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Europe's Cold War: The 1945 Ð'- 1950 Bridge Of Bitterness

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After the end of World War II, the United States and USSR were the only two remaining powers in the world. Europe, which was now in shambles, was left with a power vacuum, from which both the U.S. and the USSR would vie for control. At the world's end, although the friendly wartime alliance between the U.S. and USSR turned inimical, both countries were not looking for another war. The United States, although not as damaged as other countries, saw the destruction of fighting two major world wars within the same generation. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, having experienced both World Wars, and the Russian Revolution Ð'- all of which thoroughly devastated their borders, land and people, wanted to protect and secure their boundaries first and foremost. Thus, because Stalin saw a safe buffer for his own boundaries within Eastern Europe, he tried to secure his own presence in those countries with methods the United States sometimes found alarming. The U.S. not realizing the extent to which Stalin worried about his borders and his homeland security being exploited once again, regarded Stalin's actions as aggressive (i.e. Soviet occupation in Poland), and bolstered attacks, asserting on the USSR's behalf, their bent on world domination. The United States misconstrued Soviet intentions and assigned Ð''world domination' as Stalin's main goal. With such a seemingly aggressive Soviet threat at hand, the U.S. utilized documents and speeches like Kennan's Long Telegram, Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech and the Truman doctrine to acknowledge the maturing Soviet menace. These three documents and declarations deepened the stratification of the already tenuous Soviet and U.S relationship and unwittingly expedited and worsened Cold War tensions. The Soviets would then respond to the United States via pronouncements and reactions (i.e. the Cominform as a rebuttal to the Marshall Plan) as an escalating tit-for-tat would lead the U.S. and the USSR towards more enmity. Therefore, although conditions during 1945 Ð'- 50 were already absolutely ripe for the burgeoning of the Cold War, had America worked harder at refining its policies, the Cold War may have been avoided.

The undemocratic occupation of Poland by the Soviets at the end of the war would spark one of the first foreboding actions that the U.S. would perceive and misinterpret as antagonistic domination. By the end of the war in 1945, the great U.S./USSR partnership had already begun to show signs of dilapidation. Before the war's end however, during the Yalta Conference, America still needed the aid of the Soviets to conduct the Pacific theatre and defeat the Japanese. Thus, it was agreed to let the Soviets keep Poland as its indemnity as long as a democratic institution of freely elected officials was implemented. However, after the detonation of the first atomic bomb ended the war with Japan, distrust began to develop between the U.S. and USSR. The dropping of the two bombs challenged and reconfigured the balance of power. No longer was the United States and Soviet Union tantamount to each other in clout; rather, the United States possessed an immensely powerful weapon that the Soviets had yet to control. This elevated the position of the United States to a more influential and authoritative stratum. More importantly, this shift of power created unease within Stalin's already "cynical" and "suspicious" (Zubok, Pleshakov 24) mind. Stalin, after all, had "feelings of inferiority toward the West and Western leaders." (Zubok, Pleshakov 23) Stalin therefore did not need anymore evidence of Western superiority. Stalin, then, was concerned that the United States would not hold to its agreement over Poland since the Soviet military was never employed in Japan; and without Poland, opposing troops would be right on USSR borders threatening the defense of Stalin's homeland. Hence, even after the war's end, the Soviets were still assertively occupying Poland and deliberately not allowing for a freely elected democratic government as agreed to in Yalta. Furthermore, while expanding Poland's boundaries, Stalin herded several thousand Germans west into an ever-shrinking Germany. To America, these Soviet actions were a great indication of aggressive Soviet clout. And to the United States, these actions not only warranted a closer inspection of Soviet actions in relation to its words, but also a new foreign policy of containment.

From such actions, it seemed that the United States had to adopt a policy to combat Soviet action. While the Soviets and Stalin asseverated one thing, the United States saw that the Soviet's actions were another. Kennan's retort to this Soviet aggression was his paper, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," from which he designed the policy of Ð''containment.' In this policy, Kennan argued that, "in these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States' policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies." (Judge, Langdon 33) What is to be duly noted in Kennan's assertion is the patience that was to accompany any action towards the Soviet Union from the United States. Furthering his reason for resolute patience was the direct inculcation against any amount of histrionics that would offer bolstering threats that would connote unnecessary "outward Ð''toughness.'" (Judge, Langdon 33) The Soviets were, in any case, "by far the weaker party," and "may well contain deficiencies which will eventually weaken its total potential." (Judge, Langdon 36) Kennan also suggested that the Soviet leaders were "keen judges of human psychology, and as such they are highly conscious that a loss of temper and of self-control is never a source of strength in political affairs." (Judge, Langdon 33)

What Kennan failed to propose, however, was the portion of the Soviet's psyche that was deathly insecure about its own Russia's borders. Kennan's foreign policy to Ð''contain' Soviet encroachments was misconstrued and not fully comprehended in two crucial aspects. The first was that Kennan, although patently stating the Soviet's downfalls, allotted them too much credit with regards to their aim, power, and collectedness. Recognizing Soviet authority, Kennan painted a very sturdy Soviet system when he writes that, "on the principle of infallibility there rests the iron discipline of the Communist Party. In fact, the two concepts are mutually self-supporting. Perfect discipline requires recognition of infallibility. Infallibility requires the observance of discipline. And the two together go far to determine the behaviorism of the entire Soviet apparatus of power."



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