By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers

The coming of the Cold War

The history of the twentieth century, worldwide, was marked by the two world wars. The Russian Revolutions of 1917 were a consequence of the First World War, the Cold War of the Second.


The term “Cold War” was first used by the English writer George Orwell in an article published in 1945 to refer to what he predicted would be a nuclear stalemate between “two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds.” It was first used in the United States by the American financier and presidential adviser Bernard Baruch in a speech at the State House in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1947.


As soon as the term "Cold War" was popularized to refer to postwar tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, interpreting the course and origins of the conflict became a source of heated controversy. From the Russian side, however, there never was any doubt that it started when President Woodrow Wilson approved an operation to invade Russia, defeat the Red Army, and mount a coup in Moscow against Soviet dictator Lenin. Of course, Lenin and the Bolshevists soon found out claiming he was encircled by hostile powers, and to date, they have never forgotten this episode in Russia.


Was a postwar clash of interests between Soviet Russia on one side and America and Britain on the other side inevitable? Franklin Roosevelt did not think so. Winston Churchill hoped not, at least for a while. Adolf Hitler was convinced of it.  


Below Churchill, Stalin and E. H. Harriman (who served as Secretary of Commerce under President Harry S. Truman) Moscow, 14 August 1942:

Was a postwar clash of interests between Soviet Russia on one side and America and Britain on the other side inevitable? Franklin Roosevelt did not think so. Winston Churchill hoped not, at least for a while. Adolf Hitler was convinced of it.   

Franklin Roosevelt's decisions and thoughts and inclinations involving Russia and Communism and Stalin have been analyzed and described and categorized until the present day. According to his harsh critics, his ideas were deluded, illusionary, and shallow; according to his admirers, they were pragmatic, shrewd, and realist. There is truth in both kinds of assertions, but perhaps only in the sense of François de La Rochefoucauld's maxim that there is at least some truth even in what your worst enemies say about you. Franklin Roosevelt's character was complex. Regarding Russia and Stalin, his mind was not. He was willing to accord them a goodly amount of benevolence. The origins of that are discernible even before June 1941, that is, before Hitler's invasion of Russia. In 1933 it was his decision (long overdue) for the United States to give diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union, establishing official state relations between these two most significant states of the world. 

Well before 1933, Roosevelt thought that most of the Republicans' views of the world were isolationist and parochial. Not all of them were: but had a Republican such as Hoover or Taft been president of the United States in 1940, Hitler would have won the war. Roosevelt's decision to stand by Churchill and Britain at the risk of war remains to his enduring credit.   

But then in 1941, Stalin and his Russia suddenly became virtual allies of Britain and the United States. Roosevelt's first reactions to this event were cautious. He was aware of Republican and America Firster and isolationist but also of Catholic sentiments within the American people, so, unlike Churchill, he did not immediately declare an American alliance with the Soviet Union upon the news of its invasion by Hitler. But, like Churchill, Roosevelt welcomed this new turn in the war. 

Less than two months after the start of the German war in Russia he wrote a message to the pope, Pius XII, suggesting that the Holy See reconsider its categorical condemnation of the Soviets and of their atheistic Communism, a sign or symptom of Roosevelt's thinking as well as of his politic concern with sections of American popular opinions.  

That conflicts between them would occur he knew, but he also thought that they would eventually fade away. And so, before looking at some of these conflicts that were accumulating especially toward the end of the war, whence they may be seen as early symptoms of the coming Cold War, we may as well sum up something about this president's general inclinations involving the Soviet Union and Stalin. They were threefold (or, in other words, they existed on three connected levels). One was his inclination to believe that he could charm, or, perhaps more precisely, impress and influence, Stalin with his benevolence and amiability, with his words and manners. (That was an asset that he had often employed in his domestic political relationships, with success.) The second was his consequent tendency to distance himself from Churchill, especially when Stalin was present, at times, alas, demonstrably so. (That was a tactic of the politician Roosevelt that we might lament in retrospect: it did no good, and it hurt Churchill, but also suggested that for Roosevelt the American alliance with Russia now was even more important than the partnership with Britain.) The third was Roosevelt's overall view of where and how the history of the world was moving. He saw the United States as somewhere in the middle, in the middle between Stalin and Churchill, or between the Russian and the British empires, but also between the rough pioneer Russian system moving toward an egalitarian future and the British Empire, admirable in some ways, but antiquated and backward. (That was a thorough misreading: for it was Russia, not Britain, that was backward, led by a reincarnation of someone like Ivan the Terrible, whom Churchill saw, not altogether wrongly, as a peasant tsar.) 

Overall of this was Roosevelt's belief, that, at least for some time, Churchill also hoped, at least to some extent, that his wartime alliances would have a lasting effect on Stalin and, consequently, on the international behavior of the Soviet Union.  

