The USA and the USSR
as World Superpowers, 1945-1991
Harry Truman-President, USA
Joseph Stalin, USSR
The roots of the Cold War
Almost as soon as the Second World War ended, the winners started to argue with each other. In particular, a bitter conflict developed between the USA and USSR. This struggle continued until the late 1980s. Walter Lippmann, an American journalist writing in the 1940s,called it a 'cold war' and the phrase has been widely used since. Historians have produced three conflicting explanations for the start of the Cold War: 1. TheUSSR was to blame. Stalin planned for a communist take-over of the world. The take-over of Eastern Europe was the first step towards world control. 2. The USA was to blame. Soviet actions were defensive. The USA wanted to control its area of influence but refused to allow the USSR to do the same. 3. Neither side was to blame. The Cold War was based on misunderstanding and forces beyond the control of both sides.
Blame for the Cold War
Until the 1960s, most historians followed the official government line – that the Cold War was the direct result of Stalin's aggressive Soviet expansionism. Allocation of blame was simple – the Soviets were to blame!This view of the Cold War has never really gone away, and there have always been people who have seen the Soviet Union as the cause of the confrontation.
In 1959, however, William Appleman Williams published his The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Williams blamed the US for the Cold War. Williams, and the historians who followed him were called the ‘revisionists’. This ‘revisionist’ approach reached its height
during the Vietnam War when many people suggested that America was as bad as Russia. Williams argued that America’s chief aim in the years after the war was to make sure that there was an "open door" for American trade, and that this led the American government to try to make sure that countries remained capitalist countries like the USA. Gar Alperovitz, in his book:Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam(1965), placed the blame for the Cold War on the Americans for their use of the atomic bomb – he contended that Truman decided to drop the bomb as a means to intimidate the Soviet Union. One of the most extreme revisionists was Gabriel Kolko, who wrote The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy in 1972. One reviewer of his books says that ‘he devoted his entire professional life to blaming the United States for the Cold War’, and Kelko suggested that Truman should have given Stalin the atomic bomb in 1945, claimed that Russia treated Poland well in 1945, and blamed South Korea for the Korean War of 1950-3.
As time went on, however, a group of historians called the ‘post-revisionists’ tried to present the foundations of the Cold War as neither the fault of the Americans or the USSR. The first was John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War (1972), who believed that both America and Russia wanted to keep the peace after the war but that conflict was caused by mutual misunderstanding, reactivity, and above all the American inability to understand Stalin's fears and need to defend himself after the war. Martin P. Leffler, in his book: A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War (1992) saw the Cold War as a clash of two military establishments both seeking world domination. Marc Trachtenberg, A Contested Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963 (1999) claimed that the Cold War was really about settling the German question in the aftermath of World War II.
In 1991, Communism in the Soviet Union collapsed. This has allowed historians to get to see the Russian archives, and to investigate what Russia was REALLY about in this period. In Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev(1997), the Russian historians Vladislav Zubok...
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