Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

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); Clifford "American
Firmness vs. Soviet Aggression" (web)

Daily Class Web Links

The United States and the Cold War

The U.S.-Soviet Relations in the
1940s and 1950s

The United States' Struggle for
Global Hegemony

Daily Class Outline

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

Daily Class Questions

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 a war?

4. Why does Wallace believe that the United States and the Soviet Union, capitalism and communism, can peacefully coexist?

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 expanding?

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 of nations?

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?

Daily Class Notes

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 dominance.

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 leadership?

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 writes:

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 engaged.

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 and security.

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.


© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 23 Oct. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/soviets.htm
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