Origins of the Cold War
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Keywords: cold war origins, cold war causes
Thesis: Revisionist or Post revisionist blaming america ??? The Cold War (1947-1991) was a continuing political conflict, military tension, economic competition and nuclear arm race between the two superpowers of the time, the USA and the USSR. It is a conflict inherited from the Second World War which did not lead to a hot war but to many proxy wars, coalitions, propaganda and espionage. The Cold War was based in a growing sense of fear and distrust, holding the former allies to a confrontation that neither could afford but at the same time that neither could escape.
There are three different theses about the origins of the Cold War: the Orthodox, the Revisionist and the Post-revisionist.
The Orthodox American view, as set by the American government and as reaffirmed recently by most American scholars, had been that the Cold War was an essential response of free men to communist aggression. The Orthodox view blames the USSR for the start of the cold war. (ORIGINS OF THE COLD WAR, by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.)
The revisionist thesis is very different. They see it in its extreme form, that after the end of World War II the United Stated deliberately abandoned the wartime policy of collaboration and with the possession of the atomic bomb, undertook a course of aggression to expel Russian influence from Eastern Europe and to establish democracy and capitalism everywhere. This aggression from the United States towards Russia left Moscow no alternative but to take measures of defense. Therefore to have as a result the Cold War. (ORIGINS OF THE COLD WAR, by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.)
The post revisionist view blames both the Americans and the Russians. In the thesis itself, there is a deeper split between scholars in two groups: those who blame the Americans more and those who blame the Russians more. (International Relations since 1945, by Young and Kent)
In this paper I will critically examine the origins of the Cold War based in the Post-Revisionist view which blames the USA more than the USSR. There are three main justifications of why the cold war started: Ideology, National Security and Power. I will divide this paper in these three main ideas showing them on chronological basis with different examples and I will explain each of them showing that in my view the real origin of the Cold War was the desire for Power and dominance of the USA in Europe and the whole world.
The origins of the Cold War date since World War I, in 1914 when the competing ideas of communism and liberal democracy came into conflict. Since the October revolution took place in Russia (1917) followed by the start of the civil war (1918), the West became worried. President Woodrow Wilson immediately sent troops to fight against the Bolsheviks. At first look this would have seemed as a complete normal action: Wilson had to send troops to fight against the Bolsheviks otherwise he would not respect the 14 points he had addressed to the congress.
Thinking about the 14 points which included peace, freedom, national self-determination, free trade and international cooperation one could understand that the action of sending troops to fight the Bolsheviks was not only because of respecting this points that he had made himself. By analyzing it, we can see that if the USA let Russia have the revolution and establish communism, there would not be any free trade and the USA would not be leading the world anymore. Since that time we can see that there was ground for the start of the Cold War. This intervention from Wilson showed clearly and convinced Stalin and many others, even more that the West would do everything to destroy his communist dream.
After the Second World War the alliance between the three leaders of the three superpowers, USA, Russia and Britain started to have problems. This alliance was created thanks to the help of a common greater enemy and soon its end would come. The alliance was successful because it had won the war, but it would not be able to survive the peace. The historic differences, the ideologies and mostly the need for power were two difficult to overcome.
Nearly three decades later these ideologies did not change. There were many conferences that took place. One to mention was the Potsdam conference were no agreement was reached. At the conference President Truman asked Stalin to withdraw his troops from Central and Eastern Europe and to hold free elections in Poland. Stalin answered firmly that he was not going to do so because this would harm his national security. Poland has always been the border that the threat for Russia could come from, that is why it is more than justified that Russia has to look after its national security. This did not convince the West. But was Russia to blame for trying to protect its own state from a threat? It is true that Russia did not join the United Nations, and Hull said that this security could be achieved with a post war peacemaking organization, but in this case the UN was an American organization.
A big reason for the start of the Cold War was the division of Germany. The superpowers could not find an agreement in this case. By 1946, the United States and Britain were making every effort to unify all of Germany under western rule. The Soviet Union responded by consolidating its grip on Europe by creating satellite states in 1946 and 1947. One by one, communist governments, loyal to Moscow, were set up in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Stalin used Soviet communism to dominate half of Europe. Why Stalin did this might not be clear. Was he trying to build an international communist movement beginning in Eastern Europe? Or, was he simply trying to protect his borders from any intervention on the part of the United States or the allies as with the case of Poland?
