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Cold War: America's motives

 

The American government responded very energetically to the soviet take-over in Eastern Europe. The Truman Plan and the Marshall Plan signaled a new stage in the developing Cold War.

 

Why was the US government hostile towards the Soviet Union?

The world's leading nation

The USA was well-placed to play a leading part in world affairs after 1945. It was in excellent economic condition, unlike almost every other powerful country. At the end of the war the defeated nations of Germany and Japan lay in ruins. Several of the 'winners' also faced great difficulties.

 

Britain and France were in debt and were selling very few goods abroad. As a result they could no longer afford to maintain huge armed forces. Much of the Soviet Union was wrecked by the war. By contrast, the rich USA became even richer in the war years. The output of American factories increased by 50 per cent during the war. By 1945 half of all the manufactured goods in the world were made in the USA. One third of all the world's exports came from the USA. Money flooded in and in 1945 the USA held almost two-thirds of all the gold reserves in the world.

 

As the leaders of the world's richest and most successful country, American politicians were very confident and expected to have a major say in the way the world was run. Leading Americans were extremely proud of their country and believed that American-style capitalism and free trade was the way forward for all other countries. They were. therefore annoyed by Soviet communists who tried to stop the spread of American business and said that American capitalism was wicked.

 

The nuclear monopoly

The USA was not only rich, it was also powerful. With 1,200 major warships and over 2,000 heavy bombers it had the strongest navy and airforce in the world. The American feeling of power was greatly increased when the atomic bomb was produced in 1945. No other country had this immensely powerful weapon. The Soviet Union produced an atom bomb in 1949, but in 1945 Americans thought that it could be 20 years before any other country caught up with their atomic power.

 

American politicians took a more aggressive line towards the Soviet Union because they thought they could use the bomb as a threat. (This overestimated the importance of the atomic bomb. Stalin rightly thought that the bomb was so terrible that the Americans would hardly ever dare to use it.)

 

Memories of the 1930s

At the start of 1946 there was a strong feeling in Washington that the US government needed to take a tough line with the USSR. Talks were getting nowhere and Truman became convinced that only the threat of force would stop the Soviets from taking over more land. In January Truman told his advisers that he wanted the USSR to be faced with an 'iron fist'. He added, 'I'm tired of babying the Soviets '

 

This hard-line approach was greatly influenced by recent memories. The world had been through great turmoil in the 1930s. In Washington it seemed that the causes of the problem were

the rise of evil dictators like Hitler

the economic crisis of the pre-war Depression.

 

People in Washington thought that they needed to stop the rise of any more wicked dictators like Hitler. During the war most Americans had a positive view of Stalin. Soon after the war the American Press portrayed him, like Hitler, as a monster and a dictator. The lesson of the 1930s was that appeasement did not work with such people. It would therefore be disastrous if Americans made any concessions to the Soviet Union.

 

There was also an economic reason for taking a tough line on communism. American politicians were terrified at the idea that there could be another Depression like the one in the early 1930s. Another Depression could only be avoided if American factories were busy. American business was the engine of the world economy and it needed new markets in which to sell its goods. Communist countries were unlikely to buy many American goods. So the spread of communism was a threat to the American economy.

 

George Kennan and the 'long telegram'

One American expert played a crucial part in encouraging a hostile attitude towards the Soviet Union. His name was George Kennan. In February 1946 Kennan sent a famous report to Washington. He was based at the time at the American Embassy in Moscow and his report gave the American government a detailed view of Soviet motives. The report became known as 'the long telegram'. It made a big impact in Washington.

 

The US government accepted Kennan's views and published hundreds of copies of the telegram for its officials to read. Kennan said that the Soviet government was determined to expand and must be stopped. Kennan also developed the idea of ' containment '. The theory of containment was that the USA should use all means, including the threat of force, to stop Soviet power spreading any further. The USA became committed to containment and this remained its policy until the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s.