The Cold War shaped our history from the close of the Second World War. It was a power struggle between the United States and the USSR, which at one time engulfed the whole globe, in what may be termed ‘bi-polarity’ (i.e. a country has to either belong to one camp or the other.) Ever present was the threat of nuclear destruction and, for this reason, the Cold War never took on the proportions of open war. The purpose of this essay is to discuss how this tragic breakdown in international relations occurred, and how it might possibly have been avoided.
Roots of the conflict: It is best to discuss the Cold War in the context of the long-term economic rivalry between the United States and Russia. By the 1890s, America had exhibited her capacity to become the world’s greatest commercial power. With her inward expansion complete, she began looking overseas to expand commercially. Being a late-comer to the imperialistic race, America’s economic expansion demanded an ‘open door’ policy in which there would be no restrictions, such as tariff barriers, to free trading. This conflicted directly with Russia’s interests. Russia was thought, at the time, to have a ‘more backward neo-feudal economy’ and was less able to compete on such terms. These two nations first came into conflict on these central issues in Manchuria, China (a historical and geographic region of Russia and China in Northeast Asia.) Russia acquired leases and rights in the region from 1898 until it lost them in a war with Japan in 1904-1905. Russia regained control of the region in 1945 with the agreement from the allies at the Yalta Conference.
America, however, wanted China to be sovereign, so that she could commercially exploit it to the full, whereas Russia proposed that China be divided into ‘spheres of influence,’ each free from outside commercial competition.
United States policy makers had for some time feared Russian expansion into Europe, and in 1914, when war broke out, that seemed the only alternative to a German victory. An ideological element was added to the fear when, in 1917, the Bolsheviks, who were openly devoted to the destruction of the world’s capitalist system, seized power in Russia.
The Bolshevik regime’s natural antagonism towards the world’s biggest capitalist nation was greatly accentuated, when the United States, together with other allied nations, attempted to topple the regime by force, from 1919 until 1922.
Having failed to do this, America supported the establishment of the ‘Cordon Sanitaire,’ whose aim was to diplomatically isolate the Soviet Union, and only recognised her as late as 1933. During this time, the United States government mounted many internal programs of opposition to communism, having its first ‘Red Scare’ in 1920. The 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact merely reinforced the well-established suspicion of Russia within the United States.
Thus the Cold War was built upon half a century of distrust and apprehension.
During this time, it should also be noted that Soviet policy had made a major shift from world revolution, so-dreaded by so many western capitalists, to Stalin’s ‘Socialism in one country.’ Also, by the most brutal and costly programs of industrialisation in world history, Russia’s economic potential had improved beyond recognition. By 1945, however, this tremendous machine lay badly mutilated, in the wake of a terrible and bloody war, awaiting recovery.
Immediate background to the conflict: The ‘Grand Alliance’ was welded between Russia, Great Britain, and the United States, at a time of dire peril in the face of axis  aggression, so naturally it was expected to be stronger in wartime than in peace, but few people could have foreseen the split between the allies that occurred so suddenly after the accomplishment of Nazi Germany’s defeat.
The first hint of any clashes of interest became evident from the first discussions between the allies regarding their respective post-war aims.
America’s best interests lay in a free and open Europe in which American business could freely invest its capital. In view of her fabulous wealth, the implications of the United States ‘open door’ policy on war-ravaged Europe, would have been staggering. America’s pursuit of her interests took on the high-minded guise of being a genuine desire to set up an independent and democratic Europe, as was laid down in the Atlantic Charter of 1941.
Russia, on the other hand, saw that she had a good case for demanding a settlement in Eastern Europe, that would guarantee her future security. Russia’s security required two things – firstly the rapid recovery of her war-torn industries and, secondly, that the countries on or near her borders be ‘friendly’ to the Soviet Union. For her economic recovery, she needed to extract reparations from the defeated Germany, as well as a huge multi-billion dollar loan from the United States. At this point in time, Russia lacked the United States’ ability to buy herself influence in ‘democratic’ governments to ensure those governments’ ‘friendliness.’ Instead, she had to use the age-old, and much less suitable, technique of direct force, that is, to occupy the land, suppress any anti-Soviet factions, and then to set up a puppet government – although this was not always the case – a notable exception being Finland.
