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Origins of the Cold War

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Origins of the Cold War

Origins of the Cold War

The Cold War can be summed up as a lengthy period of high tension and rivalry between the two world dominating superpowers, the USA and USSR, although which never involved direct conflict between the forces of the two powers. Starting around 1950, the Cold War kept all mankind and society on the brink of mass destruction for the best part of half a century, ending finally in 1990 with the collapse of the USSR as an empire and global superpower. The origins of the Cold War itself stem mainly from the end of the Second World War, when the two superpowers emerged victorious from the ashes of Europe and both looked to seize the advantage in gaining control in Europe. When the atomic bomb and the advent of long-range military technologies greatly increased the chance of hostilities between the two states, the fact that they occupied opposite sides of the globe became less of a barrier to potential conflict. The origins of the friction and disharmony between the two states, which served as a prelude to the Cold War disunity, can be traced back to the First World War. The War, the Russian revolution and the Russian civil war brought the armies of the two powers together for the first time, and paved the way for a continuing struggle for mutual survival, influence and dominance.

The fundamental cause of the tension between America and Russia was the conflict of ideologies and incompatibilities between the two massively different societies - communism and capitalism. Therefore, perhaps the best place to start looking for the origins of the Cold War is the dawn of communism in Russia in 1917. The atrocities and mass killings by the Red Army in the Russian civil war in the period 1917 - 1921 paved the way for the first clash between the communist society and the West. It came in the form of armed intervention by the allied states of the West, including America, who landed at Vladivostock and attempted to fight back the advancing Reds. The battle was brief, yet it was one of the first events to demonstrate the growing disharmony between Russia and the West. Throughout the history of the Cold War and the pre Cold War rivalry, the general policy of 'containment' of communism by the West and specifically America remained largely unchanged. This again supports the idea that the communist revolution can be marked as the very first of Cold War origins.

The most lasting and important effect Western intervention had on Russia had been the impression of the West left in the minds of the Russian people and their leaders. The Russians had just been through a terrifyingly costly war with Germany, followed by a disruptive revolution and a civil war in which millions upon millions had died from famine, disease, or fighting for the causes of the Whites or Reds. The West had intervened to crush the Red Bolshevik regime but had succeeded only in giving the Russian people the lasting impression that the capitalist powers were bent on pursuing the extermination of the Russian people. This perception of Western ideology remained in the minds of the Russian people for a long time, and the first response to this by the Red Government was to build up its armed forces into a formidable war machine.

During the inter-war period, the military power of both sides increased substantially. Russia stabilised somewhat, but the communist government was reluctant to agree to any relations with America and the West. On America's part, they refused to recognise Russia as legitimate, claiming it to be only a part of the "international communist subverse movement" until the Roosevelt administration in early 1933, when a basic agreement of mutual recognition was struck up between them. Following this were several attempts by the world powers to minimise the risk of another world war. Russia joined the League of Nations, and talked most of her satellite states into doing the same. As the threat from Germany and Japan became more apparent, an uneasy truce was struck up between the members of the League, which now excluded Germany, for mutual defence and security. In the period leading up to the war, when Hitler was making clear his plans for Europe, Britain attempted to forge an alliance with Russia to counter the Nazi threat. The treaty formed the basis for the unsure alliance that held throughout the war, uniting Russia, Britain and America against Germany, but that was as far as relations went. The Soviet-American Alliance had been a temporary one through the war, and while they had been on the same side, fighting for a common cause, they each fought their own war. The Soviets kept to the eastern front, the Americans worked with the British on the west, and little in the form of information, strategies and intelligence reports were exchanged. An interlude to this alliance occurred in the form of a Nazi-Soviet pact that assured the conquering and mutual occupation of Poland, and gave the Russians two year breathing space to prepare for a Nazi invasion. The West called Russia a traitor and when Russia latter attacked Finland, the refusal to allow the allied army passage by Norway, Sweden and Turkey only narrowly averted a war between Russia and the West. America remained neutral up to this point, until they opted to send aid to Finland. Public opinion in America and Britain was almost totally against Russia, and two decades of distrust, and exaggerated reports of the 'evil' Russian army in Western media only deepened anti Russian feelings.

In summer 1941, Hitler turned his attention away from the blitz over Britain and committed all his forces to an invasion of Russia. This brought about a welcome respite from the war in Britain, and an end to the Nazi-Soviet pact. Britain claimed Russia to be an ally fighting for a common cause. America was still divided over the issue of getting involved in the war, with the isolationists pushing for America to stand back and let the two dictators grind each other down. In consideration for declaring war on Germany, and therefore aiding Russia, the American Senator Robert A. Taft declared "A victory for communism would be far more dangerous for the United States than a victory for fascism." The American involvement in the war was an interest in European security in both the east and west sectors. Roosevelt wanted a large sphere of influence as a basis for a new international system, what was to become the United Nations. After ...

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