The Cold War between 1945 and 1991 Essay
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Show how and why the different historiographies relating to the start of the Cold War have changed between 1945 and 1991
Throughout 1945 to 1991 different approaches and schools of thought had been adopted in pinpointing who was responsible for starting the Cold War. Ranging from the Orthodox school of thought, which identifies Stalin and the USSR as the main perpetrator in starting the Cold War, to the Revisionist viewpoint which blames Truman and the USA for doing so. The Post Revisionist school believes both the USSR and the USA are to blame.
This comes full circle resulting with the Post Post Revisionist school which links back to the belief that the USSR are to blame.
These historiographies feature primarily in certain time periods and express the views of certain peoples. The changes sparked in these viewpoints are often due to the declassification of certain information as well as social changes.
The Traditionalist School, prevalent form +/- 1945 to 1960 consisting mainly of Western historians believed that the Stalin and the USSR were fully to blame for the outbreak of the Cold War. This school ultimately held the belief that Stalin had a master plan and that his foreign policy was expansionist with the aims of spreading a world revolution. The orthodox school felt Stalin’s contribution as a leader in the outbreak of the Cold War was extremely apparent due to his Marxist beliefs and therefore anti-capitalist, expansionist way of rule. Stalin’s ulterior motives could be perceived as evident at an early stage with his refusal to withdraw his troops from Germany.
Furthermore, his expansionist ways were clearly displayed through his constant need to take hold of territory and establish communist governments within them for the sake of Russian ‘safety’. The traditionalists doubted the validity of this argument and believed it simply to be an excuse, as the proximity of countries Russia tried to attain were beyond that of buffer states, such as Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in addition to this, the same excuse of ‘safety’ had been used shortly in the past by Hitler. Russia had too set up policies and organisations to aid and support communism such as the World Wide Workers Revolution, the Cominform and Comercon, which would inspire growth, strength and ultimately a breeding ground for communism.
The broken promises of Potsdam and Yalta further paid tribute to the USSR’s role in promoting and developing the Cold War as these broken promises were seen as for expansionist purposes and caused irked the American people. As the USSR did not keep to their promise of holding free elections, they thereby yet again made sure their neighbour states were ‘friendly’ communist states, the USSR too breached Potsdam by setting up Russian-controlled coalition parties and manipulating Germany into thinking Russia was working in her favour. This can be viewed by the USA as another means to promote the spread of communism and increase the power of the USSR
This historiography came in to being as the only source of information available came from the West and therefore held extreme bias against the Soviets, the existing secrecy and suspicion rendered interaction with communist states impossible.
The Revisionist School, prevalent from+/- 1960-1970 comprised of mainly the Eastern bloc but too consisted of many Western historians. However, this school believed that the USA accompanied by Truman held responsibility for the start of the Cold War. They held the belief that the main contributor to the conflict was the American president Harry S. Truman. Truman’s inexperience with the sort of conflict that arose in Germany and his hard line approach often resulted in America making decisions of an extremely aggressive nature, fuelling the Cold War and rivalry between the USA and the USSR.
The decisions made by the USA were bound to be reacted to badly by the USSR as they were extremely provocative and of a threatening nature. For example, Truman’s decision to stop lend lease in 1945 was perceived by Stalin and the USSR as an extremely unfriendly act and marked a definite change in the relationship between the USA and the USSR. The hard-line actions adopted by the USA and encouraged by the Keenan Long Telegram contributed to the Cold War as they acted as a declaration stating that the USSR and the USA could not work together or even coincide peacefully, this approach too offered more reason for an opposing Soviet reaction.
A main factor stemming from Truman’s hatred of communism that contributed greatly to the Cold War was his policy of containment. Truman’s outward opposition of communism and his idea of containing and eliminating communism were therefore extremely threatening to the communists and would of course inspire a reaction amongst the USSR of a defensive nature. The proposal of the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan whilst promoting Dollar Imperialism would therefore increase the rivalry between the USA and the USSR as it marked their complete opposition to communism, to the extent whereby they would take action to actively defeat it.
The Revisionists too highlight that Stalin did have a legitimate need for safety after being devastated by the Germans not long before and did have reason to annex Poland as it was a traditional invasion route, and could be used to safeguard Russia from attack.
The change of analysis from Orthodox to Revisionist was a direct result of the social reform present during that timeframe, with more shocking information emerging about the Vietnam War the American people felt betrayed by their country as they were personally able to view the massacre taking place, this sparked a surge of human right movements and hippiedom etc. Accompanied by this social change, pre-existing information started to be interpreted in a new light.
However the ideals of The Post Revisionist School, prevalent from approximately 1962 to 1973, made up of mainly Western historians has to be taken into account as they held the belief that both the USA as well as the USSR were to blame for outbreak of the Cold War as it was clearly not mono causal. One cannot analyse the actions of each superpower individually and lay blame on one certain party due the complexity of the matter.
It has to be considered that rivalry is the result of two parties; in this case, both the USA and the USSR committing actions deemed by the other as threatening or in opposition to their own policy such as Stalin’s need for security interpreted as expansionist. The blame has to be placed on both the USA and the USSR as there was mutual mistrust between them; this mistrust did not arise specifically due to one event with one party being in the wrong but was cultivated for many years between each party and exacerbated by their opposing ideologies and added fuel to by both their opposing participation in the Cuban Missile Crisis and in Afghanistan.
Therefore the vacuum left by Germany was bound to inspire conflict, as with any two major superpowers the problem of power and power struggles were bound to be introduced.
The misunderstanding of motives, stemming from the mistrust of each party too played a main role in the development of the Cold War as actions often of defensive purposes were seen as in favour of their own regime and threatening to the other. The joint responsibility is supported by the fact that both the German Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic mutually refused to acknowledge the other as a proper government.
This change in interpretation comes about as a result of Stalin’s death, the period of détente and the reinterpretation of old information as more archives are opened and information is declassified.