How far do you agree that the origins of the Cold War in 1945-6 owed much to ideological differences and little to personalities and conflicting national interests?
The Cold War marked a period of hostility between superpowers: that of the USA (and by extension, the West) and the USSR and the East. This hostility began after the Second World War, despite the supposed camaraderie between the two superpowers during the war as allies against Hitler and Fascism. Whether the schism between the superpowers was caused by their differing ideologies (the capitalist West and the communist East) or a clash between national interests and strong personalities is a matter for debate.
Winston Churchill could be said to have helped cause the Cold War because of his ideological differences with Stalin. His 1946 ‘Iron Curtain’ speech certainly caused tension: it unveiled to the world Stalin’s increasing “Soviet sphere” and “increasing measure of control from Moscow”, strongly showing his disapproval of Stalin’s swooping over Eastern Europe and inferring his strongly anti-communist stance. However, this speech was given in 1946, and Churchill was no longer the Prime Minister; that role had passed to Clement Attlee, inferring that he felt he was only able to make such a blunt statement of his views once he was out of power. Conversely, when he was in high office, Churchill was able to work well with Stalin – he called him “Uncle Joe”, inferring they were more than just cordial allies working purely against Stalin. In fact, the Iron Curtain speech could be seen as hypocritical as Churchill made an agreement with Stalin which allowed him to have 75% of influence in Bulgaria and 90% in Romania, two of the places he referenced in the speech. Conversely, it could be construed that Churchill knew he had to work with Stalin the best he could, but nonetheless did not share his ideas. While their relationship during the war could have been seen as constructive, ultimately Churchill’s anti-communist stance caused tension, inferring that ideological differences did have more input into the origins of the Cold War.
The leaders during 1945 were able to work well together for a joint aim – to defeat Fascism – regardless of ideological differences. Franklin Roosevelt, for instance, was optimistic that he would still be able to work with Stalin after the war had ended, inferring a conciliatory and not necessarily biased nature against communism. In fact, Roosevelt saved the American economy with a socialist policy known as the New Deal, using federal government funding and stimulus in order to bring America out of depression. Stalin would potentially be able to relate to his aims and methods in that sense, and therefore could work with him as they held common ground. Regrettably, Roosevelt’s death in 1945 caused his vice-president, Harry Truman, to take control of the presidency. Truman’s inexperience in foreign policy was reflected in his workings with Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister, who accused him of acting like a “Missouri mule driver” when he informed the Russian that the commitments agreed to at the Yalta conference in 1945 – a relentless attitude and the inferred treatment of the minister as an undereducated idiot could be seen to bring tension to the relationships between the two superpowers. Additionally, Truman’s decision not to inform Stalin of the Manhattan Project would have caused their relationship to worsen. The atomic bomb was an incredibly destructive weapon; not revealing it to Stalin could infer that Truman intended to intimidate Stalin with it, doubtlessly increasing Stalin’s suspicion of America. Its use also ensured that Stalin had no part in the defeat of Japan. Stalin might have considered this a slight as Russia had historical tensions with Japan after the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, in which the Russians lost territory to their enemies. As Truman had effectively stopped Stalin from enacting revenge on those who gave Russia an embarrassing defeat, it could be seen that Truman’s heavy handed foreign policy ideals caused the alienation of the Soviet Union, allowing the situation to plunge into one of mutual hostility.