World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, is considered the deadliest conflict in the history of the world. The Allies, consisting of the US, the USSR, the UK, and China, emerged as the victors against fascist Germany, Italy, and Japan. However, despite people striving for peace in the subsequent years, as soon as 1947, there was concern that a third World War would start, this time between the US and the USSR. While the tension between the two nations never resulted in an armed conflict, there was an extended period of struggle for global influence lasting over 40 years, typically referred to as the Cold War. The origins of this conflict have been a topic of debate for many years, with different researchers pushing the blame to one of the involved nations. However, nowadays, it is generally agreed that the Cold War was a result of the post-war fear and misconception of the rival’s intentions, which is an opinion shared in (Bugaric, 2014) and (Morris, 2018). The purpose of this paper is to analyze the mentioned articles on the topic of the origins of the Cold War.
The Interpretations of the Origins of the Cold War
With the USSR remaining secretive during its existence, it was hard to assess their intentions during the conflict with the US, leaving many particularities open to discussion. Generally, there are three common interpretations of the Cold War’s origins that are shared by researchers. The first theory, referred to as the orthodox one, places the blame in its entirety on the USSR, outlining the communist agenda this nation was pushing during the time. The second interpretation is the result of the Soviet education system and vilifies the US, painting it as the villain in the conflict. The third rationale was proposed relatively recently when compared to the previous two theories. This theory states that the Cold War was a result of the two nations having false misconceptions about the other’s intentions, which festered fear in the minds of both politicians and the general public.
The Orthodox Interpretation
This interpretation was popular amongst the citizens of the US as it would be illogical for a country to admit their fault in any conflict. While this may seem like a nation pushing the full blame on its enemy, it is worth mentioning that there was a genuine cause for concern in terms of Soviet politics. During this period, “the Soviet regime was unquestionably expansionist and would take any measures necessary to increase Soviet influence” (Morris, 2018, p. 5). With more and more countries becoming communist under the influence of the USSR, the American government was concerned that this propagation of the communist agenda would not stop until it reached all nations of the world.
The Soviet Interpretation
The USSR rather predictably proposed an opposite theory that blamed the US for the Cold War. While this interpretation was popular during the existence of Soviet Russia, it can still be encountered in Russian history textbooks, published as late as 2007 (Morris, 2018, p. 24). This theory paints a picture of American hostility during the post-war era and the expansion of capitalism that forced the USSR to take the necessary measure to protect itself and its citizens. This interpretation proposed that the US greatly overestimated Soviet military expenditure that was never planned to be in use for anything other than defense. As a result, the American government saw the USSR as a bigger threat than the nation was.
The Revisionist Interpretation
This theory is the most widely accepted one nowadays as researchers have the benefit of seeing the direct consequences of the Cold War. This, in combination with the documents that remained secret during the 20th century, allows for a more objective assessment of each of the sides’ involvement in the conflict. This interpretation takes several events, some occurring even before World War II, to explain the tension that had built up between the US and the USSR by 1947.
An important point of conflict was the Sovietization of Poland, which was engaged due to Stalin wanting “a security buffer zone along the Soviet Union’s western borders” (Bulgaric, 2014, p. 40). This defensive measure resulted in arguments between The USSR and the alliance of the US and the UK over important posts in the new Polish government and the location of the western border. Most of the final decisions ended up benefitting the Soviet people, which was seen as a provocation in American eyes. Subsequently, similar actions were undertaken in Romania and Bulgaria, this time with even less agreement as all sides were pursuing their own separate agendas.
It is also important to note that during this, both countries were making great strides towards creating atomic bombs. Both sides saw their respective projects as primarily defensive measures the horrors of World War II were still fresh in the minds of many. However, the existence of atomic warfare in another nation, even one considered an ally, was seen as a potential threat by the respective governments.
Critique of the Revisionist Interpretation
It is obvious that pushing the entirety of the blame for the Cold War on one of the sides is not an objective assessment as historical events very rarely can be outlined in absolutes. However, the revisionist interpretation, described in (Bugaric, 2014) and (Morris, 2018), erases all responsibility that both US and the USSR have in regard to their conflict. It is fair to say that all nations were actively searching for ways to strengthen their defense after the deadliest war in the history of the world. However, it is also true that the USSR was pushing the communist agenda to an extent that went beyond providing its citizens with a safe environment. The US, on the other hand, specifically designed certain treaties in a way that would make it impossible for the Soviet government to sign them, which would seemingly push the blame towards them if an agreement was not achieved. At a time when it was important to maintain world peace, both countries were actively complicating matters by perceiving, at times, deliberately, every action from the opposite side as a hostile one.
It is important to note that the fear of another war so soon after the last one could have been a cause of the Cold War. With all the important decisions, the US and the USSR could not agree on, their animosity towards each other grew. As both sides avoided starting an armed conflict, there was no outlet for this growing tension, which eventually resulted in the Cold War.
Modern researchers have distanced themselves from pushing the blame for the Cold War on one of the nations. However, most of them adopted an equally extreme theory that states that the conflict was a result of the sides’ misconceptions about one another. While this interpretation is partially true, it is also important to remember that both the US and the USSR are responsible for the deterioration of their political relationship as they actively pursued their own agendas.
- Bugaric, M.K. (2014). The birth of the Cold War. UCLA Historical Journal, 25(1), 39-52.
- Morris, S.H. (2018). The evolving interpretations of the origins of the Cold War: Have historians reached a consensus on the origins of the Cold War? [Unpublished bachelor’s thesis, University of Iceland]. Skemman.