Representation of National Identity in the Wake of the Sputnik Crisis

Representation of National Identity in the Wake of the Sputnik Crisis

Matt Triolo

“I got a phone call at my home in Princeton about 7:00 PM on Friday evening, October 4, from the New York Times aeronautics reporter, Richard Witkin. Had I Heard? What is the reaction to the U.S rocket community? My response is not even in my memory” said Martin Summerfield.  He went on, “But the impact of the launch on the United States, as well on my own career, would be powerful indeed… by 1962 a growth so rapid membership in the institute of Aeronautical science, as membership quadrupled from a few dozen to 20,000 in response (to Sputnik)” (Harford, 1999) At the dawn of the Space Race both the Soviet Union and the United States responded to the launch of Sputnik, which up until that point was the greatest technological feat ever achieved by man. This launch came at a pivotal time in the Cold War. As now each nation put resources into; What does the response of the Soviet Union and the United States say about each respective nation?  Does national identity reflect the true intentions of a nation or is it just an image to share with the rest of the world?

            The importance of researching the topic of national identity and Sputnik comes at the crux of the Cold War. During this era image and ideology reigned supreme as competing spheres of influence were ever growing and expanding. Prior historians have delved into the topic in order to uncover the finer points and develop the historiographical conversation even further. The relevance of the topic goes further as national identity and learning how nations portray themselves has a continuing legacy across all eras of modern history.  The use of newspapers official reports, as well as propaganda footage reveals the identity each nation was trying to portray in a post Sputnik world as the space race moved forward. The response to the successful launch of Sputnik showcases the national identity and ideologies of both the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union doubled down on the glory of their socialist and communist society being the only way of the future. In contrast to this the United States realized their own scientific shortcomings, and buckled down and rely on innovations from a capitalist system in order to make up lost ground in the Space Race. Identifying national identity can greatly assist students within the classroom it allows them to have a greater understanding of what countries are involved in a given conflict as well as makes certain countries easier to identify through their national Identity. With a subject like the Cold war this is fairly important and beneficial for students, the cold war sees two drastically different forces shaping the world around them. Understanding the national identity of each side of the cold war will allow for greater understanding. With the cold war taking up much of the 20th century there is a wide range of history for students to learn associated with this era, so having a deep and rich understanding of the source material is vital.

The use of Sputnik specifically is also important. While the United States of America claimed victory in the Cold War it is important to recognize it was not as one sided as contemporary history leads students to believe. The Soviet Union took an early lead in the space race and remained a head of the United States for much of the Space race. Introducing how behind the United States was builds a better historical narrative and further supports students in learning the topic. Within sputnik there are a great deal of Primary sources that show the inner workings and thought processes of the United States and Soviet Union. Overall, this article will be a resource for teachers to learn about national identity in the early stages of the space race as well as a deep dive into sputnik as an educational tool for teachers to cover a wide range of ideas.

            The origins of the space race lie deep within the Cold War, as global conflict developed the need and desire for scientific advancement. It seemed impossible to be without innovation and a drive to compete globally.  The Cold War saw the world divided into influence spheres of superpowers, the United States and The Soviet Union. Following the end to a long and devastating World War most nations worldwide were defeated and crumbling looking to rebuild from what they lost. The United States of America and the Soviet Union were the only nations standing, both with daring dreams of global influence and prestige. The Cold War put ideology at the forefront as now nations of the world found themselves taking sides between an ever-growing communist sphere and the free world. As the Cold War developed tensions rose in pockets of proxy wars where USSR backed forces squared off with American forces.  This global game of chess encompassed all aspects of life, trade, and warfare and diplomacy. The Cold War was the peak of 20th century global politics, the heights of which would never be seen again. Historian John Gaddis “No one today worries about a new global war, or a total triumph of dictators, or the prospect that civilization itself might end. That was not the case when the Cold War began. For all its dangers, atrocities, costs, distractions, and moral compromises, the Cold War—like the American Civil War—was a necessary contest that settled fundamental issues once and for all.” (Gaddis, 2007)

            The Soviet Union found themselves in a peculiar and significantly powerful position following the Second World War. The Yalta conference preceding the end of the Second World War played a significant role in shaping the Cold War for the Soviet Union. The agreement made between Churchill and Stalin would divide Europe into influence spheres. The Soviet Union liberated former Nazi Germany territory in Western Europe that they would turn into new additions to the Soviet Union. The USSR with rising influence outside of Europe, in Asia and the surrounding regions. The Soviet Union was a powerhouse of an authoritarian communist state running on government control of production as well as control over all aspects of life. This nation was expanding and ready to make its mark in global politics cementing itself as true superpower.