These reasons rested on Stalin's statesmanship. His ability for that ought not to be dismissed easily. During the Second World War, Stalin spoke and acted often not at all like a Communist revolutionary but like a Russian statesman. Well before 1939, he realized the advantages, and the inevitability, of seeing the world, and himself, thus. In this, he was way above and ahead of his toadies in the Politburo, including Molotov. Anthony Eden recalled to Sumner Welles (a once leading American diplomat) a conversation with Stalin, who said: “Hitler is a genius, but he doesn't know when to stop.” Eden: “Does anyone know when to stop?” Stalin: “I do.” 

Added to this was Stalin's genuine respect for Roosevelt. He knew that Roosevelt had ordered huge shipments of armaments and goods for Russia soon after the German invasion. In several instances during the war, he agreed with Roosevelt; on other occasions, he deferred to him. Roosevelt took hope and encouragement from Stalin's statement to Churchill's envoy Beaverbrook in October 1941 that the Soviet Union's alliance with the United States and Britain “should be extended.

In July 1942, he consented to Roosevelt's request to divert forty American bombers destined for Russia to the British army badly pressed in western Egypt. In November 1942, in answer to Roosevelt's apologetic explanations about having had to deal with Admiral Darlan, the former Vichyite commander in North Africa, Stalin wrote that Roosevelt's policy was “perfectly correct.” In that month, Roosevelt's special envoy, General Patrick Hurley, reported to Roosevelt that “Stalin's attitude was uniformly good-natured, his expressions were always clear, direct and concise. His attitude toward you and the United States was always friendly and respectful. 

Of course, Stalin knew what Roosevelt wanted to hear, and also what the president wanted from him (for Russia to enter the war against Japan, and the Soviet Union's willingness to join the United Nations; the first promise was made at Teheran, the second at Yalta). Still, Stalin was genuinely shocked by the sudden news of Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945. He overruled Molotov, ordering him to proceed to Washington and the United Nations' San Francisco Conference. The next day Soviet newspapers carried the news of Roosevelt's death on their front pages, surrounded by black borders.  

At the same time, the first severe symptoms of a potential conflict with the Soviet Union already existed. But before describing some of them, I must correct the legend, assiduously disseminated by Roosevelt's admirers, that shortly before his death, he had begun to change, or indeed did change, his mind about Stalin, ready to oppose the latter when and if he must. Churchill urged him to do so, but in vain.

On April 11, 1945, the day before he died, the tired and wan Roosevelt at Warm Springs did dictate an often-cited sentence in a message to Churchill: “I would minimize the general Soviet problem as much as possible because these problems, in one form or another, seem to arise every day and most of them straighten out as in the case of the Bern meeting.” In Moscow, Averell Harriman, Roosevelt's friend, and ambassador had begun, somewhat belatedly, to have serious doubts about the Russians' behavior. That same day, April 11, Roosevelt dispatched to Harriman his last message to Stalin: There must not, in any event, be mutual mistrust and minor misunderstandings of this character [they involved Poland] should not arise in the future. Before sending it on to Stalin, Harriman suggested the deletion of the word minor. The president's chief of staff Admiral Leahy, working in the Map Room of the White House in Washington, drafted Roosevelt's response early next morning: “I do not wish to delete the word ‘minor.’” A few minutes after one o'clock, after Roosevelt had had his lunch, Leahy received Roosevelt's approval of the final text. Nine minutes later the president was struck by “a terrific pain.” These were his last words. He died two hours later.

Keep in mind how during the Second World War a few men, Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt, governed the history of the world. This brings us to Winston Churchill. His critics (and even some of his admirers) have written that, just as Neville Chamberlain had failed to understand Hitler, Churchill had failed to understand Stalin. That parallel will not run. Chamberlain, until September 1939, had his illusions about Hitler and Germany. Churchill had few illusions about Stalin and Russia. He did not think that Stalin was an international revolutionary. Churchill believed that the best way to avoid, or at least limit, coming conflicts with Stalin and Russia was to agree on a more or less precise definition of the geographical extent of Russia's sphere of interest before the end of the war. Because of Roosevelt's opposition, Churchill did not have his way. After 1943 his prestige was still high, but his and Britain's power was not. He, too, was tired and worn; he tried to influence the Americans, but in the end, he thought it best to defer to them. His wish for a special relationship between Britain and the United States existed throughout his life. It governed, also, the last volume of his History of the Second World War. In 1952 he wrote in a confidential letter to Eisenhower that he chose not to recall or emphasize or even mention some of his disagreements with the Americans during the last and decisive year of the war in Europe. (That accorded with his tendency of never reminding people: “I told you so.”) But it also obscured essential matters. 

After all, the title of his sixth volume was Triumph and Tragedy. That word tragedy did not occur to any American or Russian after the war. The tragedy was the division of Europe and the coming of a Cold War. The astonishing acuity of Churchill's vision was recounted not by himself but by General De Gaulle in his Memoirs. In November 1944, De Gaulle, trying to coax Churchill away from the Americans said that they were shortsighted and inexperienced, allowing vast portions of Eastern Europe to fall to the Russians. Churchill said, yes, that was so.  “Russia is now a hungry wolf amidst a flock of sheep. But after the meal comes the digestion period.” Russia would not be able to digest all of her Eastern European conquests. That was so, but only in the long run. Before that, the Cold War arose.  

