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Early Cold War - the United States and the Soviet Union

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Towards the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a clash of ideals, known as the Cold War. From 1945-1991, many regions, like Latin America, Asia and Europe were affected. The two competitors each tried to spread their political and economic influence worldwide. These two superpowers with competing ideas of government and economy were on the verge of war. The Cold War is defined as a state of tension and mistrust between the United States and Soviet Union from 1945-1999, using means of short armed warfare. There were many historical circumstances like conflicting economic and political ideologies between the superpowers that led to the Cold War. The differences between the competitors to spread their influence and achieve their goals greatly affected the people of Europe.

Although the United States and the Soviet Union were allies with the same goal of defeating Germany during World War II, their relationship soon began to fail due to conflicting ideologies. During the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks, a revolutionary communist group following Marxist ideas, overthrew the government and seized power. This marked the end of Russia and the start of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a communist state. Communism is defined as an economic system in which the government directs all major economic decisions. Although the United States and Soviet Union were on the same side of World War II, the strict ideals of communism conflicted with the U.S.’s ideals of freedom and democracy. After World War II, these conflicts of interest became more apparent. For instance, the division of Germany into zones that were occupied the three major powers with varying ideals increased the tension between the superpowers (Doc 1). Berlin, Germany’s capital, was located in the Soviet zone of occupation, and Berlin itself was divided into different zones (Doc 2). This depicts the superpowers have different ideas on how to rule post world war Germany. As Winston Churchill said, an “iron curtain” formed separating the democratic West from the communist East (Doc 4). All trade between East and West Europe stopped and the strict division between the East and West, known as the iron curtain, can clearly be seen on a map (Doc 3). There were many differences on how the West and East were ruled. During World War II, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. worked together to defeat the Nazis and an unfair totalitarian government, However, ironically after World War II, Stalin ruled with strong beliefs of nationalism and imperialism and used violence to achieve his goals, reflecting Nazi Germany. This contradicts what the allies fought for against Hitler and the Nazi party (Doc 4). Although these superpowers were wartime allies, their competing ideals caused mistrust and resentment between them resulting in conflicts when each nation tried to increase their influence and achieve their goals.

The two superpowers had different goals during the Cold War and each of them took different measures to achieve them. The United States believed in democracy and capitalism which directly clashed with communism and totalitarianism. Therefore, the U.S. followed a policy of containment. Containment is the policy of preventing the expansion of a hostile country or influence, specifically preventing the spread of communism during the Cold War. The United States took many steps to stop the Soviet Union’s communist influence, like the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, Berlin Airlift and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Former president, Harry Truman, stated in his speech on March 12, 1947 that “the seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want.” Using this logic, Truman provided $400 million in economic aid to Turkey and Greece. This would ensure the loyalty of these countries to democratic ideas and therefore stop the spread of communism into Greece and Turkey (Doc 5). In addition, United States Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, believed the U.S. should do everything they can to restore “economic health” to the world (Doc 6). Therefore, he developed the Marshall Plan to give economic aid to all European countries. When the countries accept the money, it assures their loyalty to U.S. policies of democracy and capitalism, and stops the spread of communism. The Soviets blockaded Berlin and cut off all access to Western Berlin. The U.S. and its allies decided they would airlift their supplies to West Berlin. They delivered food, fuel and goods for over a year, even though it was supposed to be a short-term measure. This was known as the Berlin Airlift. They did not give up when the Soviets withheld the blockade, which showed their determination to containment

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