            For the United States the Second World War established the growing nation as a competitive superpower. For years prior the United States had gone from a non-influential nation to the top dog for the western world. Being left relatively unscathed by two World Wars allowed the United States to grow to the levels of its contemporaries. Following the Second World War the United States used its wealth to rebuild Europe bolstering its position as both an ally to Eastern Europe and a superpower. As the world moved into the Cold War the United States saw communism as a looming threat to both global security and freedom. In order to meet the rising threat, the United States adopted a policy of containment with the goal of stopping the spread of communism and furthermore the expansion of powers by the Soviet Union. In the early stages of the Cold War the United States developed new technologies in order to meet the threat of communism.  This policy throughout the Cold War would expand to the space race, matching the Soviets where ever possible. The space race was a new challenge that would bring American strength and innovation to the forefront to meet a menacing advisory.

            National identity refers to the way a country views itself in regards to the rest of the world. For some national identity is the idealized version of a nation, showing the characteristics that it wishes to share with the outside world. These national identities often have a great deal to do with the leading ideology of a country. Communist nations tend to value national unity, while other free nations will value freedom and innovation. During the Cold War national identity and prestige were everything as the world was divided into growing influence spheres. National identity moves nations along it inspires individuals to act as for their nation and inspire bouts of patriotism and nationalism.

As the Cold War moved forward the developments in military rockets quickly turned to ambitions out of this world. Combine competing ambitions with the backdrop of the Cold War and the space race was born. Scientific developments moved at breakneck speeds and a push to get to the stars was now an achievable goal. On October 4th of 1957 the Soviets took great leaps and bounds launching the satellite Sputnik into the atmosphere dawning the start of the space race and a new era in the history of the Cold War. The world watched as the Soviet Union rocketed past them. For the United States, the policy of containment now reached outside the globe as they attempted to contain any communist threat even in space.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR was a dominant force in both Western Europe as well as global politics for a majority of the 20th century. Its reach knew no bounds moving into the middle of the 20th century.  Its dominant rise and position as a global superpower seemed unstoppable rivaling any western challenger. The carefully crafted identity of the Soviet Union revolved around imagery of strength, the will of the people and party as well as a sense that the Soviet way of life was the most fruitful and effective. The peak of USSR dominance was at the inception of the new space race where the USSR was literally thousands of miles ahead of its contemporaries. The successful launch of Sputnik signaled to the world what scientific heights the Soviet Union was capable of as well as how far behind the rest of the world was. Through publications of the era, it is clear that the successful launch of Sputnik represented the national identity of Soviet Union strength, unity, and superiority to the outside world and at the core of Soviet messaging.

            Soviet identity believed they were destined to conquer and claim the new frontier for humanity. Space was a new boundary for human exploration, it was the next natural step for a species that has controlled the rest of the planet. The Soviet identity was centered on the Soviet Union being the best form of humanity. Being the first to conquer space fit perfectly within the goals and ambitions of the Soviet Union. A key aspect of the identity of the Soviet Union was the development of an us vs them mentality, the rest of the western world was evil and that the Soviet Union was above all and no other way of life could have paved the way for the future. Another focal point of Soviet identity that was critical during the early stages of the space race was the sense of unity and strength shared by all Soviet peoples. Unity and power were the cornerstone of Soviet thinking, as historian Sarah Davis Wrote, “According to the propaganda, power in the USSR belonged to the people, namely the workers and peasants” (Davies, 1997). The aura of the USSR being of the people created a sense of unity with each person being a cog in a much larger and grand mechanism. The national identity of the USSR inspired scientists and the Soviet government to have made the transition into aiming for space. The Soviet space program slotted in perfectly into that identity with it being a driving force behind the mentality of those behind it.

            The Soviet identity was strong presence through the core of its own space program, the space program was emblematic of the Soviet Union as a whole. The idea of unity and being just part of the larger mechanism was seen throughout the space program. The celebrity associated with advancements in space travel for the most part was not seen in the Soviet Union. The most glaring hidden figure of the Soviet space program was the mind behind Sputnik itself, Sergei Korolev was a dominant figure in the Soviet space program being a chief designer that was anonymous during his time being represented merely through a pseudonym. “For Korolev, an engineer-manager of tremendous achievement and high ego, to have to reconcile himself to career long obscurity” (Harford 1999). The Soviet identity was focused on the larger picture of workers together leading to one of its greatest minds being denied appropriate recognition for their contributions to history.