Of that eventuality, Adolf Hitler was convinced. Much of his strategy and policy was inspired by what he saw as an irrepressible conflict between the Anglo- Americans and the Russians. Before the end of the war, he spoke of this to his confidants on many occasions. He saw or at least pretended to see, the first signs of such a conflict, even the prospect of a clash of arms, from which he and Germany would profit. But his time was running out. He killed himself on April 30, 1945. Five days before that, American and Russian troops met and shook hands in the middle of Germany, near Torgau on the Elbe, a symbolic event of a division of  Europe not far from Wittenberg, were more than four hundred years before  Luther had made his declaration, whereafter Germany and Christendom became divided. 


Hitler's regime tried to divide the Allied coalition

The episodes and attempts with which Hitler's regime tried to divide the Allied coalition after 1941 are many. Some more serious and not-so-serious, subtle and not-so-subtle ones. For this one has to comprehend not only the intricacies of the different personnel within the regime of the Third Reich but also something about their Allied counterparts, and he ought to surmise at least some things about Hitler's knowledge of these attempts.

For Hitler's primary purpose, and that of other Germans, understandably so, was not only to cause suspicions and frictions between the British and the Americans and the Russians but to help bring about actual conflicts between them.   

Hitler thought and often said to his subordinates and to people who urged him to seek contact with one or another of his adversaries that such a political move had to be preceded by a resounding German military victory in the field, on one front or another. More than one of his most important military decisions he took with that in mind: the battle of Kursk in July 1943 and the last German offensive in Belgium in December 1944, for example. His rationale for these endeavors exists in the record of his own words. Apart from that, he put not much faith in diplomatic or political or other clandestine attempts. Not much, but some. He seldom encouraged such, but he did not always discourage them. His consent to such operations, or moves, was seldom explicit; more often it was implicit, in one way or another. That was the case with the several attempts that Heinrich Himmler made, establishing some contact with the services of the Western Allies in several circumstances, and on several occasions. It is ever so: often the head of the secret services of a state who, no matter how cruel or brutal his record, knows the prospects of defeat and tries to contravene them: such was the case of Fouché near the end of  Napoleon, of Beria after the death of Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler in 1944 and  1945. His underlings' negotiations with certain Jewish persons in Hungary in 1944,  their contact with Americans later in that year, their talks with Raoul Wallenberg, again in Hungary near the end of 1944, was promoted for the primary purpose of making trouble among the Allies, and preferably between Americans and Russians. Some of them may have been undertaken behind Hitler's back, but not without Hitler's knowledge, and (until the very last days of the war) not against Hitler's wishes.   

The most important of such contacts occurred in Italy in 1944 and 1945. In one instance, Hitler preceded Himmler. He ordered that the German evacuation of Rome should take place without any damage to the Eternal City, and he suggested to General Kesselring that he try to establish contacts with American generals before or during the German withdrawal. That did not happen; but more important were the, not at all unconditional, surrender negotiations between the SS General Karl Wolff and the mostly American (with some British) representatives in Italy and Switzerland were beginning in January 1945, talks that not only Himmler but also Hitler knew about and allowed, implicitly as well as explicitly at times. Wolff and Himmler could take at least some satisfaction from these protracted negotiations. They certainly rattled and irritated Stalin, leading to a short but bitter exchange of messages between him and Roosevelt in early April 1945. The contacts began with the help of an Italian middleman, Parilli, who thought that certain Germans “had hoped eventually to fight together with [the Americans] against the Russians.” “The thought of dividing the Western Allies from the Russians was the last great hope of the German leadership and ran like a red thread through all of the negotiations.” Thus two months before Hitler's suicide, American generals and an SS general sat at the same table in Switzerland. (On April 15, Wolff wrote a letter to Allen Dulles, expressing his condolences on President Roosevelt's death.) The next day, April 16, Himmler, and Hitler, ordered Wolff (the order was repeated three times) to Berlin, where he spent more than ten hours with Himmler and the SS chief Kaltenbrunner before seeing Hitler. The next day (the seventeenth) Hitler received Wolff and, in his way, wished him well in his endeavor. He did tell him to perhaps wait a bit before signing an armistice with the Americans, but he still “saw in [these negotiations] a good instrument to cause dissensions within the anti-Hitler coalition.” He said to Wolff that the German armies might be fighting for another two months. “During these two decisive months of the war a break…between the Russians and the Anglo-Saxons will come, and whichever of the two sides comes to him, he will gladly ally with them against the other.”  

