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Origins of the Cold War

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Origins of the Cold War

The origins of the Cold War actually predate World War II and can be traced to the Russian Revolution of 1917 which "created a Soviet Russia with a profoundly different economic and ideological state to the capitalist and democratic West" (Wilde 1). The civil war in Russia in which Western powers unsuccessfully involved themselves, and the creation of the Comintern dedicated to the spreading of communism, fueled mistrust between the Soviet Union and the rest of Europe and America. In World War II, the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 further exacerbated hostility toward the Soviets in the West and even after Josef Stalin abrogated this pact and joined the Allies against the Axis powers, mistrust of the Soviets continued to characterize relationships between the United States and the Soviets (Litwack, Jordan, Hofstadter, Miller, and Aaron 707-708).

After World War II, the U.S. and the Soviet Union clashed over the reorganization of the post-war world and the great differences in ideology characterizing the two countries along with their competition for dominance in world affairs ensured that tensions would remain high. With the United States in sole possession of atomic weapons and refusing to share that technology with the Soviets at the end of World War II, fuel was added to an already fiery relationship.

The United States under President Harry Truman and later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, called for democratic elections in the territories in Eastern Europe that were occupied by the Soviet Union as part the post-war settlements. In Greece, the U.S. and the British aided anti-communist forces who were seeking to prevent a communist takeover there and the U.S. and the Soviets began to use financial assistance as well as military support to gain the allegiance of other countries. The Truman Doctrine, the Truman Point Four Program for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas, and the Marshall Plan for restoring European prosperity were all seen by the Soviets as attacks on their ability to influence world events (Litwack, et al, 709).

Equally significant is the fact that each of these moves by the United States was based upon the idea of containment which after 1947 became the cornerstone of American foreign policy. As set forth by George F. Kennan, a senior foreign service officer and Soviet expert, containment was based on the conviction that the Soviets were committed "to an aggressive intransigence with respect to the outside world" and an argument that American policy must be one of "long-term, patient, but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies based on the application of counter-force" (Litwack, et al, 709-710).

The United Nations Charter permitted nations to enter into collective self-defense arrangements and in March 1948, France, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg signed a treaty of economic cooperation and military alliance in which the United States joined to facilitate the development of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which would provide for a permanent military force to be stationed in Western Europe as a balance against possible Soviet adventurism (Litwack, et al, 710). From 1949 forward, the U.S. armed its European allies extensively, particularly after the 1949 Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb which introduced into Cold War rivalry the arms race.

In Latin America, regarded by the U.S. as a natural sphere of American influence, a number of governments began to accept assistance from the Soviets. With China falling to the forces of Mao Zedong and the communists, and conflict between communists in North Korea and anti-communists in South Korea, tensions accelerated. The U.S. joined the United Nations in the Korean conflict to prevent North Korea from taking control of the entire area.

These were some but hardly all of the key events of the early Cold War which lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. These were years of great tension in which legitimate fears of a third world war were often expressed.

Women and Minorities and World War II

In many ways, World War II was a watershed moment for the United States not only because it firmly established the United States as the dominant Western super power and ushered in a decades long Cold War with the Soviet Union, but also because of the ways in which American women and minorities were affected at home. Litwack, et al (678) stated that "with the drafting of men into the armed forces, large



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