            In October of 1957 the mythos and identity of the Soviet Union was still holding strong and this was reflected in party publications of the time. Pravda was one such publication, controlled and operated by the Communist Party. Pravda was the first and most common dose of propaganda given to citizens of the Soviet Union. Issues of Pravda were a conduit for information within its circulation, millions of daily issues reported on changes in official Policy as well as propaganda that served to strengthen ties to the Communist Party and the Soviet Union as a whole. For all state-run companies, organizations and the military had subscriptions to Pravda with the express purpose of driving home the party messages and keeping readers minds closed to any other information. The publication of this particular issue comes in at a pivotal moment the Soviet Union’s history as they overtook the rest of the world in space travel.

            The Soviet Space program and its accomplishments were kept mostly in secret. This publication serves as a rare glimpse for the world serving its purpose as a propaganda piece as well as a representing Soviet identity. As in all issues of Pravda this particular issue focused on spreading the glory of the Soviet Union through information and the famous propaganda of the publication. The successful launch of Sputnik saw the Soviet Union surpass the rest of the world scientifically for a moment and the writers behind Pravda needed to write about and promote this. At the core of this newspaper is Communist Party propaganda. While sharing information about the launch is important the main goal is to drive home the message and the praises of the Communist Party. This Pro party sentiment comes to a head during the last section of the article, “Artificial earth satellites will pave the way to interplanetary travel and, apparently our contemporaries will witness how the freed and conscientious labor of the people of the new socialist society makes the most daring dreams of mankind a reality” (Pravda, 1957). This moment in history is where the USSR shined the brightest and was the sole winner dominating any global competition. It seemed at least for the members of the Soviet Union who bought into the Soviet propaganda that Socialism and the ways of the party were the path to the future. Within this article the wide ambition following the launch of Sputnik were dreams of interplanetary travel. The publication of articles like these fits in with the narrative of the Soviet Union moving into the future and communism being the way of the future.

            To the party leaders, optics were seen as priority, portraying the grand nature of the Soviet Union. This was key in crafting and maintaining a national identity with the glory of the Soviet Union shown with great power through grand military parades.  These parades were common along with praising the roots of the USSR in revolution. This sort of celebration was seen even in the space program. Sputnik was a huge accomplishment for those in the Soviet Union combining this achievement and celebration that the Soviet Union was exactly what the Communist Party wanted. In an interview Cosmonaut Georgy Grechko told the story of the Communist Party’s request for a procommunist launch, “After Sputnik 1, Sergei Korolev went to the Kremlin and Khrushchev said to him, we never thought that you would launch Sputnik before the Americans. But you did it. Now please launch something new in space for the next anniversary of our revolution. The anniversary would be in one mouth… and we launched on November 3rd 1957, in time for the celebration of the revolution” (Grechko, 1989) This is emblematic of the identity of the Soviet Union due to its origins in revolution and its desire to lead the world in strength and innovation. The glory of the Soviet Union continued its legacy with another successful launch on the 29th anniversary of the USSR.

            Propaganda posters are a mainstay of the Soviet Union as a promotion for both nationalism and party unity. A picture is truly worth a thousand words and a propaganda poster might be worth double that. A poster can appeal to anyone and simply looking at it can convey a message; this is in contrast to other forms of propaganda that might require more of an active participation from the viewer. Pieces such as pamphlets and books require the viewer to both know how to read and also at a high enough reading level to understand what is being written. Posters could be viewed by anyone and are eye catching while spreading the message to the biggest possible audience in an efficient manner. Soviet era propaganda posters had the unique job of spinning famine and hardship as well as creating a certain image for the leadership.  “A concerted propaganda campaign tried to portray the country’s leaders in a populist guise, an image that clearly had the potential to resonate with the people’s own representations”. The widespread use of propaganda and more specifically posters carried out a specific goal in influencing the largest portion of the population.

