Truman and the Origins of the Cold War: Ideological Duplicity for Nationalist Ends 1933 195

Truman and the Origins of the Cold War: Ideological Duplicity for Nationalist Ends 1933 195


In August 1, 1944 the underground in Poland
revolted against Nazi occupation. Soviet radio had been communicating to the
Polish rebels to initiate the uprising for months. Nazi occupation was brutal but the Poles still
worried that a premature revolt would cause a prolonged battle against the Nazis without
assistance from their allies. With the Red Army closing in on Warsaw, the
leaders of the underground decided to act. They estimated they could hold out for three
or four days, a week tops, then the Soviet, British and United States armies would arrive. Their determination to resist Nazi occupation
before the arrival of foreign support was part of a preliminary plan to grant the Polish
government greater leverage during postwar negotiations. They feared that if the Red Army led the Polish
liberation the Soviets would impose a government that lacked the consent of the governed. The majority of the resistance fighters remained
loyal to the exile Polish government in London. (It was a non-communist party). The memories of the Russian invasion and the
genocide of the Polish army during the Nazi-Soviet Pact less than five years before made them
cautious, if not straight-up distrustful, of Russia’s motives. Outside of Warsaw the Red Army received orders
from Stalin to hold their position. The German counteroffensive began and the
Russians abandoned the Polish resistance. Britain sent the Russians a request to gain
access to their airbases to drop food and supplies to the underground. A response never came. President Roosevelt told Churchill there was
little that they can do. The U.S. intended to avoid any confrontation
with Russia over the issue of Poland. In the Teheran Conference during late 1943
FDR and Churchill had granted Stalin free reign in the region. Roosevelt had done so in the hope that he
could convince Stalin to allow free elections there. If Roosevelt could achieve his ends he felt
certain that the Poles would not vote for a communist controlled government. Stalin certainly aware that the odds were
against communism in Poland decided it would be easier to permit the Nazis to rid him of
any anti-communist and anti-Russian forces among the resistance. Two months past and the Russian army remained
on the periphery of Warsaw as the Polish underground battled for its life. In October the resistance surrendered to the
Germans. Early in the following year the Soviets finished
off German forces in Poland. With the majority of his enemies dead Stalin
would have little trouble establishing a puppet government. FDR remained hopeful. He pushed the Soviet leader to have free elections. Stalin assured him it would happen but told
his subordinates that the Americans did not really care about free elections. They only sought assurances of free elections. Stalin agreed to the appearance of democracy. Stalin’s decision to allow the Warsaw uprising
to be devoured by the Nazis put many American and British leaders on edge about Russia’s
intentions in Eastern Europe before the war even ended. This incident inspired the U.S. State department
to change its mind about US-Soviet relations. Many argued thereafter that the Russians would
expand their power and create a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe if the United
States failed to arrest their plans. Averell Harriman – ambassador to the Soviet
Union during the FDR administration and Secretary of Commerce to the Truman administration – stressed
to FDR’s successor the barbaric behavior of the Russian army in Eastern Europe. Truman entered the presidency with little
hope about the prospect of US-Russian postwar cooperation. Too many times in the course of the Cold War
the expansion of Marxist ideas globally correlated in the minds of American leaders with the
expansion of Soviet influence. Stalin’s duplicity in the negotiations over
Eastern Europe fueled this confusion. Stalin arrogantly and persistently preached
the gospel of world revolution. In contrast to his public pronouncements,
historians have discovered he consistently condemned revolutions internationally as premature
from the concern that it would instigate a conflict with the western powers but also
from the assumption that revolutionaries in places like Yugoslavia, China, and Vietnam
were unprepared to establish communist regimes. Like Stalin’s conservatism limited the Soviet
Union’s universalist ideology, the conservativism of American leaders limited their support
of self-determination. American leaders proclaimed the consent of
governed for all nations but granted support easily to dictatorships that endorsed non-communism. Alliances with non-communist tyrants was one
way US leaders attempted to contain what they perceived were direct manifestations of Soviet
expansionism. Duplicity and distrust was at the heart of
the sour relations between the United States and the Soviet Union since the Bolsheviks
had ascended into power in 1917. For sixteen years US Republican presidents
continued the policy of Woodrow Wilson – a democrat – who refused to recognize the
Bolshevik government because it first defaulted on Russia’s pre-1917 debts. Second, it signed a separate peace with Germany
increasing the military power of the German army on the western front during the Great
War. Third, it nationalized American property in
Russia. In return Soviet schools taught children and
government propaganda perpetuated the idea through the 1920s and 1930s that United States
had conspired with Western European nations against communism. Thus by the time that President Franklin D.
