Common section

Chapter 22. The Cold War Era

In This Chapter

The rivalry between east and west

• Rebuilding after the war

Coming out of the Cold War

European powers say goodbye to their colonies

The economy takes hit after hit

People around the world celebrated the end of the war. Perhaps their celebrations were premature, though. Germany and Japan, both guilty of aggression and crimes against humanity, had been defeated. Subjugated nations had been liberated. Prisoners who were sure to die had been freed from captivity. The hated Hitler and Mussolini were dead. All that remained to do was to put the pieces back together.

But the victors of World War II never saw eye to eye about much of anything after the war, or even before the war for that matter. The idealistic United States and the iron-fisted and aggressively Communist Stalin had different visions for the European landscape. During the war the two sides were merely military allies against a dictator bent on the domination of Europe—strange bedfellows who would never have cooperated in anything else. Immediately after the war, the two sides went in opposite directions.

What resulted was a long and bitter relationship of fierce rivalry and competition between two nations and the allies of those nations. Over the next 45 years, the world seemed to divide into two camps and two spheres of influence—the east and the west. The tense relationship between the two parts of the world deteriorated into a war of wills and words known as the Cold War. The Cold War featured diplomatic and economic warfare but not military warfare, at least not between the United States and the Soviet Union. Against the backdrop of this Cold War, Europe made a remarkable recovery after World War II.

Nations United or United Nations?

The United States and Britain teamed with the Soviet Union only to knock out Germany. They signed no treaties, long-term agreements, or any other documents obligating them to future cooperation. When the Big Three, as they were known, met in Tehran, Iran, to finalize strategies for the remainder of the conflict, Roosevelt and Stalin agreed to surround Germany and meet in Berlin. They did just that in 1945. By doing so, the powers gave Europe a sign of things to come. The American and British forces were the saviors of western Europe while the Soviet Union, alone, was the savior of eastern Europe. The two sides were not partners, though.

Even before the fighting ceased in 1945, a new organization was in the works in San Francisco. Representatives from 50 nations met to draft a charter for an organization known as the United Nations, a name suggested by Franklin Roosevelt; the representatives left a blank for Poland, which signed later. Open to “peace-loving states,” the United Nations Organization was designed to be an international peacekeeping organization much as the League of Nations had once hoped to be. The premise of the organization was collective security. The organization hoped to prevent future wars, protect human rights, offer assistance in times of crisis, aid in peacekeeping after conflicts, and deal with issues like arms races and atomic weapons.

Would You Believe?

The UN created the state of Israel in 1948 as a homeland for Jews.

The organization officially began operations in October 1945 after the Security Council ratified the charter. The permanent members of the Security Council were China, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Britain. The Security Council members may not have been political bedfellows but they all, at least theoretically, valued peace. The organization finally dropped the “O” from its name in the 1950s and became the UN. Fittingly, the UNO General Assembly’s first item on its first agenda in 1946 was the issue of atomic weapons.

Pre-Cold War Tensions

Stalin’s occupation of eastern Europe bothered the Allies, but there was nothing they could do about it. This created tension that complicated the task of deciding Germany’s fate after Germany’s unconditional surrender, as well as the fate of eastern European states. The powers agreed at Yalta that after Germany was defeated, it and Berlin would be divided up into zones of occupation. The zones were to be administered by the victors. The powers had a much more difficult time deciding the fate of eastern Europe, though, since Stalin had basically occupied the states as his troops moved through.

Roosevelt had no real grounds on which to tell Stalin to leave countries like Bulgaria, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. Because the United States traditionally pushed selfdetermination, Roosevelt and Churchill could only hope that Stalin eventually would pull out of eastern Europe; they knew that Soviet influence in the eastern states would not soon go away. Reluctantly, the Big Three agreed that the eastern states were to have freely elected governments. As part of the deal, Stalin got his wish that the eastern states would favor Russia. The tensions of the Yalta Conference carried over to the postwar conference at Potsdam in July of 1945.

The long-ill Roosevelt died and the presidency passed to Harry Truman, a staunch defender of free elections and democracy. At the conference, Truman lacked Roosevelt’s conciliatory nature. He demanded free elections for the eastern European states. Stalin wasn’t going to budge. Stalin knew that free elections in eastern Europe would probably mean the end of Soviet influence there, and he wasn’t about to let those states slip away.

Would You Believe?

Winston Churchill announced in 1946 that an “iron curtain" had fallen across Europe. He meant that Germany, and the rest of Europe, had been divided into east and west.

The two sides literally and figuratively were from different worlds. America, with its tradition of free elections, could not imagine states without self-determination. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, had suffered at the hands of Germany not once but twice. In Stalin’s opinion, the only way to guarantee there never would be a third time was to control the states of eastern Europe so they remained loyal to the USSR and not to some other power. Stalin probably would have fought to maintain control of eastern Europe, and war was out of the question for the Allies. The Allies in Europe were exhausted from two wars in the last 30 years and had no fight left in them. The United States had the bomb but didn’t feel that control of eastern Europe was worth fighting over. In eastern Europe, Stalin had won.

