The Cold War Frenemies: A Relationship Built on Self-Preservation

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Looking back on my earliest recollection of the Cold War, I always thought it bizarre that the United States and USSR were engaged in such a tense (and potentially dangerous) standoff. They were allies during World War II, in both the European and Asia-Pacific theatres. It didn’t make sense to me that as soon as the war was over, that they would so quickly go from friends to enemies. However, looking at the chronological events that transpired from the rise of Nazi Germany to the end of World War II, America and USSR’s alliance appears to be nothing more than a necessary evil.

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Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin

In the days leading up to World War II, Germany and Russia became allies. Starting in August of 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed a non-aggression pact. The following month, on September 28th, Soviets and Nazis sign a new treaty dividing Poland. While tensions built between Germany and Russia over the next two years, it wouldn’t be until June 22, 1941, that Hitler would engage Stalin, with a full assault on Russia.

With Hitler turning on Stalin, President Roosevelt saw an opportunity to ally America’s interest, defeating Germany, with Russia’s interest, of not being invaded. Within two days of Germany invading Russia, President Roosevelt extended a helping hand, through a promise of American military; however, over the next year, President Roosevelt promised three times to provide Russia with a front (to relieve pressure from Germany), and failed to deliver on each promise.

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Joseph Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt

The inability of America to show support is not one sided. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, no support came from Russia. In fact, it wasn’t until America released a “rain of ruin from the air,” dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, that USSR entered the war against Japan. (My guess is USSR joined our side out of fear.)

Looking back, USSR and the United States were never truly allies—except in the sense that they both fought for one thing: self-preservation.

In The American Paradox: A History of the United States Since 1945, Gillon mentions that World War II had “softened American public opinion” on USSR. However, once the war ended and both nations took a step back to recalibrate, they found that their visions of postwar world were fundamentally different. America sought to spread democracy, ideology on individual rights, and a belief of free market. Whereas Communism threatened democratic thinking, supported state power over individual freedoms, and sought to bring an end to free market.

With such fundamentally different ideologies on government, market economics, and the rights of citizens, the Red Army’s continued presence in European countries, such as Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, was seen as a problem. As America’s stance on Communism had changed to one of containment, USSR’s tight grip over Eastern Europe was concerning to America and would fuel the Cold War for the next several decades.

1 COMMENT

  1. Ironically, both Stalin and FDR were aligned ideologically. They both believed in Top-Down government control over the means of production. They both believed that government mandated wealth redistribution was the best way to achieve happiness for all. The methods they employed when going about these goals however were vastly different. Lenin instituted the Great Purge, and Roosevelt instituted social security, and the “New Deal.” AKA socialism-light.

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if the eventual catastrophic failure of American’s so-called “safety net” and “retirement” programs ended up causing such a massive, world-wide, and long-term depression that Lenin’s blood-thirsty reign would be all but forgotten by historians yet to be born?

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