Who was to Blame for the Cold War?
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Everyones opinion is different, some say one thing, some say another but the big question is, who was to blame for the Cold War? The United States of America? The Soviet Union? Maybe it was inevitable and bound to happen, but maybe it was partly both of their faults. Could the Cold War have been prevented? There are many points that can argue and back up all of the above opinions. I will be examining different sources and viewpoints in this essay and conclude it with my own and other historians opinions.
There are three divisions of western historians when it comes to their opinion on the Cold War, the Traditionalists, the Revisionists and the Post-Revisionists. Each party have their own opinion on who was actually to blame for the Cold War. Traditionalists are historians who believe that the Soviet Union were to blame, Revisionists, who believe that the United States were to blame and Post-Revisionists believe that both the USA and the Soviets were to blame. Each group has reasons for believing what they believe and they will all be argued within this essay.
There are many points that may have triggered the Cold War. Firstly, the history of mistrust between the USA and the Soviet Union that formed after their alliance in World War II. The USSR were scared that their Communist system was under threat from the Capitalists, but the Capitalists thought the same thing about the Communists. Both systems believed that they were doing the right thing. The USSR believed that the West were hostile towards them because of a few points.
1919 USA, Britain and France sent troops across to help the USSRs opponents.
1938 Stalin believed that there was an indication of Western support to Hitler after the two European countries, Britain and France turned down an Anti-Hitler alliance.
USSR believed that the British policy of appeasement was a plan to help Hitler.
1941 Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, afterwards, the USA, Britain, France and the Soviet Union fought in an alliance. Stalin urged his allies to launch a second front. The other three countries were not ready to launch such an attack until June 1944v (D-Day.) Stalin thought that the other countries were deliberately waiting for Germany to weaken the Soviet Union before the front was launched.
The Soviets were not invited to the Munich conference, even though it was held right on the Soviet border. The other countries knew that Stalin would never agree to Hitlers terms.
The basic mistrust that the Soviet Union and the USA had for each other made the breakdown of the wartime alliance inevitable.
The second factor of this argument involves the two different political systems that the Soviets and the Democratic West held. The USSR had a Communist system set up, the West had a Capitalist system. Communists believed that rights were less important than the good of society as a whole. As a result of this, industry grew rapidly but the general standard of living was a lot lower than that of the USA. the USSR was a one party dictatorship. All candidates belonged to the communist party; many communists were bitterly opposed to the Western Capitalist policies.
The Capitalists believed that being free of control is much more important than everyone being equal and alike. The USA was the worlds wealthiest country; business and property were privately owned. Some people were rich, some poor. Government was chosen in democratic elections. Many Capitalists were bitterly opposed to the Communist views. This factor is also very Post Revisionist, as both countries believed that they were right, and the other was wrong.
Another factor of this is The Yalta Conference, a meeting about how Europe was to be organised after WW2. Held in February 1945, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill met at Yalta and it was decided that these actions should be taken:
Free elections to set up democratic governments to east European countries, freed from the Nazis.
A United Nations Organisation would be set up to keep peace.
Germany should be divided up into zones of occupation, one controlled by Britain, one controlled by the USA, one by the Soviet Union and one controlled by France. The capital, Berlin was also divided into similar sections.
Once Germany was defeated, the Soviets would join war against Japan.
Stalin wanted to keep the parts of Poland that he had won in the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939. He wanted Poland to expand westward into Eastern Germany. Which would create a buffer zone between Germany and the Soviet Union, Stalin did not want to be attacked by the Germans again, after Germany had attacked them twice in the 30 years before then. He also wanted Poland to have a pro-Soviet government.
Stalin also had another government in exile, ready to be taken over, the Lublin Poles. But Britain and the USA supported a different group called the London Poles, who were strongly against communism. These poles had helped organise the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944, aiming to gain part of Poland, before Stalins army took over the whole country. Stalin wanted all the Germans out of Poland so that the Lublin Poles would have the country under complete control. By 1945 this had happened. Roosevelt and Churchill did not want Stalin to have control over Poland. At the Yalta conference, they forced him to agree that some of the London Poles would be included in the government and that there would be free elections for a new government as soon as possible
The Yalta Conference appeared to be a success, with agreements on what would be done after the war settled, but some of these agreements were not kept, and The London Poles had hardly any say in their government. Stalin elected a pro-communist government into Poland, but this was not what Churchill and Roosevelt had meant.
