Question for Discussion:
What are the major
arguments used to support an American
Cold War crusade to contain and defeat
Reading: Hoffman, pp. 293-308;
"Atlantic Charter" (web);
Wallace "Lip Service to Peace" (web);
Firmness vs. Soviet Aggression" (web)
The United States and the
The U.S.-Soviet Relations
1940s and 1950s
The United States' Struggle
1. World War II and
the Origins of
the Cold War
2. The United States and the Cold War
3. The Threat of Nuclear War during
the Cold War
1. How do the United States' goals for a New
World Order after World War II, as laid out in the Atlantic Charter
in 1941, help us understand the larger causes of the Cold War?
2. Why is Henry Wallace worried about the
United States' "get tough" policy with the Soviet Union
after World War II?
3. Does Wallace we can prevent a war with
the Soviet Union by preparing for and being ready to fight such
4. Why does Wallace believe that the United
States and the Soviet Union, capitalism and communism, can peacefully
5. Does Clark Clifford present any real hard
evidence that the Soviet Union is preparing for a global war against
capitalism and the United States?
6. What does Clifford believe is the larger
goal of the Soviet Union.
7. According to Clifford, what should the
United States do to prevent the Soviet Union and communism from
8. What larger role does Clifford argue the
United States should play in the world after World War II?
9. In his speech, "America should
see Peace with the Soviet Union," what roles does Wallace argue
the United States and the United Nations should play in the world.
10. According to George Kennan, why does the
Soviet Union threaten the peace and freedom of the global community
11. Why does Kennan believe that the United
States and the Soviet Union can't peacefully coexist in the world.
12. What does Kennan mean when he argues that
the United States should contain the Soviet Union.
13. If the United States contains the Soviets,
what does Kennan think will eventually happen to the Soviet Union.
14. Whose argument do you find more convincing:
Wallace's, Clifford's, or Kennan's?
The Cold War began soon after World
War II as a result of military and political misunderstandings between
two former allies, the United States and the Soviet Union. Lasting
from 1945 to 1991, the United States won the Cold War, but did so
at great cost. We spent between 9 and 11 trillion dollars fighting
the Cold War. The Cold War permeated American society and culture,
shaping the way Americans saw themselves and the larger world. I
will argue that though the United States won the Cold War, it fundamentally
damaged Americans' faith in their government and their society.
As a direct result of American government and politicians' actions
during the Cold War, many Americans lost faith in their government
and our democratic institutions. The larger irony and tragedy of
the Cold War is that the United States fought to protect the "free
world" and promote democracy throughout the world but in doing
so damaged and weakened democracy and American democratic institutions
in the United States.
Before we can begin to understand the
origins and larger causes of the Cold War, we need to define what
we mean by the Cold War. The term Cold War originally referred to
a struggle or a conflict that had not escalated into fighting and
military conflict, that is, had not escalated into a hot war. Between
1945 and 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union saw each other
as potential enemies, threatening each other's larger global economic,
political, and military goals. The Cold War thus was global
competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to shape
and control the post-World War II global economic and political
order. Throughout the Cold War, the United States saw the
Soviet Union and communism as the greatest threat and challenge
to its global leadership and dominance of an emerging global economy
and industrial society. The United States was determined to limit
the military and political expansion of Soviet power in order to
prevent it from challenging American global economic and political
But why did the United States see the
Soviet Union as such a threat to American power and global leadership?
The Soviets were our allies during World War II. We provided military
and economic aid that allowed the Soviets to survive the Nazi invasion
of Russia and later help defeat Nazi Germany in World War II. But
the Soviet Union was a communist nation controlled by a brutal dictator,
Joseph Stalin. Under Stalin and later Soviet leaders, the Soviet
Union proclaimed that communism was a superior economic and political
system to capitalism and democracy. American leaders feared that
the Soviet Union would try to spread their communist system and
undermine democratic, capitalist nations. But what is the nature
of Soviet communism that Americans feared so much? In the Soviet
Union and later communist China, communism is a political and economic
system in which the state dominates all aspects of the economy.
Under communism, the state controls and runs industries and farms,
and government leaders control and run all aspects of society in
the name of "the people." In communists countries, the
government and elite leaders rule the country, believing that they
know what is best for the people and their society. Whereas, in
democratic capitalist countries such as the United States, individuals
and corporations are free to control their own economic lives and
businesses and the people shape and control their government and
society. If the United States and democratic capitalist countries
clearly provided more individual freedom, economic opportunity,
and democratic rights, why did Americans fear that Soviet communism
could successfully challenge United States global economic and political
We can begin to understand American
fears of the Soviet Union by looking at "The Atlantic Charter,"
which laid out American goals in World War II. Signed by President
Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill in August 1941, the Atlantic
Charter described an American- and British-dominated post-war world.
The Charter imagined a post-war world in which all countries were
free and independent, no longer bound and controlled by global empires.
In this global community of free nations, peoples would have basic
democratic rights and economic freedoms. This global community would
encourage free trade, easy access to resources and raw materials,
and foreign investment throughout the world. Finally, this global
community would be held together and protected by the United Nations,
which could guarantee the peace and rights of all nations. Under
American and British leadership, this global community of free nations
would promote democracy, individual freedom and rights, and economic
growth and the individual pursuit of wealth.
