Critically evaluate the revisionist position that it was the expansion of US power that led to the outbreak of the Cold War.

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Critically evaluate the revisionist position that it was the expansion of US power that led to the outbreak of the Cold War.

Historians have disagreed as to who was responsible for the breakdown of Soviet-U.S. relations after the Second World War, therefore creating different schools of thought such as Orthodox , Revisionist and Post-revisionist interpretations. Scholars’ analysis concerning the origins of the cold war have changed and developed, due to the context in time and access to previously closed sources.  The Orthodox view was the dominant thesis of cold war literature for 20 years, as few historians saw any reason to challenge the official American interpretation of the beginnings of the Cold War, due to the Mc Carthy years,  which was a manipulative and propaganda era. This however changed due to the events of Vietnam, which allowed the revisionist thought to flourish. This is because America’s involvement in Vietnam dissatisfied many historians with the premises of the containment policy and, also, with the traditional view of the origins of the Cold War. This paper sets out to critically evaluate the revisionist assumption that it was the expansion of US power that led to the outbreak of the cold war.  Through intensive reading and research of the three different theses, a critical evaluation has been made and criticisms of the revisionist thesis have been drawn out.  The criticisms that shall be addressed are, the lack of cohesion within the revisionist  analysis, its over-simplified assumptions (especially in terms of the aims of American foreign policy), lack of  use of balanced sources, influence of political preferences within the thesis in which effects the objectivity, and lastly the context in which the revisionist thesis arose in.

What can be deducted from close reading of various revisionist literature, from Williams, Kolko, Paterson , Bernstein, Gardener, Lefeber and McCormick is that there is not a single thesis, illustrating that this approach lacks cohesion, whereas the traditional approach offers a  basic  concise analysis. Williams, unlike Kolko, never went so far as to attribute avaricious motives to American policymakers. As he said, “the tragedy of American diplomacy is not that it is evil, but that it denies and subverts American ideas and ideals.” Extensive disagreements existed in many areas of interpretation, for example the extent of continuity between Roosevelt and Truman, the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan, and the significance of early sphere of influence initiatives in later disagreements between the United States and the U.S.S.R. over Eastern Europe. In addition, there was substantial diversity between revisionists on how to structure interpretation, involving choices about concepts, forms of explanation and categories of analysis. Even though many followed Williams’s intellectual route, the scope of his analysis was so broad that it offered little tangible guidance. In contrast, Kolko followed a more deterministic approach, where the primacy of economic interests and the needs of the global capitalist system were emphasised. Whereas others, such as Alperovitz, the role of individual agents was fundamental.  Alperovitz work shows a concentration of personalities e.g if Roosevelt was in power, war would have been unavoidable, therefore the expansion of US power is Truman’s fault. This belief is based on the fact that Truman had abandoned the conciliatory policies of Roosevelt and had taken a proactive hard line against the Russians. However this aspect of analysis should be read with great care, due to the lack of available sources at the time. Even this assumption by Alperovitz is contended by other revisionist like Williams, Kolko and Gardner, as they rejected his thesis and pinned Roosevelt which much of the blame. This raises the question of how can this thesis be credited if there is a lack of cohesion and agreement within this school of thought.

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Some of the revisionist ideas itself can be criticised and be deemed to be narrow and simplified. This can be especially seen through the ‘open door theory’. Radical revisionist e.g Williams argues that the fundamental objective of American policy makers was the attainment of an open door world for American business. For example he says “it was the decision of the United States to employ its new and awesome power in keeping with the traditional Open Door Policy which crystallized the Cold War.”  This shows the approach to have  a high focus on economics and ignores political and strategic considerations. ...

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