Yalta showed how difficult it was for the Allies to reach an agreement. In July 1945, a second conference was held, at Potsdam in Germany. Here, the broken relationship between the east and the west was more apparent. By July 1945, Soviet troops had liberated the whole of Eastern Europe from Nazi control, however, instead of free democratic elections, decided on at Yalta, Soviet troops remained in these liberated countries.
In the past five months since Yalta, a number of changes had taken place, which would greatly affect the relationships between the country leaders.
America had successfully tested the Atomic Bomb.
Churchill had lost the general election. Atlee is the new British leader.
President Roosevelt had died, leaving Truman to be appointed President.
Stalins Armies were occupying most of Eastern Europe.
It was agreed that:
Germany would be divided. Allies would receive reparations.
The Nazis would be banned, and their leaders tried as War Criminals.
Germans occupying Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia are sent back to Germany.
Polands Eastern border would be moved west to the rivers Oder and Neisse.
What to do with Germany.
Soviet policy in Eastern Europe.
Soviet occupation of Japan.
Stalin believed that Germany should be made to suffer, Britain and the USA did not agree. This caused uneasiness between the East and the West. This made it slightly inevitable for the two alliances to fall out.
Winston Churchill made his famous Fulton Speech in March 1946, it explained how an iron curtain, a division between East and West Europe had been set. This separation was by soviet policy. The west of Europe was free, but in the east, the Soviets had taken over. This was a clear statement of West versus East. Stalin accused Churchill of trying to stir up a war against the Soviets. The Soviets made sure that between 1945 and 1948, every country in Eastern Europe had a government that was both communist and were sympathetic towards the Soviets. Stalin said that all he was doing was creating a buffer zone between the Soviets and the Western World.
The USA thought that this expansion into Eastern Europe was not for defence, but the first step of a plot for the Soviets to take over the world. The spread of communism had to be stopped, and it was.
Truman wanted to put a stop to the growth of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, but there were still Soviet troops in these countries, and there was little Truman could do. When he was informed that Britain could not afford to hold British troops in Greece and Turkey, Truman gave money to the UK so that they could keep troops stationed there. He also gave money to the two governments. This policy was then called containment the prevention of communist expansion. Truman officially announced this policy in a speech on 12 March 1947; this speech has later been called the Truman Doctrine.
With the Truman Doctrine came the Marshall plan, an attack on Communist roots. This was an idea from General George Marshall. The idea was to give money to any country under threat from being taken over by the Soviet Union, so that they could prevent communism to spread into their country, with the money came a bond between that country and the USA, this bond enslaved the country under the USA and would mean that Western ideas would have to be considered there. Stalin however was not fooled, he forbade any communist countries from receiving Marshall Aid. Therefore they were not committed to the USAs ideas. The countries of Europe however, were keen to be enslaved and between 1948 and 1952 the USA provided $13 billion to sixteen different countries.
Stalins refusal to allow communist countries from receiving Marshall Aid had a big effect on events in Germany after World War 2. Germanys economy was ruined, the western powers did not want to restore Germanys military power, but they had to rebuild its industries and restore the economy. The western part of Germany was not included in the Marshall Plan, Stalin refused the Soviet zone to receive aid.
The generosity of it was beyond belief(Ernest Bevin-British Foreign Secretary.)
One the one hand, Marshall aid was an extremely generous act by the USA. On the other hand, it was also motivated by American self-interest. The Americans remembered the disastrous effects of the Depression of the 1930s and Truman wanted to do all he could to prevent another worldwide slump. Maybe the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were just too good, to generous, taxpayers in the United States, their money was going towards helping other countries, although it was a very generous and kind thing to do, did they have to give so much money?
In response to the Marshall Plan, the Soviets set up two other organisations: The Communist Information Bureau, an organisation to strengthen relationships between communist nations, and the council for Mutual Economic Aid, which was a rival to the Marshall Plan.
