Causes of the Cold War

The causes of the Cold War had their roots in fear, misunderstanding and mistrust. Fear of any government that was so at odds with what Americans believe to be the ideal form of government, American style democracy. You only have to look at McCarthyism in the 1950’s to see examples of this fear. Communism is so diametrically opposed to everything that Americans hold to be true, that it bred a whole generation of people who lived in fear and paranoia.

President Franklin Roosevelt was a very sick man when he went to the Yalta Conference in February, 1945. The results of that illness were to be felt for many years. He was no match for the wily Russian, Joseph Stalin. This conference set the stage for the division of Germany into zones and also the annexing of the eastern parts of Poland by Russia. By the time of the Potsdam Conference in July, 1945, Roosevelt was dead and Truman had only been president for 3 months. The context of the agreement makes it all too clear that Harry was in way over his head.

It was decided that Berlin would be partitioned into four parts. It was divided between the United Stated, Great Britain, France and Russia. The country of Germany would become East and West and Berlin was situated solidly in the East. It was left to Winston Churchill, to give a name to the events that were unfolding in 1946. “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent” stated Winston Church in a speech at Westminster College, Fulton Missouri. It was this “Iron Curtain” that would precipitate the Cold War.

Due in part to the fact that Russia had suffered great losses in the Second World War and partly through the inexperience of our president, the Soviet Union was allowed to extend its sphere of influence into all of Eastern Europe. It was inevitable that the areas that had been liberated by the Allies would fall under the influence of the liberators. Unfortunately, there was no concerted effort to make sure that the big three worked together in this effort and within a few years, Europe had been partitioned up with Communism being in control of the East and democracy in the West.

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All the aid and arms that had been sent to the Soviet Union in 1941 appeared poised to be used against the West. One of the main fears at this point was the atomic bomb in the hands of Stalin. This led to a stalemate as Russia pushed for total disarmament and the US refused to give up its advantage. A compromise could not be reached. Now that they no longer had a common enemy to fight. There came a realization that the United States and Russia had no love for each other and with both the East and the West believing that their form of government was superior, you were bound to have a clash of Titans.

By 1947, the rise in popularity of Communism in western Europe lead to the Truman Doctrine, which states that the United States will help countries anywhere in the world to maintain their freedom against the aggression of other countries, especially communist ones at this point in time.

In Europe, this led to the formation of NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization). The western governments were becoming alarmed at the aggression of Russian in the east and it suppression of any opposition in the occupied countries. For their mutual protection they loosely banded together.

The stage was set for the Cold War and the ultimate standoff between the Russians and the Americans over the delivery of missiles to Cuba.

For 14 days in 1962, the world stood on the brink of World War III and everyone held their breath. It was hard to imagine in the 1950’s and 60’s that by the 1990’s the Soviet Union would have dissolved and that freedom would reign throughout most of Eastern Europe.


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