            In response to the launch of Sputnik Soviet propaganda used this great success to further the identity of the Soviet Union through propaganda posters. These posters crafted following the rise of Sputnik communicated Soviet ideals to the masses, promoting both the glory and the strength of the Soviet Union. One poster published in 1958 depicts a series of rockets launching into outer space with Sputnik 1 being at the bottom and more advanced and futuristic rockets above it. The USSR is the only country seen on earth with a red star and golden leaves at the base. Along with this imagery there is a simple tag line “Fatherland! You lighted the star of progress and peace. Glory to the science, glory to the labor! Glory to the Soviet regime!”  (Rzhevsky, 1958). This poster encompasses a great deal of soviet ideals, the fatherland in the forefront represents the great nationalism of the USSR, that sense of nationalism and pride is credited for the accomplishments of Sputnik and the larger space program as a whole. Praising the Soviet regime within this poster bolsters the national identity the communist party was attempting to craft. Another poster in this collection takes a slightly different route with the focus being on the Soviet worker. This poster has a young fit and good-looking man in the forefront, an ideal caricature of a Soviet man. He is a working welder, there are a few other men working in the background symbolizing the power of the soviet worker. Over the shoulder of the welder’s shoulder there is a rocket being launched connecting his work to the soviet space program.  At the bottom of the poster there is a line stating “I am happy – this is my work joining the work of my republic” (Rzhevsky, 1958). With this line the main objective of the poster is clear in showing the people of the USSR that they should be proud and happy to work and do their part to support their country and that it is the strength and will of the people that allows the USSR to reach these heights. These posters are just a few of the hundreds of examples of the Soviet Union using the success of sputnik to continue to cultivate and grow their national identity.

            The Soviet Union following the initial launch of Sputnik looked to praise their accomplishments and spread their ideology. In propaganda pieces such as Pravda and the previously seen posters there is a constant emphasis on communist values and communist superiority. Those who worked in the Soviet space program were influenced by the Soviet national identity, figures like Korolev were forced to not be a public figure because it did not match with the Soviet identity. Moving forward in the Space race the USSR would rely on successes like Sputnik and other early advancements to build and share their identity as a superpower.

            Following the conclusion of the Second World War the United States presented itself as both a pillar of democracy and innovation. With a crippled Europe the United States transformed itself into a superpower moving into the 1950s. At odds with USSR, the undertones of the Cold War raged on within the United States. A unique combination of communist fear and American exceptionalism prevailed within this era. That fear translated swiftly across the United States following the launch of Sputnik. What was once a global rival was now turning itself into a new threat that was beginning to eclipse the United States scientifically. Within the United States response to Sputnik its own national identity is revealed, an identity consisting of innovation, freedom and strength. Through legislation of the era, perspectives of leaders as well as publications of a free press this identity is clear and continues to be robust as the space race waged on following Sputnik.

            The national identity of the United States goes back to its roots and continued to develop throughout the young nation’s history. While there is a spotty record for freedom for all within the United States there is certainly a belief that the ideal of Freedom is present. Looking at the founding documents of the United States freedom as a right is clearly expressed in the nation’s own Bill of Rights, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (U.S. Constitution, 1788). While the first Amendment is a small portion of the larger Constitution as a document it does serve as an early statement of this ideal of freedom.  The United States sees itself as exceptional to other nations. As a political scientist Richard Rose writes “America marches to a different drummer. Its uniqueness is explained by any or all of a variety of reasons: history, size, geography, political institutions, and culture” (Rose, 1989). This ties into its national identity as the United States and its unique qualities sets it apart from other western nations. The United States as a pillar of strength and democracy was a newer phenomenon prior to the two World Wars, with the United States not nearly as powerful or influential but following those global conflicts the United States left the wars relatively unscathed compared to its contemporaries becoming a super power in its own right. Nevertheless, the United States adopted this identity with full force and vigor and portrayed it throughout the entirely of the Cold War and especially in its response to the Sputnik Crisis.

            During the Sputnik crisis fear dominated the political and national conversation with a sense of danger settling in for many Americans. The Sputnik crisis within the United States refers to the time following the launch of Sputnik where the United States and the rest of the western world was plunged into panic and fear that the USSR was able to conquer a new and important feat in the Space race. What was once a belief that the United States and the western world were superior to the USSR was now shattered as they overtook them scientifically. This shock rippled throughout American society, “Along with official responses the launch and its symbolism unleashed vast and often effects on the domestic front due to society-wide crisis mentality it engendered. It changed the very mindset with in which Americans viewed communism and the Cold War” (Boyle, 2008). In an instance the Space race and by extension the cold war heated up as the USSR was a threatening force to American citizens. For American citizens fear went wild. The Soviets as one American General put it were “seeing into our bedrooms” (Goodpaster, 1941).  For much of the Cold Warn Americans believed in their own country’s strength and support, this was challenged for the first time for many Americans. These new fears in the wake of Sputnik were felt in the west globally, “Sputnik’s launch exacerbated pre-existing British fears that the Soviets were becoming more technologically advanced and leading the cold war.” (Barnett, 2013). For the western world, the USSR now threatened their way of life due to the Americans belief that the launch of Sputnik will lead to new military dominance from the success of the launch. For the duration of the Cold War both nations were in an intense arms race and now Americans feared that the Soviet Union had surpassing them.  This initial panic would loom over the space race as it developed acting as a driving force for innovation.