East vs. West

Like two fighters, the east and the west went to their corners immediately following the war. Truman threw the first punch when he cut off financial aid to the Soviets in 1945. He went a step further and announced that the United States would not recognize any state established by force. In other words, the United States would not enter into any form of diplomatic or trade relations with such a state. As the western European nations outwardly showed their anti-Communist and anti-Soviet sentiments, the Communists came out of the woodwork.

Communist parties formed in western nations like Italy and France and worked to undermine capitalist ideologies. Communists throughout Europe tried desperately to convert others and to wage a verbal and philosophical war on behalf of the Soviet Union. The United States developed a plan to limit the spread of communism and to isolate Eastern Europe. The plan, known as the Truman Doctrine, was to offer support to any European state resisting communism and the Soviet Union. For starters, the United States offered military assistance to Greece and Iran, nations Stalin had already been pressuring in the short time since the end of the war. The United States knew that European nations would struggle to rebuild on their own and that democracy could ill afford for the Soviets to rush to the rescue. In 1946, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall (1880-1959), hoping to exert democratic influence, offered financial aid to European nations. On behalf of the eastern European nations, Stalin declined the offer.

Things heated up yet again in 1948, when Stalin blockaded the western-controlled zone of Berlin, which was deep within the Soviet-controlled zone of Germany. Stalin was reacting to economic measures taken by Truman refusing to allow West German industries to pay reparations to the Soviet Union. The western zone of Berlin could be reached only by autobahn. Stalin, after closing Berlin, argued that no treaty ever guaranteed the western powers the right to travel through his zone of occupation. Technically, Stalin was right. Rather than escalate the situation with a ground attack as his advisors suggested, the Allies chose a different approach. Truman opted for an airlift to the citizens of Berlin. Beginning in late June, aircraft flew in and out of Berlin day after day for 324 days. The planes, called “raisin bombers” by the people of Berlin, carried everything from food to coal. The Soviets finally lifted the blockade on May 11, 1949, but the planes kept flying until September, just in case Stalin changed his mind. In total, the Berlin Airlift carried over two million tons of food and supplies to the citizens of Berlin, held hostage by Stalin.

As a Matter of Fact

The U.S. military nicknamed the Berlin airlift Operation Vittles. At the height of the operation, which infuriated the Soviet Union, an aircraft landed in West Berlin about once per minute. By the end of the operation, the Allies flew more than a quarter of a million flights into Berlin and gave the West Berliners more than two million tons of aid. The Soviets lifted the blockade in 1949 only after the Allies signed the North Atlantic Treaty which declared an attack on one Ally would be an attack on all of them.

NATO and the Warsaw Pact

The two sides after the war were pretty clearly delineated. However, at the time of the Berlin Airlift there existed no formal agreements between members of either side. The League of Nations didn’t serve its purpose before World War II, so why would the United Nations Organization be any different? The western allies felt like they needed something tangible to prove their solidarity not to each other but to the Soviet Union. In 1949, the western allies—United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Portugal, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Iceland—signed the North Atlantic Charter. Article V of the charter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, stated “that an armed attack against one or more of [the member states] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack on them all.” As it turned out, the Soviets never invaded western Europe as everyone expected.

The Soviets did respond to the creation of NATO, though.

The Soviet Union created an organization of its own which basically mirrored the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Ironically, the Soviets used a warmer, friendlier name for their organization. In 1955, in direct response to the threat of NATO, the Eastern Bloc nations of the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania signed the Warsaw Pact and formed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance. Interestingly, all the eastern European Communist states joined except for Yugoslavia. As with NATO, the members of the Warsaw Pact promised to retaliate if one of the member states were attacked. The single event that spawned the Warsaw Pact occurred in 1955 when West Germany joined NATO. East Germany, naturally, joined the Warsaw Pact in 1956. Because Stalin had died in 1953, the Soviet leader responsible for the Warsaw Pact was Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971).

Would You Believe?

The provision quoted from Article V of the NATO Charter was never invoked until after the September 11 attacks in New York City in 2001.

Although the Warsaw Treaty specifically stated that member states were to practice a policy of noninterference in the affairs of other member states, the body disregarded that fact twice. First, in 1956, Warsaw Pact troops interfered with the Hungarian Revolution. Though the Warsaw Pact troops initially withdrew after the government broke down, the troops reentered Hungary at the request of the leader of one of the factions. The troops quickly put down the opposing faction. Then, in 1968, Czechoslovakia criticized and condemned the Warsaw Pact and practically dared the Warsaw Pact to challenge the Czech military by vowing to defend its sovereignty by force if necessary. A large contingent of Warsaw Pact troops quickly brought Czechoslovakia back in line. Basically, the Soviet Union felt it had the right, if not the duty, to intervene any time a Communist state strayed off the path. This idea later became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine.

Would You Believe?

Albania withdrew from the Warsaw Pact after the incident in Czechoslovakia. The Warsaw Pact never again intervened in the affairs of its member states ... but not because of Albanian protests.

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