Roosevelt recognized the legitimacy of the Soviet government in 1933 the shift in diplomatic
policy appeared to Russians as a ruse of some sort. The hunch was not untrue. By 1933 American interests in the Pacific
outweighed the perceived betrayal the Bolshevik government committed on US business and government
interests. FDR worried that Japan’s expansionist policies
would endanger American presence and influence in the area and hoped Russia could limit Japanese
imperialist ambitions. The administration also anticipated that Russia
would open its markets to the US after recognition. Five years into the Great Depression, this
would have provided some relief to the American markets. Joseph Stalin was as nationalistic in his
diplomatic deals. He signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi
Germany in August 1939. Stalin distrusted Hitler. However, British and French appeasement to
the Nazi’s demands to annex Austria, the Sudetenland region (whose population was primarily
German-speaking), and the rest of Czechoslovakia (during 1938) increased Stalin’s suspicions
of the west double crossing Russia. He reasoned that Britain and France intended
to push German aggression on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to buy them time to consolidate
their power. Stalin’s fears of such an international
scenario drove him to ally with the Nazis. Hitler and Stalin agreed to invade Poland
and divide it among themselves. Stalin also signed a Non-Aggression Pact with
Japan in April 1941. The Russian-Japanese agreement granted Japan
some security when they invaded Indochina that same year. Expecting war with Germany and Japan to be
inevitable, Stalin intended to prolong the peace for Russia by deterring one group of
enemies with “diplomatic alliance” and instigating them to fight its other enemies. Yet unlike the Soviet government who hoped
to avoid war, the Nazis viewed it as a necessary means to their ends of creating a new Aryan
international order. This bellicosity inspired the Nazis to initiate
Operation Barbarossa – the Nazi invasion of Russia – on June 1941. Unprepared for the betrayal and attack, Stalin
turned to an alliance with Western Europe whom Germany had earlier overwhelmed. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941. Although US officials had expected by 1941
that they would be engaged in a two-front war against the Germans and Japanese, the
attack still caught the Hawaiian base by surprise. A few days later Hitler declared war on the
United States. US entrance in the war made Russia likewise
an important ally of the United Stated. The total war against fascism hid many of
the ideological and diplomatic differences between the British, American and Russian
governments. Notwithstanding the optimism on the American
and Russian side that this cooperation would carry into post-war relations, tensions existed. Signed in August 1941, the Atlantic Charter
advocated an end to territorial aggrandizement, self-determination for all nations, democratic
governments, free trade, and freedom from want and fear. Stalin hesitated about appeasing his allies’
demands that Russia not expand its domains beyond pre-WWII borders. He expected to keep the territory he had acquired
militarily through the Non-Aggression Pact with the Nazis. Stalin correlated territory with security. He intended Eastern Europe to be a buffer
zone to minimize the impact of another attack from the west. In his head Stalin had a legitimate reason
to expect compliance with his demands. The United States and Britain had delayed
opening a second front in Europe. Stalin had perceived the delay as a strategy
to weakened Russia’s military might to ultimately help the United States dictate postwar peace
negotiations. When Churchill informed Stalin that a landing
would finally take place, Stalin mocked about the communication, “Yes, there’ll be a
landing, if there is no fog. Until now there was always something that
interfered.” (Ironically that the Red Army did most of
the liberation of Eastern Europe gave them an edge in the region. The United States and Britain could do little
about Russian behavior in the places its armies controlled without instigating a conflict). British and American behavior during the war
made Stalin distrustful of their post-war intentions. In the conferences had by Churchill, FDR and
Stalin the three leaders agreed that the US and Britain would invade Germany from the
south and west and Russia from east. They would meet in the middle. Eastern Europeans did not always view the
three armies as equally liberating. Even though the ideology of communism was
popular among many eastern Europeans, they perceived the Soviet army as less than an
“army of liberation.” Communist freedom fighters distinguished between
their brand of Marxism and the Soviet Union’s kind. The two were not always related in the minds
of the people. One reason was the behavior of the Soviet
army after Stalin signed the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact. In the spring of 1940 as Hitler invaded western
Poland Stalin conquered the eastern half. The Soviet army and secret police executed
some 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals. This was the Katyn Atrocity. As the Soviets defeated the Nazi army in Eastern
Europe, the memory of their brutal behavior, three or four years before, made them skeptical. That the red army as they liberated territory