            Within the United States it is the duty of a trusted newspaper to report on the events of the world as they pertain to the lives of everyday Americans. With the Sputnik crisis American newspapers were some of the first reporting and sharing information with the American public. The New York Times is a long-standing American newspaper responsible for a rich news reporting history. In 1957 following the launch of Sputnik the paper published an Article chronicling the momentous event.  In the article titled “Soviet Fires Earth Satellite into Space; It Is Circling the Globe at 18,000 M.P.H.; Sphere Tracked in 4 Crossings Over U.S.” the event is reported on laying out facts about the launch as well as addressing potential panic. The first point of potential panic came from the title, the title mentions how many times Sputnik has traveled over the U.S. For an American it is terrifying that something the Soviets built is able to travel that fast directly above you. This leads to the fear of military application which was a central fear during the Sputnik crisis. The New York Times quells this fear by stating “The satellites could not be used to drop atomic or hydrogen bombs or anything else on the earth, scientists have said. Nor could they be used in connection with the proposed plan for aerial inspection of military forces around the world.” (Jordan, (1957). Panic following Sputnik was a significant part of the United States early reaction to the launch of Sputnik seen in a variety of other news sources. Moving forward past initial reactions the United States relied on its strength and innovation in order to make strides within the space race.

            For American media Sputnik represented the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, so time sensationalism reigned supreme. Fear sells newspapers and magazines this fits into the capitalist mindset of using any means to turn a profit. For many nothing is more American than capitalist principals. Following the launch American media began a true and massive publication campaign around the successful launch, a “media riot” (McQuaid, 2007) had absorbed the United States. The threat of communism was a huge part of this push to report on Sputnik, while fears about safety and national security were on the forefront. Some publications saw this as a turning point within the Cold War in favor of the Soviet Union, “The implications of Sputnik were clear to the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, who proclaimed the satellite’s launching as a clear Soviet victory in the Cold War” (Kennedy, 2005).  Other American newspapers took different stances on the crisis, “The New York Times devoted extensive coverage of the events and attempted to decipher the meaning of the Soviets’ scientific breakthrough, including a small article that analyzed the meaning of the word “Sputnik.” (Kennedy, 2005). Sputnik was a sensation so something as trivial as the name of the satellite was a part of speculation.  New technology was in the hands of the Soviet Union “The press, pushed the panic button journalists needed sources, and that some “exaggerated the danger of the Soviet satellite” (McQuaid, 2007). The USSR achieved the impossible up until that point and it was high and popular news to report on it across the United States.

            With the outpouring of panic and fear following Sputnik it was now the role of the government to calm the public and announce a path to American success. During WW2 newsreels were an extremely effective way to give important information to an anxious American crowd. These reels were produced by the United States government post Sputnik as a way of calming Sputnik anxiety in an attempt to get the United States both back on track as well as portraying an identity of innovation and freedom. In this reel titled “Reds Launch First Space Satellite” was released three days after the launch of Sputnik and aimed to give the facts explaining what a satellite is and what its function was. This information was spread in order to stop panic and get the record straight on Sputnik. The rest of this news reel focuses on the United States own satellite ambitions, which was due to free and strong workers and would come to fruition in early 1958. The description of the segment from 1957 stated “Animated films graphically show how a mighty three-stage rocket placed an artificial moon into an orbit around the earth—a feat that occasions Western re-appraisal of Red missile progress” (Motion Picture 200-UN-30-82, 1957). This refers to what an American rocket would look like as well as a reappraisal of the Soviet accomplishments hinting that American innovation will yield a much stronger rocket. The governments public response to Sputnik through this film shows the identity that the United States was trying to cultivate as well as calm some of the panic other media outlets spread.