These Russian-friendly governments were to be free of any outside commercial interference, hence opposed to America’s open door.
In the meantime, a war had to be fought. The tide turned and Germany and Japan were beaten in June 1941. When Hitler dishonoured his pact with Stalin and sent his armies eastward into Russia, it was largely thought amongst the western allies that Russia would not survive beyond the end of 1941. Nevertheless, both Great Britain and the United States, the latter which was not yet at war with the axis, sent aid to the Soviet Union to bolster her resistance, and when it became apparent that Soviet resistance would last longer than at first anticipated, a ‘second front’ was promised for early 1942, which would take much of the pressure off the Soviet armies. As it happened, a proper second front did not eventuate until June 1944, by which time the tide had already turned against Germany in Russia. To bring about this reversal, much Russian blood had been shed – many times more than had been shed by the western allies – and thus there was a deep feeling of resentment within Russia at having borne, by far, the brunt of the war. After June 1944, even with the Anglo-American armies on the European continent, and even though they undoubtedly helped hasten the conclusion of the war, the real war was being fought in the east where the Germans were desperately trying to ward off the dreaded Bolsheviks from their fatherland. During this period much acrimony was aroused on the part of the Soviets, who were suspicious that the western allies would seek a separate peace with Germany and leave Russia to fight on alone.
The notorious ‘Borne incident’ was one such instance which brought these tensions to the fore. Neverthelesss, the war was carried through to its conclusion. The western allies occupied most of western Europe, while the Soviets had most of Eastern Europe. Germany was in economic and political ruin and, within this power-vacuum, the three ‘great powers’ – the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, confronted each other.
Here, it should be pointed out that much of what Stalin had done in ‘liberated’ eastern Europe was not without precedent. In 1943, when Stalin asked if Russia might be included in the Italian settlement, he was refused, apparently on the grounds that Soviet forces had played no part in Italy’s liberation. In October 1944, Churchill, the Prime Minster of Great Britain, although apprehensive about Soviet expansion, was prepared to make a percentage deal with Stalin, regarding ‘spheres of influence’ in the Balkans. In Romania, Russia was to have 90% influence; in Bulgaria 80%, and in Romania 75%. In return, Britain was to get 90% influence in Greece and there was to be a 50-50 split in Yugoslavia.
In 1944-45, in strict compliance with this deal, Stalin allowed British forces in Greece to destroy the communist-led ELAS (Greek Peoples’ Liberation Army). He actually ordered the KKE (Greek Communist Party) leaders of this movement to instruct the ELAS fighters to give up their weapons to the British, who then secretly re-armed widely hated Greek Nazi collaborators. In Yugoslavia, at one time, he even urged the Communist leader, Tito, to abdicate in favour of the monarchy. This was hardly in the spirit of the ‘inexorable’ expansionism he was later alleged to embrace. He naturally thought American and British protests about similar Russian behaviour in Eastern Europe, to Britain’s in Greece, were hypocritical.
The question looming large in everybody’s mind was Poland. To Britain, Poland was the reason she had gone to war, and therefore Britain felt she had a moral responsibility to restore Poland’s full democratic rights. This would most likely mean the return to power of the ‘London Poles,’ headed by Mikolajczyk, who were forced to flee their homeland in 1939 and who were openly hostile to Russia. On the Polish question, America was committed to a democratic Poland, as laid down in the Atlantic Charter, but nevertheless United States President Roosevelt saw the need for a compromise. He later facilitated this by his vague agreements with Stalin at Yalta in 1945. One of these agreements was that ‘free’ elections were to be held throughout Eastern Europe, but the government returned had to be ‘friendly’ to the Soviet Union.