Here we must understand that, at least about these matters, Hitler and his subordinates and the majority of the German people were mostly in accord. The German people hoped to be dealt better by the Americans than by the Russians (and also by the English). That was understandable. They had every reason to think and believe that the Americans would treat them with no sentiments of revenge, with less hatred and savagery than the Russians, whom they feared. That was why during the last three months of the war, the German armies retreated faster and fought less determinedly along the Western than on the Eastern Front. There were hundreds of episodes when the German population accepted with some relief the American troops overrunning and occupying. There was, too, an element of opportunism in the expectations of the German people about the Americans.

The excellent German historian of the American occupation of Germany Henke noted “the astonishing optimism of the [west German] industrial elite” during the first weeks of the American occupation, asserting “business as usual,” making references in favor of Americans (and of course to the savagery of Russians). But also against the British: as early as April 1945, some of the Krupp executives asked the Americans to support them against a British commission due to arrive. One of their leaders said to the Americans: “The British want nothing else but the destruction of German industrial competition.” No matter how correctly the British occupiers behaved, Germans expected nothing from them but cold contempt; they saw them (but not the Americans) as rigid and determined enemies. But that had little or nothing to do with the origins of the Cold War. 


The first symptoms of the Cold War

While keeping in mind that an early symptom does not necessarily result in a protracted crisis, we ought to consider them, at least cursorily. We must also keep in mind the difference, and the time elapsed, between the diagnosis of a symptom and its treatment—and the ability or the inability (which so often suggests the willingness or the unwillingness) to recognize the meaning of the symptom. About this, there was a decisive difference between Roosevelt and Churchill. The American inclination was to get on with and through the war: political problems, including peace settlements, must come later. Churchill thought and wrote, even in his toned-down memoir Triumph and Tragedy, that, especially toward the end of a great war, military and political decisions cannot be considered separately: “At the summit, they are one.” He did not have his way.   

There were reasons for that American attitude: the continuing war against Japan and the hope of Russian participation in it, and the still existing isolationism among many Americans, wishing to end the war in Europe and to bring Americans home as soon as possible. These explain much of the general American unwillingness to confront problems with Stalin and the Soviet Union before the end of the war in Europe and, indeed, for some time thereafter.   

Yet, a perhaps pardonable generalization, whereas in science the rules count, in history exceptions may or may not rule but noticed they must be. There was the overall, and often overwhelming, American inclination to brush problems with Russia under the rug (or indeed not to note them at all); but there were some signs of   American concern with the Soviet Union and with its potential projects in Europe as the Russian armies were pouring westward. And here any thoughtful historian must at least try to look at the complex nature of what was “American,” including “Washington,” that is, “the government.” Consider only two very different persons in the Roosevelt government in 1944 and 1945. One was Henry Morgenthau, the secretary of the treasury, a confidant and country neighbor of Franklin Roosevelt, a man who was constantly exaggerating his importance, asserting his closeness to the president, which was not really so. Yet he had his way, at times in essential matters. He was the author and propagator of the Morgenthau Plan, aimed at the permanent demolition of Germany's industrial capacity, reducing Germany to hardly more than agriculture. Roosevelt (and even Churchill) accepted that in September 1944, without paying much attention to it; a few months later MorMorgenthau's plan was ignored and dropped by the different military and other American policymakers in occupied Germany, but still…Another person was Allen  Dulles, chief of the secret Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland, whom we met at the instance of his palavers with Wolff, the SS general; but Dulles was involved in other negotiations, too, with other non-Nazi Germans. His principal aim was the very opposite of Morgenthau's proposed treatment of Germany. Dulles was concerned about preventing a destroyed Germany, a perilous vacuum of a great state whose leaders would be predominantly pro-Russian. He had at least some reasons to be concerned about that: Stalin had already permitted the formation of a committee of German nationalist generals, a possible nucleus of a postwar German regime. It is not clear why Roosevelt chose Dulles to be his destine, a representative in Switzerland: but there Dulles was and remained.


Meanwhile, there were a few signs of Roosevelt's concern with Western Europe.

His dislike of De Gaulle was connected with the American concern over undue Communist influences in a liberated France, whereto all kinds of clandestine American intelligence agents were sent in August and September 1944. On one occasion (at or before Teheran) Roosevelt sketched the impractical, design of a narrow American corridor leading to a Russian-occupied Berlin; but that was before the tripartite discussions and agreements about the zoning of Germany came about in 1944 and 1945. 

In any event, it was not simply Roosevelt's unwillingness to disagree with Stalin that ultimately led to a rigid division of Europe and to the Cold War. A, connected, factor was Roosevelt's lack of interest in Eastern Europe. That was why he was satisfied at Yalta with the imprecise and generally meaningless Declaration of Liberated Europe to which Stalin there agreed (Molotov was seen mumbling to Stalin, warning against its phrasing). That was why Roosevelt, contrary to Churchill, did not want to argue or even to make an issue about Poland with Stalin.