Another cause of the cold war revolved around a relatively new development in United States-Soviet relations. At the beginning of 1946, Truman decided that he was "tired of babysitting the Soviets who understand only an iron fist and strong language." Stalin responded in February with a speech stressing the basic incompatibility between Soviet communism and western democracy, thus inaugurating a new hard line policy. Frustrated, Washington found meaning in a crucial document known as the "Long Telegram." In 1946, the Soviet expert George Kennan, sent an 8000 word telegram to Washington from Moscow. Kennan was a Foreign Service officer who new Russia well. He understood their history, their culture and their language. Kennan explained the communist mentality in the following way. The Soviet's hostility to the west is rooted in the need to legitimize their bloody dictatorship -- they must therefore believe in the inevitable triumph of communism over the beast capitalism. The Soviets, Kennan continued, would exploit every opportunity to extend their system and therefore could not and would not be converted to a policy of harmony and cooperation.(ORIGINS OF THE COLD WAR, by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr)
While at the same day of the Potsdam conference (it was the first day of the conference) in the desert of Mexico a blinding flash was seen. This blinding flash was nothing else but the first test for the atomic bomb, which did start the nuclear age. Was Russia now right to be concerned about their national security? With this act of the possession of a very dangerous weapon the USA pushed its limits and put more pressure on the Russian making the relations even worst. The USA had no excuses to worry about their national security in terms of territory or weapons. The world had to worry about their national security because the USA just showed them their immense power.
The question that I would like to raise in this crucial point is: Did America fought for ideology or was it for national security? How could the Americans talk about a world of freedom, peace and international cooperation when they were the ones who produced a lethal weapon which could bring just war and destruction?
If they fought for national security in the USA, what kind of security was it? The Americans were not threatened in terms of land, nor would anyone go and invade them. Why did they claim that their national security was strongly connected with what was happening in other countries in the world? I strongly believe, and facts show as well that national security was only a mask to hide behind the aim of the USA to dominate the world.
Americans did not limit their interventions just in Europe. During the Korean War we could see that the Americans sent their troops there with the pretest of peace and freedom, but the reality was different. They send their troops with the only goal which was to defend American interest in the region. They did not limit themselves to just support the South Koreans but they pushed until they reached the Chinese border. They were very close to start the Third World War.
These actions do not show a nation that promotes peace and freedom, but one that promotes imperialism and dominance of the world.
When President Truman voiced his accusation at the White House regarding red imperialism he said so: "The United Nations is in Korea because they have to put down an aggression that threatens all human hopes for peace and justice. If the aggression is successful it will spread in Asia, Europe and America. We are fighting in Korea for our own national security and survival."
As I said above the Americans did not have a matter of national security. They were not endangered in terms of land and territory; rather they were endangered by an attack from the USSR. Maybe Europe and Asia and the rest of the world should be more concerned about their national security now that America had in its possession the atomic bomb.
Maybe what President Truman meant was that if communism wins in Korea; it would be a threat to his plan to dominate the world because he would have to share the power with the USSR.
When the Russians developed nuclear power, the USA used this against them. People went out in the streets of America protesting against the evil Russian empire that had nuclear weapons and was planning to destroy the world. This showed that propaganda was a big weapon in the hands of American politicians. No one thought of what Russian people feared when they realized that the Americans had nuclear weapons. Since this was an arm race and since the Americans turned it into a nuclear race I believe that it was more than justified for the Russians to develop their own nuclear weapons in the name of security.
During this time a new phenomenon started in America. As I said before propaganda was very important. The Americans were scared that communism would start within the country and its own people, which is why they used Hollywood actors to talk against it. The USA propaganda was that America was a place where freedom of speech, religion, political views was respected; unlike Russia where if people were against communism, they were jailed or killed. It did not look like this was the case for the Hollywood Ten. The Hollywood Ten was a group of actors and other famous figures of television that refused to talk publicly against communism. They all were commanded to jail because of their beliefs. This clearly is an example that shows how these two ideologies were more similar than they appeared to be.
President Truman in one of his speeches said that he was not going to end democracy and he was not going to turn FBI in Gestapo to fight communism. He was going to ensure freedom of speech, of choice and peace; promises that he did not keep, shown in the act of jailing the Hollywood ten and many other communist supporters.
After the death of the Soviet Union leader the communist world was lost. No one knew who would lead the country; therefore a group leadership took place. Georgi Malenkov spoke for the party in one of their meetings by stating: "We stand as we have always stood, for peaceful coexistence of the two systems." This was clearly a strong statement that for the first time sent a message of peace and cooperation to the USA from the USSR. The question that raises here is if this was just soviet propaganda or if the new leaders where different than the old. Even if it was one or the other, this was a moment for peace and cooperation. If this chance for peace ever existed the USA secretary of state John Foster Dulles destroyed it by saying publicly: "We are not dancing on any Russian tune." His view was that the declaration of Malenkov was a Russian plot to divide the western allies. Except from showing paranoia and mistrust and fear, which was normal in a time of war, this shows also the small interest of the Americans for cooperation and peace; it clearly means that the Americans wanted to get rid of the USSR and rule the world alone.
