Analyzing the Causes of the Cold War
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Analyzing the Causes of the Cold War
Taking place from 1947 to 1991, the Cold War is amongst one of history’s most peculiar wars due to the fact that it did not actually involve any direct military contact between the two countries primarily involved, the United States and the Soviet Union. Instead, the two world superpowers fought the war by backing different sides in other countries’ wars such as the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Their opposition began with an alliance during the course of World War II. Allied against Germany and Japan, the United States and Russia fought on different sides of the earth for the first part of the Second World War.
The United States fought Japan in the Pacific while Russia remained the only country left standing against Germany in Eastern Europe. However, by the time the end of the war came in 1945, tensions had risen between the two countries and their alliance turned to a rivalry of mistrust and intimidation. So what caused this change in the political relationship between the two superpowers? How did they turn into enemies, causing many wars, tensions, threats, and near nuclear crises during the 40-year time span in which the Cold War took place? The Cold War was caused by the United States manipulating Russia to achieve its goals, the US purposely holding off helping Russia in World War II, and Russian ambition and expansion, this last cause leading me to my conclusion that Russia can primarily be blamed for the Cold War, even though both countries are at fault in some way.
One of the things the United States did to contribute to tensions between them and their Soviet allies was to manipulate the circumstances of the war to serve their own purposes. In World War II, there had originally been an alliance between Germany and Russia which was very dangerous for any country who opposed them. After Germany invaded Russia, two countries which the US did not trust very much were fighting each other.
This seemed to be useful to the US which, based on a statement by Harry Truman, seemed to want Germany and Russia to destroy each other. He says in Document A, “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible.” This statement makes it seem as though the United States does not have any cause or reasoning to support one side over the other besides destroying the biggest threat to America. It presents the US as a self-serving nation, analyzing and weighing the war as if to devise which side will be most beneficial to them. This same stance, whether true or not, is also shown in Document D when George Kennan says “If we can keep them maneuvered into a position where it is always hard and unprofitable for them to take action contrary to the principles of the United Nations and to our policies and where there is always an open door and an easy road to collaboration…I am quite convinced that… sooner or later the logic of it will penetrate their government and will force change there.”
A few words stand out, highlighting possible hints of America’s true motives (which certainly do not include simply helping out Russia). Kennan’s use of certain words such as “maneuvered”, “penetration of government”, and “forced change” show that the US comes across as trying to manipulate Russia into aligning with America’s goals. Based on these two documents, there is clear evidence of the United States trying to disguise its true motives and goals with false ones. While seemingly finishing the war in Japan, the US was actually hoping Germany and Russia would kill each other off, just as Russia suspected the US was doing. And while seemingly accepting Russia’s claim to their newly converted Communist nations, the US plotted ways to make Russia cooperate. From the United States’ manipulation of the circumstances of World War II and some of the countries involved, it is clear that the US definitely played a part in causing the tense opposition between them and Russia that was the Cold War.
In addition to being somewhat manipulative, the United States contributed to the Cold War by purposely not helping or cooperating with Russia during World War II. It seemed that having Germany and Russia fighting each other was working out very well for the US because it was not on very good terms with either of them. The US wanted the two countries to be occupied fighting each other for as long as possible and therefore was resistant to coming to Russia’s aid by starting a second front in Europe to help fight the Germans. This motive is clear by what the US ambassador to the Soviet Union says in Document B about not helping Russia. He says “the absence of a second front prepares the ground for a strong Soviet stand in the field of foreign policy”. He then goes on to say that if a second front is not started in Europe, “people will be more inclined to support a claim that the Soviet Union should have the greatest voice in determining the peace.” He is trying to encourage a second front, but his statement shows that the United States’ motive for doing so was not to help Russia, but to make sure that the European people did not attribute Russia with saving them from the Germans. The US wanted at least partial credit for liberating Europe from the Germans so that they would have a say in how the countries were set up after the war (namely, making as many countries as possible Capitalist countries so that the US would have European trading partners).