from the Nazis looted industrial sites and transferred the machines back to Russia increased
suspicions of Soviet motivations. Years later Khrushchev stated Stalin “was,
I think, surprised and hurt, when the Red Army was not welcomed in all the neighboring
countries as an army of liberation.” Instead he suspected that the resentment against
the Soviets was the result of capitalist propaganda. FDR died April 12, 1945. In February 1945, during the Yalta Conference,
he had agreed to a number of Stalin’s territorial demands. Thus contradicting US pledges of self-determination
in favor of the idea that each victor (Britain, the United States, and Russia) would have
it sphere of influence. American leaders anticipated they would need
Russian assistance in the Pacific to defeat the Japanese. This need made the US negotiate in favor of
Stalin’s requests to secure his nation from the possibility of future invasions. Averell Harriman, the ambassador to the USSR
perceived that “Stalin and Molotov considered at Yalta that by our willingness to accept
a general wording on the declarations on Poland and liberated Europe, by our recognition of
the need of the Red Army for security behind its lines, and of the predominant interest
of Russia in Poland as friendly neighbor… we understood and were ready to accept Soviet
policies already known to us.” American leaders acquiesced to Russia’s
territorial demands because of the economic prowess had by the United States. While the rise of Soviet puppet governments
in Eastern Europe hurt the political image of Truman and the Democratic Party – via
the Republican accusations of the administration being soft on communism – the devastation
of the war on Russian industrial centers made it clear that its expansion was more defensive
than offensive. This outlook explained some Americans sympathy
with Stalin’s fears. In contrast to the collapse of Russia’s
economy – the war destroyed thousands of Russian cities and towns, 30,000 industrial
plants, 40,000 miles of railroad tracks, and agricultural output was half of what it was
in 1940 – the United States’ Gross National Product had increased by 170 percent and major
US cities had suffered zero destruction. It can also be argued that American acceptance
of Russia’s territorial demands lighten reconstruction responsibilities of the United
States in Europe. However historians rationalize the willingness
of US leaders to compromise, Stalin put American diplomats in a difficult situation domestically
and internationally. Stalin misunderstood how democratic governments
worked. He scoffed that US citizens would disapprove
of elections not being held in Eastern Europe. At the Yalta Conference President Roosevelt
had requested Stalin to permit Polish election to be virginal as “Caesar’s wife.” Stalin assured Roosevelt, “They said that
about her, but in fact she had her sins.” Stalin’s accusation of Caesar’s wife being
a whore provided no assurance to the Roosevelt administration and the American Democratic
Party that free elections in Poland would happen. Stalin informed Molotov: “[Roosevelt] is
their military leader and commander in chief. Who would dare to object to him?” Stalin further advised his councilors to not
take free elections seriously in Eastern Europe. “[W]ork it out,” he notified. “We can deal with it in our own way later. The point is the correlation of forces.” Russian behavior – its inability to take
US requests seriously – made many Republicans in Congress critical of what they considered
was the democratic administrations appeasement of Soviet aggression. American leaders were just as unrealistic
about their expectations of Stalin. The US and Britain had their spheres of influence. On April 24, 1945 Stalin shrewdly questioned
Churchill: “You, it is clear, do not agree that the Soviet Union has the right to demand
for Poland a regime that would be friendly toward the U.S.S.R.” Stalin reminded Churchill, however, that in
Belgium and Greece, Britain had friendly governments and the Soviets understand “the great importance
of Belgium and Greece for the security of Great Britain.” It seemed from various angles that the peace
would be full of false expectations and hard to resolve conflicts. Compromises were made because the Russians,
as the Americans, cared about peace. The desire for peace failed to insulate the
Truman administration from Republican Congressional investigations and accusations – and British
criticism as well. Soviet diplomatic behavior did not help Truman
domestically. Inspired by what Stalin perceived as American
timidity to Russian unilateralism in Poland, he attempted to draw north Iran into its orbit
also. In early March 1946 Winston Churchill gave
a speech in Fulton, Missouri with the consent and support of President Truman. The speech awaken Americans to threat of Soviet
expansion and the necessity for the US – despite the possible war weariness of its citizens
– to arrest this expansion. While critics in the United States accused
Truman of abandoning the promise of self-determination, the speech was welcomed by Republicans and
Democrats whom Russian territorial ambitions had alarmed. Truman had the public backing he needed to
force a Soviet retreat from Iran. Truman needed to demonstrate he was tough. Britain and Russia had agreed to evacuate
