The purpose of this research is to provide an analysis of the United States’ views on the principal aspects of the Cold War as indicated by its governmental leadership.
American occupation policy in Europe resulted from the agreements made between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at Yalta in February of 1945, and elaborated upon at the Potsdam Conference later that year. Yalta is generally spoken of as the beginning of the Cold War but deeper roots go back to the Casablance Conference, which Churchill proclaimed to be the “end of the beginning.” By declaring for “unconditional surrender, the Conference was held to serve the purpose of assuring Stalin the allies would never make a separate peace with Hitler. This was a message never accepted by Stalin, only heightening his belief the allies would fight to the last drop of Russian blood.
The American people had entered the war, and persuaded themselves, as well as were persuaded their leaders, the war was for the salvation of mankind. This national attitude was represented by Roosevelt on his return from Yalta:-
The Crimea conference . . . ought to spell the end
of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive
alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances
of power, and all the other expedients that have
been used for centuries, and have always failed.
Yalta and Potsdam called for the complete disarmament of Germany, removal of the Nazi party, and the former nation was divided into four zones of administration — French, British,
United States and Soviet. Eight million German soldiers were returned to civilian life:
The decision to eliminate German power from
Europe, rather than make a peace with a re-
constituted German government, is what laid
the foundations of the Cold War.
Yalta and Potsdam might well have worked if respected by Stalin, but the cold war was to begin as soon as the hot war was over. When the war did stop with the surrender of Japan, the cold war front was to be the 38th parallel in Korea. The war may have stopped, but over the world towered the new Russian empire and the atomic bomb. Russia was in Manchuria, half of Korea, and European nations bordering its western boundaries were in thrall to the Russian forces. The “total” cold war exists today, in much the same strategic and political patterns apparent in the “first” cold war.
By January 1945, United States’ troops were cutting off the German bulge in the Ardennes forest, and the Red Army had started a new drive to the west that was to carry it to the very gates of Berlin. The Yalta Conference in February 1945 looked forward, as did the people of the west, to victory with hope. A great deal of Allied planning for an early end to the war in Europe was related to the tremendous successes of the Russian armies:
Victory in this war will provide the greatest
opportunity in all history to create in the
years to come the essential conditions of peace.
(Stalin at Yalta.)
These words were hard to resist by the 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:
The weakness of western statesmanship at this
time is essentially irrelevant to the fact of
Roosevelt, in an effort to bargain, told Stalin the truth that he did not believe he could obtain the consent of the United States Congress to keep United States troops in Europe more than two years after the war. Stalin used this circumstance to fill the increasing vacuum. Britain was exhausted, its main 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 military
establishment. It kept its armed forces of 5-6
million, 50,000 tanks, 20,000 aircraft.
By the time of the Potsdam conference in July-August 1945, relations between the three great powers were at a new low, and Truman’s influence itself resulted in a hardening towards the Russians. But, the Euphoria of victory surmounted all. Stalin said to Truman about Russian ambitions:
he was personally against sovietization of the
countries occupied by the Red Army; he insisted
they would 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.
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.
Some historians feel the real cold war started, in fact, in March, 1946, when Truman moved to lay U.S. power across the path of the expanding Russia in its 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 current of their reality.
The drama of the war was closing with a red curtain. Roosevelt sent strong words to Molotov and Stalin about their violations of the Yalta agreements. Roosevelt requested a new approach to the problem. It was too late. In a few days, Roosevelt was dead, and, with him, Yalta. So it was that shortly after the war ended, the Soviet Union abandoned the nominal cooperation it had given during the course of the war and at the Yalta and Potsdam meetings, and adopted a course of political and military aggrandizement that soon was to threaten another world war.
Fear of socialism, prevention of communism, the hope that America would use its economic power to define the structure of postwar trade and world economy, the need for American goods and supplies for its industry, all merged into a national and general ideology of cold war liberalism. This ideology was transformed into a crusade against communism, and, at this time, the Soviet Union was seen in the United States, as the head of – “unified global conspiracy dedicated to our obliteration . . . “
In 1947, two very important elements of the cold war were propagated by the Truman administration. First was the Truman Doctrine, sent to Congress in a message of March, 1947, and, second, The Marshall Plan, of December, 1947:
In the critical spring of 1947, the overt and all-
out political conflict between Russia and the west,
which would come to be called the cold war, pre-
sented itself as an imminent danger but not as a
To the American people, the role was that of not being the divider of Europe, if it were to be divided into two opposed camps. There was much opposition toward the call for an ideological battle against the warlike attitude of the USSR.
At the same time, Soviet policies resulted in sealing off Eastern Europe — doing the dividing itself — with that region’s highly productive agricultural resources. A US-USSR conference in Moscow, March and April, 1947, had failed. The United States
moved to bring order out of the economic and political chaos strangling Europe, a chaos manufactured in Moscow.
In March, 1947, Truman asked Congress for 400 million dollars to provide economic assistance for Greece and Turkey. His appeal, later known as the Truman Doctrine, was granted in May, 1947. Russia was putting heavy pressure on Iran, threatening Turkey and Greece. The communist guerilla had invaded Greece and carried off thousands of Greek children for forced labor abroad. Truman acted :
I believe that it must be the policy of the US
to support freed peoples who are resisting
attempted subjugations by armed minorities or
by outside pressures.