During the war, a number of unfortunate incidents had aroused much suspicion about Russia amongst the western allies, regarding Poland. In 1943, the Nazis, themselves mass-murderers of six million Jews and countless other Europeans, uncovered the graves of some ten thousand Polish officers, allegedly murdered by Soviet authorities. Although no-one can be sure who actually committed the atrocity, which became notorious as ‘Katyn Wood,’ it did much to embarrass the ‘Grand Alliance.’
During the latter half of 1944, the world watched to see the spontaneous Warsaw uprising crushed, while the Red Army, only on the other side of the Vistula River, apparently did nothing. Whether or not the Russians could actually have relieved the insurgent Poles, people found it difficult to believe that nothing could have been done, when the Russians were in sight of the city.
Russia’s plans for Poland were much more a reality than those of Great Britain or the United States, who were situated on the other side of the Globe. Many times throughout her history, and three times since 1914, Russia had faced bloody invasions from Polish territory. Poland’s obstruction did much to hinder Soviet efforts to stop Nazi expansion in the late 1930s. For these reasons, it was unthinkable to Stalin, that the new Polish government be unfriendly to the Soviet Union, and so a pro-Soviet government was set up at Lublin, Poland, in 1944. The Polish-Russian frontier was to be shifted westwards and, as a compensation, Poland was to get a large slice of German territory.
The death of F D Roosevelt in April 1945 and the advent of President Harry S Truman saw a major shift in US foreign policy direction. At Roosevelt’s death on 12 April, the way was still open for American and Russian co-operation after the war, but Truman, on April 23, “From the eminence of eleven days in power,” decided that he would lay down the law to the Russians, in his famous first talk with Russian foreign minister Molotov. Truman came to the conclusion that the Russians needed America more than America needed Russia, and so, after Russia had spilled the blood of twenty million of her countrymen, for a common cause, Truman declared words to the effect of, “If the Russians did not wish to join us, they can go to hell.” 
At the Potsdam conference after Germany’s defeat in 1945, both Truman and Attlee, the new Labor Prime Minister of Great Britain, started to throw their weight around in the knowledge of the successful atomic explosion in New Mexico. Reparations and the question of the dismemberment of Germany were of major importance at the conference. The Soviet Union declined to participate in the Marshall Plan, possibly because it did not want to reveal details of its economic resources. A large slice of Germany was given to Poland. The Soviet occupied the eastern half of what was left, while the rest was divided among France, Great Britain, and America. Berlin too, was divided between the four countries and this was going to lead to the Berlin Blockade, years later, where Russia tried to force the western allies out from deep within her territory.
At Yalta, 4-11 February 1945, Stalin had promised Roosevelt that the would attack Japan within three months of the conclusion of the hostilities in Europe. This, he carried out to the letter, declaring war on 8 August. But only two days previously on 6 August, Truman had ordered the first atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima and, again, the day after on 9 August, he had a second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Why this had to be done in such undue haste is not known, unless Truman had, by now, regretted that Russia was ever asked to participate in the Pacific war. By now he resented the territorial concessions Roosevelt had made to Stalin in return for his help, and now he wanted to end the war before the Soviets could advance too far into Asia. Whether or not the bomb was really necessary to bring about Japan’s defeat, given her hopeless situation at this point in time, the bomb was also meant as a crude attempt to extort further concessions in Eastern Europe and to deter her from any further possible expansion. This we can see from the fact that on the very day that Nagasaki was atomised, Truman declared that the East European countries were “not the spheres of influence of any one power.” This was the effective end of the coalition.
With this demonstration of the horrific destructive power of the atom bomb, added to the United States’ possession of huge bomber fleets with which to deliver it, the question of Soviet security became more vital than ever, and thus arose the need to tighten up the ‘Iron Curtain,’ as Churchill was to describe it, in his famous address on 5 March 1946.
