Sunday, 29 December 2013

The USA and the world: 1945-50, the start of the Cold War

Pages 22-23 of the textbook: The Cold War at its peak (LESSON 1, 1945-1950)

'Time to bridge that gulch' (1945)
Pullitzer Prize-winning cartoon by Bruce Russell

It is a moot point whether the Cold War was “at its peak” just after the end of the war... The Cold War started because of ideological differences, mutual fear and misunderstandings (each side accusing the other of wanting to take over the world, cf. the Zhdanov Doctrine) and was marked by tension, more or less great ("hotspots"), and competition between the opposing blocs for over 40 years.

According to the introductory paragraph of the textbook, the USA responded to a call for help from Western Europe to feed, clothe and house the populations and to rebuild the devastated infrastructure. Western Europe also needed military protection against the Soviet Union, seen as expansionist. Politicians in Western Europe knew there was an urgent need to rebuild quickly in order to avoid anarchy or the rise of power of communist parties (which had played an important role during the war and were popular because of the admiration the population had at the time for Stalin and the Red Army).

TIME magazine cover showing Harry Truman in 1956

Harry Truman was the US President from the death of Roosevelt in April 1945 up to 1953.

How did the USA help Western Europe and at the same time spread its influence? The answer is the Truman Doctrine launched in March 1947 (read document 1, page 22 and answer the questions). It was a doctrine of containment of communism within communist countries (to stop it spreading).

The "Iron Curtain" was the political, military, and ideological barrier erected by the Soviet Union after World War II to seal itself (and its allies in Central and Easter Europe) off from the West. It was a term used by Winston Churchill.

Like most Americans up to 1946, Truman thought that the Soviet Union could be friendly with the USA. The "Sinews of Peace" (better known as the "Iron Curtain") speech given by the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in March 1946 made Truman change his mind. Chuchill said that Moscow wanted "the indefinite expansion of its power and policies" and called for the USA (which he described as "at the pinnacle of world power"), to ensure world peace and to uphold the principles of the United Nations Organization. 

George Kennan, a US diplomat based in Moscow, also insisted, like Churchill, on the fact that the USSR was expansionist and a danger to world stability. His report to Truman on the situation in Moscow was also instrumental in elaborating Truman's anti-Soviet doctrine.

By helping countries that were being influenced by the USSR (notably Greece and Turkey) through economic aid, Truman hoped to stop the spread of communism (he considered that countries turned to communism because they were poor).

TIME magazine cover showing George Marshall (1944)

The Marshall Plan was the economic means by which the Truman Doctrine was applied (George Marshall was Truman’s Secretary of State).

The aim of the plan was to:
  • rebuild Europe and its economy through US aid (food, goods, materials) and by giving and lending it money ;
  • create markets (i.e. increase demand for US goods);
  • contain the spread of communism by encouraging economic liberalism (prosperity > social stability > democracy).
The plan was finally approved in April 1948. Only Western European countries accepted US help; the USSR and its satellite countries of course refused. The Marshall Plan reinforced the division in two of Europe: pro-USA Western Europe, and Eastern Europe under the control of the USSR. Congress took its time in voting the funds for the Marshall Plan (cf. “Marshall Plan delay” in document 2, page 22). Document 3, page 22, is a propaganda poster which was used to explain to people the necessity of the plan. 

NATO logo

The Marshall Plan was followed by the setting up in 1949 of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, i.e. military protection of Western Europe by the USA. 

Comments on page 23

In April 1948, the Marshall Plan was voted and the ECA (Economic Cooperation Administration) created to administer the funds. Paul Hoffman was its director (cf. cartoon, document 4). The USSR blamed the Plan for smashing tariff barriers (taxes on imported goods) and for not respecting the sovereignty of Western European Nations (i.e. their independence), in other words, of making Western Europe a zone under US economic and political influence. The cartoon only mentions Western European sovereignty because Central and Eastern European countries refused US help. (Answer the questions on document 4).

It can be said that Truman became more anti-Soviet than Roosevelt (he did not really understand the Soviet view of the world) and in the end made the fight against communism the central tenet of his Administration.

US airplane landing at Tempelhof Airport (Berlin) in 1948
The Berlin Airlift countered the Berlin Blockade

Comments on the map, document 5, page 23:

Berlin is in the Eastern half of Germany, which, after the War, was under control of the Soviet Union (until 1949, when two German States were set up: East Germany and West Germany). Berlin was occupied by the Allies and divided into four: the British, American, Soviet and French sectors. In 1948, the British, American and French zones merged into what became West Berlin. Stalin tried to get rid of the Western occupying countries present in Berlin by cutting off access via roads and rail lines from June 1948 to May 1949 to blockade Berlin (the Berlin Blockade was a hot spot of the Cold War). This was broken by the ensuing American and British airlift of food and supplies to the Berliners. West Berlin remained an enclave of the West in East Germany throughout the Cold War. (Answer the questions on document 5).

Political cartoon by Cummings (1950?)

In 1949, two events increased the Western bloc's fears of the spread of communism:

1) In China, Mao set up a communist state. The USSR and China were friendly until 1960 (cf. Sino-Soviet split).

2) The Soviet Union also got the A-Bomb, making it as strong as the USA. This started the arms race (i.e. a competition as to who could have the most weapons of mass destruction as proof of military superiority and thus to dissuade the enemy from attacking).

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