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World War II Issues

How and why did the wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorate into a cold war?

During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were held together by the common objective of defeating Nazi Germany. Political disputes plagued the wartime alliance especially those regarding the peace terms to be imposed on Germany and the postwar status of Eastern Europe, respectively. Stalin wanted a harsh peace that would strip Germany of both territory and industrial infrastructure (McMahon 19). Roosevelt and other US experts remained undecided at that point: whether to crush Germany or to treat it magnanimously. Eastern European issues also created conflicts between the US and the Soviet Union. In November 1944 Churchill and Stalin tentatively approved the notorious ‘percentages agreements’, which purported to divide much of the Balkans into zones of preponderant British or Russian influence. This created more disputes. At the Yalta Conference of February 1945, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to recognize the Soviet backed Lublin government in Portugal, provided that Stalin permitted free elections (McMahon, p. 20).

The Yalta spirit was jolted by mounting Anglo-American dissatisfaction with the Soviet Union’s cruel repression of non-communist Poles, and its aggressive actions in Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, all areas recently liberated by the Red Army. Churchill and Roosevelt saw these as violations of the Yalta accords.

Harry S. Truman, who succeeded President Roosevelt, felt that getting tough with the Russians would help Americans achieve what they wanted. Truman, on 20 April, said he saw no reason why the United States should not get 85% of what it wanted on important issues (McMahon, p. 22). The use of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender and ended the need for Soviet troops in the Pacific. In July 1945, two months after the German surrender, US, British, and Soviet held meetings to discuss territorial adjustments in East Asia and the specific timing of Soviet entry into the Pacific War. Conflicts arose during these meetings. England and America had to accept the Soviet dominated Poland with expanded western boundaries that included former German territory. However, they could not accept Soviet installed governments in Bulgaria and Romania (McMahon, p. 26). American Soviet relations deteriorated due to conflicting interests in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, the issue of US economic aid and debates over the Soviet role in Manchuria. Some comprises were worked out in the meetings of the Council of Foreign Ministers. However, 1946 marked the demise of the Grand Alliance and the beginning of a fully fledged Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

What events convinced Americans the urgency of the Soviet threat?

The main event that convinced Americans of the urgency of the Soviet threat was the Berlin Blockade. The Berlin Blockade began in mid 1948 as Russian forces tried to seal railroads and highways to West Berlin to make Allied soldiers there surrender from starvation. However, the Allies airlifted supplies and cargo planes and dropped provisions into West Germany. In 1958, Soviet Union tried to block immigration to West Germany by establishing barbed wire fences and patrols along the whole border between East and West Germany. Russia intensified the conflict when it declared it would hand over all power in East Berlin to the DDR regime effective on May 27, 1952. This event along with others served to show Soviet Union as a threat to a peaceful world (Ellis et al, pp. 809-813).

What ideological factors made the Cold War so intense?

Ideologically, the Americans believed that the future prosperity of Western Europe and of United States required an economically strong Germany whereas Soviet Union wanted a permanent weakening of Germany. Hence they opted for division of Germany while trying to retain the pretence of unity. Western European allies perceived Stalin’s Russia as an opportunistic bully with a keen intent on expansion of territories, acquiring resources and concessions. George F. Kennan, the senior US diplomat in Moscow in a long telegram’ of 22 February 1946 explained that Kremlin’s rulers had imposed an oppressive totalitarian regime on the Soviet people, and now on the pretext of threats posed by external enemies, it is trying to continue the internal tyranny. Stalin imposed dictatorial governments in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, maintained a huge sphere of influence in East Germany, refused to remove troops from Iran, pressed Turkey for concessions, pillaged Manchuria and more. The fact of refusing to remove troops from Iran triggered the first major Cold War crisis in March 1946.

The Soviet blueprint for postwar order was based on deep-rooted security fears. To be secure, Soviet Union felt that pro-Soviet governments should be installed in Poland and other key Eastern European states and that Soviet borders must be expanded to their fullest extent. This suggested the permanent annexation of the Baltic states and the eastern part of pre-war Poland; and that Germany be suppressed through harsh occupation regime, systematic de-industrialization, and extensive reparations obligations.

The American and British policy makers feared that the Soviet Union might capitalize on and benefit from the socioeconomic distress in the postwar world by promoting the rise of the left worldwide. The Kremlin could thus become very powerful and might gain control over Eurasia. This would prevent United States from accessing important markets and resources worldwide and also threaten political and economic freedom at home.

These ideological differences made Truman ask the Congress for $400 million to support the right wing Greek and Turkey governments that were fighting a civil war against indigenous communists supplied by communist Yugoslavia. He said: ‘it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure’. These words, known as the Truman Doctrine was a declaration of ideological Cold War along with a declaration of geopolitical Cold War. Thus the Cold War intensified.

Describe America’s policy for dealing with the Soviet Union and is rationale.

The US through its Marshall Plan sought to alleviate hunger, poverty, and demoralization in postwar Europe. Stalin, fearing that the European Recovery Program would be used to loosen Russia’s grip, forbade Eastern European participation. The American and British occupied zones of Germany were helped by the Marshall Plan whereas East Germany remained undeveloped under Soviet Union. The ideological differences grew to mammoth proportions when US signed the NATO treaty in 1949 along with Italy, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Canada, and the United States in a mutual security pact. This created two empires and suitable platform for expanding the Cold War (McMahon, p. 130).

How did the nation’s Cold War policy affect American society?

After the Cold War, the obsession with national security became a central motif of US foreign and defense policy. The power of the military-industrial complex grew and this lead to more prosperity and growth of the middle class in the United States (Schultz Para, p. 1). During the 1950s, America’s Gross National Product (GNP) increased 51% and this was mainly due to defense spending. There was also increased home consumption as soldiers returning from war were eager to spend money and to have children. American industry expanded and the market was flooded with flashy new cars, clothing, Frisbees, and many other consumer items (Schultz Para, p. 7).

The Roosevelt and Truman administrations promoted having US military bases throughout the world. It was decided by US strategists that US military strength, must form a core element of the new world order.

The threat of communism ushered in the National Defense Education Act, the interstate highway system, and growing mistrust of government by both liberals and conservatives. The Cold War also impacted activities ranging from art and poetry to movies and comic books. Sports events became popular beginning with the London Olympics in 1948 and peaking every fourth year thereafter. Artists and art exhibitions were promoted across countries in order to help ease Cold War tensions. US planners felt that free and open international economic system was important to the new order and hence promoted free trade. These were some of the ways in which the Cold War affected American society.

Works Cited

  1. Schultz, K. Stanley (2006). American History 102: The Cold War and the Affluent Society.
  2. McMahon, Robert (2003). The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. Oxford, England. 2003.
  3. Ellis, Elisabeth Gaynor and Esler, Anthony (1997). World History: Connections to Today. Prentice Hall, New Jersey. 1997.
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