Iran at the end of World War II. They had occupied the area to protect the
oil rich region from Nazi occupation. In 1946, the Red Army refused to depart. In addition they supported a pro-Soviet Iranian
party and planned to use it to separate north Iran from the rest of the country. American protection of Britain’s sphere
of influence conveyed to some that the United States intended to retreat from its policy
anti-colonialism. One US diplomat expressed dissatisfaction
about Britain’s control of the Suez Canal. He warned it was “poisoning the atmosphere
of the whole Near and Middle East so rapidly and to such an extent… the relations of
the Arab world with the Western world may be seriously impaired for many years to come.” Still to appease the Russian occupation would
have threaten US access to important resources. When Truman threaten military action, Stalin
pulled the Red Army from Iran. Stalin did not think Iran was worth the threat
of war. An associate (Khrushchev) of Stalin explained
that he wanted to keep his armies in the Middle East. Stalin “would have liked to very much – but
he realistically recognized that the balance of power wasn’t in our favor and that Britain
wouldn’t have stood for interference.” For the US to stop Soviet expansion it would
have to modify its support of self-determination. It had to back Britain’s sphere of influence
in the region. In February 1946, Stalin reestablished the
Comintern (Communist International). To the world press Stalin praised communism
was “a far better form of social organization than any non-Soviet social system.” In the summer of 1946, the Soviets pushed
the Turkish government to share the narrow straits that led from the Black Sea to the
Mediterranean. When the US applied force again the Soviets
retreated. Although the United States compromised its
advocacy for de-colonization internationally by its alliances with Western Europe, the
Soviet Union was not any more sensitive to nationalist aspirations in the non-industrialized
world. Stalin intended Soviet Russia to be a model
to the world. Stalin had declared in 1930, “The leaders
of the revolutionary workers of all countries are avidly studying the most instructive history
of the working class of Russia, its past, the past of Russia… All this instills (cannot but instill) in
the hearts of the Russian workers a feeling of revolutionary national pride, capable of
moving mountains and working miracles.” This sense of Soviet exceptionalism still
applied in 1946. If communist nations deviated from Russia’s
design, Russia condemned them. Such orthodoxy would led China’s leader
Mao Zedong to complain in the late 1950s that the Soviets cared more about their self-preservation
than world communist revolution. Russia’s orthodoxy was an important component
of George Kennan’s containment policy. In 1946 he contended it could be utilized
to the advantage of the US. He predicted, “The promotion of premature,
‘adventuristic’ revolutionary projects abroad which might embarrass Soviet power
in any way would be an inexcusable, even a counter-revolutionary act. The cause of Socialism is the support and
promotion of Soviet power, as defined in Moscow.” According to this perspective the Soviets
would refuse support to nationalist movements – notwithstanding communist ideology – if
the leaders of such nationalisms lacked respect for the Kremlin’s protocol. If true, this was a positive revelation. The Russians would avoid territorial aggrandizement
if it would pull them into a direct war. It also meant the United States could accept
the neutrality of “third world” regimes. It was exactly the inability of US leaders
to accept the neutrality of new nations in the Cold War that intensified confrontations
between the United States and many non-industrialized nations around the world. In 1956 Secretary of State Dulles opposed
the “principle of neutrality.” His logic was that it “pretends that a nation
can best gain safety for itself be being indifferent to the fate of others. This has increasingly become an obsolete conception,
and, except under exceptional circumstances, it is an immoral and shortsighted conception.” Many American leaders granted more importance
to ideology than it deserved. Part of the reason the United States failed
to benefit from Russia’s political and diplomatic rigidity was because of the temerity of some
communist nationalist movements. In 1947 Yugoslavia – a satellite state of
the Soviet Union – perceived Stalin’s diplomatic stance as timid and contradictory
to the ends of a world communist revolution. Its communist leader Josip Broz Tito – who
had defeated the occupation of his country by Nazi forces with minimal assistance from
the Soviet army – chose to provide assistance to the Greek communists regardless of Stalin’s
warnings to do otherwise. (Stalin had promised Britain’s Prime Minister
Winston Churchill that Russia would not intervene to help the communist party in Greece.) Tito’s diplomatic insolence weakened Yugoslavia’s
relation with the Soviet Union. American leaders at the time lacked intelligence
about these disagreements and assumed the Russians were the primary supporters of the
Greek communist party. In 1947 when the British informed the US it
no longer could assist the anti-communist party in the Greek Civil War Truman and his
administration believed Stalin had broken his promise. Faced with the possibility of Greece becoming