To check economic failures in the western European countries, politically and militarily victims of the USSR, in May of 1947, George Marshall, then Secretary of State, initiated the program to be known as the Marshall plan. The proposal was that the United States, in cooperation with the nations of Europe, including the Soviet Union and its satellites, start a program of economic assistance that would lead to the rehabilitation of the European economy. Marshall believed economic stability was a fundamental for world peace.
Such broad efforts failing, Congress finally, in April of 1948, enacted the necessary legislation authorizing the European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan, authorizing the government to contribute more than 12 billion dollars over a four year period to assist European economic recovery:
Now the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan
showed Russia that a new assault was in prep-
aration. (This was the Russian assessment) . . .
it was this conception of the Soviet leaders that,
after the spring and summer of 1947, made any
mutual understanding and accommodation between
east and west impossible . . .”
The reaction represented by the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan only served, for the Soviets, to awake Moscow’s persecution mania. It is possible that had Stalin accepted these measures as increasing strength of the United States, he might have worked out a policy of accommodation and appeasement. But to this hard-line follower of Lenin, that was impossible and his failure to do so may well be one of the reasons for the subsequent de-Stalinization program at Khrushchev. Stalin’s international judgments were made with the Communist lenses obscuring his vision:
The Soviet Union and its satellites were invited
to cooperate in the ERP. They rejected the in-
vitation. They have declared their violent
hostility to the program and are aggressively
attempting to wreck it. They see it as a major
obstacle to their designs to subjugate the free
community of Europe.
This was the way Americans saw the matter through democratic lenses. The cold war presented itself as a world-wide contest between liberal democracy and communism. Each side looked to the eventual supremacy of its system all over the earth, because “the world cannot live half-slave, half-free.
In retrospect, the Marshall plan was the best thing the United States could have done for Europe. The economy of the once war-ravaged counties built up so rapidly that in a little more than a decade the balance of trade with the United States had turned in Europe’s favor.
Soviet counter action to American efforts to rebuilt the European economy came swiftly. Coincident with the Marshall Plan, the Soviets began cutting off Berlin from the rest of western Europe. By June 1948, the Russians had cut off all land and water traffic with Berlin and the only means of entry was by air:
Before the eyes of the whole world, Moscow
appeared to be trying to starve two million
men, women, and children, in West Berlin, while
the Berlin airlift, month after month, provided
a tangible demonstration of Western determination
By May, 1949, Moscow had no choice but to admit its blockade was a failure.
The successful efforts of the Air Force and the Army to keep the city supplied and the Anglo-American counterblockade brought the realization to the Communists that their efforts were failing, and the Blockade of Berlin ended May 12, 1949.
The minor hamperings of trains, motor convoys, and aircraft, continued and grew into a new menace. Events of 1948 indicated that stronger measures were needed to block any further extension of Soviet power. Czechoslovakia was brought into the Soviet orbit. Other extensions of Soviet power proved to the west it had no other choice than to rearm for collective security. This cleared the way for the United States, with Canada and the powers of Western Europe to join in a defensive alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty uniting them in a common security system. The member nations established a supreme military headquarters in Europe, with each country supplying forces to be placed under this unified command. It marked the first time in modern history that nations, during times of peace, provided a military force in being to support their alliance:
The purpose of NATO conventional forces could hardly
be to frustrate and repel a Communist aggression by
themselves. Their purpose must be to make it certain
the Red Army could not advance, as Hitler’s army had
advanced into the Rhineland in 1936, without fighting.
There is no longer a doubt that the NATO armed forces are a major deterrent to Russians trying any more communist putsches in Europe. Truman’s policy, called containment, worked. But, the Soviets turned to other vulnerable regions of the world and these efforts continue to plague the peace on this globe. The Cold War served its purpose in containing, to a great degree, Soviet aggression in Europe. Now, however, Soviet imperialism has spread to all the third world countries. It is to be hoped the lessons of the Cold War will not be forgotten.
Dallek, Robert. Roosevelt Diplomacy and World War II. New York:
Holt, Rinehart, 1970.
Gardner, Brian. The Year That Changed the World – 1945. New York: Coward-McCann, 1964.
Halle, Louis J. The Cold War as History. New York: Harper
Lukacs, John. A New History of the Cold War. New York:
Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Oxford History of the American People. New York: Oxford Press, 1965.
Parenti, Michael. The Anti-Communist Impulse. New York:
Random House, 1969.
1.Louis J. Halle, The Cold War as History (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1967), p. 27.2.Halle, p. 36.3.Robert Dallek, Roosevelt Diplomacy and World War II (New York: Holt, Rinehart, 1970), p. 7.4.Halle, p. 98.5.Halle, p. 37.6.Brian Gardner, The Year That Changed the World – 1945 (New York: Coward-McCann, 1964), p. 216.7.Halle, p. 38.8.John Lukacs, A New History of the Cold War (New York: Doubleday, 1966), p. 55.9.Michael Parenti, The Anti-Communist Impulse (New York: Random House, 1969), p. 27.10.Halle, p. 124.11.Z12.Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People (New York: Oxford Press, 1965), p. 1058.13.Halle, p. 146.14.Halle, p. 156.15.Morison, p. 1058.16.Halle, p. 165.17.Halle, p. 186.