Perspectives on the Cold War

The US and Russia as the superpowers in the Cold War had an almost comical (at least in hindsight) series of misconceptions and missteps throughout the Cold war period. It was anything but comical at the time, however, and my parents remember practicing for potential bombings as well as earthquakes as they were growing up in California.

Given the state of Europe at the end of WWI, it’s unsurprising that conflict would be evident between the two genuine remaining superpowers of the United States and Russia. Unlike Britain, France, Poland and many many countries in between, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, the global war had avoided American soil entirely, and the US did not need to focus its resources on rebuilding.  Russia sustained heavy losses in WWII, but came out victorious and were eager to see their position strengthened both economically, industrially and politically.

When the Western Allies proposed that the replacement governments for the defeated Axis powers be representative of the people and democratic in nature, it is obvious that this proposal would be distasteful to the Soviet Union. The Western world wanted greater influence over Eastern Europe, insuring the basics of democracy and representative governments and Russia was unwilling to give up influence to the poison of capitalism that easily.[1]  Ultimately the two spheres of influence lingered after the peace negotiations dubbed the “iron curtain” by Winston Churchill.[2]

As agreements and diplomacy began to break down, the way that the US viewed Russia’s hesitance was seen much differently than the way that Russia viewed the conflict. The United States, under the leadership of President Truman saw Russia’s attitudes and behavior after WWII as a play for the expansion of Communism throughout Europe, as Communist parties in other countries had gained popular support towards the end of the war since they contributed to Nazi resistance.[3]  Stalin’s brutal leadership over Russia, and Russia’s aggressive military policies had been understated during the war and minimized in order to make allying with them palpable, and after the war all of the atrocities of the Soviet regime started to come to light.[4]

Russia, unsurprisingly, saw things very differently. More than anything, Russia feared a German resurgence, and sought to make a strong border and buffer zone between Germany and Russia that would provide a safeguard of a repeat offensive of Hitler’s march on Russian soil.[5]  They were not particularly interested in going into another war after the defeats they suffered in WWII – especially against their Western Allies.  They also wanted a buffer between Russia and creeping Western influences like capitalism and democracy who sought to threaten the soviet ideals that they had fought to maintain.[6]  Russia viewed the United states was poised to embark on an aggressive expansionist plan throughout Europe and Asia, and wanted to limit the United States democratic and capitalistic ideologies so close to Russian soil.[7]

Although both Russia and the United States were anti-colonialism, they found themselves on opposite side of the Asian questions due to the US’ alliance with both Great Britain and France, leading to repeat conflicts in China, Korea and ultimately Vietnam before the Cold War finally came to an end. Thought it’s easy to see why these two nations’ perspectives on the Cold War came to be, it is difficult to understand that two opposing powers such as these could have such vastly different ideas about each other – enough to prompt a divide between the Eastern and Western spheres for decades after WWII was over.

[1] Felix Gilbert and David Clay Large, The End of the European era, sixth edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009, 354

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 357

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 359

[7] Ibid 359.

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