At the time when Nikita Hrushov became the leader of the USSR, relations with the USA changed. He was the first leader from the USSR to visit the USA. After his visit there, he expressed in the Party meeting that relationships with the USA will be friendlier from now on. This would lead to a peaceful world order. In the meantime the Americans had been flying spy planes on Soviet air. While the Soviets where having one of their national parades, where they showed the friendship between the two superpowers one of the American spy planes was flying in Soviet air. The plane was shot down by the Soviets and as it crushed, at the same time the hopes for peace and cooperation between the two powers crushed as well. If the Americans would have accepted the cooperation and friendly relations they were constructing with the USSR and not be greedy and spy on them the world would have been more peaceful. But the Americans view was not to preserve their ideology and national security but to dominate the world.
Because they screwed the relationships with Russia they had to lie both to their people and to the Russians. But Hrushov knew that this was not the truth. In the end the American leader had to come to an open field and reveal the truth. This did not help the government look better in the eyes of the people or of the USSR.
The Vietnam War made it even worst. America helped South Vietnam by supporting it in becoming a capitalist country. Although Vietnam was not of any importance to the American they feared that if the Vietnamese turned to be communist many other countries would do the same. They believed in the Domino principle. The difference of Vietnam from other countries was that Vietnam was no communism under Moscow. Its leader Ho Chi Minh was communist itself and he used communism to bring people together in one state. After two decades of unsuccessful war the Americans left Vietnam. After Vietnams War people lost trust in the government and communism overcame democracy. It was not a good time for the Americans which decided to use the policy of Détente.
When the troops came back from Vietnam, President Gerald Ford said as follows: "These events tragic as they are show neither the end of the world nor the end of American leadership in the world."
With these exact words I believe that it was the first time that a western leader went out so openly to express the real intentions of the Americans. From Ford's words we can understand that these intentions were far away from spreading of freedom, peace and national security, but they were about America's leadership in of the world.
The Vietnam War was a very good victory for the Russians. During the Vietnam Syndrome in the US and with the victory of the Vietnam War the Russians continued to produce more arms and to march towards the goal of winning the cold war which was one of their biggest mistakes.
The United States did not intervene only in Vietnam and Korea but in many other places as well. Because of the expansionist threat they had from the Soviet Union, in 1949 President Truman and the Congress approved nearly 400$ million for technical development programs in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The goal of this program, as the American claim was to modernize and strengthen developing nations and discourage the growth of communism. By giving this aid, as the Marshall Plan they were not aiming in helping these nations, but being able to have them under American control in the future. These are steps that Americans took towards governing the world. While the Americans thought of universalism, the Russians thought of spheres of influence and the British thought of a balance of powers. It is clear that the Americans wanted universalism because if not they would have been cut out of the world and would not be able to take part in European politics and decision taking. What the Russians wanted was just to ensure their national security which was constantly threatened and keep governing Easter Europe. (ORIGINS OF THE COLD WAR, by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.)
The difference between America and the USSR is, that the USSR did not intervene in many countries and made them communist; they helped those countries who wanted to become. (Example: Vietnam) In contrast America intervened in every country that wanted to turn its regime in communism with their free will. This shows that the Americans were not concerned about the will of the people in each country, but they were mostly concerned about their power and their position in the world.
Another example of the American intervention in European affairs was also the creation of NATO. The idea for something like NATO grew from general European fears of renewed Soviet aggression. Hitler was still on everybody's mind. Although Hitler was dead, was Stalin perhaps viewed as the next aggressor? Regardless of whether or not Stalin was hell-bent on world domination, the point here is that he was perceived to be an aggressor in the Hitler mold. Western Europe also needed some guarantee from the United States that they would be protected from any aggression while they began the slow process of economic recovery.
For the United States, NATO signified that the United States could no longer remain isolated from European affairs. Indeed, NATO meant that European affairs were now American affairs as well. But Stalin was not Hitler. Furthermore, the Soviets were not Nazis. And in the end there was very little evidence of a Soviet plot to invade Western Europe. All NATO really did was intensify Soviets fears of the West and to produce even higher levels of international tension.
In conclusion, based on the post-revisionist view with a higher blame on America I have to say that the only origin of the cold war was the goal of the USA to govern the world; an goal that we can see reached in today's world.
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