for not giving a shit.
"We are over the White House. Release the communism."
Otherwise, Sputnik wasn't exactly a groundbreaking technological marvel. Sputnik 1 didn't really do anything other than emit a beep every few seconds until its batteries crapped out. Its sole purpose was to be in space first -- much like that peckerhead who posts "First!" in comments sections -- and equally as useless as that same peckerhead. Sputnik 2 and 3 were more practical, but not much more successful: The canine test subject in Sputnik 2, Laika, turned into a doggy roast damn nigh immediately (well, short of the week Soviet scientists first claimed), and any scientific data Sputnik 3 gathered regarding the Van Allen Belt was unverifiable after the satellite's recording equipment shit the bed.
Explorer-I, the American satellite launched just a few months after the original Sputnik, was arguably more technologically important and advanced, as was the 1962 Telstar, the precursor to all modern communications satellites. But, in history, as in car racing, second place is just the first loser.
4Myth: Nixon And Kennedy Were Like Night And Day
As far as pop culture remembers it, the election was the kind of black-and-white choice you only see in a movie. Richard Nixon was the conservative West Coast sleazemaster with a commie-hunting background. John Kennedy was the progressive New England shining star who would lead the world through its pending atomic fog -- when he wasn't too busy banging history's hottest women. They were the very definition of polar opposites, both personally and politically, and never were the two candidates' differences more apparent than in the 1960 presidential debate -- the very first to be televised on this newfangled picture-radio dojigger. That's when the world fell in love with Kennedy and uttered a collective "ew" at a literally sleazy Nixon.
Ollie Atkins/Wiki Commons
For the first of many times.
Why It's Bullshit:
Both sides played up the rivalry, but, in reality, Kennedy and Nixon were on the same team throughout much of their careers. On the issue of communism, they had basically the same voting record in the House of Representatives, earning each a prime spot on Lee Harvey Oswald's hit list. Kennedy wasn't completely sold on commie witch hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy, but voted in support of Nixon's co-sponsored security legislation. He voted with Nixon to continue the controversial House Un-American Activities Committee. JFK personally backed Nixon in his 1950 Congressional bid against a fellow Democrat, and Kennedy's millionaire father likely made it rain on at least one of Nixon's congressional runs.
Even after losing the aforementioned 1960 presidential race, Nixon's nitpicking of Kennedy's policies never amounted to more than splitting hairs. He was silent when it came to Kennedy's infamous defense budget overruns and escalation in Vietnam, which basically amounts to approval. A Nixon presidency in 1960 would likely have played out very similarly on the international stage: Nixon's covert role in overthrowing Chile's government in the '70s is eerily reminiscent of Kennedy's strategy in South Vietnam and Cuba in the '60s -- only, by that time, he had learned how to successfully pop a coup in a motherfucker.
Wait a minute, HAVE THEY EVER BEEN IN THE SAME ROO- oh, nevermind.
On the most critical domestic issue of the era, civil rights, their sincere but hands-off approaches were so uncannily similar that Martin Luther King, Jr. couldn't tell the difference, presumably deciding to back Nixon by flipping a coin. JFK, sensing the importance of the black vote, managed to pull some strings to get King out of jail when he got arrested, and King's last-second endorsement of Kennedy helped secure his narrow victory.
One major sticking point for Nixon was JFK's wiretapping of political rivals, a technique that he would nevertheless famously borrow to disastrous results. It seems one should never discount the political importance of being immensely fuckable.
Bob McNeely/The White House