ORIGINS OF THE COLD WAR DURING WORLD WAR II
Understanding the historical continuity of Russian policy is a first step to an unbiased study of the origins of World War II’s aftermath – the Cold War;
The assertion that we are weak is wrong. . . . As soon as we are strong enough to defeat capitalism as a whole, we shall immediately take it by the scruff of its neck. . . .
Next, the background of German aggression leading to and during World War II can be considered the next step of the seeming impasse of a Cold War world. After years of disguised military arming and training of his home forces, Hitler officially ordered war preparations for the German government, this at one of the renowned party congresses at Nuremberg. He had earlier announced to the world and the Reichstag:
The assertion that it is the intention of the German Reich to coerce the Austrian state is absurd.
On March 12, 1938, German forces invaded and occupied Austria. The very name of Austria faded from the map. Hitler’s next target was the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. Litvinov, the Russian Foreign Minister, gave an interview to the press on March 17, 1934:
It (Russia) is ready as before to join in collective action (for) the purpose of arresting the further development of aggression . . . tomorrow might be too late but today there is time yet if all states . . . take up a firm un-ambiguous standpoint on the problem of the collective salvation of peace.
Chamberlain had not the slightest thought of taking such a course. The Russian overtures were flatly rejected. Had they been accepted, only hindsight can predict any other sequence of future events. To the Russians, it seemed Hitler’s logical opponents in the West were helping him (Hitler) against the East (Stalin). A deeper nail was driven when on September 29-30, the Munich conference approved Germany’s acquisition of the Sudetenland, and on the 10th of March, 1939, Germany occupied Czechoslovakia:
For World politics, above all, the Munich conference was decisive for a long period. In this global sphere the exclusion of Russia from Munich was the fact of towering importance. For five years, the Soviet Government had tried to work with the Western democracies through the League of Nations to stop the fascist aggressors. At every stage their cooperation had been rejected in favor of appeasement.
Litvinov was left alone to plead in Geneva. Russia was thrown out bodily from any voice in European affairs. World War II with its mutual fears and distrusts was inevitable. The weakness of the western powers relieved Stalin of all his obligations. He was relieved. He had no relish to go to war over Austria:
From Munich onward, he believed instead . . . that the Western powers, to gain relief for themselves in the West, were offering Germany a free hand against Russia in the East . . . Stalin could best avert this danger by improving Russia’s relation with Germany.
In Ethiopia, Spain, Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia, the help against fascism offered by Russia had been rejected. There are reasons to think such offers were legitimate, for the moment. The diplomatic record states the issue clearly in this quote from President Benes made in a speech in Chicago in August 1939:
There was never any doubt in my mind Russia would aid us by all the ways open to her, but I did not dare fight with Russia aid alone because I knew that the British and French governments would make out of my country another Spain.
Stalin was now ready to move on his own behalf, and on August 23, 1939, the famous Soviet-German non-aggression pact was signed. The world was given the sight of two famous arch-enemies in a state of apparent friendship. The Germans hoped they could lull Russia into a false sense of security and the Russians needed time to prepare for fight Stalin knew was coming. Danzig fell. On September 1, 1939, Poland was invaded, on the west by Germany, on the 17th by soviet forces on the east. Warsaw capitulated on the 27th. On the 29th, the Soviet-German treaty partitioning Poland was signed. Rumania was dismembered. The frontiers of the old Russian empire in the west began to assume the reach they had in the days of the Tsars. It was later to clash against Hitler’s encouraging “drang nach osten.” “I knew war would come,” Stalin was to say to Churchill on August 1942, “but I thought I might gain another six months or so.” And he was to tell Ambassador Harriman, “If Hitler had given me just one more year, we could have thrown back the invaders (at once).” But he bet on the wrong horse. On June 14, 1941, Germany invaded Russia. “For once, the Kremlin had been badly rewarded. The experience only increased Stalin’s suspicion of the outside world, which extended even to the British and Americans who had suddenly become his allies.”
Despite his shrewdness, Stalin appears to have been genuinely surprised at Hitler’s move against him. Because of this, he was willing to sign a mutual-aid pact with Britain on July 12, 1941. After Churchill’s praise of the Russian effort over the BBC on June 22, Harry Hopkins left for Moscow to visit Stalin as President Roosevelt’s personal emissary. Vast commitments for arms and material were made, seconded by British efforts. Hopkins was to write:
He (Stalin) wanted me to tell the President that he would welcome the American troops on any part of the Western front under the complete command of the American Army.
Meanwhile, the German drive into Russia threatened Moscow itself. Pearl Harbor brought the “new” allies together, and America went to war against Germany, Japan, and Italy. The Japanese bombs on Pearl Harbor may have united the three Allies in a joint effort to stop Hitler, but Russia’s past had taught Stalin many lessons he was not to forget in the bitter war years ahead. And so contingency was case-hardened into relentless policy. Without knowledge of this background, it is impossible to follow the USSR-US relationship that was to follow.
One of the first and greatest sources of discord between the two powers is found in the “agreements” reached at the Casablanca Conference on January 1943, and specifically in the definition about the terms of “unconditional surrender” and the opening of a second front. To assure Stalin there would be no separate peace with Germany and to head off any Russian effort to make its own peace when the odds were so heavily stacked against Russia, Roosevelt and Churchill announced their governments’ determination to fight the war through to the complete defeat of Germany. This announced determination was then coupled with Roosevelt’s “commitment in 1942 by marshaling American strength primarily against Germany, including the invasion of North Africa. (The commitment) did not include a promised assault on France which would have relieved Russian troops. . . . Stalin took this as a sign of bad faith and this strengthened his suspicions of a Western policy of German defeat at Russian expense.” This suspicion was never fully dissipated, even in Allied victory, and it hangs – unto this day – over the relations of the one-time Allies.
