HS-102 Readings

The Cold War


 Why did the Soviets establish control over most of Eastern Europe at the
end of World War II?

    Soviet armies occupied Eastern Europe as they pursued the defeated German forces at the end of World War II. The insistence upon establishing governments hand-picked by the Russians in those areas, and especially in Poland, was one of the reasons for the development of the Cold War.

 What East European communist nation remained free from Soviet control
after World War II?

    Yugoslavia was not occupied by Soviet armies at the end of World War II. Its government under Tito, although sharing the Communist ideology, was not under Soviet control. It was an independent state, and was successful in preventing Stalin from subverting it in 1949.

 What changes, if any, occurred in Russia after Khrushchev came to power?

    Khrushchev succeeded to power in Russia following the death of Stalin in 1953. There was a significant easing of the Stalinist terror, and Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his crimes at a party congress in 1956.

    Hopes arose in eastern Europe that the Soviets might allow greater political autonomy, but the attempt to establish a more liberal regime in Hungary was crushed by Soviet tanks. While the Soviet Empire had become less tyrannical, its grip on the eastern European neighbors was not to be lessened.

    During the period 1945-1949, the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union rapidly deteriorated. A perceived threat by Communist guerillas in Greece, and Soviet pressure upon Turkey motivated U.S. aid to Greece and Turkey. In 1947, the Truman Doctrine called for containment of "Communist" threats around the globe, a grandiose goal which reached far beyond the immediate issues at stake.

    Also, in 1947, the United States proposed the Marshall Plan, the European Recovery Program, a program of economic aid to war-torn Europe. The Soviet Union and its satellites did not participate in the belief that it was a vehicle to extend American influence.  Indeed, it probably wouls have done so. But it was also a far-sighted program to avoid the mistakes made after World War I and to bring about rapid recovery of the European economy. This ensured the stability of governments in Italy and France, where large Communist parties were within reach of power. It also created a stark contrast between the recovering economies of western Europe and the depressed economies of eastern Europe. Most importantly, it brought about a rapid return to prosperity in western Europe and built the foundations for a booming Atlantic economy in the next two decades. It also set the stage for the the establishment of the European Common Market, begun in
the 1950,s.

    A "brain drain" from eastern to western Germany through Berlin led to the Berlin blockade and the Berlin airlift, a confrontation between east and west which brought the two sides to the brink of military conflict and led to the re-asssignment of U.S. troops to west Germany.

    By 1948, the United States was the leader of a coalition of western nations, opposed to the Soviet Union, and forming a military alliance. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, committed the United States to go to war if any of the member nations were attacked. The lines of the Cold War were now drawn.

How did the Cold War develop in Asia?

    A quite separate development in Asia, a civil war between the nationalist and communist Chinese, resulted in a communist victory in 1949. This brought to power a government which effectively unified China and restored it to a position of complete independence after a century of European colonial domination.

    Because the United States had, by 1949, defined all Communist governments as the enemy, the relations between China and the U.S. quickly deteriorated. The United States intervened in the Chinese civil war by interposing a U.S. fleet in the Taiwan straits, thus protecting the Nationalist Chinese, who had fled to the island, from invasion by the  mainland Chinese.

    At the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel between United States military forces in the south and Soviet forces in the north. Both powers supported client states in their respective areas, and both of these client states sought to unite Korea under their auspices. This led to the outbreak of war in June, 1950. Because the United States had not given extensive military aid to South Korea, and the Soviets had done so in the north, North Korea had the advantage and invaded the south.
The United States intervened with it own forces and reversed the tide of war. The approach of U.S. military forces to the Yalu River border with China provoked Chinese involvement. The war dragged on between the United States and China for three years. President Truman limited the war to the Korean peninsula, where immense destruction took place. The fighting ended with a cease fire in place, but no permanent peace treaty. The effect of the war was to create a heavily fortified border zone still closely guarded by both sides through the end of the twentieth century. The war greatly intensified the tension in the Cold War, accelerated the arms race ,and led to a change in U.S. policy towards Vietnam.

What was the principal cause for U.S. involvement in Vietnam?

   The Vietnamese were engaged in a struggle for independence from France in the years 1946-1954. The United States began to give extensive aid to the French in 1950, when, after the outbreak of the Korean War and the end of the Chinese civil war, American leaders believed that Communism was spreading throughout Asia. Thus, U.S. involvement in Vietnam was a direct result of the Cold War.

    Because the Vietnam War was a struggle for independence by the Vietnamese from their former colonial status, and the U.S. replaced the French after France was defeated in 1954, the war was a struggle of an empire, the United States, against an emerging nation-state.

    The Cold War led the United States, through its far-flung overseas commitments, to become the core of an empire. Liberal values, which were reflected in the domestic politics of the United States, were not extended overseas. The Cold War accentuated that trend. While the American people knew their own traditions at home, their nationalist bias
blinded them to the contradictions in their overseas actions.

  How have U.S. and Soviet military expenditures during the Cold War
affected their national economies?

    Military expenditures in the former Soviet Union were a great burden on the Soviet economy, draining resources that might otherwise have been available to improve the economic circumstances of the people. While Russia's centralized economy could provide the organization for an effective military establishment, it could not efficiently manage the
complex distribution system of a consumer-based society. The Soviet Union was a great military power, but its people lived in disadvantaged circumstances throughout the Cold War.

    Military expenditures in the United States also drained resources and talent that would otherwise have been available to the private economy. By the 1970,s, the United States, once the dominant economy in the world, had fallen behind Japan and West Germany in the competition for high quality consumer goods. Two decades of negative balances of trade caused the United States to become the largest debtor nation in the world. The pre-occupation with the military race against the Soviet Union is, in part, the reason.

How did the Cold War come to an end?

    During the 1970's and early 1980's, the Soviet economy was deteriorating under the cumulative effects of a centralized bureaucratic system, the burdens of an increasingly costly arms race, and a failed war in Afghanistan. A new generation of leadership came to power in 1985 in the person of Gorbachev. He was determined to end the Cold War and to bring economic and political reform to the Soviet Union. He initiated dramatic new agreements with the United States, involving unilateral concessions in the armaments race. He also brought an end to Soviet support of client governments in Eastern Europe and in Cuba. He relaxed the police state repression in the Soviet empire and took steps to introduce a democratic political process.

    These initiatives rapidly improved relations with the United States and brought an end to the Cold War. What Gorbachev had not anticipated, however, was that, without the domination of the police and a monopoly of power in the hands of the Communist Party, the Soviet empire would collapse into 16 different national parts. Nationalism, always a potent force in the modern world, brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union by 1991.