Role of ideology in cold war

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History Internal Assessment: An investigation into Cold War origins

To what extent was the Cold War a result of conflicting ideologies?

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Historical Internal Assessment (HL)
Examination Session: November 2013
Word Count: 1,907 words


This investigation assesses the significance of the role of ideology in the origins of the Cold War. This will be assessed through approaching the investigation from two prominent aspects relating to the rise of Cold War tensions. The first being how ideological differences created tension and suspicion between the two superpowers of the Soviet Union and America. Then the second being how the different interests of the two superpowers created tension between them and caused them to perceive each other as threats. This evaluation will reach a conclusion as to whether tension which led to the Cold War stemmed from ideological differences between the Soviet Union and America or reasons such conflicting interests and a power struggle played a greater role in giving rise to the Cold War paradigm. Two sources used in this investigation will be analysed in respect to their origins, purposes, values and limitations. The sources include sections from the books ‘The United States and Origins of the Cold War 1941-1947’ by John Lewis Gaddis and ‘The memoirs of Marshal Zhukov’ by Marshal Zhukov. This investigation does not assess the events which escalated the Cold War tensions rather only the events which gave rise to those tensions nor does it assess the roles of leaders in contributing to the Cold War. B-SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE:

B.1-The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917:
The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 saw the Bolsheviks come into power in Russia1. The Bolsheviks brought reforms establishing Russia to be a Communist state with a Communist ideology which deviated far from the Western ideals of democracy and an open market 2. American President, Woodrow Wilson, failed to recognize the Bolsheviks and instead supported the anti-Bolshevik forces financially during the Russian Civil War. Wilson gave warning against the Bolshevik revolution when he stated “That sort of revolution means government by terror, government by force, not government by vote. It is the negation of everything that is American”3. B.2- World War Two and the post war Potsdam conference in 1945: During WWII both American and British leaders, Roosevelt and Churchill, aided the Soviet Union when it was attacked by Nazi Germany. This carved the Grand Alliance made up of the three powers with common cause of defeating Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The failure of the allies to open up a second front in assistance to the Soviet Union caused Stalin, the Soviet Leader, to believe that his ‘allies’ intended to see the Soviet Union permanently weakened4. The Potsdam post war conference took place in Germany in July 1945 after the victory of the allies in Europe in WWII.

The negotiations surrounded the main issues of Germany, Eastern Europe, reparations and nuclear weapons. At the Potsdam conference, differences between the negotiating parties of America, Britain and the Soviet Union became increasingly apparent as their interests clashed much of the time5. While there was no unity on Germany and reparations; the main point of conflict was the Soviet influence in Eastern Europe which seemed to become a part of the Soviet sphere of influence6. Attempts were made by American president Harry Truman to undermine Soviet influence in the region through challenging the percentages agreement. This attempt was unsuccessful due to the physical presence of the Soviet Red Army on ground in Eastern Europe7. B.3-The Atomic Bomb:

America had used the atomic bombs in Japan soon after the Potsdam conference had begun and had barely informed Stalin of possessing such a powerful weapon. Stalin, however, had knowledge of this atomic weapon which America possessed making him aware that of the fact the Truman looked to keep the knowledge of the bomb from him8. Many alternatives to the use to the atomic bomb existed, however, the Americans made no attempt to avoid its use. This is the case especially because the use of the atomic bomb would intimidate and warn the Soviet Union9.

C-Evaluation of Sources:
‘The United States and Origins of the Cold War 1941-1947’ (appendix 1) written by historian John Lewis Gaddis is a book which carefully analyses the events which caused America and the Soviet Union to perceive each there with great suspicion and the book has many values. The book’s purpose serves to emphasize the idea that tensions did not necessarily spur simply from ideological differences; rather tensions grew between the superpowers’ post-WWII misunderstandings of each other’s motives which were misinterpreted as threatening. The value of this book lies in the fact that it approaches the topic of Cold War origins from more than one aspect taking into consideration the perceptions and interests of both superpowers and how the combination of both gave rise to the US-USSR rivalry. The value of this book as a secondary source is also significant as the views presented are not tainted by bias and they are developed with in-depth analysis of events. The limitation of this source is that it does not effectively evaluate the role of Stalin in the rise of Cold War tensions.

‘The memoirs of Marshal Zhukov’ (appendix 2) is written by Marshal Zhukov, a former Soviet career officer in the Red Army and the book has both value and limitations. The purpose of Zhukov’s memoirs is to narrate the events he witnessed from his view as a Soviet officer. The value of this book relates to its origin as a book written by a former Soviet officer. Marshal Zhukov’s political position allows for the narration of events which were hidden from the public eye. This is valuable as it gives an insight into the attitudes and perceptions that were held at the time in which the events took place. However the limitations of this source also relates to its origin as the views presented in the book are tainted by bias as Zhukov’s loyalties lie with the Soviet Union.

