World War II created a relationship of necessity between the United States and the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945. However, soon after the war’s end, a number of factors led the temporary alliance to dissolve and propel each nation into a half century long Cold War. Political ideology, economics, the search for strategic advantages, the search for alliances and the attempt to achieve nuclear supremacy fueled this intense struggle.
Upon the completion of World War II, both the United States and the Soviet Union found themselves in the position of being a superpower. The United States could credit their industrial and manufacturing capability, their powerful war economy, their lack of physical damage due to the war, and above all their nuclear capability for their superpower status. The Soviet Union’s status as a superpower could be linked to their powerful and numerous military ground forces and the fact that they could now claim Eastern Europe as their own since liberating it from the Nazis. This dual superpower scenario created the great tension and paranoia between the United States and the Soviet Union that fueled the fires of the Cold War. Each move that one of these nations made to strengthen their military or to achieve some other advantage would make the other nation extremely suspicious and determined to provide a counterbalance.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union could certainly claim some level of responsibility for the onset of the Cold War. Josef Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union during the opening stage of the Cold War was known for being secretive and paranoid and openly sought to expand the power of the Soviet Union, both domestically and in foreign relations. The United States, led by President Harry Truman feared that Stalin was trying to use the chaos of the post war world as an opportunity to expand the might of the Soviet Empire and by extension expand the reach of communism.
It would be easy for someone, even the least paranoid and suspicious among the Truman administration to fear that Stalin was trying to expand Soviet influence in the post war world. Communism seemed to be gaining a great deal of traction worldwide after World War II. The Soviets enjoyed uncontested control over Eastern Europe as well as a presence in Manchuria to aid the communists fighting in China. The Soviets were maintaining a presence in North Korea to further exert their influence in Asia. In addition to an interest in Asia, Stalin also showed a desire to gain some level of influence in the Middle East and Africa. Following the war, Soviet troops were stationed in Iran and Turkey while Stalin pressed for a trusteeship in Northern Africa, no doubt desiring close proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. While no one in the Truman administration could be sure of what Stalin’s motives were, they feared that Stalin wanted to raise a Communist empire of from the ruins of post-World War II Europe. What generated the greatest amount of fear in the United States was the Soviet development of the atomic bomb in 1949 and the later development of the hydrogen bomb. As the only other world superpower, President Truman saw it as the responsibility of the United States to halt any possible Communist expansion.
However, Harry Truman, in his attempt to halt the spread of Communism, certainly fanned the flames of the Cold War by seeking to create an American advantage. Even before the official end of World War II, Truman’s lack of trust in the Soviets insulted Stalin and encouraged Soviet fears of capitalist and democratic encirclement around the Soviet Union. Stalin was bothered by the fact that Truman never revealed the secret of the atomic bomb to him, but did to the British. Furthermore, Stalin most likely took the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan as much as a message to the Soviet Union of American dominance following World War II as it was an effort to bring the war to an end. Instances of Stalin being offended by American actions do not end there. Stalin was angered by Soviet exclusion from the occupation of Italy and Japan as well as being denied money from the Marshall Plan. In addition, Stalin suspected American led aggression in the formation of NATO, the unification of the West German zones, and West German currency reform conducted without consulting the Soviet Union.
This almost personal rivalry between Harry Truman and Josef Stalin drove the earliest stages of the Cold War and intensified to the point where there could seemingly be no peace while these two men where in power. Regardless of who is responsible, the initial stage of the Cold War was a period of heightened global fears of nuclear war, aggressive capitalistic/democratic and communistic jockeying for position and political intrigue that would determine the foreign and domestic policies of many of the nations of the world for most of the remainder of the twentieth century.
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