Robert Kennedy's  United States History Class

Subtitle

Learning Objective I
Discuss the origins of the Cold War 

If we want to gain a better understanding of the world in which we live, we must go back at least to the end of World War II. That war has been described by some historians as the continuation of World War I. At the end of World War I, the statesmen of Europe and the United States had met in Paris to make a peace that would prevent a repetition of another world war . In this they failed miserably because within 20 years the world became involved in a costlier war ... World War II.


Given the earlier failure in 1919, one would have expected the victors in 1945 to have learned from past mistakes and to have given careful thought in advance to the kind of world they hoped to create, once the fighting was over.

The Cold War is the story of two great powers with each with a expectations as to how the other should behave, which neither was willing to fulfill.

The question, "Who started the Cold War?" has little meaning; the important question is, "Why did it happen?". It is impossible to understand the dynamics of this conflict without keeping in mind the stage on which the opening act began in 1945.


 In 1945 the Soviet Union and the United States renewed the mutual hostility that had started in 1917. By 1945, each country perceived the other as having gone back on promises and posing a major military threat to its national security.


Russia's need for a buffer zone in eastern Europe to uphold Soviet Communism clashed head-on with America's traditional belief in national self-determination. It also clashed with the view held by some Americans that the United States should have free access to the world's markets and raw materials and exert dynamic leadership over world trade.

The United States emerged from World War II the most powerful nation in the history of the world. By almost any historical definition the United States was supreme.    The United States alone possessed the secret of the atomic bomb, short-lived as that monopoly was to be.  The United States military forces were located on every inhabited continent, and took permanent control of much of Japan's Pacific empire in the form of "strategic trusts".



The war, which had brought all other participants close to economic ruin, victor and vanquished alike, had restored the American economy after the Great Depression and left the United States in a position to manage the reconstruction of the world economy.

The dollar was now the global currency and the United States was the number one banker, creditor, and consumer of resources.


The leader of what soon came to be known as the "Free World," with six percent of the world's population, swiftly proceeded to eat, use or consume each year more than 50 percent of the world's resources to feed its expanding industrial base and affluent consumer economy.


The leader of what soon came to be known as the "Free World," with six percent of the world's population, swiftly proceeded to eat, use or consume each year more than 50 percent of the world's resources to feed its expanding industrial base and affluent consumer economy.


The picture of the Soviet Union in 1945 could not provide more of a contrast. With up to 20 million of her people dead, her relatively primitive industrial facilities largely in ruins, and her territory wasted by four years of "scorched earth" war by Hitler, the Soviet Union, having purchased survival at a great price was weak and vulnerable



The picture of the Soviet Union in 1945 could not provide more of a contrast. With up to 20 million of her people dead, her relatively primitive industrial facilities largely in ruins, and her territory wasted by four years of "scorched earth" war by Hitler, the Soviet Union, having purchased survival at a great price was weak and vulnerable

True, she was unquestionably the number two power in the world, in part because of her impressive military victories over Hitler, BUT principally because "victory" had spelled the end of the British and French empires that had long dominated European politics, along of course, with the Italian, German, and Japanese empires.   Soviet troops were in the middle of Europe, but the new Soviet empire was shaky indeed.


The United States entered the postwar era with a well- developed imperial creed. The United States, declared President Truman in April 1945, should "take the lead in running the world in the way that the world ought to be run."


As a result of this imperial creed the Truman administration saw nothing anomalous about insisting on the very rights for the number one power that they would deny the No. 2 power. American diplomats saw nothing wrong with the double standard and believed that the Soviet Union ought to behave in accordance with the new balance of power in the world and expected that the military superiority that the atomic bomb had brought it, together with  America's economic strength, would insure a properly "cooperative" Soviet policy.


As a result of this imperial creed the Truman administration saw nothing anomalous about insisting on the very rights for the number one power that they would deny the No. 2 power. American diplomats saw nothing wrong with the double standard and believed that the Soviet Union ought to behave in accordance with the new balance of power in the world and expected that the military superiority that the atomic bomb had brought it, together with  America's economic strength, would insure a properly "cooperative" Soviet policy.



But Stalin lost no time in signaling his unwillingness to play the role assigned to him by American diplomats. This double standard was justified in the same way as the imperial creed by the fact the United States must now seek world power "as a trustee for civilization." The basic tenet of the new imperial creed was anti-imperialism.


United States sought power supposedly not to perpetuate the "selfish" policies of the old colonial powers but to "organize the peace" and to "impose international law."


Hence; World War II finalized a revolution in American foreign policy, that started with the Spanish-American War, ending two centuries of isolation in world diplomatic affairs.   During the events leading up to and including the Spanish-America War; the United States appetite for a "larger policy" in world affairs developed. This appetite and desire subsided somewhat after the Spanish-American War and World War I, BUT became very strong again in 1945.    Before World War 11,the United States had no formal alliances, no troops stationed on foreign soil, and only a small defense budget.  After World War II it was decided to be a permanetly armed nation.  



The defeat of Germany and Japan did not bring stability to the world. Within two years of the end of World War II, the United States was engaged in a global ideological struggle with the Soviet Union that historians call the Cold War.


The United States government developed a Cold War mentality, characterized by a FEAR OF COMMUNIST expansion and a tendency to interpret all revolutionary activity as part of a monolithic communist movement controlled by Moscow.


On the other hand the Soviet Union developed a FEAR OF CAPITALISM and its tendencies towards the creation of economic slaves. Hence; the Soviet Union viewed American economic and political initiatives throughout the world as a threat to its security. Stalin emerged from World War II

resolved to preserve the Soviet state in what he believed to be an even more hostile environment than before the war.   Suspicious by nature, conscious that the Nazis were only the latest of a wave of foreign invaders that had ravaged the Russian soil throughout her history, AWARE that a fundamentally anti-Soviet capitalist state had become the giant among nations, Stalin became was obsessed with the question of NATIONAL SECURITY.   Hitler was the only man Stalin had ever trusted and he betrayed Stalin and almost cost him his empire.