The origins of the Cold War are considered by many historians to date back to the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. The revolution paved the way for a new ideology to be adopted in Russia. President Woodrow Wilson’s ultimate opposition to the Bolsheviks in Russia displays how ideology caused an instantaneous split between the two powers giving rise to mutual suspicion and mistrust. Wilson’s support of the anti-Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War intensifies America’s keenness to see the downfall of Communism highlights that differences in ideology resulted in a lack of trust in the between America and the Soviet Union long before the Cold War. Ideological differences created a situation where mutual suspicion meant that no trust could be formed between the two powers hence creating the Cold War rivalry. The Grand Alliance formed during World War Two shows the Cold War to be not a complete result of conflicting ideologies but rather also a result of conflicting interests. America, Great Britain and the Soviet Union placed all differences aside and came together with a common cause of defeating Germany.

The desperate need of the allies to defeat Germany is what led to the cooperation which may very well have otherwise never happened. This displays clearly that a common interest can very well bring the two ideologically different camps together. However, a common cause does not necessarily mean that mutual suspicions have vanished. Even during the Grand Alliance Stalin accused his allies of seeking to see the Soviet Union permanently weakened because they delayed creating a second front which would help the Soviets. This displays how, even in times of unity, ideological differences still stained the actions and thoughts of the powers giving rise to suspicions and tension which would aid in creating the Cold War rivalry. The idea that conflicting interests gave rise to Cold War tensions is reinforced post World War Two, when the Grand Alliance began to disintegrate due to different aims particularly during the Potsdam conference in Germany in 1945. After World War Two, the common enemy had been destroyed and so had the only thing which united the two powers. Hence tensions were renewed with no common interest to tame them.

This resulted in many clashes of interests between America and the Soviet Union. Both had the individual aim of increasing their own influence on the world stage while minimising the influence of the other which is evident as President Truman looked to reduce Soviet influence in Eastern Europe but could not as Stalin had already established it through the presence of the Red Army in the region. Had there not been an end to the common interest between the two powers, the Cold War may have been avoided. However, the conflicting interests arose as did heightened suspicions and mistrust between the two powers hence contributing to the creation of the Cold War rivalry. The use of the atomic bombs by the Americans intimidated the Soviet Union in two ways. First and foremost, the use of the atomic bomb shifted the power balance into America’s court which serves to highlight the power struggle between the two powers. The power struggle of Capitalist against Communist in a world devastated by war created tensions between the two superpowers as both aimed to assert their influence and ideology, particularly since the West looked to contain the spread of Communism. America’s use of the atomic bomb also increased tensions as the Soviets interpreted it to be an attempt by the West to intimidate the Communists as well as a weapon of Western imperialism10; a view clearly stained by ideological differences. E-Conclusion:

The mistrust has been present since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 which saw a drift in ideology instantly result in the deterioration of relations between the two powers. Furthermore the secrecy surrounding the atomic bomb highlights the mistrust between the powers even though they were previously in alliance. The ideology of a nation very much shapes its actions hence the opposite ideologies of America and Soviet Union make both powers very weary of each other as potential threats. Hence to a large extent, the Cold War was a result of conflicting ideologies. While the role of ideology is very prominent in relation to the origins of the Cold War; the role of conflicting interests cannot be ignored either. The two superpowers were united with a common interest of defeating Germany. Hence the renewal of tensions and suspicions came as there was no longer a common cause to unite them. To a large extent the Cold War was a result of conflicting ideologies, however, conflicting interests added fuel to the mistrust and suspicions intensifying the rivalry between the two superpowers.

Gaddis, J. L. (1972). The United States and Origins of the Cold War 1941-1947. New York City: Columbia University Press. Rogers, K., & Thomas, J. (2008). History The Cold War. New Jersey: Pearson Education Unlimited.

Zhukov G. K. (1971), The memoirs of Marshal Zhukov. New York: Delacorte Press

Tarsis, V. (1970). Russia and the Russians. London: Macdonald & Co.

Foglesong, D.S. (1995). America’s Secret War Against Bolshevism. Carolina:
The University of North Carolina.

Potsdam Conference. (2013). Retrieved 9 12, 2013, from Encyclopaedia Britannica:

BERNSTEIN, B. J. (1995). Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender: Missed Opportunities, Little-Know Near Disasters, and Modern Memory. Diplomatic History, 227-223.

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