Was the Cold War the Result of Soviet and American Aggression, or a Series of Misunderstandings?

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The cold war is regarded as one of the greatest proxy wars in the 20th century. The hostel relationship between the newly established powers of the US and USSR that led to the divide between the east and west culminating in what Churchill (1946) analogized as “an iron curtain has descended across the continent”. The relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States driven by a complex interplay of ideological, political factors, and the drastic shift of the cooperation of the power during world war 2 to the eventual hostile action of these two powers would inevitably lead to the mistrust and eventual hostility between the new guards of the world stage.

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Many historians attribute the United States government initially hostile to the Soviet leaders as a purely ideological. Saying that the United States actions against the Soviets was a reaction to oppose the state ideology of communism. however, a group ‘post-revisionists’ historians tried to present the foundations of the Cold War as neither the fault of the united states or the USSR Gaddis (1998) Throughout his research, one thing has remained constant – that the world in which the Cold War developed as an inevitability. that after the new structure of power that was established after the vacuum of world war 2 and the implantation what gaddis calls the “zero-sum game theory of their relations.” forced the hand of both powers into competition, His explains the action of both blocks with what he called the establishment of empires after 1945, one by consent and the latter by coercion but both through economic reliance and protection. Gaddis says that,

"The resulting asymmetry would account, more than anything else, for the origins, escalation, and ultimate outcome of the cold war."

proposing that the reactionary nature of the conflict drew both side into the radical change of international politics after vacuum left by the old empires leading to hostility between these two superpowers drew both side into strengthening their economic and military ties. One of the other possible perspective is Mastny (1996) he proposed that the soviet’s quest for security at their borders after WW2 arguing against a simplistic set of reactions between the two superpowers and instead looks at the relevant concerns of the security of the Soviet Union. He provides the marshal plan as a basis for tightening of control over Eastern Europe as competing with the marshal plan by creating COMECON. However, Mastny doesn’t consider the aggressive actions of the Soviet Union such as Iran and the implantation of it had on the overall relation between these two powers.

However, on the other side of the spectrum you have the Revisionists aspect looking to gain an insight into how the soviets would have looked the preceding action and the encroachment of American influence such as the creation of NATO, all in order to guarantee American control. Appleman (1959) directly sighting the rapid action of the American after ww2 as a trigger. that America’s as lack of overall destructions as well as it economic growth that came out after WWII concludes that the marshal plan as a front for what he views as a continuation of Americas "open door" policy for American trade, well as a way for the capitalist market to continue on trade and competition with the European markets an action that led the American government to try to ensure that countries remained within the NATO sphere of influence. Appleman assessment of the marshal plan combined with the Potsdam conference blames this for the soviet actions. but many in this community see as the biggest factor was the hydrogen bomb. Willian’s sits Alperovitz (1965) in laying sole blame on the united saying that the atomic bomb was meant as message towards the Soviet Union to show dominance and as a means to intimidate the Soviet Union into submission. a telegraph from the US ambassador to Canada noted that US’s action “was not just meant to buckle Japan into surrender, it was also a political statement towards the Soviet Union”. It is likely that many of the soviet higher echelon would have seen the actions of the united states as a direct response and preparation for what many thoughts as an eventual conflict with a negative outcome.

The Western orthodox to contrast view the Cold War as the reasonability of Soviet Union after the dominant force in the west being taking over from the decaying empires of Europe however by 1946 the inherent hostilities between the two new emerging superpowers had not become apparent, however president Truman’s staff felt a distrust in Stalin and his uncertainty to cooperate with the US after the war . Schlesinger (1970) asserts that the nature of Soviet expansionism that was a ‘result of both imperial Russian expansionist tendencies, namely the desire for better access to the sea, combined with a Leninist ideological quest for world revolution,’ Schlesinger points out that because terrible losses during WWII, led to the soviets to install an artificial buffer zone within European however points out the Americans resistant’s towards any agreements that established a spheres of influence.

An issue that led to Stalin’s ‘salami tactics’ of dividing Eastern Europe and establishing communist government as well as new Soviets involvement in Iran Culminating in the Iran crisis of 1946 that was seen by many orthodox historians as the start of soviet aggression. The United States almost certainly viewed the crisis as major factor in its evolving and growingly contentions relationship between the United States and USSR. Many cite this as the unites states beginning  to put sole blame on the USSR increasingly volatile and aggressive actions towards nations near it spheres of influence, this sentiment is summed up best in a speech by former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defence Wolfowitz (2001) “The cold war was caused by the evil regime in the Soviet Union, not by a failure of diplomacy” another aspect the many within the orthodox maintain that Stalin’s character as well as his diplomatic actions as vital to the onset of the Cold War. Zubok and Plekhanov (1996) account put Stalin’s weaknesses as a diplomat as well as his unstable personality that ultimately led to conflict. the unpredictability of the USSR position after the WW2 branding them as a “saviour of Europe’ had led the soviets to assumed position as “protector of mankind”, having borne the brunt of the war. that it was Stalin’s expectation for “special treatment” through economic assistance or establishment of spheres of influence in Europe. Siting the soviet economic situation too strenuous to prepare for another war with no reason for Stalin to “pursue brinkmanship.” This uncompromising attitude to the balance of power that came with Stalin’s polarising and unstable nature would have been affront to the stability of power and driven a divide between the east and west.

Prior to the end of the Cold War the believe that Western and soviet historians could possibly agree on the origins of the Cold War that itself is a complicated conflict to analyse. By going thought the traditional role both the political and ideological differences played and with the start of new players on the international stage divided between east and the west. We can reflection to the reactionary nature of the conflict the mutual distrust and the resulting actions that overlooked the conditions and deeper concerns that shaped both the United States’ and Soviet Union’s policies and objectives. Both would have certainly contributed to factors in the divided relation and the inevitable conflict between the united states and the Soviet Union.


Alperovitz, Gar. (1994). Atomic diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam: the use of the atomic bomb and the American confrontation with Soviet power. London; Boulder, Colo.: Pluto Press, pp 187-189

GADDIS, J. L. (1997). We now know rethinking Cold War history. Oxford, Clarendon Press. Pp 264-281

GADDIS, J. L. (2007). The Cold War: a new history. New York, Penguin Books. Pp126-154

GARDNER, L. C., SCHLESINGER, A. M., & MORGENTHAU, H. J. (1970). The origins of the cold war. Waltham, Mass, Ginn-Blaisdell.

MASTNY, V. (1996). The Cold War and Soviet insecurity: the Stalin years. New York, Oxford University Press

MULLER, J. W. (1999). Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech fifty years later. Columbia, University of Missouri Press.

WILLIAMS, W. A. (1972). The tragedy of American diplomacy. New York, Dell Pub. Co. pp

Wolfowitz, P (2001) the Ninety-fifth Annual Meeting of the American Jewish Committee Washington D, C

ZUBOK, V. M., & PLESHAKOV, K. (1996). Inside the Kremlin's cold war: from Stalin to Khrushchev. Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press.


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