a communist nation Truman requested from the US Congress money to assist the Greek anti-communist
movement. Yugoslavia had escalated tensions between
the United States and Russia. The US Congress – as fearful of Russian
expansion as President Truman – approved a grant of $400 million to Greece and Turkey
to contain communism. This was the Truman Doctrine. Where Kennan granted importance to Soviet
ideology was where communism made the Russians cautious about war. The US and Soviet conflict was total, but
this total struggle did not mean that complete destruction would be achieved only by military
means. The Russian faith in Marxist-Leninist economics
(ideology) made them work hard to avoid a third world war. Kennan predicted, “This means we are going
to continue for long time to find the Russians difficult to deal with. It does not mean that they should be considered
as embarked upon a do-or-die program to overthrow our society by a given date. The [Marxist] theory of the inevitability
of the eventual fall of capitalism has the fortunate connotation that there is no hurry
about [the fall of capitalism]. The forces of progress can take their time
in preparing the final coup de grace. Meanwhile, what is vital is that the ‘Socialist
fatherland’ [Russia] — that oasis of power which has already been won for Socialism in
the person of the Soviet Union — should be cherished and defended by all good Communists
at home and abroad, its fortunes promoted, its enemies badgered and confounded.” To win the Cold War the United States did
not need to militarily contain communism where ever it expanded. It only had to contain the Red Army from expanding
into nations that had a history of industrialization. That meant providing economic assistance to
specific nations – like Japan and Germany – to prove Marxist-Leninist predictions
about the inevitable fall of capitalism wrong. Kennan proposed the Russians were nothing
like that Nazis but still the US would not be able to compromise with them. Compromise signified weakness he cautioned. The Soviet were “more sensitive to contrary
force, more ready to yield on individual sectors of the diplomatic front when that force is
felt to be too strong, and thus more rational in the logic and rhetoric of power.” Kennan advised the Truman administration to
prepare to resist with calculated force at prioritized geographic points where communism
became a threat. It was in the calculated force and in prioritizing
of nations endangered by communist takeover that the Truman administration fell short. The Truman Doctrine proved more sensitive
to communist action than Kennan believed necessary. Many leaders justified the lack of frugality
of the Truman Doctrine – in terms of revenue spend on containing communism globally and
indiscriminately – by pointing to the failures of appeasing Hitler during the 1930s. In February 1948, a communist coup in Czechoslovakia
resulted in the defeat of non-communists government there. Czechoslovakia was also the last nation to
fall to Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. Secretary of State George Marshall had proposed
a plan to aid Europe. He cautioned that the US could not prosper
if Europe remained in economic chaos. After the only remaining democracy in Eastern
Europe fell Congress accepted the Marshall Plan. The objective of the Marshall Plan was to
build economic confidence and avoid the economic depressions that many times provided political
opportunities for advocates of communism. The US gave $12 billion in grants to Western
Europe. In 1947 Walter Lippmann contended, “The
westward expansion of the Russian frontier and of the Russian sphere of influence, though
always a Russian aim, was accomplished… because the Red Army defeated the German army
and advanced to the center of Europe. It was the mighty power of the Red Army, not
the ideology of Karl Marx, which enabled the Russian government to expand its frontiers.” Where the Russian army was not present the
chances of Stalin dictating the rules would be less certain. Kennan probably would not have disagreed with
Lippmann’s assessment. For President Truman however his political
career was the priority. If the public perceived he was appeasing communism
he would lose support in the election of 1948. The political need for votes among American
politicians, the economic weaknesses of the Soviet Union, and the willingness of communist
allies to break protocol with the Soviet Union were equally important factors in the transformation
of World War II peace negotiations into the Cold War. The inability of Soviet and American leaders
to agree on the structure of a post-Second World War world triggered the Cold War. In the initial negotiations much duplicity
existed. The United States contradicted its ends of
a universalistic order. Its support for decolonization lessened as
the demands to compromise with US allies like Britain and France increased. The Russians preached the gospel of world
revolution. Yet, the Soviet Union support for world revolution
became rigid and dogmatic as its security concerns on its borders increased. It gained the contempt of many of its communist
allies. It was the ideological idealism of the Soviets
and Americans – running ahead of both nations’ economic strength and ability – that maintained
Cold War tensions.

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