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Student Question: Relations with the USSR


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The D-Day landings in June, 1944, created a second front, and took the pressure off the Soviet Union. The Red Army made steady progress into territory held by Germany. Country after country fell to Soviet forces. Winston Churchill became concerned about the spread of Soviet power and visited Moscow in October, 1944. Churchill agreed that Rumania and Bulgaria should be under "Soviet influence" but argued that Yugoslavia and Hungary should be shared equally amongst them.

The most heated discussion concerned the future of Poland. The Polish Government in exile, based in London, had a reputation for being extremely anti-Communist. Although Stalin was willing to negotiate with the Polish prime minister, Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, he insisted that he was unwilling to have a government in Poland that was actively hostile to the Soviet Union.

In February, 1945, Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met again. This time the conference was held in Yalta in the Crimea. With Soviet troops in most of Eastern Europe, Stalin was in a strong negotiating position. Roosevelt and Churchill tried hard to restrict postwar influence in this area but the only concession they could obtain was a promise that free elections would be held in these countries.

Once again, Poland was the main debating point. Stalin explained that throughout history Poland had either attacked Russia or had been used as a corridor through which other hostile countries invaded her. Only a strong, pro-Communist government in Poland would be able to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union.

At the time of Yalta, Germany was close to defeat. British and USA troops were advancing from the west and the Red Army from the east. At the conference it was agreed to divide Germany up amongst the Allies. However, all parties to that agreement were aware that the country that actually took control of Germany would be in the strongest position over the future of this territory.

The main objective of Winston Churchill and Stalin was the capture of Berlin, the capital of Germany. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not agree and the decision of the USA Military commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, to head south-east to Dresden, ensured that Soviet forces would be the first to reach Berlin.

Stalin's main concern at the Potsdam Conference was to obtain economic help for the Soviet Union. Nearly a quarter of Soviet property had been destroyed during the Second World War. This included 31,000 of her factories. Agriculture had also been badly hit and food was being strictly rationed. Stalin had been told by his advisers that under-nourishment of the workforce was causing low-productivity. He believed that the best way to revive the Soviet economy was to obtain massive reparation payments from Germany.

Unlike at Yalta, the Allies were no longer willing to look sympathetically at Stalin's demands. With Germany defeated and the USA now possessing the Atom Bomb, the Allies no longer needed the co-operation of the Soviet Union. Stalin felt betrayed by this change of attitude. He believed that the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt was an important factor in this.

The ending of lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union immediately the war ended with Germany in May, 1945 and the insistence that Henry Wallace, the US Secretary of Commerce, resign after he made a speech in support of Soviet economic demands, convinced Stalin that the hostility towards the Soviet Union that had been in existence between the wars, had returned.

Stalin once again became obsessed by the threat of an invasion from the west. Between 1945 and 1948, Stalin made full use of his abilities by arranging the setting up of communist regimes in Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. He now had a large buffer zone of "friendly states" on his western border. Western powers interpreted these events as an example of Stalin's desire to impose communism on the whole of Europe. The formation of NATO and the stationing of American troops in Western Europe was a reaction to Stalin's policies and helped ensure the development of the Cold War.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The deadly fight against the Hitler’s Nazis Germany required “all hand on board” to achieve the victory. And then ……. after the victory it was discovered that not all the victors have been so much better when thinking about a democracy, human rights, free debate etc. than Nazi Germany.

I think that it was a deep disappointment and soul searching when the Americans and British discovered whom they cooperate with when fighting Nazi Germany. And than the division came and the Cold War started....

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The deadly fight against the Hitler’s Nazis Germany required “all hand on board” to achieve the victory. And then ……. after the victory it was discovered that not all victors have been so much better when thinking about a democracy, human rights,  free debate etc. than Nazi Germany.

I think that it was a deep disappointment and soul searching when the Americans and British discovered whom they cooperate with when fighting Nazi Germany.

And than the division came and the Cold War started.

So much so that Churchill remarked "If Hitler invaded Hell I would at least be prepared to make a speech in favour of Satan in the House of Commons." It did not take long for Churchill (whose role in the General Strike was particularly disgusting) to revert to type when the circumstances altered.

My father was a supporter of Stalin but like all UK communists this view was not based on a detailed knowledge of what was happening in the USSR but on the fact that the very people who attacked the USSR in England were the people who had abused and degraded the unemployed in their own country. The rank and file Communists were just putting two and two together.