Russia suspected that this was what the US was trying to accomplish as well as suspecting that the US wanted Russia and Germany to kill each other off. This is a huge contributor to the Cold War because it was one of the things that the US did which caused Russia to be suspicious and distrustful of them. Russia’s mistrust of the United States is conveyed in Document E when the Soviet foreign minister says about the US and Great Britain that their aim is “the consolidation or capitalism and the achievement of the domination of these countries over their peoples”. He then says that “the United States and Britain have departed from these democratic principles and have violated the decisions jointly taken.” He is claiming that it is the US and Great Britain who stopped trying to get along with Russia and that therefore they are at fault for the Cold War. Whether it is true or not that the US departed from democratic principles, by waiting too long to become involved in the war in Europe, the US lost Russia’s trust, contributing to conflicts and opposition between them and ultimately, the Cold War.
With both of the first two causes of the Cold War being the fault of the United States, it is easy to forget that Russia was also at fault for contributing to the tensions of the Cold War. While the actions of the US caused Russia to not trust them, it is Russia who continued to expand Communist rule throughout Eastern Europe, making the US equally mistrustful of Russia. They looked at Russia spreading Communism to one country after another and considered this to be ambitious and controlling. The New York Times says in Document F that Russia “takes over authority” in government. It says also that in the countries taken over by Russia, “the army was told to ‘remain true to the Soviet Union’, and “free press was suspended”. These same controlling qualities possessed by Russia are depicted in Document G, a British cartoon in which Stalin is portrayed pointing at countries on a globe with the caption “Who’s next to be liberated from freedom, Comrade?”
The captions shows that Britain and its allies perceived Stalin as a controlling dictator, taking over countries left and right, squashing their freedom and liberty in the process. Russia’s ambitious actions surprised US citizens, many of which had been expecting cooperation between the two countries after the war. Document H shows how US citizens’ faith and trust in Russia dwindled after the war. The document shows four polls in four different years, all about the United States’ political relationship with Russia. The first poll, taken before the war ended in August 1945, asks “Do you think Russia can be trusted to cooperate with us after the war?”, to which 54% of citizens said yes.
Just 8 months later in March 1946, a very similar question is asked: “Do you think Russia will cooperate with us in world affairs?” and 52% of citizens replied “No”. The third poll, taken a few months later in July 1946 asked what people thought Russia’s goal was: to be a ruling power or simply to be more protected and 60% responded “ruling power”. Additionally, in a poll taken in May 1948, an overwhelming 69% of citizens said that the US was “too soft” in its policy towards Russia. These four polls show the extent of mistrust in Russia by US citizens and how Russia taking over countries with Communism quickly caused US citizens to think of Russia as ambitious and power-hungry. All of these documents show how Russia trying to spread Communism through Europe caused the US and her allies to fear and mistrust Russia, contributing to the mutual fear and mistrust that comprised the Cold War.
The Cold War was caused by two allied countries, the US and Russia, doing certain things which caused both to no longer trust each other and therefore the blame can be pinned on both parties for losing the other’s trust. However, because Russia was at fault for being overly-ambitious while the US’s only crime was being judicious about entering war, Russia is more to blame for the Cold War than the US. I am not saying, however, that the reason for the United States’ delayed entrance to the war in Europe was because of them being cautious and prudent. In fact, I think that Russia was exactly right in thinking that the US wanted Russia and Germany to do as much damage to each other as possible before getting involved. It was wrong of the US to do this and Russia was justified in being suspicious of them after that which is why the US is partially to blame for the Cold War.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, the reason for the war being more Russia’s fault than the US is because the US had much more cause to be mistrustful of Russia based on the way they took over other European countries. Russia’s ambition and expansion of Communism threatened and intimidated the United States, who took it as a sign that Russia wanted to take over the whole world. Doing things like taking over other countries were very likely to create tension between Russia and the US and Russia knew this. They knew that by expanding Communism they would create friction between them and the US, yet they did it anyway. While one could argue that they did so because the US had already lost their trust by not helping them with the Germans, by taking over Eastern European countries, it was Russia who took a wary alliance and turned it into a rivalry on the brink of war. In conclusion, because Russia took control of other European countries, thereby demonstrating warlike ambitions, it is Russia and not the United States, who is primarily responsible for the Cold War.