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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

Lecture LO III

Learning Objective III:

Discuss the results of World War II and show how

(1) conflicts in ideologies,

(2) war time politics

(3) and America‚Äôs new economic and military position led to the Cold War and the Atomic Age.  

Ideology can be defined as a system of beliefs required to sustain some existing order. The central theme of American ideology since the eighteenth century, has been the theme of liberty, both economical and political. In the twentieth century American businessmen and politicians could not help but become hostile towards economic and political practices in other cultures which impeded the practice of capitalism.


One of the most difficult challenges to American ideology and statesmanship after 1917 was Russia. In setting up the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks--Marxian revolutionaries under Lenin--established a regime that American leaders considered basically hostile to their own political and economic system or ideology.


Similar revolts seemed to threaten Spain, Germany, Hungary , China, and Mexico. It seemed to many Americans these revolts could happen in the United States. In Russia when the Bolsheviks repudiated zarist debts, claimed state ownership over national resources, and threw out foreign investors, American leaders grew alarmed. Woodrow Wilson saw the Bolsheviks as opposed to everything he stood for: law and order, constitutional democracy, and civil liberties.


Consequently, Wilson, as well as, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover refused to recognize the Soviet Union. Finally , in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the Soviet government, hoping to improve American trade during the depression . In a sense the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union originated in 1917 and was only temporarily suspended between 1941 and 1945.


In 1945 the Soviet Union and the United States renewed the mutual hostility that had started in 1917. Each perceived the other as having gone back on promises and posing a major military threat. Russia's need for a buffer zone in eastern Europe to uphold Soviet Communism clashed head-on with America's traditional belief in freedom and independence. It clashed also with the view held by some prominent Americans that the United


States should have free access to the world's markets and raw materials and should be allowed to exert dynamic leadership over world trade. Many of the problems that plagued the postwar world resulted from disagreements in wartime diplomacy .

As a result of conflict in ideologies both the United States and the Soviet Union entered World War II suspicious of the other. Soviet suspicions of the West began to become very strong in 1942 and again 1943 when the British and United States twice delayed in opening up a SECOND FRONT against Germany. Consequently, the red army paid a costly price to roll back the Nazi invaders across Russia and Eastern Europe.


At the height of the German invasion of Russia, more than 300 Soviet divisions had been locked in battle with 250 Germans ones, a striking contrast to the 58 divisions the United States and Britain used in the Normandy invasion on D-Day 1944.

Consequently , the Soviet Union suffered the greatest losses of the war, over six million military deaths, over ten million civilians dead, and at least 25 million left homeless. When the total death figures for all countries are compared, 17 million military and 18 million civilian, it is clear the Soviets paid the greatest price during the war.


Thus, as the Soviet armies overran Poland and the Balkan countries, Stalin was determined to retain control over this region, which had been the historic pathway for Western invasion into Russia.


The delay in opening the second front and an innate distrust of the West convinced the Soviets they should maximize their territorial gains by imposing Communist regimes on Eastern Europe. Stalin was able to accomplish this at the Yalta conference in February, 1945.


It was at Yalta Conference that the map of the postwar world took shape. Here Roosevelt and Churchill agreed in principle to the idea of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, but they left its actual dimensions deliberately vague. In return, Stalin pledged to: (1) hold free elections at an unspecified time; (2) agree to the formation of a permanent United Nations organization; and (3) enter the Pacific war three months after Germany surrendered . The last pledge was the most important to Roosevelt since the American Joint Chiefs of Staff still estimated Japan could hold out for 18 months after the defeat of Germany. Costly campaigns lay ahead and the atomic bomb was still an expensive unknown gamble. The Yalta agreements were later attacked for giving eastern Europe over to Soviet domination. But the course of the war shaped the actions at Yalta and the Soviets' geographical control over the area put them in a position to get what they wanted.


The defeat of Nazi Germany dissolved the one strong bond between the United States and the Soviet Union. With very different histories , cultures, and ideologies, the two nations were bound to drift apart. And with the death of Roosevelt it would be up to the inexperienced Harry Truman to manage the growing rivalry that was destined to develop into the "Cold War."


Also the wartime policy followed by Roosevelt and Churchill ensured a postwar nuclear arms race. Instead of informing their major ally of the commitment to developing the atomic bomb in 1940, 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.


The war's end opened a new era for the United States. It accelerated the growth of American power while devastating all other world powers, leaving the United States economically and militarily the strongest nation on earth. The war also brought about the birth of the atomic age as the United States used the atomic bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring a final end to the war.


The devastating impact of World War II on European economies and the impact of war mobilization in the United States laid the foundation for postwar economic developments.


Unlike the Soviet Union, which had lost between 16 to 18 million of its citizens, or Western Europe and Japan, whose landscapes and economies had been devastated by the fighting, the United States emerged physically unscathed from the war. In fact, the American economy was in far better shape in 1945 than when the war began in 1941. During the war American consumers had accumulated savings of $140 billion, which created a strong market for the consumer goods that had been unavailable during the war. Also, the federal government eased conversion to a peacetime economy by allowing businesses to buy factories built for the war effort at a fraction of their cost. In addition, business quickly applied the scientific and technological innovations developed for war production , such as plastics and synthetic fibers, to the production of consumer goods.


The steady growth of the American economy produced a 25 percent rise in purchasing power between 1946 and 1960. In 1940, 43 percent of American families owned their homes, but by 1960, that figure had increased to 62 percent. These figures can be misleading. While the standard of living was rising, there was no redistribution of income. The percentage of income received by each segment of the population was substantially the same as it had been in 1910 and in 1939. Americans were living better because of economic growth and the domination of the United States' economy in the world economy; however, the concentration of income remained unchanged.


World War II also brought about a revolution in American foreign policy, ending two centuries of isolation from world diplomatic affairs. Before the war, the United States had no formal alliances, no troops stationed on foreign soil, and only a small defense budget. After 1945, the United States willingly sought a lasting--indeed dominant--role in international affairs. A state of permanent mobilization has characterized American society ever since.


The dramatic shift in American foreign policy after 1945 had important domestic repercussions .


Permanent mobilization required higher defense expenditures and a military draft. It also fostered the creation of a powerful military establishment that linked the armed services with scientific and corporate communities in the cause of national security.


Finally, permanent mobilization led to a revolution in American government, as the executive branch assumed an almost uncheckable authority over the conduct of foreign affairs. American postwar foreign policy also combined both old and new concerns. In keeping with the ideals enunciated by Woodrow Wilson during World War I, the United States continued to promote the peaceful expansion of its capitalist economic system throughout the world.