Outlining: Was the Cold War inevitable?

1. The “Nature” of the Soviet Union (Gaddis)
>> Ideology: Marxism-Leninism view of history that capitalism is shot through with contradictions and will, eventually, fall. That capitalist nations, in competition with each other, will go to war with each other—that’s what they had done in WWI, that’s what they did in WWII. That the working class would become conscious of its exploitation, and rise up in revolution that would overthrow capitalism. It was more or less inevitable; it was also just.
– Gave Soviet leaders faith in their country and their mission
– Soviet leaders sought to encourage the development of this inevitability—theirs was an essentially expansionist world-view.
>> Stalin, the personality. He was a megalomaniac and paranoid, set both on spreading communism and defending the motherland and himself from enemies, both within the USSR and without.
2. The “Nature” of the United States
>> Positive (Gaddis)
– American habits of democracy, compromise, and consensus-building led it to pursue a course that depended not on forcing allies, but putting power in their hands—letting the English, the French, the West Germans do their thing
– Freedom, especially free market, which the US was willing to allow operate as it would
– The U.S. had no choice but to confront Soviet aggression against these values and against America’s willing allies.
>> Negative, cynical (William Appleman Williams, Walter LaFeber)
– Continuation of America’s Open Door policy that it had started in the late 19th century—keeping European markets open
– Long history of anti-communism (remember: Wilson sent troops out to Russia to try to reverse the Bolshevik revolution in 1918; Red Scare of 1919; US did not recognize USSR until 1933)
– Search for leverage for particular type of post-war international order that would favor American interests
3. Realpolitik: US and USSR just doing what powerful countries do
>> WWII had taken five major powers out of the game: UK, France, Germany, Japan, and Italy. China was in the midst of its own revolution that would not settle until 1949. That left just the USSR and the US
>> The US and the USSR would pursue those actions which would seem to secure their states and their societies. USSR sought a defensible western border, so it gobbled up Eastern Europe; US sought allies in the west to defend against perceived threats, so it built up capitalist regimes and defense systems (intervention in Greece and Turkey in 1947; NATO in 1949)

1. USSR’s weaknesses
>> A crippled economy and people, over 20 million having died in the war
>> No real threat to US abroad
– Note its tentativeness in those places where it truly could have engaged the US directly: Greece, Turkey, Korea; later, Vietnam, when the US was obviously vulnerable
>> No real threat to US at home
– The Soviet Union had long since ceased to get anything helpful out of its limited network of spies, especially by the time the war ended. Rosenbergs, executed in 1953, had passed on essentially worthless nuclear information; Hiss had been accused of spying in 1937-1938.
2. Alternate path of multilateralism
>> Elizabeth Borgwardt’s A New Deal for the World
– Borgwardt reexamines the period before the Cold War not as an inevitable march toward hostilities between the West and East, but as a time when the United States sought to establish its own economic and political security through the creation of a world order that would guarantee those same rights for other individuals. This was basically the extension of the New Deal–with its pragmatism, its emphasis on order and organization, its wishes to alter the status quo, its belief in the legitimacy of capitalism as modified by Keynes, and its individualization of rights through the extension of federal power. The result of these efforts would be a “vision for human rights” throughout the world.
– Americans had come to this place after their experiences in the first half of the 20th century: WWI and the US’s failure of the League of Nations; the Great Depression and what it would drive people to do; the New Deal and what the government could do; more of that in World War II, combined with the sense of righteousness and the international experiences of soldiers and newsreels back home. Americans would no longer turn their back on the rest of the world; they would step up to the plate as they had not after WWI.
– Remarkable series of international, multilateral events at the end of the war: Bretton Woods (IMF for stabilizing economy; World Bank to fund reconstruction in poor countries); founding of the United Nations; Nürnberg Nazi trials, which demonstrated how international law might work
– Unifying it all: a focus on preserving individual human rights
>> And so what happened was a tragic mistake, a detour from a course towards multilateralism. An aberration.

My own conclusion: the Cold War was a function of the legacy of New Deal liberalism
1. Influence of Alan Brinkley in The End of Reform, in which he argues that liberalism underwent a dramatic transformation by the end of World War II
>> Compensatory, rights-based liberalism that focuses on (a) protecting individuals and (b) encouraging consumption. The early experiments with planning and with real, systemic change had been abandoned. The reasons:
– Liberals had been brow-beaten by conservatives, who had gained power in congress and made straw-man attacks on the planning-obsessions of the New Deal, raising the specter of totalitarianism—especially communism
– New Dealers came to believe that they could keep capitalism going much as it had been, with only occasional intervention by the government: Keynsian counter-cyclical spending. The didn’t have to build a new machine; they could keep the old machine going. The key was to make sure that it made enough and put enough people to work so that consumption would keep it moving. In short: a focus from attempts to plan the economy to efforts to make sure that individuals had enough money to spend, spend, spend.
>> Tenuous coalition: white urban workers; southern Democrats; African-Americans; a growing middle-class of white-collar workers.
– Keeping it all together
… Anti-communism
~~~ Effective foil against attacks from conservatives: “We’re just as patriotic and anti-communist as you are!”
~~~ Ideological coherency regarding individual rights and freedom
… Emphasis on consumption and expansion of markets
~~~ Preserving an American Way of Life meant preserving the American Standard of Living, which required markets.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s