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Owen's essay

Read the following essay and listen to Owen talk about some aspects of the writing process.

Essay topic:

Why did the Grand Alliance fall apart so soon after the victory in Europe and Japan?

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The three great allies of the Second World War, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia together destroyed the Axis powers and shattered their imperial ambitions. Their "shotgun marriage" 1 was always unlikely, given the history of antagonism between them. The union was to be short lived, with the ideological and political differences leading to the collapse of the Grand Alliance within five years of the end of the war. Despite wartime hopes that the great allies may be able to continue in their relationship in peace and provide stability to the world community, the diplomatic and military relationship between the two dominant powers, the United States and Russia, quickly degenerated into the so-called 'Cold War' which was to dominate world politics for the next half a century.

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During the war the allied leaders were aware that victory in Europe and the Pacific meant much more than just the abolition of an intolerable political regime. Talking in 1944, Stalin said: "This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army has power to do so. It cannot be otherwise." 2 Consequently, as the threat of Nazism in Europe was clearly destined for defeat, the attention of the allies turned to post-war Europe. With fear of a Communist dominated Eastern and Central Europe in mind, British army chiefs even went so far as to advocate spearhead assaults on Berlin, Prague and Vienna in order to stop them falling into Soviet hands.

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When the political leaders of the three countries met, in early February 1945, the end of the war in Europe was imminent. The Yalta conference sought to settle the allies' apprehensions about the post-war period. Despite President Roosevelt's belief that the "relations in peacetime should be as strong as they had been in war" 3 the leaders were nonetheless cautious of the actions and intent of their allies. Soviet officials had often questioned US and British motives in the war, from the appeasement of Hitler to their holding back of a second front 4, and toward the end of the war began to suspect that the US and British diplomats were brokering a separate peace with Nazi leaders. Likewise, Soviet actions in Poland had alarmed the Western allies 5 and the American ambassador to Russia W. Averell Harriman wrote, "There is every indication the Soviet Union will become a world bully" 6.

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Approaching the Yalta conference each of the leaders had differing objectives. Roosevelt wished to pursue the Wilsonian vision of a peaceful and democratic Europe with strong free market economies. Stalin wanted to protect the interests of Russian security, noting that Poland had twice in the past few decades been the route of aggression against the Russian State. Roosevelt returned to Washington with high hopes for the future of Europe and the continuing relationship between the great wartime alliance. Stalin returned to Moscow with the belief that the West accepted a Russian free hand in Eastern Europe.

With the death of President Roosevelt of the 12th April, vice-President Harry Truman succeeded Roosevelt to the Presidency. Possessing an altogether different style to Roosevelt, Stalin viewed Truman as an unpredictable quantity 7. After the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, Truman had said: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances." 8 Roosevelt had apparently kept Truman in the dark about foreign policy issues and Truman was therefore unaware of both the public and private negotiations between Roosevelt and Stalin 9.

After the German surrender on the 8th May, domestic political pressure forced Truman to swiftly end the lend-lease agreements that the US had with both Russia and Britain, amongst others. The agreements needed to be terminated as they were legally only permitted by Congress under a state of declared war. Although Truman wished to wind down the lend-lease agreement in a diplomatically sensitive manner, a misunderstanding in a government department lead to the severest of withdrawals of this foreign aid, even to the extent of requiring some ships to turn around and return to port. The Soviet outcry was immediate and led to the suspicion amongst the Soviets that the US was provocatively using foreign aid as a tool of coercion. 10

Despite the diplomatic tension and suspicion the Western allies were convinced that Russia needed to be kept on side. The war in the Pacific still needed to be won and the Russian promise to declare war on Japan six weeks after the end of the European war was considered vital in bringing about a swift end to the Pacific war. However, by the Potsdam conference in late July, 1945 Truman had been informed of the successful explosion of an atomic weapon on New Mexico - a development that gave him an appreciable confidence in his negotiations with Stalin. 11 Although Potsdam was intended to help to clarify the post-war issues that still remained unresolved, the negations were frustrating and did not progress noticeably on several key issues. Although Stalin had not been officially informed of the US atomic weapons, Truman, Stalin and Churchill were well aware that the unresolved issues were now to be resolved in a nuclear age. 12

The rhetoric continued to escalate. Stalin made a speech on the eve of the election of the Supreme Soviet which, although not particularly threatening or expansionist were misconstrued by the many analysts, including Justice William Douglas who believed that it was "the declaration of World War Three". 13 These comments worried Washington, who requested an explanation and background information on the meaning of the speech from the American ambassador in Moscow, George F. Kennan. Kennan then sent back a 5,540-word telegram to Washington on the 22nd of February 1946, outlining his beliefs that the Soviet Union was a "political force committed fanatically to the belief that with [the] US there can be no permanent modus vivendi ." 14 He claimed that the Soviets were "highly sensitive to the logic of force." Kennan's telegram was widely circulated throughout the Washington administration, and was followed soon after by the "declarations of Cold War" 15 by Churchill and Stalin. Churchill, now opposition leader in Britain, in his Fulton speech, called for a military alliance between the English-speaking western nations, outside the United Nations, that could resist the "iron curtain [that] has descended across the continent" 16. Stalin responded in an interview with the Russian newspaper Pravda saying that Churchill was sowing "the seeds of dissention among the Allied states" 17 and that the British opposition leader was the heir of Hitler's racial supremacy beliefs. Stalin said "Mr. Churchill's position is a war position, a call for war on the U.S.S.R." 18

The views expressed by Kennan became the "New Orthodoxy" 19. On the 12th of March 1947, President Truman made a speech to Congress calling on them to financially support Greece and Turkey who had been left to fight communist insurrections on their own when the British government had been forced to withdraw aid. In doing so, Truman declared that the US should be committed to "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." 20 By the time Kennan's anonymous article, "The sources of soviet conduct", was published in the prestigious journal Foreign Policy in July of 1947, with its call for "counterforce" 21 the concept of containment was firmly entrenched in the thinking of the US administration.

