Proposal: The Origins of the Cold War Preliminary Research

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Chloe Delfs

Proposal: The Origins of the Cold War

Preliminary Research:

Initial pre-reading in the area of The Cold War immediately presented the theme of thean American interpretation differing greatly from the Soviet interpretation, discovered from the websiteDebating the Origins of the Cold War: American and Russian Perspectives’. Further preliminary research on the area of ‘the Origins of the Cold War’ mainly consisted of internet resources in the form of online books that all adequately summarised the basic areas of debate in terms ofn the Cold War. Consequently, the first website article “Origins and Ending: The Historical Debate” contained material from Joseph Smith’s book “The Cold War, 1945-1991” and revealed the three main historical perspectives or interpretations, initiating my first line of enquiry. These are the early Orthodox view, the Revisionist view and the Post-revisionist view, views which accumulated originated from the initial period of Cold War and continued changing into the 1960’s. In enquiring into the source of the website article “Origins and Ending: The Historical Debate”, it was soon revealed that a key historian in the debate was John Lewis Gaddis, a popular American historian of the Cold War. The primary process being was based on consulting trusted internet websites, but also involved the skimming of the texts “We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History” by John Lewis Gaddis, and the online version of the book by Ralph Levering and Vladimir Pechatnov, “Debating the Origins of the Cold War: American and Russian Perspectives”. Overall, preliminary research did not reveal any key Soviet historians, but did lead to a number of basic lines of enquiry that could be explored in the future.

Enquiry questions:

  1. Why did tension build between America and Russia before the Cold War?

Presumably, the extreme differences in ideology between the East and West would have been the central cause of tension between them. In this sense, the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 was of fundamental significance to the tension that existed before the Cold War. The article ‘Origins and Ending: The Historical Debate’ reveals that what would have been an inevitably a hostile reaction from the United States. This, was patently evident in the form of President Woodrow Wilson’s public condemnation of the Bolshevikst government and his sending of American troops to Russia in 1918 to assist the futile efforts of the Western powers to restore the imperial regime. Such actions on America’s part wereas even more significant in the build-up of tension between the East and the West. Despite collaboration between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin during the Second World War, Ideological rivalry resumed once the desire to defeat Nazi Germany was achieved.

  1. To what extent did American ideology play a part in the accumulation development of the Cold War?

Most Americans felt the post-war world should be populated by free, democratic nations that upheld people’s basic human rights. Stalin’s communist governments did not fit that model. Franklin D. Roosevelt summed up this policy by stating “We can fulfil our responsibilities for maintaining the security of our country only by exercising our power and our influence to achieve the principles in which we believe and for which we have fought”. Every policy the Truman administration followed, with overwhelming public support, was one of American internationalism with the desire to see the world democratic and capitalistic.

  1. How do Soviet historians interpret the origins of the Cold War?

Soviet writers had agreed that the Truman Doctrine was important in contributing to the conflict between the East and the West, however, they perceived their country’s response to have been purely defensive. Instead, in their opinion, American iImperialism was the true cause of the Cold War. This view reflected an official line which was consistently maintained throughout the Cold War. For example, only a day after the Truman Doctrine was enunciated, Soviet news agencies criticised it as part of a calculated strategy to expand the capitalist system throughout Europe. The Marshall Plan was similarly condemned as an American plot to encircle the Soviet Union with hostile capitalist states. In addition, the United States was accused of endangering Soviet security by creating NATO and proceeding to remilitarise West Germany. The Soviet Union reacted accordingly to American provocation by creating its own bloc of political, economic and military alliances in Eastern Europe.

  1. How and why have attitudes towards the Cold War changed over time, specifically in relation to the orthodox, revisionist and post-revisionist perceptions?

