Why did the USA and USSR become rivals in the period 1945 to 1949?



Traditionalists,   Revisionists,   Post-Revisionists,   Post-1991


The Causes of the Cold War is an examination topic, and you can read about The Causes of the Cold War in a dispassionate kind of way in your textbooks.




Beyond the textbooks is a world which does not objectively seek the causes of the Cold War, but seeks rather to allocate blame.   And suddenly the matter becomes muddled up into people’s political beliefs, and they fall out about it.


And that's MUCH more exciting.





ppt (swf)

So – who do YOU think was to blame for the Cold War?




The Traditionalists


Until the 1960s, most historians followed the official government line – that the Cold War was the direct result of Stalin's aggressive Soviet expansionism.

Allocation of blame was simple – the Soviets were to blame!   This view of the Cold War has never really gone away, and there have always been people who have seen the Soviet Union as the cause of the confrontation.   It is, by far, the most common opinion of people who post on the web.   In the following collection, note that all the contributors seem to come either from America or Britain :


The Cold War was caused by the military expansionism of Stalin and his successors. The American response… was basically a defensive reaction.   As long as Soviet leaders clung to their dream of imposing Communism on the world, the West had no way (other than surrender) of ending the conflict.   When a Soviet leader appeared who was willing to abandon that goal, the seemingly interminable Cold War soon melted away.

Summary of Michael Hart’s argument justifying placing Mikhail Gorbachev in his top 100 most influential persons in history.

Michael H Hart worked for NASA and is currently a professor of astronomy and physics at a US college. He holds degrees in physics, astronomy, and law and is author of: The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History (1986)


International conflicts are often caused by the character of national regimes, not by any kind of international misunderstanding. The cold war was caused by the evil regime in the Soviet Union , not by a failure of diplomacy. In a similar way, Slobodan Milosevic and his evil cronies were responsible for the tragedies and suffering in the Balkans... The American Jewish Committee worked for years against Milosevic, speaking out forcefully on behalf of his victims, especially the Bosnian Muslims.

An address by Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, at the Ninety-fifth Annual Meeting of the American Jewish Committee, 2001


The truth of the matter, Andrew insisted, responding to the statement of Dr James Leutze that US intellectual thought places blame for the Cold War equally between the US and the Soviet Union, is that the whole cost and length of the Cold War rests almost completely with the men who led the Soviet Union to its ultimate implosion.   “The Cold War was caused by the Soviet Union , was sustained by the Soviet Union , and was ended by the Soviet Union when it collapsed,” he said emphatically. “It was—and is—as simple as that.”

Report of a Q&A session with Christopher Andrew (a Cambridge University don and expert on Cold War espionage) at the first Raleigh International Spy Conference, August 2003


The cold war was caused by the USSR 's 'imperial appetite'.

US Naval War College Review of Eugene V Rostow, Violent peace and the management of power: dilemmas and choices in US policy (1988)


Stalin's bad behavior was the primary cause of the Cold War

J.R. Nyquist styles himself ‘a WorldNetDaily contributing editor and a renowned expert in geopolitics and international relations'.   He is the author of "Origins of the Fourth World War."


The cause of the Cold War was the totalitarian nature of the Communist system itself.  

Posted by ‘Dangus’ on a webforum called @forumz, 11-06-2002


The Cold War happened because Stalin decided that he could not allow the Russians to be behind the US.   He chose confrontation because he could not accept the cosquences of being behind …   The US is already supreme,why be provocative and upset it further?  

Posted by ‘PainRack’ on a webforum called Spacebattles.com, Jun 21st 2001,


The Cold War was caused by the attempt of one state to impose its ideology on the rest of the world. That state was not the US , which demilitarized immediately after the war. That ideology was not democracy.

Posted by Brian Grassie, United States of America on Thursday, December 12, 2002

The United Nations OnLine is a virtual model United Nations sponsored by a Non-Profit Organization from Texas . The UNOL Lobbying Area is for students from around the world to discuss topics concerning the work of the United Nations.


The puppet governments [of Eastern Europe] were a huge source of anxiety for the West and were the main cause of the Cold War, the forty-five year long period of tension between the Soviets and the capitalists.

thinkquest.org - an international website-building competition, sponsored by the Oracle Education Foundation.


