Following World War II, the world was thrown into a new era marked by geopolitical competition and ideological conflict between the US and the USSR rather than by traditional conflicts. One essential question that is always present in historical discourse is “Why did Cold War begin?”
Why Did Cold War Begin?
With the end of World War II and the Nazi capitulation in 1945, the uneasy alliance of the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union started crumbling.
By 1948, the Soviets had established governments in all of the Red Army-liberated Eastern European states.
Fearing permanent Soviet domination in the region, the United States and the United Kingdom began to take steps to prevent communism from spreading to Western European countries.
By 1947, when US aid supplied under the Marshall Plan to Western Europe had brought those supported in line with American influence, and the Soviets had fully erected openly communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Cold War had fully developed.
The conflict’s two sides had drawn lines in the sand, and the power struggle had officially begun
The Start of the Cold War
In order to decide on Germany’s future, US President Harry Truman, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill convened in the German town of Potsdam on July 25, 1945.
The summit highlighted the divisions within the Allied powers and paved the way for the two world giants to engage in a “cold” war in the decades that followed the war.
Communism vs. Capitalism
Both the United States and the Soviet Union desired their respective economic and political systems to prevail in the areas taken by their armies, not just in Germany, but also in Eastern Europe and Asia.
While at Potsdam, Truman learned that Americans had successfully detonated the first atomic weapon in New Mexico.
In his diary, the president wrote that they had unearthed the most horrific bomb in global history.
He also stated that it is unquestionably a good thing for the world that Hitler’s or Stalin’s armies did not discover the atomic bomb.
The balance of power shifted at once. Truman acted vigorously to wrest control of regions from the Soviets.
As US-Soviet relations deteriorated, Germany’s military divisions became de facto country lines, resulting in West and East Germany and the split city of Berlin.
In 1946, George Kennan, a U.S. foreign service officer stationed in Russia, delivered to Washington what became known as the “Long Telegram,” which explained the Soviet Union’s enmity toward the West.
Stalin, according to Kennan, needed to believe in the triumph of communism over capitalism in order to justify his violent reign.
The Marshall Plan
The USSR also asked that Germany pay war reparations in order to reconstruct the Soviet infrastructure.
In a different approach, George Marshall, the United States Secretary of State, suggested a “European Recovery Program,” also known as the Marshall Plan.
West Germany’s economic revival prompted a broader European rebound as the United States invested billions of dollars into Europe.
The Soviets saw this as a capitalist ploy to pull Eastern European nations into the American sphere of influence.
What about the U.S. in Europe
NATO forces were centered around four US army divisions that were stationed in Europe. NATO served as a signal that the US could no longer stay out of European issues.
The United States “nuclear umbrella” over European affairs served as a deterrence to any potential Soviet attack.
Communist regimes allied with Moscow took control of Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria one by one. In a short time, Soviet Communism came to rule Eastern Europe.
Despite never breaking out into a full-scale conflict, the Cold War had a significant historical impact and shaped international relations for many years. It was a war of philosophies, a struggle for dominance, and a deep-seated mistrust that permanently altered the course of history.