On 12 March 1947, Truman decided to turn his local struggle against Russian expansion into an international crusade against Communism, when he announced the Truman Doctrine of Containment, whose aim it was to contain all Communist aggression wherever and whenever it occurred. He stated that “it must be the policy of the United States to help free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressure.” This policy made a number of false assumptions. One was that all communist subversion eminated from Moscow, and hence constituted aggression. It overlooked the fact that most ‘attempted subjugation’ really constituted the will by far of the majority of the people, particularly in many underdeveloped Asian countries and therefore his ‘policy of containment’ was to lead rather to the suppression of popular movements by armed minorities, notably in Vietnam.
To financially underwrite the ‘Truman Doctrine,’ the ‘Marshall Plan,’ engineered by General George C. Marshall, was announced. It promised aid to all European countreis in need of recovery and would take much of the sting out of many European communist movements, the most ntoable case being in the Italian general elections of 1948.
In response to the Marshall Plan, Russia formed an East European economic Union, known as Cominform, which would keep out any outside economic influences. With the establishment of Cominform, the ‘Iron curtain’ was well and truly dropped and Europe was divided between Western Capitalism and Communism. The ‘Cold War,’ which was to lead to an escalation in nuclear armaments and much bitter rivalry between East and West, was irreconcilably on. Not even the establishment of ‘detente’ between the US and the USSR in the 1970s would be able to wipe away the mark in East-West and particularly Russian-American relations.
 In 1898, Russia acquired from China a 25-year lease of the Liaodong Peninsula and the right to build a connecting railway from the ports of Dairen (Dalian) and Port Arthur (Lüshun) to the Chinese Eastern Railway. The clash of Russian and Japanese interests in Manchuria and Korea led to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05.
After its defeat, Russia ceded to Japan all its interests in southern Manchuria. […]
At the Yalta Conference of February 1945, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin demanded the restoration of all former Russian rights and privileges in Manchuria as a price for Soviet entry into the Pacific war, an offer readily accepted by his fellow Allied heads of state. In May 1945, Soviet troops began to move from Europe to Asia. On August 8 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria early on August 9. By August 15 the war was over, however.
 Before Stalin, communist theory held that communism could not succeed in the face of international capitalist system unless it became international itself. Stalin reinterpreted the theory to say that communism could succeed in isolation, in single countries. His argument was that fascists were the real enemy, against whom it was necessary to unite with capitalists, before supporting any workers’ revolutions. The outcome was that many worker revolutions went unsupported, for instance, in Greece, Italy, Germany, Hungary, and Spain, and some were actually sabotaged, such as in China, as Stalinists opposed workers’ revolutions in support of continued rule by the more apparently progressive capitalist parties who were supposedly sympathetic to the workers. This put Stalinists against Trotskyists, who supported communism as a necessarily international movement. George Orwell’s Hommage to Catelonia depicted the betrayal of the most militant workers’ parties in favour of rule by parties who were for the preservation of the capitalist system. See also, Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counter-revolution in Spain.
 ‘Axis’ was the name given to the alliance of Nazi Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania.
 [It was] a meeting at which, according to columnist Drew Pearson’s colorful description, Molotov “heard Missouri mule driver’s language.” At this celebrated clash, Truman reprimanded Molotov for the Soviet failure to carry out the Yalta accord on Poland, sharply curtailed the Soviet minister’s attempt at an explanation, and stated bluntly “that he desired the friendship of the Soviet government but that it could only be on the basis of mutual observation of agreements and not on the basis of a one way street.” Although Charles Bohlen’s official minutes do not record the incident, Truman claimed that in an acrimonious final exchange Molotov exclaimed that “I have never been talked to like that in my life,” to which he retorted: “Carry out your agreements and you won’t get talked to like that.” (Wilson D Miscamble, From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War (2007), page ix, cited in, “The day the cold war broke out,”in “President Truman and the origins of the Cold War,” https://www.johndclare.net/cold_war5_effect.htm
Horowitz, David, From Yalta to Vietnam, Macgibbon and Kee, 1965.
Le Fieber, Walter, Origins of the cold War – 1941-1947, John Wiley and Sons, 1971
Patterson, J. G, The Origins of the cold War, DC Heath and Company, 1970
Thomson, David, Europe Since Napoleon, Longmans, 1957.