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How did the Cold War develop? 1943–56

The Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam Conferences

The attitudes of Stalin and Truman and the ideological differences between the superpowers.

The establishment and control of the Soviet satellite states

Cominform and Comecon.

The growing involvement of the USA in Europe

The Truman Doctrine

The Marshall Plan


The Berlin Blockade/Airlift

The formation of NATO.

Military developments and the beginnings of the arms race.

The impact of Soviet rule on Hungary


De-Stalinisation and optimism

The Hungarian Revolution: Nagy and his demands, Soviet reaction and uprising, the death of Nagy, the re-establishment of Soviet control and international

The Cold War, 1956 - 1969.

The Berlin Crisis

The refugee problem
Khrushchev's challenge to the USA
Summit Conference and Eisenhower
Challenge to Kennedy
Construction of the Berlin Wall and its impact
Kennedy's visit to Berlin, 1963.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

How did the USA react to the Cuban Revolution?
Why did Khrushchev put missiles into Cuba?
Why did Kennedy react as he did?
Who won the Cuban Missile Crisis?

How did the Cold War develop? 1943–56

The attitudes of Stalin and Truman and the ideological differences between the superpowers.

Beneath the surface of wartime cooperation, there was always a level of distrust between the western allies and the Soviet Union (not least because Stalin had signed the Non-aggression Pact with Hitler in 1939). In part the causes of the distrust were ideological.

America’s political system was based on democracy. Its government was chosen through free and regular elections. Indeed, most Americans believed they had fought the war to preserve this political freedom for themselves and for the peoples of the world. They saw America as “the land of the free” and thought it was their duty to protect individuals’ rights. One important right was the right to economic freedom. The American economic system was capitalist. Under a capitalist economy, industry and land is owned by private individuals or businesses who try to make profits out of production.

Russia’s ideology, however, was based on communism. In theory, this system places the good of the whole of society before individual interests. Industry and land should therefore be owned not by individuals, but by the state, and run for the benefit of society, not the profit of a few individuals. To achieve this, however, it had been necessary to develop a strong Communist Party with a firm control over the country. Stalin had developed this power since he succeeded Lenin in 1924, so that Russia had become a one-party state, in which the people’s political and economic rights had been severely curtailed.

To many Americans, therefore, the Soviet Union was seen as little better than an oppresive dictatorship, depriving its people of real freedoms and anxious to spread its communist ideology abroad. At the same time, communist economics threatened the American capitalist system. Similarly, the Soviet communists took a very negative view of the American system. To them, American political freedoms were just a con-trick to keep the people happy. The real power was the power of the capitalist bosses who owned America’s businesses and exploited the workers. The capitalist world economy, obviously, posed a dangerous threat to communism as it would constantly wish to expand into new markets.

Another reason for developing distrust between East and West was the legacy of disagreements during the war on matters of tactics and strategy. The delay in launching the invasion of northern France until June 1944 had angered Stalin who had wanted a second front to be established as soon as possible. Thousands of Russian lives were being expended in driving back the Germans and Stalin was mistrustful of the Allies’ reasons for delay. Did the Americans and British secretly hope that the Nazis and Communists would destroy each other in the final stages of the fighting?

What the USSR thought of capitalism

• The Soviets wanted to make sure that never again would they face an invasion. Germany had invaded in 1914 and 1941. Stalin wanted to protect Russia
• Stalin wanted compensation as the USSR had suffered the loss of 28 million soldiers
• Stalin did not trust the West as they had fought against the communists in the Civil War of 1918 - 1919
• Stalin believe that the British and Americans wanted Russia to destroy itself fighting Germany

What the USA thought of communism.

• The USA and Britain had fought six years fighting Germany. They did not want to see another dictator take control over Europe
• There was a fear that Stalin would treat the people of Eastern Europe badly. Britain was very angry about the way that Russia had treated Poland badly by setting up a pro - communist government in Poland.


Just as Stalin was suspicious of the West, Roosevelt (the American President) and Churchill (the British Prime Minister) were concerned about Stalin’s motives.

Stalin’s foreign policy contributed to tension. His aim was to take advantage of the military situation at the end of the war to strengthen Russian influence in Europe. He therefore wanted to occupy as much German territory as possible before the end of the war as well as land from other states such as Finland, Poland and Rumania. The Red Army proved hugely successful in this strategy as the German forces collapsed, but the price was incresed suspicion from Stalin’s allies about his intentions.

There remains a fierce debate among historians and polititians over Stalin’s motives. Some believe that Stalin was continuing the traditional expansionist policies of the tsars, or else, that he was determined to spread communism throughout the world now that ‘socialism in one country’ had been established. Others believe that Stalin was acting defensively: he wanted as wide a buffer zone as possible to protect Russia from invasion from the capitalist West. Historians taking this line of argument point to Stalin’s suspicions about the delay over D-Day as evidence, together with memories of Anglo-American involvement in the Civil War on the side of the Whites in 1918-20. Perhaps even more significant was the failure of the Western Allies to inform Stalin about the development of the atomic bomb until just before its use against Japan. When Stalin’s request to share in the occupation of Japanwas rejected, it seemed clear that there could only be a heightening of tension between East and West.

As we have seen, it was not just Stalin’s policies that led to increased tension. Leading American and British politicians were deeply hostile to the Soviet government. Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s vice-president, who succeeded as President when Roosevely died in April 1945, was much more suspicious of the Russians than his predecessor and personally disliked Stalin. After meeting the Soviet leader, Truman wrote:

“The personal meeting with Stalin enabled me to see what the West had to face in the future. Force is the only thing the Russians understand. Stalin showed what he was after ... the Russians were planning world conquest.”

Churchill’s views had always been similar. He had never fully trusted Stalin, but thought that Soviet cooperation was essential if Hitler was to be defeated. Towards the end of the war he had even suggested that the British and American armies should make a dash for Berlin to take the city before the Russians could get there.




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