18 Aralık 2013 Çarşamba

Quotation: Princeton University A World History of The World, "Ideologies and Perceptions in the Cold War"

We are jumping forward a century from last week’s blog about railroads and their connection to imperialism and industrialization, to the aftermath of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War. For this blog, we will be focusing solely on the two years immediately following World War II as the United States and the Soviet Union’s relationship quickly deteriorated.

Following World War II and the collapse of the Third Reich, Europe was utterly devastated. The Allied Powers, led by the US, the USSR, and Great Britain, occupied the formerly Nazi-occupied territory and set about rebuilding Europe.

Soviet-occupied territory post-WWII

World War I had greatly shifted the European balance of power with the collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian Empires. The idea of self-determination, one of the Fourteen Points championed by Woodrow Wilson (a graduate of Princeton University) during the Versailles Peace Treaty had resulted in the emergence of a plethora of states out of the skeletons of the former defeated empires. However, this concept of self-determination seriously eroded the legitimacy and power of the United States’ allies, France and Britain, who ruled over vast colonial empires. While the balance of power had greatly shifted, it had not broken. World War II, which would utterly devastate Europe, would break this balance. Out of the ashes emerged a new global balance of power, dominated by the United States and the USSR.

The capitalist western allies and the communist Soviet Union had been united in World War II by a common enemy, but otherwise were ideologically completely opposed. With the defeat of the Fascist powers, the United States and its western Allies realized they had a new enemy on their doorstep. Led by the ruthlessly authoritarian and paranoid Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union occupied nearly all of Eastern Europe. Communist ideology, which called for global revolution to replace capitalism with a classless society, scared the West. With millions dead and the European economy in shambles, communism began to strengthen throughout the continent and communist regimes began to pop-up in the Soviet occupied territory.

Warsaw, Poland post-WWII

With tensions brewing between the two superpowers, George Kennan (another Princeton graduate) articulated the American fears in an article titled The Sources of Soviet Conduct. In his article, Kennan argues that the Soviet Union is inherently expansionist and the United States' foreign policy should consist of a “long-term, patient but firm and vigilantcontainment of Russian expansive tendencies” (Kennan, 125). This policy of containment would dominate U.S. foreign policy for the next four decades. Soviet expansionist designs were both easier and more difficult to confront than other aggressive leaders like Napoleon and Hitler, he argues, because it relied less on direct confrontation and was more malleable and persistent in nature, as it was convinced of the inevitable collapse of capitalism. Its leadership, dominated by Joseph Stalin, was completely authoritative and “unmodified by any of the Anglo-Saxon spirit of compromise,” he argues, even evoking a racial divide between the two powers (Kennan, 117). His definition of containment is “the vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy…” (Kennan, 126). At this point in 1947, this consisted of massive amounts of economic aid to help ameliorate the conditions in which communism thrived.

George Kennan

In 1947, President Truman called on Congress to approve $400,000,000 worth of aid to prop up the pro-western Greek and Turkish governments in what is now known as the Truman Doctrine. This vital geopolitical area was dangerously close to falling under the influence of communism (which Truman refers to as “totalitarianism”); the British government, which had for centuries maintained their interests in that region, was now unable to do so, and so the responsibility must fall on America’s shoulders, Truman argues. This was a precursor to the Marshall Plan, which provided massive amounts of economic aid to Europe in order to rebuild and resist the expansion of communism. In our own opinion, it was both necessary and wise to intervene in such distant geographical areas. Was it necessary for the United States to intervene in World War II, despite it being geographically distant? Of course it was; in order to maintain American security and protect vital interests, the United States sometimes must intervene in global affairs.

Truman and Stalin

The Soviets obviously held completely opposing views to those voiced by Kennan and Truman, which were voiced by the Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. Nikolai Novikov. Novikov expresses the hostile attitude the Soviets harnessed toward the United States and their “imperialist tendencies” in “striving for world supremacy” (Jensen, 199). The United States and the Soviets held almost mirror image views of one another, each equally worried about the potential expansion of the other world power. Novikokv cites various ways in which the U.S. were intending to spread their influence around the world such as a massive expansion of the military budget, the creation of a peacetime-standing army, the construction of hundreds of military bases worldwide, and global economic expansion. Novikov states that the United States was attempting to “support reactionary forces with the purpose of creating obstacles to the process of democratization of these countries” (Novikov, 201). What is ironic is that democratization is exactly what the U.S. supported, while the Soviets were attempting to force communism and authoritarian rule on the Eastern European countries and create a system of puppet states. Novikov sums up his skewed view of reality by expressing his view that the United States is dead-set on world domination, and that the Soviet Union is the only obstacle standing in its path. While the U.S. held a monopoly on nuclear technology at this time, this would not last; in 1949, the Soviets detonated their own atomic bomb and started building up their nuclear arsenal, thus assuring mutual destruction should the two superpowers go to war.


Kennan, George F. "The Sources of Soviet Conduct." American Diplomacy. Chicago and London: University of Chicago, n.d. 179-201. Print.

Jensen, Kenneth M., ed. "Soviet Ambassador Nikolai Novikov Identifies a U.S. Drive for World Supremacy, 1946." Orgins of the Cold War: The Novikov, Kennan, and Roberts "Long Telegram" of 1946.

“The Truman Doctrine Calls for Aid to Greece and Turkey to Contain Totalitarianism, 1947.” Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Harry S. Truman, 1947 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1963), pp. 176-180.

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