In fact of course the Rich did not hate the USSR because of Stalin - he was rather convenient to them than otherwise - but because of the Russian Revolution ... because of the whole idea of the working classes getting above themselves and taking power...an attitude Prince Charles would no doubt agree with today :)

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A student from my College asks:

"Why did the USSR suddenly become our enemy having been our ally after World War 2?"


America had come out of World War II with the opportunity to forge a mutuality of interests with the Soviet Union. By 1949, however, with the detonation of an atomic device by the Russians and the impending success of the communist revolution in China, U.S. policy-makers concluded that coexistence with the USSR was impossible. The early policy of containment of Soviet expansionism in Europe was expanded to Asia and the first formal statement of American anti-communism policy was issued in a document known as National Security Council (NSC)-68.

Overextending and misapplying considerations presented in an incredibly influential essay known as the "X" article, it stated, "The Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony, is animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world." It went on to say:

"The Kremlin is inescapably militant...because it possesses and is possessed by a world-wide revolutionary movement, because it is the inheritor of Russian imperialism, and because it is a totalitarian dictatorship. . . . It is quite clear from Soviet theory and practice that the Kremlin seeks to bring the free world under its dominion by the methods of the cold war."[1]

NSC-68 concluded that the Soviet Union’s "fundamental design" required the destruction of the United States and therefore "mortally challenged" the U.S. Contrary to the apparent conviction and certainty of NSC-68, the man who had authored the very document upon which it was based had serious misgivings. George Kennan was more afraid of the mindset being represented than about the need to generate more anxiety about Soviet intentions. NSC-68 would sanctify the rejection of diplomatic options and pretextualize a vast growth in the military establishment, as well as the militarization of foreign policy. Noting the attraction of promoting an enemy’s formidability, Kennan wrote:

"It is safer and easier to cease the attempt to analyze the probabilities involved in your enemy’s processes or to calculate his weaknesses. It seems safer to give him the credit of every doubt in matters of strength, and to credit him indiscriminately with all aggressive designs, even when some of them are mutually contradictory."[2]

By the beginning of 1950, the chickens had come home to roost. The attack of "the primitives," as Secretary of State Dean Acheson referred to the fervent anti-Communists, was reaching fever pitch. His own prior encouragement of such thinking notwithstanding, Acheson was dismayed by the perjury conviction of his friend, Alger Hiss, for denying his alleged involvement in Soviet espionage. Less than two weeks after Hiss’ conviction, Klaus Fuchs confessed to spying on the Manhattan Project for the Soviet Union. By February 9th, anti-Communist hysteria reached new heights with Senator Joe McCarthy’s allegation of Communist spies in the State Department. That spring, a Gallup Poll found that 39 percent of the respondents considered McCarthy’s charges "a good thing."[3] The commencement of the Korean War in June of that year was the icing on the cake. There remained little doubt in the minds of Americans that the battle against communism was at least as immediate and threatening as the Nazi movement of the late 1930s.

Bringing Cold War containment and hemispheric sphere of influence considerations together, a document classified as NSC-141 was issued. Applying the logic of NSC-68, it declared a commitment to "make the Latin American nations resistant to the internal growth of communism and to Soviet political warfare." A secondary stated objective was to promote "hemispheric solidarity in support of our world policy." This would be accomplished "through individual and collective defense measures against external aggression and internal subversion."[4] This document became the blueprint for the United States’ future Latin America policy just as NSC-68 had become the blueprint globally. The Monroe Doctrine had now been deftly adapted to new Cold War considerations.

Seeking to legitimize this position with an alliance of nations, the U.S. promoted the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, which became known as the Rio Treaty. It also initiated the signing of the charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), about which one Cuban official has noted, "For many years, the OAS was the Ministry of Colonies of the United States. That is a historical reality."[5] In creating an official regional collective security mechanism for the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. had two primary goals: first, to create an institutional arrangement that would exclude Communist political influence in Latin America, and second, to disguise the extent of U.S. hegemonic intentions. When asked at a news conference whether the Monroe Doctrine had been "effectively supplanted by the Rio and other non-intervention treaties," Eisenhower answered that "the Monroe Doctrine has by no means been supplanted. It has been merely extended."[6] Such an extension, however, was not quite as benign as the President’s grandfatherly rendition was intended to portray. Ted Galen Carpenter notes:

"A blatant attempt to unilaterally assert U.S. power and underscore Washington’s hemispheric hegemony in the embryonic Cold War was certain to provoke further resistance or even outright intransigence. To forestall the problem, U.S. policy-makers decided to create a multilateral regional security agreement that would be consistent with the provisions of the charter of the new United Nations."[7]

With the advent of the Eisenhower administration, the new secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, brought a uniquely single-minded attitude to the foreign policy establishment. Far from representing public thinking in his prosecution of the Cold War, he saw his duty as directing and molding public perceptions according to the will of the government. Dulles believed that "public officials, whether in a democratic or authoritarian political system, tend to be more concerned with shaping public opinion than to be guided by it." Thus, "the role of educator was a challenge which Dulles recognized and accepted with characteristic vigor." Confessing a need for a formidable enemy, whether real or imagined, Dulles admitted, "If there’s no evident menace from the Soviet bloc our will to maintain unity and strength may weaken." By presenting situations in stark black and white terms, Dulles contributed to the "latent tendency of the public to view the enemy of the moment in one-dimensional terms." In simplistic, clinical terminology, he noted that Latin American "antibodies" were too weak to "always repel an intrusion of the Communist virus."[8]

Dwight Eisenhower subscribed to the notion that the Cold War could not be waged according to accepted rules of international conduct. In 1955 he wrote, "I have come to the conclusion that some of our traditional ideas of international sportsmanship are scarcely applicable in the morass in which the world now founders."[9] This attitude was reinforced by the issuance of the Doolittle Report, which asserted that in fighting the Cold War:

"...hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of fair play must be reconsidered. We must...learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us. It may become necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand, and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy."[10]

Fred Greenstein has characterized Eisenhower as a "hidden-hand President" who preferred to utilize behind-the-scenes methods to avoid expending mass political support. Eisenhower’s interest in covert action was an expression of this hidden-hand leadership. His covert action policy allowed him to achieve foreign policy aims without alienating American or world opinion. This penchant for covert approaches eventually blew up in Eisenhower’s face when he was caught in a blatant lie about the U-2 spy planes that had been overflying the Soviet Union. The result of that episode was that for the first time an American president had to explicitly take public responsibility for a major act of peacetime espionage.[11]

1. Daniel Yergin, The Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977), 401-402.

2. Ibid., 403.

3. Ibid., 407.

4. Robert Smith Thompson, The Missiles of October. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 43.

5. James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn and David A. Welch, Cuba On The Brink. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993), 150.

6. Lester D. Langley, ed., The United States, Cuba, and the Cold War, (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath & Co., 1970), 35.

7. Ted Galen Carpenter, A Search for Enemies: America’s Alliances After the Cold War, (Washington: Cato Institute, 1992), 127.

8. David J. Finlay, Ole R. Holsti and Richard R. Fagen, Enemies In Politics. (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967), 92-93.

9. Michael H. Hunt, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 166.

10. Michael R. Beschloss, Mayday: The U-2 Affair. (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 130.

11. John Ranelagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 277.

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What a powerful and sweeping depiction of the times. I hope Andy and his students read this and apply it to their studies. I have studied this period, I looked through my files for more material to add, but it was fruitless, you have stated what I know better than I ever could myself!

This is no soft, lefty, "pinko" analysis...the hysteria and overstatement by the American side (the MR X telegram, etc.) are now agreed upon by patriotic American historians.

What a great paper, this is why I love the Education Forum so much.

The Soviets had opposed Hitler's Nazi armies, especially at Stalingrad. We were their allies because they had been forced to oppose Germany, and were both allied with Britain and the French resistance.

After the solidarity of convenience between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, the relationship rapidly went downhill in the post-war era. The partition of Europe fell mainly upon lines of active armed Occupation...where the red army was, they stayed, where the democratic allies were at the end of the fighting, there they remained. (hence the polarized Berlin) The Soviets had an isolated economy, not an interchangeable currency, etc. and the Comintern (communist international) was their foreign policy.

James Byrnes, United States Secretary of State in the immediate post war era, wrote a book called "Frankly Speaking" which outlines in detail his frustrations with the chief Soviet negotiator, Molotov...and the tension which ended the alliance are obvious...the US could not continue in co-operation with such an obstructionist, unyielding and growingly hostile state. Mr Stalin could not be a US ally in peacetime, it took the Nazi threat to bring us together. Once that threat was gone, the relationship quickly evaporated.

Shanet Clark, GSU

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