            The American government and the global science community at large were taken aback by Sputnik where out of nowhere the Soviets had overtaken the United States, it was now up to the leadership of the United States to respond. From the inception of the Sputnik crisis President Dwight D. Eisenhower was optimistic and saw potential benefits from the Soviet success of Sputnik.  For the American people an address from President Eisenhower represented a sense of security and safety that was lost during the initial fallout of the launch of Sputnik.  Following being briefed on the crisis Eisenhower urged advisors to look five years ahead and decided that he would meet the Sputnik challenge (Divine, 1993), this shows the strength and innovation that the United States was attempting to cultivate in the post Sputnik crisis working hard and in order to excel against Soviet advisories. In his first presidential address following the launch of Sputnik “President Eisenhower made a statement goal providing the American people with a summary on the Administration’s position on the U.S. satellite program and the status of that program” (Kennedy, 2005). This message served a dual purpose of communicating that the United States was not as far behind the Soviet Union and that similar scientific breakthroughs to Sputnik from the United States were on the horizon. It is the leaders of a country that embody the messaging as well as the identity of a nation. In times of crisis this is amplified. During the Sputnik crisis Eisenhower wanted to portray the very best of American identity pushing for scientific developments in order to secure its place as a strong nation. 

            Many within the United States government saw education as a root cause of the United States failure to beat Sputnik to space, and educational shortcoming led to a new push for improved American education.  The proposed solution for this educational problem came in the form of the National Defense Education Act, a piece of legislation with the goal of improving American schools to eventually match and surpass Soviet schools. This ideally would lead to a smarter generation in time and a generation that could overcome any Soviet space program. While a smarter and more educated citizenry benefits all aspects of a country the passage of the National Defense Education act was to directly address the Sputnik crisis and the space race. Within Title IX of the act there was a real push to allocate more resources to science and scientific communities at large through the establishment of a science information service. The implications of this service would help further develop American space programs. The Act states “The Foundation, through such Service, shall (1) provide, or arrange for the provision of, indexing, abstracting, translating, and other services leading to a more effective dissemination of scientific information, and (2) undertake programs to develop new or improved methods, including mechanized systems” (U.S. Congress, 1958). Through this service there were new systems for collecting and analyzing scientific data as well as programs for development of mechanized systems which means rockets and other effects of a highly technical nature. Outside of developing new systems for science there was a push to get skilled students into higher education. According to Title II this included those “whose academic background indicates a superior capacity or preparation in science, mathematics, engineering, or a modern foreign language” (U.S. Congress, 1958). Math and science happen to be two of the key parts to developing a successful space program. Putting a focus on students who succeed in those attributes can yield valuable assets for the United States. The development and passage of this Act in the wake of Sputnik reveals how the United States is willing to innovate and strengthen itself in order to come up on top in the Space race.

            The launch of Sputnik in the fall of 1957 changed the history of the Cold War forever as now the space race was in full swing and the push to the future could not be stopped. The Soviet Union’s achievement through the launch of Sputnik cemented itself as a competitor during the early formative years of the Space Race. Its accomplishment sent shockwaves throughout the globe igniting the fierce competition of the space race in the backdrop of the Cold War. Within the response to the launch a nation’s identity remained at the forefront showcasing the most important ideals of a nation. For the Soviet Union the response to Sputnik was deeply rooted in the ideals for the Soviet Union, focusing on unity and glory of socialism. For the Communist Party and the larger Soviet Union as a whole promoting their idealized society through the achievement of their space program was imperative. Propaganda posters painted the USSR as a global leader in both science and technology. For the Soviet Union faults came in the failure to promote individuals and the heroes like the way the United States did, however this fit into the identity since the Soviet Union was far more concerned with keeping an image of unity and party loyalty then individual accolades.

            For the United States in a post Sputnik world, portraying an image of innovation and a country willing to rise to the challenge was a top priority. During the crux of the Cold War the United States focused on containing and matching any Soviet threat of expansion. This found its way to relevance during the time of Sputnik in that the United States had to match the Soviets in the Space race. Following initial panic and fear the response of the United States was focused on promoting American Innovation and freedom, showing its strengths as a global superpower.

            National identity in the midst of the Cold War played an extra important role as now global influence was something both superpowers had to contend with and develop. Being the strongest nation had a way in spreading the ideology of both the United States and the Soviet Union. Sputnik revealed how both these nations acted in times of achievement and crisis showcasing to the world their own carefully crafted self-image. The historiography remains clear that Sputnik played a decisive role in revealing national identity in the early stages of the Space Race. Sputnik remains an important educational tool showcasing the tensions of the era as well as what Soviet and the United States national identities looked like. For students this valuable event encompasses a great deal of what students need to know about the early tensions of the Cold War.


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