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How far do you agree that ideological rivalry between the superpowers was primarily responsible for both the origin of the Cold War and for its continuance to 1956?
Certainly, the ideological rivalry that existed between the East and the West, concerning Communism and Capitalism was the largest factor to fuel the lengthy cold war, but there were other smaller factors that inflamed the conflict and ensured its continuance. Almost all of these factors can be drawn back to the fundamental contradictory ideologies and most of which were reactions against the other’s respective policies, such as Comecome was the Soviet response to the Truman doctrine/ Marshall Aid, and the Warsaw Pact a reaction to the creation of NATO.
As the Second World War came to an end in 1945 it became clear that pre-war revulsion for the respective ideologies was ready to once again rear its ugly head. The war time association between the US and the Soviet Union had existed simply to unite against an enemy that if faced alone, neither could have overthrown. By 1945 it was obvious that Hitler and Nazi Germany were reaching the end of their powerful and destructive lifetime. With the downfall of their enemy, the two superpowers had no common ground and were therefore left to return to their nations and their respective pre-war international policies.
Both Russian and American ideologies can only be fully understood or explained by looking at their individual roots. America, as it stands today was founded less than two hundred years ago, with such a short national history and no legs to stand on, it is no wonder they are so scared of other ideologies, and insist on enforcing their bogus ‘democracy, liberty and freedom’ on other countries with no allowance or acceptance of other ways of living.
The basis of US foreign policy since 1945 has been the idea of containment, sketched out by George Kennan in the Long Telegram of 1946. Kennan argued that the methods and goals of the US and the SU were ‘irreconcilable’ and therefore the US should prepare for a long struggle. At some point the ‘illegitimate’ government of the SU would collapse from within and the struggle would be over, as almost perfect prophecy of what was to happen years later.
During the late Middle Ages, Russia had been isolated from Europe by Mongol occupation, once Russia gained it’s freedom from the Mongol yoke and attempted to become a European power, it found that it lacked the technology and culture of the West. Furthermore, it was an underdeveloped peasant society, embracing enormous geographical expanse. The challenge was to change and modernize the country. Russian leaders from Ivan the Terrible onwards were all faced with the problem of transforming this backward society. In 1917, the Bolsheviks inherited these traditional Russian preoccupations; however they also inherited a desire to define themselves and pursue her own unique national calling rather than simply follow in a Western pattern of development. The Soviet Union, Stalin declared, did not need the West, but could succeed on its own.
Additionally, while the Bolsheviks embraced the Marxist vision of a universal pattern of development, they also inherited Marx’s ambivalent attitude to capitalism and his desire to see its destruction. Suspicion of the West thus came to be deeply embedded in the Bolshevik mentality; the West was the enemy against which Bolshevism defined its identity. It was therefore, essentially, a ‘reactive’ identity; Soviet socialism, constructed as a protest against Western capitalism, was ‘an anti-world to Capitalism’ (Kotkin 1995).
Personality clashes between the two superpower leaders, Stalin and any of the US Presidents once again comes back to their completely opposing ideological beliefs and their individual fears of the other’s possible world domination. So when Stalin died in 1953 it was unclear how, or even if, Soviet politics could maintain its hard-line policies both internationally against America and internally. However, in 1956 Khrushchev, the new Soviet leader made his famous secret speech, clearly criticizing Stalin this, almost even more clearly than even Stalin’s death, signified the end of Stalinism. Khrushchev’s appointment marked the end of the relationship between Stalin and the West. Brimming with positive ideas for ‘peaceful coexistence’, and a much larger power base than Stalin’s dictatorship ever allowed, the relationship between Khrushchev and the west began, and that’s a whole other story.
The Cold War was an ideological and geographical struggle between two opposing systems. Equally important, it was a struggle that took place during the first fifty years of the nuclear age, and the existence of nuclear weapons greatly affected the nature of the struggle. The black cloud of nuclear Armageddon hung over the entire cold war period. Yet, thankfully, the bomb was never used to attack after 1945 by either the United States or the Soviet Union.
Although this war was nothing like either the first or second world war, the rest of the world was dragged in too. The Korean War was labeled ‘the cold war in the east’ by one historian…. (sorry know this bit should be much much longer)
At no point in history, from before the 16th century have two superpowers been able to coexist, there has always been a single hegemonic power. Yet Holland’s influence in the 16th century and Portugal’s colonization of Spain and South America, and even the British Empire would never have been labeled ‘superpowers’. Perhaps this is because although these countries had influence, they did not have the power to destroy the world at the press of a button. Nonetheless in this nuclear era there is even less room for two major powers, and even though the ideologies are complete opposites, the cold war can be explained as a power struggle between two big kids, fighting for their right to be the biggest bully in the playground.
Although this certainly wasn’t the first, or indeed the last, war that America has ‘won’ I feel that this is almost the most important win in US, indeed even world, history. The battle of two superpowers, both with the ability to destroy the world, and that only, by the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century, allowed the US to appear as the ‘winner’ and assume the position of the world’s only superpower and subtly declare itself ‘world leader’. I believe the cold war is one of the largest factors for causing the American superiority which had the cold war had a different outcome perhaps would have been suppressed or even seen the Soviet Union develop the ignorance and superiority that is so fiercely disliked by much of the world.
I fully agree that fundamentally the cold war was a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, fuelled on both sides by the belief that the ideology of the other side had to be destroyed. It is because of this that co-existence was not possible- one side could only win at the expense of the other, no matter how long either side had to wait for their victory, the ideological hatred ran so deep that both sides that neither side was prepared to jeopardize their own way of life for the benefit of the other. The Soviet Union held to Lenin’s belief that conflict between communism and capitalism was ‘inevitable’.
The United States believed that peace and stability in the world would only emerge when the evil of communism had been exorcised. At the ideological level Moscow’s communist world-view, which saw capitalism as absolute evil, fed off Washington’s world-view, which saw communism as an absolute evil, and in this way helped to sustain the others prophecy. Every action that either power took was followed by an almost immediate reaction from the other, the continuation of the Cold War not only until 1956 but until the Soviet Unions downfall in 1970/80s, was continually fueled by actions and reactions which were sometimes insignificant but which also brought the world closer than ever to a full scale nuclear war.
Stalinism, An Overview – P. Boobbyer 2000
The Cold War – John W. Mason
Sarah Holtam Page 1 2/5/8/2007