Less than three months later, the US government announced that they would lend assistance to a united European plan for economic recovery. They were fearful that the still sluggish European economies would lead to more social instability, and potentially aid the spread of communism in Europe. British and French foreign minsters invited representatives of countries from all across Europe, including Russian foreign minister Molotov, to Paris to discuss the proposed American aid. Several states under Russian influence expressed and interest in the meeting in Paris. However, Soviet officials sensed a ruse, and feared that such a co-ordinated plan would be a "Trojan Horse of the American dollar" 22. Moscow threatened grim consequences for Eastern countries who wished to participate in the plan, and their harsh rejection of the Marshall Plan has been seen the "the moment when the Soviet boot crushed itself into the face of Eastern Europe." 23 Some historians feel that the invitation for Russia to participate in the Marshall Plan was simply an attempt to gain a moral high ground when they refused 24, or for the propaganda value of blaming the Russians for its failure 25. What is certain is that the Marshall Plan simply created a bigger rift between the two rival governments. 26

In June 1948 the political and economic disputes between the emerging western and eastern blocs became militarised when the threat of direct conflict was used to end the Berlin blockade. The blockade was the result of Soviet concerns over western designs for West Germany, including moves to strengthen it economy and militarily. Russia responded by blockading Berlin, which despite being jointly controlled by a committee of wartime allies, was deep inside Russian East Germany. The suggestion from military advisers that the blockade should be forcefully broken down was rejected and an airlift of aid was used for eleven months. But Truman's warning gesture, of sending B-29 'atomic' bombers to London clearly sent the message that the stakes were higher.

The signing of the NATO agreement in April of the following year completed the division of Europe and marked the total breakdown of the wartime Grand Alliance. Although the military agreement was rigorously debated in the US it was clear that "containment had taken a distinct turn to military means" 27 with any provocative military threats potentially triggering a Third general war in Europe, but now under the shadow of nuclear weaponry. Only four months later, in August, the Russian military successfully detonated an atomic weapon themselves.

By the end of 1949 a divided Germany remained as a stark reminder of the division of Europe. The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was declared in May. West Germany were signatories to the NATO agreements and were thoroughly integrated into Western Europe's trade systems. In October, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded, thoroughly under the influence of the Soviet regime.

From the end of the Second World War to autumn 1949 the Grand Alliance that had defeated the Axis powers failed to sustain the working relationship that had won the war. The ideological and political differences were exposed in their attempts to reorder the post-war world in the image of the two rival super-powers. While the United States hoped to encourage and defend democracy (understood as liberal capitalism) in Europe and Asia the Soviet state hoped to extend their influence in Eastern Europe. While the tensions may have started as diplomatic debate, the rhetoric soon escalated, and financial aid and military alliances eventually hardened the distinction between the US and Russian spheres of influence.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Primary documents

Kennan, George F, telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Truman H., speech to congress, 12 March 1947, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Churchill, W., speech at Fulton, Missouri, 5 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Secondary documents

Dockrill, Macmillan, The Cold War 1945-1963, (London, 1988)

Edmonds, Robin, The Big Three - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Peace and War, (London, 1991)

Gaddis, John, Lewis, 'Containment: A Reassesment', from Foreign Affairs, 55 (1976-77) pg. 873 - 887

Herring, George C., 'Lend-lease and the Origins of the Cold War 1944-45', from Journal of American History, LVI (June, 1969)

LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, (5th edition, New York, 1985)

McCauley, M The origins of the Cold War 1941-49 (2nd edition, London, 1995)

Paterson TG et al. American Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present, (3rd edition, New York, 1991)

Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, (London, 1993)

Footnotes

  1. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, fifth edition (New York, 1985) pg. 7
  2. Walker, Martin, the Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, (London, 1993) pg. 12
  3. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 9
  4. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 9
  5. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 11
  6. ibid., pg. 12
  7. Dockrill, Macmillan, The Cold War 1945-1963, (London, 1988) pg. 25
  8. LeFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 6
  9. ibid., pg. 23-24
  10. Herring, George C., 'Lend-lease and the Origins of the Cold War 1944-45', from Journal of American History, LVI (June, 1969), pgs. 106 - 108
  11. Paterson T.G. et al. Americn Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present (third edition New York, 1991) pg. 434
  12. Edmonds, Robin, The Big Three - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Peace and War, (London, 1991), pg. 24
  13. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 38
  14. Kennan, George F, telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 219 - 222
  15. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 40
  16. Churchill's Fulton speech, "the Sinews of Peace" 5 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 214 - 215
  17. Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000, pg 215 - 217
  18. ibid.
  19. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 40
  20. Truman H., Speech to congress, 12 March 1947, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 217 - 219
  21. Gaddis, John Lewis, 'Containment: A reassessment' from Foreign Affairs, 55 (1976-77) pg. 877
  22. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 51
  23. ibid. pg. 53
  24. ibid. pg. 51
  25. Paterson T.G. et al. Americn Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present, pg. 453
  26. ibid., pg. 455
  27. ibid., pg. 456
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