The “orthodox” or “traditional” interpretation at the time was that Stalin’s aggressiveness was directly responsible for causing the Cold War. T, this view was subsequently endorsed by many historians in the West. The early perspective among American politicians and diplomats at the time was that the Soviet Union sought world domination. Stalin was suspected of masterminding a monumental communist conspiracy, starting with the ruthless imposition of communist political control throughout Eastern Europe and threats to the governments of Iran, Turkey and Greece. In the United States, the orthodox view reflected the public consensus in favour of containment and was not challenged until the emergence of the “revisionist” school of American historians during the 1960’s. Unlike the orthodox view, a prominent theme to the revisionist perspective, which emerged as a result of the opening of American diplomatic archives covering the 1940s, was that Stalin’s policies were seriously misunderstood by the Truman administration. They stress that, firstly, the Soviet Union was not even a great threat to the United States and furthermore that Stalin had repeatedly proven himself a reliable wartime ally of the United States. Most prominently, however, their focus was on the grave military and economic weakness of the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. This occasioned Stalin’s insistence on the establishment of friendly governments in neighbouring states as, it was strategically necessary for Stalin. Stalin, therefore, was motivated by cautious realism rather than aggression. According to the revisionists, such as William A. Williams and Henry Wallace, it was the action of the United States that provoked him into hostility towards the West and was directly responsible for precipitating the Cold War. Overall, they argue that the USA's significant involvementmplication in Europe’s' reconstruction was firstly primarily motivated by a desire to cement its economic dominance over Europe. This forced the Soviets to consolidate all their assets in Eastern and Central Europe, regardless of the consequences of using force, to contain American expansion. Post revisionist historians, like John Lewis Gaddis, viewed Soviet hostility and United States’ efforts to dominate the post-war world as equally responsible for the Cold War.

  1. How did the widely accepted orthodoxy view on the origins of the Cold War, held by the majority of American historians, come to be?

Firstly, it became known that during the actual period of the Cold War the writings of Soviet historians were strictly censored. And, As a consequence of this, Soviet historians adhered faithfully to their government’s “official” version of events. This suggests a key reason as to why the historical research and publication was largely undertaken by American historians and, relevantly, why what resulted was an American, orthodoxy perspective that has since dominated the historical literature on the subject. Another crucial element in the development of the orthodoxy view, held by historians like Thomas A. Bailey, was that the United States experienced a rise the membership of the American Communist party. This meant an increase in Soviet espionage activity and a perceived indifference to it by the United States government. The important role of public opinion on the shaping of policies and how public opinion affects governmental officials can also be attributed to the consensus view. This concept is exemplified by Truman’s introduction of new foreign policy that would focus on post-war Germany, Soviet expansion, and atomic energy to ensure US security and to preserve peace in the world. This anti-communist foreign policy was pursued with the majority of support from the general public.

Research intentions/anticipated research

In the area of the extent to which America is responsible for the Cold War, a crucial text I ’ve have recently discovered and would like to study is the 1947 book titled “Cold War” in which the term “Cold War” first emerged in the West. It was written by the influential American journalist, Walter Lippmann. Hopefully, this book will give me great insight into the current direction I’m heading in, which is the substantial extent to which America actually contributed to the Cold War, in an attempt to further explore the current orthodoxy/consensus view that is still held by most people. Considering it is unlikely that such a book could be found at the Bathurst Library, I will make an attempt to at least find an online version. In terms of historians, in order to gain a greater understanding of both sides of the debate, I’ll will be enquiring into Ssoviet historians whose views on the Cold War are, to some degree, as widely accepted as those of historians like John Lewis Gaiddis, e. Especially considering the majority of popular Ccold Wwar historians are American.

The main issue presented after my preliminary research is whether the perspectives of most American historians and the general public regarding the origins of the Cold War are highly valid, or simply the result of foreign policies, public denunciation of communism within the government, endorsement of orthodox view etc. In light of this future direction, I intend to look into works such as:

  • Harry S. Truman and the Cold War Revisionists. (2006)’ by Ferrell, Robert H.

  • Uncertain Empire: American History and the Idea of the Cold War (2012)’

  • Walker, J. Samuel. Historians and Cold War Origins: The New Consensus

  • William Appleman. The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1958) (1988 edition)

Apart from these texts the documentary produced by Pat Mitchell and Jeremy Isaacs “Cold War”, a twenty-four episode television documentary series about the Cold War that aired in 1998, would prove to be very useful. It features interviews and footage of the events that shaped the tense relationships between the Soviet Union and the United States.

This sounds very promising, Chloe, and I look forward to seeing what you can produce. Nor all of your Enquiry Questions are explained in such a fashion that I can see clearly the nature of the opposing side's arguments on the topic or the names of the historians presenting various views, though your fourth Enquiry Question is a spectacularly good exception to this. The quality of the writing is generally strong, and for an Extension project it needs to be. Nevertheless there are enough adjustments I have made to remind you that refinement of your prose is always desirable so check these adjustments and aim to edit your work with great care, especially before Project submission. The sources you have in mind seem to offer the potential for a good exploration of these issues but you will want to clarify which historians you wish to have as the key opponents on the various Enquiry Questions. It would be great to get some historians from the Soviet side who were writing during the period. Good luck with what lies ahead.


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