The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union began gradually. But as mentioned the United States had refused to recognize the Bolshevik revolutionary government in Moscow until it was 16 years old, in 1933. More important Soviet suspicions of the West began to become very strong in 1942 and again in 1943 when the British and United States twice delayed in opening up a SECOND FRONT against Germany, while the red army paid a ghastly price to roll the Nazi invaders back across Russia and Eastern Europe.


For two years (1945-47) after World War II the nations tried to adjust their differences over the (1) division of Europe, (2) postwar economic aid, and (3) the atomic bomb through discussion and negotiation.


The division of Europe: 


 The fundamental disagreement was over who would control postwar Europe. The Russians, mindful of past invasions from the west were intent on imposing Communist governments loyal to Moscow in the Soviet sphere.   The Soviet Union consolidated its grip on Eastern Europe in 1946 and

1947. One by one, Communist regimes replaced coalition governments in Poland, Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria. Moving  cautiously to avoid provoking the West, Stalin used communism as a means to dominate half of Europe, both to protect the security of the

Soviet state and to advance its international power. The climax came in March 1948 when a coup in Czechoslovakia overthrew a democratic government and gave the Soviets a strategic foothold in Central Europe.



Both sides were intent on imposing their values in the areas liberated by their troops. The Russians were no more likely to withdraw from Eastern Europe than the United States and Britain were from Germany , France, and Italy. A FRANK RECOGNITION OF COMPETING SPHERES OF INFLUENCE MIGHT HAVE AVOIDED FURTHER ESCALATION OF TENSION.


But the Western nations , remembering Hitler's aggression in the 1930's, began to see Stalin as an equally dangerous threat to their well-being. Instead of accepting him as a cautious leader bent on protecting Russian security, they perceived him as an aggressive dictator leading a Communist drive for world domination.


Postwar economic aid: World War II had inflicted enormous damage on Russia. The brutal fighting had taken between 16 and 20 million Russian lives, destroyed over 30 thousand factories, and tom up 40 thousand miles of railroad track. The industrialization that Stalin had achieved at such great sacrifice in the 1930's had been badly set back; even agricultural production had fallen by half during the war . OUTSIDE AID AND ASSISTANCE WERE VITAL FOR THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE SOVIET UNION .


American leaders knew of Russia's plight and hoped to use it to good advantage. Wartime ambassador Averell Harriman wrote in 1944 that economic aid was "one of the most effective weapons at our disposal" in dealing with Russia. Truman was convinced that economically "we held all the cards and the Russians had to come to us."  In January 1945, the Soviets requested a $6 billion loan to finance postwar reconstruction. Despite initial American encouragement , Roosevelt deferred action on this request ; as relations with Russia cooled, and Truman became President in April the chances for action dimmed.  While at the same time the United States rubbed salt in Soviet wounds when it abruptly terminated vital lend-lease aid to battered Russia and spumed Moscow's plea for the $6 billion loan it gave a similar loan of $3.75 billion to the British.    Deprived of American assistance, the Soviets were forced to rebuild their economy through reparations. The Soviets systematically removed factories and plants from areas they controlled, including their zone of Germany, Eastern Europe, and Manchuria.  Slowly the Soviet economy recovered from the war, but the bitterness over the American refusal to extend aid convinced Stalin of Western hostility and thus deepened the growing antagonism.


 The atomic bomb: The inability to reach agreement on international control of the atomic bomb greatly added to the mounting tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. With the successful use by the United States in August 1945, of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the new weapon raised problems that would have been difficult for friendly nations to resolve. GIVEN THE UNEASY STATE OF SOVIET-AMERICAN RELATIONS, THE EFFECT WAS DISASTROUS.


The wartime policy followed by Roosevelt and Churchill ensured a postwar nuclear arms race. Instead of informing their major ally of the developing atomic bomb in the late 1930's and early 40's they kept it a closely guarded secret. Stalin learned of the Manhattan Project through espionage and responded by starting a Soviet atomic program in 1943, which he completed in 1949.

After the war and BEFORE the Soviets developed their atomic bomb the United States wanted to develop a disarmament plan which was based on (1) sanctions by the United Nations against violators of the ban on production of the bomb, (2) inspections and (3) taking away the ¬∑veto power the "Big Five" (including the Soviets) had in the Security Council on all matters involving atomic energy. THE NET EFFECT OF THIS PLAN WOULD PRESERVE THE AMERICAN ATOMIC MONOPOLY FOR THE INDEFINITE FUTURE. The Soviets advocated immediate disarmament hoping to neutralize the United States advantage.


These responses were predictable and no agreement was possible. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union could abandon its position without surrendering a vital national interest. The nuclear dilemma, inherent in the Soviet- American rivalry, blocked any national settlement. Instead the 2 superpowers agreed to disagree.


Since neither side trusted the other nor any form of international cooperation, each concentrated on taking maximum advantage of its wartime gains. THUS THE SOVIETS EXPLOITED THE TERRITORY THEY HAD CONQUERED IN EUROPE WHILE THE UNITED STATES RETAINED ITS ECONOMIC AND STRATEGIC ADVANTAGES OVER THE SOVIET UNION. 


By the end of 1946, the United States perceptions of the Soviet Union led American diplomats to conclude that it was futile to bargain with the Russians. INSTEAD, THEY TURNED TO CONTAINMENT, A STRATEGY DESIGNED TO LIMIT SOVIET AND COMMUNIST EXPANSION.