The Cold War was caused by America 's attempt to cooperate with Russia as a country that had common enemies rather than taking a firm stance against Russia from the beginning.

posted by someone who calls himself ishalltriumph, 2004-03-16, on a web-forum called 'livejournal'





The Revisionists


In 1959, however, William Appleman Williams published his The Tragedy of American Diplomacy.    Williams blamed the US for the Cold War.   Williams, and the historians who followed him were called the ‘revisionists’.   This ‘revisionist’ approach reached its height during the Vietnam War when many people suggested that America was as bad as Russia.   


Williams argued that America’s chief aim in the years after the war was to make sure that there was an "open door" for American trade, and that this led the American government to try to make sure that countries remained capitalist countries like the USA.  


Gar Alperovitz, in his book: Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (1965), placed the blame for the Cold War on the Americans for their use of the atomic bomb – he contended that Truman decided to drop the bomb as a means to intimidate the Soviet Union.  


One of the most extreme revisionists was Gabriel Kolko, who wrote The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy in 1972.   One reviewer of his books says that ‘he devoted his entire professional life to blaming the United States for the Cold War’, and Kelko suggested that Truman should have given Stalin the atomic bomb in 1945, claimed that Russia treated Poland well in 1945, and blamed South Korea for the Korean War of 1950-3.  


These ideas have a MUCH smaller following among people on the web, and I found only one person - a Canadian - arguing this:


The atomic bomb did help seed the Cold War.   Let's face it, the bomb was not just meant to buckle Japan into surrender, it was also a political statement towards the Soviet Union .   A statement of power towards a nation who practiced a political ideology different from America which was unacceptable to the "free democractic" United States…

posted by Michael Hughes, ‘Ambassador from Canada ’, on 11 Dec 2002 on the ONOL webforum

The United Nations OnLine is a virtual model United Nations sponsored by a Non-Profit Organization from Texas . The UNOL 'Lobbying Area' is for students from around the world to discuss topics concerning the work of the United Nations.





The Post-Revisionists


As time went on, however, a group of historians called the ‘post-revisionists’ tried to present the foundations of the Cold War as neither the fault of the Americans or the USSR.  


The first was John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War (1972), who believed that both America and Russia wanted to keep the peace after the war but that conflict was caused by mutual misunderstanding, reactivity, and above all the American inability to understand Stalin's fears and need to defend himself after the war.  


Martin P. Leffler, in his book: A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War (1992) saw the Cold War as a clash of two military establishments both seeking world domination.


Marc Trachtenberg, A Contested Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963 (1999) claimed that the Cold War was really about settling the German question in the aftermath of World War II.


So we find on the web 'no-blame' statements which present the Cold War as 'miscommunication' and a 'climate of tension', etc.:


The Cold War was caused by the conflicting interests of the United States and the U.S.S.R., compounded by miscommunication and poor diplomacy. The differences in the cultures of the American political leaders and their moral and righteous justifications for diplomacy from Soviet leaders' communist expansionist policies led to the unraveling of the new international order nearly established in Roosevelt's wartime conferences with Churchill and Stalin.

Analysis of President Truman’s ideas at a site called Innocents Abroad: Presidents and Foreign Policy


The Cold War was caused by the social climate and tension in Europe at the end of World War II and by the increasing power struggles between the Soviet Union [and the United States].   Economic separation between the Soviets and the west also heightened tensions, along with the threat of nuclear war.

A muddled free essay at: netessays.net


The most important cause of the Cold War was the suspicion and rivalry between Truman and Stalin.

Essay title at: coursework.info


The Cold War occurred because defensive positions were viewed as aggression,

Oakland School , US, Social Studies department essay title.


The Cold War was caused by fear, not aggression

Statement from IB Standard Level History paper, May 2001



and not forgetting some other, very strange 'conspiracy' theories…


In view of this reviewer… much of the cold war was caused by these NAZI spooks who we hired to watch the Russians and that it was beyond comprehension the number of NAZI officials who we illegally allowed to come here.   America has always had a very strong German base and as one T.V. show observed the NAZIS did not loose the war they simply had to relocate.

Statement made in a review of a book The Good German by John Acuff, ‘Country Lawyer’,

a Christian lawyer who writes reviews of the 3-books-a-week he reads.


It's just a coincidence that the "Cold War" was caused by the Second World War which was caused by the First World War which was caused by a dysfunctional trans-national banking system.