After World War II, the Soviet Union
would not accept American global economic and political leadership
in return for American money and support to rebuild their war-ravaged
country. The Soviets believed that the United States and Britain
were empires who wanted to use their economic, political, and military
power to control and dominate the global community of nations. The
Soviets argued that if the United States could control and dominate
other countries, then they too should be allowed to control and
dominate other countries, in this case Eastern European countries.
After World War II, the Soviets wanted to be treated as a political
and military equal of the United States and Britain, and allowed
its own empire and imperial ambitions just like its rivals were
allowed to dominate Latin America, the Middle East, and parts of
Asia. But the United States refused to accept that it was an empire
and accused the Soviets of being a threat to world peace and democracy
by not accepting the American- and British- plans for organizing
the post-war global community of nations.
In 1945 and 1946, there were increasing
debates within the United States government over how to deal with
the Soviet Union. Should the United States now see the Soviets as
an "evil empire" that threatened to undermine the peace
and freedom of an American-led "free world"? In his influential
1946 memo to President Truman, "American firmness vs. Soviet
Aggression," Clark Clifford argued that the Soviets were a
global threat to peace. He charged that the Soviet Union had a secret
plan to conquer the world and spread communism throughout the world.
The Soviets refusal to accept American leadership and a global democratic,
capitalist community of nations, Clifford argued, demonstrated that
capitalism and communism could not peacefully coexist. Clifford
The primary objective of United States
policy toward the Soviet Union is to convince Soviet leaders that
it is in their interest to participate in a system of global cooperation,
that there are no fundamental causes for war between our two nations,
and that the security and prosperity of the Soviet Union, and that
of the rest of the world as well, is being jeopardized by the aggressive
military imperialism such as that in which the Soviet Union is now
For Clifford, the Soviet domination
of Eastern Europe after World War II and the continuing Soviet military
buildup was proof that the Soviet Union was threatening global peace
Clifford argues that it is now up to
the United States to protect global peace and guarantee the freedom
and independence of countries throughout the world from Soviet communism.
The United States should try to "contain" Soviet political,
economic, and military expansion and protect the "free world,"
the non-communist world from Soviet communism. The United States
could do this by providing economic and military assistance to all
countries outside the orbit or influence of Soviet communism. In
addition, the United States should be prepared to "wage atomic
and biological war" in order to deter Soviet aggression and
threats to this American-led free world. Clifford argues that "the
prospect of defeat is the only sure means of deterring the Soviet
Union." Throughout the Cold War, the United States policy of
"deterrence" was based on the American threat to wage
full-scale nuclear war if the Soviet Union challenged the free world
and American interests.
However, there were those in the Truman
administration who challenged Clifford's harsh conclusions about
the Soviet threat. In his July 1946 letter to President Truman,
"Are We Only Paying Lip Service to Peace?," Henry Wallace
argued that Clifford's argument that the only way to deal with the
Soviets is to threaten nuclear war was, in the end, self destructive
and self defeating. Wallace argued that American preparations for
nuclear war would lead to nuclear war which would destroy both the
Soviet Union and the United States. American threats to wage nuclear
war, he argued, would not prevent war but lead the Soviets to prepare
to fight a nuclear war. Because atomic weapons are cheap and easily
produced by advanced industrial societies, these weapons are so
powerful and destructive that having "many more bombs"
does not give one side an advantage, and preparations for nuclear
war will create a "neurotic, fear-ridden itching-trigger psychology"
preparations for nuclear war will inevitably lead to a destructive
global nuclear war.
But Wallace just doesn't reject Clifford's
military solution to containing the Soviet Union. Wallace argues
that the differences between the United States and the Soviet Union
do not have to lead to global conflict and nuclear war; they can
be solved through negotiation, compromise, and the mutual recognition
of each other's national interests. By refusing to recognizing Soviet
interests and building up our global military presence to contain
the Soviets, Wallace argues, we are causing the Soviet Union to
believe that the United States is preparing for war against them.
Wallace believes that we don't have to rely on military power to
overcome the global challenge of Soviet communism, we can rely on
the strengths of our own political and economic system. American
democratic capitalism provides more individual freedom, wealth,
and opportunity that Soviet communism, and the very example of the
United States should lead other countries to accept our leadership
and our political and economic institutions as models. Finally,
Wallace argues that Clifford's argument that Capitalism and Communism
can't peacefully coexist is simply wrong; competing ideologies and
societies have peacefully coexisted throughout human history. So
instead of seeing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire"
that threatens world peace, Wallace concludes, we should try to
create "mutual trust and confidence" between the United
States and the Soviets, recognizing that only international cooperation
and unity can create a peaceful global community of nations.
But President Truman in the fall of
1946 accepted Clark Clifford's analysis of the Soviet threat. Truman
fired Wallace, accusing him of being a communist. As a result of
Truman's get-tough policy towards the Soviets and his threats to
wage nuclear war if they didn't accept American global political,
economic, and military dominance led to the heating up of the Cold
War in the late 1940s and 1950s. The Soviets saw American threats
as dangerous provocations and the United States' commitment to strengthen
and expand its own growing global empire as a threat to global peace
and its own security. From 1945 to 1991, the global Cold War between
the United States and the Soviet Union dominated the lives and fears
of Americans and Russians. Many feared that misunderstanding and
political and military conflict would escalate into a global nuclear
war that threatened to destroy humanity. Under this growing shadow
of Cold War and nuclear war, American society, politics, and culture
struggled to adapt to this dangerous and unstable post-war world
in the 1940s and 1950s.