There were, too, signs in the United States, mutterings by Republicans and a few congressmen as early as 1944, concerned about the demolition of Germany to the ultimate advantage of Russia. These rumblings were not yet influential, but they were noticed by intelligent foreign observers. 

Churchill was more concerned with Eastern Europe than was Roosevelt, and not only because he felt that Britain owed something to a heroic and tragic Poland.

He knew the history and the geography of Europe: he was concerned with Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, rather than with Romania and Bulgaria. The last two had been often dependent on imperial Russia, while the others belonged to Central, rather than Eastern, Europe (As late as December 1944 he wrote to Roosevelt about that distinction.) But his powers were limited, not only in regard to Roosevelt but regarding Stalin, too, because of their Percentages Agreement, which Stalin, especially about Greece, fulfilled exactly. When in December 1944 Churchill sent British troops to Athens to help crush a Communist uprising there, Stalin kept to their agreement and did nothing. At the same time, the State Department and the American press assailed Churchill's intervention in Greece. 

Much of this would change after Yalta. But before that, we must look at what were early symptoms of Russian hostility and of Russian suspicions of their Western allies. There were, of course, many of them. Until D-Day Stalin was both vexed with and suspicious of the slow progress of the Anglo-Americans toward opening up a real Second Front in Western Europe. He feared that Churchill did not want a great invasion of France at all (he had at least some reasons for his suspicions).

He was irritated by not having been informed about the American negotiations with Italians before Italy's surrender in 1943, and thereafter by some of the difficulties in transferring Italian warships that had been promised to the Soviet Union. In 1942 and 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill had to consider the danger of a separate peace or armistice between Stalin and Hitler.  

Was Stalin preparing for an unavoidable conflict with the Capitalist Powers as early as 1944? We cannot tell. What we must keep in mind is a characteristic in  Russian history that prevailed under such different regimes as those of Alexander I and Alexander III and then of Stalin in the 1930s and during most of the war: the discrepancy between Russia's foreign policy and its internal regime. Stalin's alliance with Britain and the United States, his acceptance and occasional cultivation of amicable relations with Churchill and Roosevelt, had hardly any consequences and no counterpart in the functioning of the Soviet police state. There were a few, not insignificant, changes during the war: the promotion of historical symbols and names, a new national anthem, dissolution of the Comintern, open support of the Russian Orthodox Church, and so on; but these were symptoms of nationalism, not of internationalism. When George Kennan, was again posted to Moscow in 1944, he took up his pen and wrote an essay: “Russia – Seven Years Later.” It was an extraordinarily perceptive analysis of what could be expected of Russia and its foreign policy, in many ways it was a forerunner of Kennan's famous “X” article three years later—but an essential part of Kennan argued that the essence of the Russian police state remained the same. His essay was not read by many in Washington at that time.

Thus following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945 near the close of World War II, the uneasy wartime alliance between the United States and Great Britain on the one hand and the Soviet Union on the other began to unravel. By 1948 the Soviets had installed left-wing governments in the countries of eastern Europe that had been liberated by the Red Army. The Americans and the British feared the permanent Soviet domination of eastern Europe and the threat of Soviet-influenced communist parties coming to power in the democracies of western Europe. The Soviets, on the other hand, were determined to maintain control of eastern Europe in order to safeguard against any possible renewed threat from Germany, and they were intent on spreading communism worldwide, largely for ideological reasons. The Cold War had solidified by 1947–48, when U.S. aid provided under the Marshall Plan to western Europe had brought those countries under American influence and the Soviets had installed openly communist regimes in eastern Europe.


Ominous symptoms were beginning to accumulate

Thus here we arrive at Yalta, at its relationship to the origins of the Cold War. Today, we have a mass of books and articles and public speeches arguing that Yalta was a failure or that it was not; again, there is some truth in both kinds of allegations. The euphoria that followed the Yalta agreements and declarations was unwarranted, yet Franklin Roosevelt had at least some reasons to think that his meeting of minds with Stalin was a great success. Stalin agreed that the Soviet Union would become part of the United Nations. He promised that Russia would enter the war against Japan three months after the end of the war with Germany. Churchill was not optimistic. His estimation of the value of a future United Nations was much lower than Roosevelt's. He still cared much about Poland, but Poland at the time of Yalta had been overrun and “liberated” by the Soviet armies. The main problem involved no longer the shape, the frontiers of a new postwar Poland; it was the composition and the character of its government, that is, the very nature of its people's lives. In the lengthy discussions about Poland, Stalin was largely adamant, Roosevelt largely bored. A kind of agreement was made, giving some leeway to a British and American presence of observation and interest in free elections due to Poland soon. There was, too, that Declaration of Liberated Europe, general and insubstantial, which Stalin interpreted in his way. He recognized the Americans' general lack of interest in Eastern Europe. He also recognized their general interest in Western Europe. The future of Germany was a different question: that was still a subject of discussions. Like Roosevelt, Stalin was not disappointed with what happened at Yalta. We may even question whether he foresaw the coming of a great conflict with the United States at that time. Yet, soon after Yalta, the first symptoms of that began to appear. 

