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Cold War: Causes

 

Almost as soon as the Second World War ended the winners started to argue with each other. In particular, a bitter conflict developed between the USA and the USSR. This struggle continued until the late 1980s. Walter Lippmann, an American journalist writing in the 1940s, called it a cold war and the phrase has been widely used since.

 

Historians have produced three conflicting explanations for the start of the Cold War:

 

1. The USSR was to blame. Stalin planned for a communist take-over of the world. The take-over of Eastern Europe was the first step towards world control.

 

2. The USA was to blame. Soviet actions were defensive. The USA wanted to control its area of influence but refused to allow the USSR to do the same.

 

3. Neither side was to blame. The Cold War was based on misunderstanding and forces beyond the control of both sides.

 

The long-term causes of the Cold War

The roots of the Cold War are to be found in earlier history. One historian said that the Cold War started, not in the 1940s, but in 1917, when the Russian Revolution took place and Soviet communism was born. By 1917 the USA was the richest country the world. The two countries were both enormous and both had great natural resources. However, there was no chance of real friendship between them because the leaders of the new Soviet Union had extremely different beliefs from those of American politicians.

 

American Capitalism

1. People should be free to make as much money as they can.

 

2. Factories and other property should be owned by individuals and companies.

 

3. The government should interfere as little as possible in the lives of ordinary people.

 

4. At elections people should be allowed to choose anyone they want for the government.

 

5. The Press should be able to criticise the government.

 

6. The government should not interfere in religion.

 

Soviet Communism

1. Rich people are wicked and selfish. They should be forced to share their wealth

 

2. Factories and other property should be owned by the state on behalf of all the people.

 

3. A communist government should get involved in every aspect of life.

 

4. At elections people should only be allowed to choose communists for the government.

 

5. The Press should never criticise a communist government.

 

6. Religious belief is nonsense and should be wiped out by the government.

 

Not only did American and Soviet leaders disagree totally. Each side was completely convinced that it was right and that other countries around the world should follow their lead. Americans believed that the answer to world problems was for other people to learn to live in an American way. The Soviet leaders were sure that their communist ideas would eventually spread to every country in the world. As a result the USA and the Soviet Union were very hostile towards each other after 1917.

 

In 1919 the USA joined Britain, France and other countries in an attempt to destroy Soviet communism by force. They invaded the Soviet Union in support of the White Russians who were engaged in a civil war with the Bolshevik revolutionaries. This use of force failed but the hostility remained.

 

The common enemy

The hostility between the USA and the Soviet Union was suspended in 1941. They were linked by their common wish to destroy Hitler. As soon as it looked as though Hitler was going to be defeated the old tension began to re-emerge. Hitler predicted that once the war was over the two wartime allies would no longer have anything in common and would become hostile towards each other once again.

 

The end of the war produced a difficult situation. Nazi power over Europe had been destroyed but what should replace it? In many countries there was no proper government. Decisions had to be made about the future of these countries. Inevitably, American and Soviet leaders had very different views on the best type of government for the countries of the new Europe. Shortly before his death, Hitler predicted the start of the Cold War.

 

'After the collapse of the German Reich, and until there is a rise in nationalism in Asia, Africa or Latin America. there will only be two powers in the world: The United States and Soviet Russia. Through the laws of history and geographical position these giants are destined to struggle with each other either through war, or through rivalry in economics and political ideas.'