Jonathan P. Chance, Imperial Mammonism is Just a Coincidence on a pro-Palestinian site







In 1991, Communism in the Soviet Union collapsed.   This has allowed historians to get to see the Russian archives, and to investigate what Russia was REALLY about in this period.   In Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: from Stalin to Khrushchev (1997), the Russian historians Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, use de-classified Soviet documents to analyse Stalin’s part in causing the Cold War.   They reveal a fanatic belief in Communism, lots of personal faults and mistakes, but – above all – a genuine desire to avoid confrontation with the USA .


Many of these recent studies of early Cold War history are increasingly portraying the Cold War as a CLASH OF IDEOLOGIES – as a clash between Capitalism and Communism:


The Cold War was caused by cultural differences between capitalist society and communist society.

Distance learning Company tutor’s comments on a students’ essay on 'Nation States and Transnational Corporations'.


Despite the divergence of opinion concerning the origin and nature of the Cold War, there is an increasing consensus that shapes Cold War historiography.   While scholars may have been blinded by loyalty and guilt in examining the evidence regarding the origins of the Cold War in the past, increasingly, scholars with greater access to archival evidence on all sides have come to the conclusion that the conflicting and unyielding ideological ambitions were the source of the complicated and historic tale that was the Cold War.

Timothy White, Cold War Historiography: New Evidence Behind Traditional Typographies (2000)

This is a difficult but very informative overview on the web of the historiography of the Cold War.  

Timothy White is on the faculty of Xavier University, Cincinnati, USA.


and read also the following interpretation, which defines other 'schools of thought' about the causes of the Cold War:


The 'realist' interpretation views the Cold War as a great power conflict between the two geopolitically dominant powers which emerged from the Second World War.   Wolhforth captures this approach: ‘the Cold War was caused by the rise of Soviet power and the fear this caused in the West’.  


Similarly, the 'liberal' interpretation sees the Cold War as a military conflict, which, rather than being the result of power vacuums, was the product of poor policy decisions, misperceptions and missed opportunities; given this, many argue, the Cold War could have been avoided.  


For 'radicals', the Cold War was not really a conflict of values, ideas or interests, but a military conflict coloured with the patina of ideological rhetoric that was used by both sides to establish and further the domination of their own spheres of influence.  


The liberal, realist and radical approaches are not satisfactory…   In short, seeing the Cold War as an acute phase of the conflict between capitalism and Soviet communism avoids the determinism of the radicals and the simplification of the realists and liberals.

From an academic publication on International Relations (author not known).



Think About It

The four statements following typify the four different interpretations of the causes of the Cold War - the 'Traditional', 'Revisionist', 'Post-revisionist' and 'Post-1991 (ideological)' interpretations.

Can you work out which is which [Answers]:


Quote 1

Who said that capitalism is meek and mild?   Capitalism is BY NATURE aggressive.   Businessmen WANT to dominate the world market, and think it is good to want to do so.   After 1946 American businessmen had the American government enthusiastically behind them.   And together they set about systematically destroying ‘the opposition’ – which, in global terms, meant the Soviet Union .  

            It was American capitalism that caused the Cold War, and it had the additional advantage that the Communists (since they used political means to assert themselves) could so easily be made to look oppressive and tyrannical.   They didn’t stand a chance.


Quote 2

It seems almost irreverent to say so – given the millions of people who died because of it – but the whole Cold War thing was no more than a lack of communication.   Both sides decided at Potsdam that the other was impossible, and they just stopped talking to each other.   As soon as Kennedy installed the hotline, the Cold War ceased to be a threat to humanity.   And the Cold War didn’t end with the collapse of Communism in 1991; it ended long before that, when Gorbachev and Reagan started being honest with each other.


Quote 3

The Cold War was a fight to the death between two ways of life, one which advocated free trade and democracy, and the other which believed in a command [government-controlled] economy and political unity.   What made the war so vicious was that both sides – government and peoples – believed, not only that their way was better, but that it was absolutely essential to the future happiness of humanity.


Quote 4

Stalin wanted Russia to rule the world and – like the Terminator – there was no way he was ever going to stop unless someone stopped him.   It wasn’t just America – the whole free Western world was aware of the threat.  

            And what would life have been like in a world dominated by Stalin?   The Communists murdered and imprisoned their own people by the million.   They oppressed Muslims and Christians alike.   They sent in the tanks to any Iron Curtain country which looked like it wanted to be free.   Reagan called the Soviet Union ‘the evil empire'; and he was right.  

            Stalin caused the Cold War; the West was just defending itself.