The British and the Americans soon found that there would be nothing even remotely like free elections in Poland. Stalin was irritated: on 9 April  he wrote to Roosevelt that “matters in the Polish question have really reached a dead end” and offered a few insignificant concessions. He tried to inspire some trouble between Roosevelt and Churchill. In his harsh protest against the Bern negotiations with Wolff, he wrote (on April 3) to Roosevelt: “It is known that the initiative in this whole affair belonged to the British,” which was not the case. He was suspicious, indeed, more than doubtful: concerned and outraged, that the Germans were surrendering in droves on the Western Front, giving up large cities “without resistance,” whereas in the east, in Czechoslovakia, “they were fighting savagely…for  some unknown [railway] junction which they need as much as a dead man needs a  poultice.” He was still worried about some kind of a Western deal with Germans. 

When three weeks later Churchill refused Himmler's offer to capitulate only in the West, Stalin was relieved and sent an unusually effusive message of appreciation to Churchill.

Ominous symptoms were beginning to accumulate. Only a few days after V-E Day, the total German surrender, there was the imminent prospect of an armed clash between British and Commonwealth units and Tito's Communist troops attempting to break into Trieste. (Stalin warned Tito not to provoke the Western Allies there: “What is ours is ours; what is theirs is theirs.”) A few weeks earlier an article was printed in a French Communist publication from the pen of a French Communist leader, Jacques Duclos, attacking the head of the Communist Party of the United States, who during the war had instructed his party to support Roosevelt. (The significance of this article has been often exaggerated: Stalin cared not much for Duclos and his ilk.) More importantly, the FBI and other American secret services now had evidence that efforts were being made by Soviet agents (and especially by American Communist volunteers) to learn more and more about the making of America's secret weapon, the atomic bomb. In January 1945 Stalin and Molotov asked Washington to consider a loan of six billion dollars to a war-ravaged Russia after the end of the war: somehow, this request disappeared in the bureaucratic maze of Washington (though not necessarily because of American ill will). In May and June, before the American armies in central Germany began to withdraw to the zonal boundaries agreed upon, American agents began to corral  German scientists and technicians (including Wernher von Braun) in order to bring them to the United States (in some cases for the purpose of employing them in the continuing war against Japan). After the promised Russian declaration of war against Japan and the Russian invasion against the Japanese forces on the  Asian mainland had begun, and Japan had surrendered, Stalin asked President Truman to allot to the Soviet Union an occupation zone, one of the four mother islands of Japan. The president of the United States refused, and Stalin had to relent.   

Harry Truman's character and his view of the world were different from Franklin Roosevelt's. Yet it must not be thought that his sudden assumption of the presidency meant an instant change in America's relations with Russia, or indeed in the course of the gigantic American ship of state. True, when less than ten days after he had become president, Truman received Molotov in the White House, he spoke to this Russian in strong words to which the latter said that he was thoroughly unaccustomed. Truman's advisers instantly thought that the president's language was too harsh, and the next day Truman thought it better not to press the issue (again, it was mostly Poland) with Molotov. When Churchill, a few days after the German surrender, implored Truman to take a harder line with Moscow (it was in that letter that Churchill first used the phrase iron curtain), Truman did not follow Churchill's urgings; another few days later he sent Joseph Davies and then  Harry Hopkins to Moscow to try to iron out problems with Stalin. During the Potsdam summit meeting in July, Truman's behavior and his impressions of Stalin were still cordial and positive. Throughout 1945 (and even for two years after that), Truman did not altogether abandon the hope of maintaining at least acceptable relations with the Soviet Union, and particularly with Stalin.   

However, he had, commendably, few or no illusions about Stalin or about Russian ambitions or about Communism. The next year, 1946, was marked by more and more troubles with Russians and Communists, involving Iran, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Berlin. In March 1946, Truman accompanied Churchill to Fulton, Missouri, where Churchill delivered his famous Iron Curtain speech (though the president and the State Department were careful to state publicly that they were not necessarily associating themselves with the former prime minister's views). By early 1947 Truman's decision was made: to oppose further Soviet advances and aggressions, to contain the Soviet Union and Communism. By that time Stalin had decided to proceed to the more or less full Communization of the countries that had fallen into his sphere of interest in Eastern Europe. There was, as yet, no sharp conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States in China or in the Pacific. 

Stalin was not sure that Mao Tse-tung and his Communists could win the entire civil war in China. The Soviet Union maintained its embassy in Chungking (Chiang Kai-shek's capital) until the very end (1949). The Soviet Union did not object to the official establishment of the United States' possession or protectorate over the former Japanese islands in Micronesia (1947). But the division of Europe was about complete, and thus the Cold War began.   