Looking ahead, in January 1945, United States troops were cutting off the German bulge in the Ardennes, and the Red Army had started a new drive to the west that was to carry to the very gates of Berlin. In February, 1945, a conference of the Three Powers was arranged at Yalta. It was looked forward to with hope. A great deal of planning for an early end to the war in Europe rested with the tremendous successes of the Russian armies. They stopped the Germans at the gates of Moscow in late 1941, at Stalingrad in late 1942. Only a few days after D-Day the Red Army reached East Prussia and the gates of Warsaw. Stalin laid his platform of deceit at Yalta, in a February 1945 announcement, with these words:
Victory in this war will provide the greates opportunity in all history to create in the years to come the essential conditions of peace.
These words were hard to resist by war-weary leaders. But Stalin used the record of the Red ARmy as a wedge and almost broke up the conference in an endless game of protocol see-saw.
”Agreements” (about countries in liberated Europe under Russian control) were merely oral, not yet to be defined in a treaty; the “spirit” of Yalta was that Churchill and Roosevelt felt Stalin would keep the faith, which he never had any intention of doing. They also felt they could contain Stalin. (An interesting but worthless speculation is what if Roosevelt had not died and Churchill had not been removed from office?) The Yalta agreements, even the one about Poland, might have worked if they had been respected by Stalin, but none of them were except the promise to fight Japan. Even this was delayed to the last day by Stalin, who was given Manchuria in return for a five-days war. Wherever Russian armies penetrated – except Austria and Czechoslovakia – they set up communist instead of democratic governments as promised and their election were a farce.
By March of 1945, Churchill was writing to Roosevelt that everything supposedly settled at Yalta had broken down and Roosevelt showed signs of admitting and correcting their errors before his death on April 12. General Eisenhower, in accordance with the Yalta agreements, had pulled Patton’s army back from Prague, since Czechoslovakia was in the Soviet sphere of influence and allowed Russian troops to take Berlin, from which they were never to withdraw. Thus, the real cold war began as soon as the hot war was over. The Russian government, faithful to the earlier pronouncements of Lenin, waited for capitalistic society to collapse, making the spread of communism easy for him. The United Nations, Stalin felt, he could control of contain.
At Yalta, Franklin Roosevelt told Churchill and Stalin that he did not believe he could obtain the consent of Congress to keeping American troops in Europe much more than two years. Stalin grabbed the chance to fill the increasing vacuum. Britain was exhausted, its principal cities laid flat. France was a military vacuum. Germany was demolished:
That left only Russia which did not demobilize after the war and did not dismantle its wartime military establishment. Instead, it kept its armed forces of five to six million men, 50,000 tanks, and 20,000 aircraft. And it began the construction of a navy that, in the number of its submarines, was to exceed the combined navies of the world.
By the time of the Potsdam Conference in July-August of 1945, relations between the three great powers were at a new low, and Truman’s influence itself resulted in a slight hardening towards the Russians. Stalin said to him about Soviet ambitions:
He was personally against Sovietization of the counties occupied by the Red Army; he insisted that they would all have free elections. He spoke of the continuity of Russian policy; if anything were to happen to him, there would be a good man to step into his shoes.
At the Conference there were endless arguments about Italy, China, Spain and Franco, and many other “hot-spots” and the conference almost broke up over matters of procedure and grievance. Stalin was dealing with proven power as he and Churchill skirmished over possessions both wanted to hold on to or to control. Because the Red Army was now in Poland, new boundaries were demanded and received by Stalin. The Americans hedged on the decision of formal and official reparations due Russia. There was agreement about setting up the four zones in Germany, but what the Russians did to them is a matter of record. The mortality of the Berlin Wall is proof of its propaganda effectiveness and constant threat to the western world. So it was that Stalin, with brutal candor and without fear of reprisal, echoed a statement of Lenin’s but 25 years old, and announced to the world from his tower of power in Potsdam:
Any freely elected government in these countries will be an anti-Soviet government and we cannot allow that. (Potsdam Records)
During the closing days of the War, as far as the Atlantic allies were concerned, statesmanship was exhausted, men were worn out, and circumstances not plans had risen, at last, to full control of the situation.
It is hard to doubt that, if statesmanship could have averted the Cold War in 1942, after that it was too late.
Stalin’s nightmare that the Allies, led by America, were going to use him and wear him out in fighting their war worked out in the opposite way. It was the Allies who wore themselves out, and the hundred and more German divisions stalled on the Russian front was a powerful trump card for the wiles of the Russian bear.
It can be said the real cold war started in March of 1946 when Truman moved to lay United States power across the path of the expanding Russia in its apparent drive to take over Iran.
In the history of democracies seldom has there been such a difference between the surface impressions of historic developments and the deeper, dark currents of their reality.
The terrible drama of the war was closing with a red curtain. Roosevelt sent indignant words to Molotov and Stalin about their actions against the Yalta agreements. He indicated a new approach to the problem. Within a few days he was dead. It was too late.