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The Cold War was the persistent tension that existed between the United Sates and some of its Western supporters and the Soviet Union together with other Communists countries. This tension was witnessed between the time the Second World War was coming to an end and the Soviet Union dissolution in 1991. The Cold War featured military, economic, and geo- political rivalries between the West and the Communism international supporters which resulted to several wars. Even though there was a result of the political and economic rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States, the two nations never fought each other directly.
The conflict was majorly based on the competing economic and political systems between the two nations. The Communist system employed by the Soviet Union together with its allies and democratic Capitalism used by the United States together with its allies. This period featured intense economic and political rivalry as well as military and diplomatic posturing between these nations. These years were also host to dramatic military spending increases, hyperbolic rhetoric among leaders from both leaders, high tensions, and thousands and millions of casualties of proxy wars such as the Korean war, the bay of pigs invasion, Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war and the Soviet-Afghan war across Africa, Latin America and Asia.
The parties involved considered their political and economic systems to be superior to their rivals and viewed almost every event taking places globally as to be part of the ongoing confrontation in an effort to determine which between Communism and Capitalism would emerge as the prevailing ideology across the globe.
The Soviets tried hard to spread the political and economic Communism system to other countries, while the United States on its side was promoting its democracy vision and free enterprise. This competition resulted to several small-scale military conflicts as well as dozens of major wars that attracted armed forces from both nations. However, as the name of the war suggests, no direct military engagement was witnessed between the two nations.
The origins of this was can be traced back when the Soviet Union and America were still allies in the Second World War. These two countries had a mutual suspicion history and both maintained their respective and different position on the way the postwar Europe was to be administered. Each nation was out to reconstruct Europe in their own desired image through Soviet-aligned Communists governments or Western-style democracies.
In addition, the Soviets and its allies wanted to come up with a buffer zone that was pro-Russian which would protect them from possible attacks in future. These conflicting visions between the two nations clearly came out during the Meetings of British, Soviet diplomats and American diplomas in 1945 and the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences.
In 1945, February, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, who was the British Prime Minister at that time met in the Soviet Union at the Yalta Conference. The three leaders had met to discuss wartime strategy in coming up with the United Nations, and the Europe reconstruction. Yalta at that period was a popular resort situated in the Ukraine and served as the meeting place for the three leaders to discuss the future of Eastern Europe and Germany while at the same time, their respective army forces were closing in on Hitler.
Stalin believed that his nation’s defense greatly depended on coming up with a Russian sphere that had influence in Poland as well as other Eastern European nations now that Eastern Europe and Poland had been acting as a corridor in the attacks on Russia on several occasions. Stalin committed himself to creating a coalition government consisting of democratic Polish government representatives exiled in London.
Roosevelt and Churchill correctly suspected that his plans were to come up with an interim government that would be under the leadership of pro-Soviet Communists.
The allies had valid reasons to be concerned about the way this process would be democratic considering the actions in Poland by the Red Army that had taken place the previous year.
It was still fresh in the leader’s minds that Stalin had previously halted his offenses against Warsaw which was being occupied by the Nazi for a period of two months while the army forces from Germany were killing thousands of Polish fighters in opposition of the Communism system.
Even though the allies from the West feared that Stalin was likely to turn Poland into a puppet state of the Communists, they were in no position to demand otherwise taking into consideration the fact that the complete occupation by the Red Army of Eastern Europe.
In addition, the Western Allies knew that the army of Stalin would occupy Eastern Germany. With the hope of keeping the tentative alliance alive, Roosevelt and Churchill reached at the agreement that each nation would be responsible for reconstructing and occupying the section of Central Europe and Germany that corresponded with their army’s positions.
By the time these three nations were meeting again in 1945 at the Potsdam Conference in Germany, there was a new President Harry Truman, Clement Attlee; who was the new British Prime Minister, and Joseph Stalin. The three leaders still discussed Europe reconstruction and resolved to divide Berlin and Germany into British, American, and Soviet and French sectors. Like their predecessors, Truman and Attlee recognized the futility associated with a military challenge to the position taken by Stalin in Eastern Europe.
The leaders instead directed their efforts towards determining how Eastern Europe might be administered and divided by the Soviets in a manner that would foster both genuine independence and reconstruction. There hope was that the presence of the Soviet Army was temporary and that new national boundaries were to be established across Eastern Europe in a move to prevent conflicts in future.
The leaders taking part in the Potsdam Conference tried to divide Europe into nations in accordance to the self-determination doctrine. Unfortunately, tremendous political and ethnic strife across Eastern Europe slowed down the process. The people dominating Eastern Europe chose to remove ethnic and national minorities.
In addition, the areas also had to be divided among political factions’ hosts with each vying to control regions which had been destroyed completely by military occupation and war. It was not long before this ethnic, political and economic strife spread all over Southern Europe in areas such as Italy, Greece and also to Western nations like France.