One occasionally still hears speculation: had Franklin Roosevelt lived, would the Cold War have been avoided? That question is senseless because all “what if?” speculations must depend on their plausibility, and by early 1945, Roosevelt was near the threshold of his death. He and people around him did not see that, or did not wish to see that; we know it not only because of what happened but also from the president's medical records. On another level, had he lived, Franklin Roosevelt was politician enough to know that his protracted insistence on a cordial relationship with Stalin must not be pursued to such extent that his popularity at home would dangerously erode. He might have exacted a few concessions from Stalin, but nothing like a considerable reduction of Russia's control of Eastern Europe (and of eastern Germany).    

In late 1945 slowly, gradually, American popular sentiment and even some segments of American public opinion were turning against Communism and the Soviet Union, mostly consequent to the news of what Communists and Russians were doing and how they were behaving in Eastern Europe. Still, public opinion and popular sentiments were not identical. Throughout 1945 most of the public and published views of journalists and commentators and public personalities remained optimistic and pro-Russian, often exceedingly so. At the same time, there were symptoms of increasing widespread grumbling against Communism and Communists, even more than with Russia and Russians. Most of that sentiment was still inchoate, mixed up with isolationism that had been temporarily submerged during the war. But it existed, and it was gaining strength after the end of the war. Its main ingredient was anti-Communism. When in early 1947 the Truman administration took the first decisive steps toward confronting Russia, an  American commitment to stand by and defend Greece and Turkey, the then assistant secretary of state Dean Acheson chose to present this to Congress by drawing a greatly exaggerated prospect of Communism and Communists spreading all over  Europe.  


Two main interpretations

And here, compelled as we are to deal at least with the origins of the Cold War, about which perhaps more than one hundred books have been written during the past sixty years, we need to cast a look at their two main interpretations. One of them, appearing and widespread in the 1960s, is that the American reaction to Russia in 1945 and after was too rapid and too radical. This interpretation of history, produced by historians and others mostly during the Vietnam War, projected, not very honest, the dissatisfactions of the 1960s to what had happened twenty years before: wrongly so. The other interpretation, current mostly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and mainly dependent on the revelations of Russian and  Communist intelligence machinations in and after 1945, states that the American government's reactions to the Soviet Union's deceptions and aggressiveness were just and taken at the right time. Of these two different interpretations, this second is much closer to the truth: but not quite. There is, or ought to be, the third version, reaching necessarily back to 1944 and 1945. This is that the American concern with  Russia came not too early but too late; that Stalin should have been confronted with precise and practical questions about the actual limits of his postwar sphere of interest, including the political status of at least some of the countries overrun by the Russian armies, sooner rather than later, in 1944 or early 1945, but certainly before the end of the Second World War in Europe. 

More important is that such a desideratum was advanced by personages such as Churchill and George Kennan. Kennan, whose “X” article in 1947 laid down the principles of “containment,” often designated as the substance of the architecture of American policy during the Cold War. Six years earlier, in 1941, Kennan was an officer in the American embassy in Berlin. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he wrote a private letter to his friend Loy Henderson in Washington, the gist of which was: “Never, neither then nor at any later date, did I consider the Soviet Union a fit ally or associate, actual or potential, for [the United  States].” At the same time, he thought that the Russians should be given the material and military support they needed. One may question whether such a combination of military assistance with political aloofness could have been practical or reasonable at all. But one should not question the reasonableness and the foresight of Kennan's views when he was posted to Russia in 1944, especially after the Allies' invasion of Western Europe. Now the problem was “what would be the  political outcome of further advances of the Red Army into the remainder of  Europe.”¹⁶ It took another year before Kennan's voice was beginning to be heard, first by his ambassador Harriman; then in February 1946 Kennan wrote his now-famous Long Telegram; then, he was called back to Washington, where he became the director of a Foreign Policy Planning Staff; then, in July 1947 came his “X” article with the celebrated word Containment. This article made him famous, yet its essence was perhaps a restatement of what has become apparent: the Russians have Eastern Europe now, and we must let them and the world know that they cannot go farther. It sometimes happens that an author is best known for a piece of writing that he does not see as his best. But here we must go a little beyond that. Soon after 1947, Kennan (as well as Churchill) turned against those who thought and spoke as if Stalin's and Russia's ambitions were endless and the division of Europe nonnegotiable and unchangeable. Their arguments were dismissed as illusory, by many of the same men who in 1945 had thought and said that to Churchill's and to Kennan's warnings about Russia's attention must not be paid.   

Thus behind (and within) the question of whether the Cold War was inevitable; there is another question: was Stalin insatiable? Yes and no. So far as his rule over his people and his acquired domains went, yes; but so far as the rest of the world, and mainly Western Europe, went, probably no.

