How did the Cold War begin?

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11K Ryutaro Tanno                                                      28/10/07

Cold War

How did the Cold War begin?

How did the Cold War affect America’s policy toward Vietnam?

When the Second World War ended in 1945, many European countries that had once been powerful were in ruin and were exhausted by six years of fighting. Only two Super Powers – The USA and The USSR remained after 1945 and a state of extreme tension developed between them. This tense rivalry is called “The Cold War” and this strangely named rivalry is generally regarded as a conflict between communism (East) led by the USSR and capitalism (West) led by the USA, “characterized by mutual perceptions of hostile intention between political alliances or blocs” (quote 1; L. Dockrill and F.Hopkins, 2006, The Cold War Pg 1), without open armed direct fighting between the Great Powers. There were some conflicts in the Cold War but they were called proxy wars because the two Super Powers did not fight directly and just supported the interests of one of their allies against the other. The fabric of the rivalry was said to consist of the following two competitions - politically to compete for the ascendancy of each ideology, and economically for the wealth of people. However it was just a superficial front to hide the fact that the rivalry was a competition for spreading their ideology to as many countries as possible by expanding their controllable areas. Both sides were trying to prevent the other side from expanding its controllable area and also to stop the spread of the enemy’s ideology. Therefore the rivalry had many features of a conventional war, such as, causes, weapons, tactics, events, results, spies and propaganda, and the rivalry actually resulted in many tragedies, for instance Korean Warfare, Vietnam War, Cambodia civil war and Afghanistan civil war, though all-out war between the USSR and the USA was avoided. In this essay I shall talk about how the Cold War began and how it affected America’s Policy towards Vietnam.

The origin of this rivalry dates back to the Russian revolution in 1917, long before the Second World War. This revolution had given communists power in Russia and led to the establishment of Soviet power under the control of the Bolshevik party. This was a serious threat to liberal democracies in Western powers, such as Britain and the USA.  In 1919 the Comintern, an organization which was dedicated to expansion of communist ideology against capitalism was established, it increased the fear of Western Powers which resulted in them throwing their support behind the opponents of communist during the Russian Civil War of 1918 to 1920. Therefore, from then on the Russian distrusted Americans and Americans did not trust Russians. At that time a frosty atmosphere of mistrust had developed between the West and East, and ideological clash between Communism and Capitalist Democracy had already started.

Joseph Stalin became the leader of the USSR in 1924 following the death of V.I.Lenin. During the 1920s and 1930s, Stalin instituted Great Purges (removal of all opposition to Stalin by imprisonment, exile and killing) and Five Year Plans (Stalin’s strict agricultural policy to industrialize the USSR by setting production quotas for everything that was produced in factories and farms. Farms had to be collectivized and set quotas following the Five Year Plan, so much grain was taken in taxes after that and millions starved) which resulted in the death of many of his own people. This fact horrified the USA and Great Britain as they came to the full realization that in order to keep world peace they had to promote capitalism at the expense of communism, whilst Stalin attempted to do the reverse. Because of Stalin’s actions, the antagonism in the relationship between Western Powers and The USSR had been aggravated and the mood of distrust had developed even further.

On August 23, 1939, The Nazi Soviet Non-Agression Pact was signed by Ribbentrop and Molotov, . “Publicly, this agreement stated that the two countries - Germany and the Soviet Union - would not attack each other. If there were ever a problem between the two countries, it was to be handled amicably.” (Quote 2; 20th century) This pact surprised the world since the USSR (capitalism) and Germany (capitalist) had opposed ideology and antagonized each other at that time. Superficially Germany seemed to sign the pact for development of the strong diplomatic relations so as to share the benefits, but as a matter of fact it had signed simply for the short-term convenience to prepare for the invasion to the USSR. Although this pact was meant to last for ten years it actually lasted less than two years.

 On June 22, 1941 Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR called Operation Barbarossa commenced. International society was not really surprised except for the USSR by Germany’s action. This is because in Hitler’s “My Struggle” he maintained that German people needed Lebensraum (extra living space or raw materials for the growth of German population) in the USSR for the benefit of Aryan generation in the future, such as agricultural surplus, more labor force, better access to oil and other raw materials, improving Germany’s geostrategic position and so on, and also so as to secure a vast colony in the USSR for the expelled Russian and Slavic people that were considered to be an inferior race from Hitler’s perspective. Also in his book he made clear his intention of an invasion of the USSR as the vital action to bring the hope to the real world.  Despite that, secret agents of the USSR already knew about the presence of Operation Barbarossa, long before it was carried out on June 22, 1941 the USSR did not have any provisions against Operation Barbarossa and thus, initially the Soviet’s armies were overwhelmed by them and the condition was aggravated. Why did this happen? Stalin had also known that Germany was to invade the USSR as secret agents had told him. On the other hand, in Germany a rumor saying that Operation Barbarossa was just a lie and it was a maneuver by Great Britain, was spread to deceive the USSR. Stalin did not even listen to what the Soviet’s secret agents were saying and was deceived into thinking that this was a maneuver of Britain aimed at creating a rivalry between the USSR and Germany. In other word, he trusted what Germany said, rather than what his own country’s secret agents said. Basically at that time the ideological clash and distrustful mood of Western Powers including Britain and the USSR was already at this level. As the condition got worse Stalin thought he needed a help from Britain and the USA. He asked Great Britain and the USA to attack Germany from the West, but as they refused to attack German until they could get ready, he thought they were delaying on purpose. However at the end they helped the USSR and owing to them, his Red army succeeded in pushing back the German armies in 1942-5. On 7 May 1945, Germany surrendered and the war in Europe finally ended.    

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In February of 1945, the Big Three - Churchill (representing Britain), Roosevelt (USA) and Stalin (USSR) – held a summit meeting at Yalta, the old palace of the Tsar in the USSR to discuss how Europe was to be structured after the war was over. At the conference, the Big Three were determined that their three countries should corporate in ensuring free elections would take place in all countries liberated from Germany and they signed the “Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe”. However Stalin wanted to control Eastern Europe surrounding the USSR in order to create a hoped “buffer zones” ...

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