The postwar settlement was in such away that the victorious allies were still undecided about the fate of Germany. Apart from having Germany divided into four zones, the German army was disbanded, while the National Socialists Party was abolished permanently. The infrastructure of the nation was in shambles after the combined onslaught of the Soviet and Western armies, and this lead to the creation of a special council to administer humanitarian aid. Each of the four countries come up with interim governments in their own zones and prepared themselves for special elections that everyone hoped would result in democratic and stable governance so as to avoid that past instability that were witnessed after the World War I
Following the extreme harsh conditions Russia had to endure, the leaders settled on reparations as a way of punishing Germany as they build up their military. This resulted to the conflict between the four nations in power as the West intended to rebuild a Germany that was democratic and able to stand on its own. This made the West to be against the demands by Soviet for reparations in their own Germany sectors.
Within the Eastern Germany Soviet sector, the provisional government also tried to facilitate the reconstruction of the economy of German, but its military happened to seize most of the economic assets of the nation as war reparations and this ended up hindering the reconstruction efforts.
While most of the Americans were for the idea of Russian leaders punishing their attackers, America as a nation had prospered in the war and its outmost priority was on the promotion of global recovery and avoiding the political and economic stability that has resulted to the establishment of totalitarian governments.
The United States came up with a massive program aimed at aiding both war-torn Germany and Japan instead of seeking reparations in its German sector. This move was with the hope of promoting democratic governments that were stable. In both Europe and Asia, the perspective of the United States was mainly influenced by the humanitarian concerns but was still guided by the nation’s self-interest.
Business leaders had hoped to get back to trading with these nations while on the other hand, the political leaders still feared economic instability might push Asia and Europe toward Communism. Following the two position taken by the leaders, the United States aid was directed towards making sure that German and Japanese reconstruction was in the American image of free enterprise and democracy.
The aid from the United States towards these two former adversaries was rewarded through the close economic and political ties that developed as Japan and West Germany became among the strongest allies of the United States in their resulting conflict with the Soviet Union
Forces from the United States occupied Japan between 1945 and 1952, as they oversaw the transition of the nation to a democratic government while at the same time seizing assets from the military, holding military tribunals passing judgment to the soldiers accused for war crimes, as well as overseeing reparations payments.
Following the horrific nature of the Pacific war, the peacetime Japan transition to a prospering democracy from a militaristic dictatorship was remarkable. Just as what was witnessed in Germany, the Japan reconstruction mirrored the Cold War rivalry that was slowly developing between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Soviets had come up with their sphere influencing Manchuria as the United States occupied Japan. With the assist from the United Nation that had been newly created, Korea was partitioned temporarily into Soviet and United States sectors and was installed with governments that were rivals.
MacArthur, who was the Commander of the United States forces during the Second World War in the southern Pacific, was also placed to oversee Japan Reconstruction. He managed to create a constitutional democracy in Japan similar to that of the United States. The early years of Japan reconstruction focused mostly on reducing the power of the military and having the factories produce consumer goods rather than creating munitions.
Most of the Americans felt that the promotion of too much industrial growth was likely to make Japan reemerge as a major power. However, when Communism started to spread again throughout Southern Asia and China, United States leaders shifted their orientation and now invested resources to make sure that the economic growth in Japan was under a pro-American government.
Most of the democratic reforms of MacArthur like female suffrage proved to be unpopular at first among the Japanese people, but by 1950, Japan and America had changed from being rivals to allies. The friendship was based on the United States economic trade, the two having mutual trade, and hostility against Communism growth in neighboring North Korea and China.
The Eastern Europe reconstruction was a sharp contrast to what happened in West Germany and Japan. The Eastern Europe people had tremendously suffered and now wanted the German residents in that region to leave their nation. They believed that after all Hitler had justified his actions in that region considering the reuniting of all people who had originated from Germany.
Following this reason, Eastern Europe authorities demanded that the Germans still living in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland to return to Germany. The Potsdam Conference also reasoned in the same manner while declaring its idea of creating nations on the basis of ethic lines. This meant that people of Polish origins were to occupy Poland, the Czechs in Czechoslovakia and the Hungarians in Hungary.
This plan failed in recognizing the regions vast ethnic diversity and the impossibility of coming up with national boundaries which would manage to accomplish this goal without resulting to a million of refugees. To add on this, other millions of ethnic minorities would be expected also to move away of their homes if the plan was enforced universally. Each government partially tried to purge their respective nations of various minorities, mostly enforcing the exclusionary schemes provisions on the poor who were the most vulnerable.
Eastern Europe was known of its scarce resources to transport or feed the millions of refugees who originated from the ethnic minority’s expulsion and it is estimated that more than 2 million people died in refugee camps following the disorder. To add on the atrocities coming from the expulsions, the Eastern Europe people suffered under the different totalitarian governments that had been created under the influence of the authorization regime of Stalin.
On the other hand, the Western Allies were not in a position to dictate the Eastern Europe reconstruction under Soviet terms considering the Red Army position throughout the region. The Allies also wanted to come up with the area to the west of Berlin and have it to be in their own image. The official declarations at Potsdam and Yalta mandated constitutional government and democratic elections. The result was that many elections were indeed held and both the non-Communists and Communists leaders were elected democratically across Eastern Europe in the immediate years after the Cold War.
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