There is no evidence that, either in 1945 or after, he aimed or even wished to have the Red Army march farther into Europe, or to establish Communist regimes in Western Europe, or even in Western Germany. This was not so only because he was statesman enough to be cautious. It was so, too, because of his knowledge of the weakness of international Communism. That was the reason for the “iron curtain,” the increasingly rigid separation of Eastern Europe from the West. Had he agreed to (as some in the State Department hoped as late as in 1946) an interpretation of the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe and of his sphere of interest to allow the presence of governments in Eastern Europe that would be categorically and necessarily pro-Russian but not necessarily Communist,¹⁷ there might not have been much of a, or any, Cold War. We may even speculate that if something like that had occurred, Russia could have been a recipient of American generosity, perhaps even of a super–Marshall Plan. But could Stalin have agreed to something like that? No, he was not that kind of a man. No, but not because of his Marxist or Communist or ideological extremism, as so many still believe and say and write. 

He knew that sooner or later a non-Communist Poland or Czechoslovakia or Hungary, no matter how carefully their governments stayed and kept within their categorical requirements of a pro-Russian policy would be gradually growing closer to the West, connected by a thousand small threads, some more important than others. It was safer, and to him better, to impose on these people rulers who were subservient to and dependent on Russia, and to close them off from the rest of Western Europe, no matter how Americans and others might protest.   

That was how the Cold War began. The Russians swallowed up Eastern Europe; then it went on for forty years, during which they had serious instances of digesting some of it (as Churchill had foretold); and it ended with their disgorging just about all of it. But one of the results of the Cold War was the American national and popular obsession with the evils of Communism that became the principal element in American politics with long-lasting effects. What may belong here is at least a suggestion that the Cold War between America and Russia might also have been, at least in one important way, due to a reciprocal misunderstanding. Americans believed and feared, that, having established Communism in Eastern Europe, Stalin was now ready to promote and wherever possible impose Communism in Western Europe, which was not really the case. Stalin, who knew and understood the weak appeal of Communism beyond the Soviet Union, and who was anxious about America's overwhelming power in and after 1945, thought that the Americans were becoming ready to challenge and upset his rule over Eastern  Europe, which also was not the case. The odd thing is that in Europe the turning point of the Cold War came in 1956, at the time of the Hungarian Revolution, which stunned and shocked the Russian leadership. Still, it also gave them recognition of relief: the Americans were not ready or willing to really challenge or even attempt to alter the division of Europe. That this turning point of American-Russian relations in Europe coincided with a peak of, understandably, because of the brutal Russian suppression of Hungary, American widespread hostility for Communism and Russia is, again, another instance of the irony of history (or, perhaps, of the melancholy history of what goes under the imprecise name of “public opinion”). After 1956 in Europe, the enmity of the two Superpowers was gradually winding down until the political division of Europe and of Germany ended with the withdrawal of the Russian empire in 1989. And the end of the Cold War also meant the end of an entire historical century, of the twentieth, dominated by the effects and the results of two world wars.  

And history does not repeat itself: but there was a geographic similarity to the once strategy of the British and thereafter of the American empires. During four centuries England went to war when a single state threatened to rule Europe, and particularly Western European countries, across the English Channel. In the First and the Second World Wars and the Cold War, across the Atlantic, American statesmanship saw the keeping of Britain and of Western Europe safe from German and then from the prospect of Russian domination as prime and essential American interests. During and after the Second World War, this convergence of American and British and Western European interests reached their peak.   


New World's destiny opposite of the Old's

More than strategic considerations were involved here. For more than a century and a half after 1776, America moved westward, away from Europe. This was not only a geographic and demographic and strategic direction. It corresponded to the American national and widespread belief of the New World's destiny being the opposite of the Old's: Novus Ordo Seclorum. In 1917 came a significant change: for the first time, a large American army crossed the Atlantic from west to east to help decide a great European war. Soon after that, the majority of the American people repudiated that expedition. Yet that repudiation was not entire. During the 1920s the commercial, the intellectual, the cultural ties between the United States and Europe were not diminishing: they were extending. Then came the Second World War, and the apparent ending of American isolationism. 

In December 1945, Professor Carlton Hayes, a great American scholar, and eminent historian of modern Europe gave a remarkable presidential address at the convention of the American Historical Association. He said that Frederick Jackson  Turner's famous frontier thesis, according to which the history and the destiny and the very essence of the American people was determined by a constant and uninterrupted movement westward, thus away from the East Coast, the Atlantic, and  Europe, was mistaken. The Second World War itself demonstrated how the destinies, indeed, the civilizations, and the cultures, of the United States and Western Europe, were complementary because they belonged together. That complementarity seemed evident during the Second World War and at least during the first phase of the Cold War, when not only strategists and statesmen but many cultured and liberally educated Americans welcomed the end of a protracted isolationism, accepting an American peacetime commitment to, and an American presence and military and political connection with Western Europe.  

Of course today there are entire Eastern European states within NATO, and there is an American military presence in such formerly unimaginable places as Romania, Macedonia, Afghanistan. 

At the same time…one may ask whether America and Europe are not growing apart? What is not questionable is that the weight of the United States has been shifting westward and southward; and so has the composition of its population, at the beginning of a new age, well after anything like the Second World War.


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