Any Cold War History that downplays and fails to recognize the very real threat to extermination of Democracy and the Western Allies both as political ways of life and societies, by Communism and Communists does not understand the Cold War, its meaning, importance and critical conclusions as success for the Western Nations; also, this could be said of the rest of the world's nations. More recent history is demonstrating just how much this outcome has proven to be true.
There was, without doubt, a real threat to Western Europe during the Cold War. As a military intelligence analyst during the 1980s I believe my colleagues and I had a realistic view of, for example, the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. This very strong army group was not a defensive alignment of military resources. It had one fairly obvious, glaring purpose -- to overrun Western Europe. GSFG and the forces behind it, including the Pact forces and those in the western military districts of the USSR, seriously overmatched the NATO forces deployed on the other side of the Inner German Border. We were right to see this as a mortal threat, and also to stubbornly resist Soviet calls for "no first use" of nuclear weapons.
But the Cold War warped our thinking in one crucial respect. Wyatt, you cited "communism," as if it were something monolithic. It was not, and a more nuanced understanding of our Cold War enemies might have kept us from making avoidable foreign policy errors. Like the Vietnam War.
Could not resist Ralph but, would suggest the Cold War was not a blanket over the entire historical era; rather, there were nuances, as you characterize with differing periods within this era.
'But the Cold War warped our thinking in one crucial respect. Wyatt, you cited "communism," as if it were something monolithic. It was not, and a more nuanced understanding of our Cold War enemies might have kept us from making avoidable foreign policy errors. Like the Vietnam War.'
Monolithic was the way Cold War was seen at least in its earliest phases of history. By 1962, an open contest for leadership of the world-wide Communist movement had emerged in the form of a challenge from Communist China to the USSR and everyone was fairly well aware of this fact and historical development in the Communist movement. "Albania" was then the challenge point coming from China.
By Vietnam in 1964, open conflict had returned to the divide between North and South with the US directly involved on the South's side and when Nixon took over in 68-9 for the US, he and Kissinger determined to exploit the differences between China and the Sovs in order to gain advantage for the US, particularly in Vietnam. Thereby, the way was opened to ending war in Vietnam during this period of the Cold War era.
Admittedly, these are large general sweeps without exacting details but in a broad reach to history for discussion here, they give an indication of the sweep to our time. As to avoiding Vietnam, not much chance after the Communist launched their attack on the US air base at Pleiku in Johnson's term.