Berlin at this time was divided into zones, similar to those zones that split Germany. On the 24th June 1948, Stalin decided to blockade West Berlin by cutting off road and rail links. To break this blockade, the Allies would have to send tanks to smash through the blocks. This would be seen as an act of war, and Stalin didnt believe that the Allies would go that far, he thought that the Allies were much more likely to abandon their zones and leave the whole of Berlin in soviet hands. To keep West Berlin going, the west sent supplies in planes across to there. These supplies were sent by air to the three air bases in West Berlin, this operation was named The Berlin Airlift. This meant that now Stalin had options. To stop the supplies, he would have to shoot the planes down, even though they carried no threat to the Soviet Union, this would clearly show him as the aggressor. Just in case Stalin took this option, B-29 Bombers were stationed in Britain, putting the Soviets in range of Atomic Bombs if necessary. The three western allies, overall made 275,000 trips to West Berlin and delivered over 2,000,000 tons of supplies. Stalins gamble had failed. On 12 May 1949 he called off the blockade.
Stalins blockade had made the Allies stand their ground, taking measures to strengthen their control of Germany and their opposition to the Soviet Union. The formation of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was a military alliance of the European powers and the USA and Canada. It was a defensive alliance, if any of these countries were attacked, these allies were sworn to help. NATO was a direct challenge to the Soviets, although the USSR had developed the Atomic Bomb. When NATO was expanded to include West Germany in 1955, the Soviet Union responded by setting up its own military alliance, the Warsaw Pact.
The two Alliances:NATO:
The countries in NATO were: USA, Britain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952 and West Germany in 1955.
The Warsaw Pact:
The countries in the Warsaw Pact were: Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania.
The setting up of NATO and the Warsaw Pact consolidated the positions of the two superpowers.
There are many points that suggest that the Americans and Allies were to blame. The self-interest behind the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine enslaved the countries that received Marshall Aid to Western ideas. This meant that the USA would have a say in the way those countries were run. Americas Atomic diplomacy showed off their strength and power and annoyed Stalin. He thought that it was a threat to the USSR and got his scientists to design a Soviet atomic bomb in defence. Winston Churchills Fulton Speech made the East believe that the West actually wanted a war. The USA betrayed Britain and told the Soviets that this iron curtain had nothing to do with them. T.G. Paterson, J.G. Clifford and K.J. Hagan wrote in 1977 The post-war period seemed an ideal opportunity to put into practice Americas idea of Peace and Prosperity. There was another factor of great importance the vital needs of the American Economy This suggests that these historians, in 1977 believed that the USA were actually being very selfish and not thinking of anyone else but themselves and how they could gain power.
However there were faults on the Russian side too, The Russians expanded into Eastern Europe, this was one of the most important reasons in my view that the Cold War got worse. If the Soviets hadnt done this, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan may not have even happened. Stalin did not keep the agreements that were made at Yalta. This annoyed the other leaders, as Stalin was being selfish. Stalin also set up the Berlin Blockade with the idea that he could push western power out of Eastern Berlin. The cold War was the brave and essential response of free men to Communist aggression. (A.M. Schlesinger 1967) Schlesinger believes that the soviets were wrong. The USA was trying to stop the USSR from going any further. He is a Traditionalist Historian.
T.A. Bailey also believed that the Soviets were to blame, he thinks that they always had one more plan for world domination up their sleeves.
Was the Cold War Inevitable? The different political systems, this was always going to be a reason for the East and the West to fall out. Communists were bitterly opposed to Capitalists and vice versa. Also the events at the Potsdam Conference were nobodys fault really. The Soviets wanted Germany to be economically flattened, USA and Britain knew that this wasnt the case; Germany had to be picked up and on its feet again, just with restrictions and rules. These points made the Potsdam conference a slightly inevitable cause of the Cold War.
Finally, were the East and the West as much to blame as each other? Was it a compilation of both sides actions? Would some points even had been considered if the other sides actions before hadnt taken place? Both The Soviets and The Allies were suspicious of each other, they both thought that their way was right, and they were willing to fight for it. If Russia hadnt expanded into Eastern Europe, would the Cold War have actually ever been mentioned in a history lesson? Personally, I believe that both the East and the West were to blame and that each side encouraged each other to retaliate in its actions. The Berlin Blockade caused the Allies to harden up and stand their ground, this made them tougher and stronger than before. Each side after WW2 wanted to win diplomatic victories over their opponents. Post Revisionist Historians also believe that it was partly both alliances that caused the Cold War. Modern historians also tend to think this. M. Leffler wrote in 1992 about how the USA were responding to things that the Soviets were doing, but these actions that the Soviets were taking were in response to Western actions. Each side was responding to responses to their own actions. My thoughts are shared with Lefflers, both sides were to blame. Each in their own way.
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