Assess the View That the Disagreements About the Second Front Were the Most Significant Cause of Tension Between Russia and the West Between 1941-5?

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Assess the view that the disagreements about the Second Front were the most significant cause of tension between Russia and the West between 1941-5?

Historians Gaddis and Maisky believe the disagreements about the Second Front were not the most significant cause of tension between Russia and the West between 1941-5.

The Western Allies landing position in Europe, as proposed by Russia, has been branded as a major reason for tension between the USA, Britain and Russia by historians Phillips and Roberts. However, other historians including Vasori, Levering, Lafeber and Tucker have challenged this particular perspective, suggesting that other factors also played a part in causing tension. The conflicting ideology and individual roles and objectives of each of the powers could also be said to have contributed.

The Second Front was, according to Philips and Roberts, a major source of tension between the USA, Britain and Russia during World War II. Philips states “To Stalin the need to open up a Second Front in Western Europe against Germany in order to relieve the pressure on the USSR in the East was a pressing necessity. Yet the refusal of Britain and the USA to do so until the time was right led Stalin to be suspicious of their motives.”[1] Roberts backs up Philips’s argument up by pointing out that there had been numerous failed agreements by the Allies to land troops in order to create a Second Front in 1942, and the issue was discussed in the Tehran conference of 1943[2]. However on closer inspection, neither argument is particularly strong. For example, although Philips points out that Russia was at risk of being invaded by Germany in 1941 and therefore had an strong reason for demanding the Second Front despite the fact that defeating Germany was not the USA’s or Britain’s main concern. Churchill was concerned with the risk of casualties a Second Front would create. He also had military interests in North Africa during 1942[3] and Italy during 1943[4] and convinced Roosevelt that prospects in North Africa were more attractive than Europe and Stalin’s Second Front. By neglecting to mention the Allies different perspectives and aims, Philips and Roberts undermine their arguments. Focusing on the Second Front as a cause of tension rather than being symptomatic of the tension surrounding other issues distorts the historical accuracy.

Although the arguments conveyed by Philips and Roberts are, in places, convincing, other historians such as Vasori, Kolko, McCauley and Tucker have expressed opinions that other factors formed a major source of tension, in particular ideology.

McCauley points out the ideologies that governed the Soviet Union and the USA were polar oppotsites “[In Russian] ideology, there was a ruling party and a ruling ideology. This party had a monopoly of political power. No dissenting voices were permitted. Where as the American ideology was pluralistic and there were myriad economic decision makers...”.

Kolko backs up McCauley’s argument that ideology was a source of tensions and offers the following opinion: “The coalition against the Axis was born out of necessity rather than deliberation or choice, and only the common need to defeat a common enemy bound it together. Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States shared no single set of objectives other than this preeminent reality, no unifying political and economic peace aims. ”[5] Here Kolko has a valid point and this can be shown by the fact that in January 1945 Stalin spoke to Comintern Leader Dimitrov and said: “the crisis of capitalism is evident…at present we are with one faction against the other, but in the future we shall be against this faction of the capitalists as well”.

This shows Stalin had no intention of maintaining the alliance and it could be said he even wanted it to fail.

Although the analysis of the Allies by Kolko and McCauley offers an insight into the ideological standoffs that would have occurred...
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