Book Review: The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis
The eventual collapse of the agreement between the USSR, Britain and the United States in 1945 after the end of the World War II set the platform for the cold war. An anti-communist policy, commonly called the Truman doctrine, declared in 1947 by President Truman of the USA spoke clearly of the atmosphere that would prevail (Gaddis 30). The resulting tension between the communist and capitalist ideologies is what came to be known as the Cold War. Since it never resulted into armed confrontation or “blistering” conflict it was referred to as the cold war. Therefore the Cold War was basically a heightened and intense disagreement between the Communist nations headed by the Soviet Union and the democratic capitalist headed by the United States (Gaddis 7).
The war was fought by employing instruments like –diplomatic haggling, propaganda, economic war and occasional military clashes. It was fought amorphously in all places - in neutral and non-aligned states, in newly independent nations in Africa, Asia and even in outer space. It was clear that their existed a multiple-interplay of religious forces and crusades in favour of one ideology or the other, and of the most dangerous power politics, striking out for a better platform and spreading out not only in Europe but all over the world. A clear scenario was the absence of joint concurrence on German re-unification by the three tier super powers (USA, Britain and the USSR) and the USA’s decision to drop an atomic bomb on Japan angered USSR because USA had surreptitiously constructed the bomb. Additionally Britain’s Atlee, Truman and Churchill were very unhappy that Stalin had already entered a territorial pact with Poland (Gaddis 22).
Main events of the cold war
The cold war centred on Soviet-U.S state of relations that had spilled over from World War II culminating into the collapse of the U.S.S.R. The principle clash between communism and democratic capitalism predated the war; a clear feature of the cold war was the emergence of nuclear weapons and technological advancement which created a new political situation (Gaddis 262). Several events predated and acompanied the Cold War.
The critically strained relations between the east and west when the cold war began resulted in the Soviet Union and the United States tightening control over their ‘satellites’ within the spheres of their influence. In West Germany, the communist party was made illegal in April 1947.The following month of the same year the ministers of the communist party were ousted from the coalition governments of France and Italy. In 1948 the US interfered with the elections in Italy by campaigning for the Christian Democratic Party and threatening to withdraw financial support to Italy if the communist party won the elections. As a result the Christian Democratic Party won the elections becoming the ruling party in Italy (Gaddis 160).
Meanwhile Stalin also interfered with the Eastern European Politics by antagonizing democratically elected leaders in the region. Hungary’s democratic Prime minister, Ference Nagy, was forced to flee for his life in May 1947 but was later captured and executed (Gaddis 109). In the following month of the same year Petkov, the leader of the opposition to the Bulgarian Soviet domination was arrested and executed and in July Bulgaria became a Peoples’ Republic. In Poland, a leader of the Democratic Peasant Party, Mikolajczyk was forced to flee to the west in October. Maniu, the head of the Rumanian Peasant Party, was jailed in November 1947, and in December Rumania was declared a People’s Republic. To steer a middle course between tile East and the West – and in both foreign and domestic affairs, the Czech Republic took an independent course (in overseas affairs, the Czech was on the side of the Soviet. While in internal affairs she tried to give democratic rights to the citizens as it had done in the war period). Czech government even considered a Marshall Aid in spite of Russian objection to assist her economic reconstruction. Czech’s desire for independence was considerably frustrated by the Soviet Union (Gaddis 100). In Prague, a coup d’état was carried out. The Czech communist were commanded to arrest leaders of the democratic parties. Gottwald, a communist leader established a pro-Russian government which was perceived by the Western nations as the ‘Russian aggression’. It was greatly treaded that the forceful seizure of power in Czechoslovakia would soon extend to the other democratic governments in Europe. The Communist Information Bureau (the Cominform) was formed in September 1947 by the Soviet Union. It was mandated to spread communist propaganda to all European nations and additionally organise the activities of the member communist parties in their fight against ‘Anglo-American imperialism’ (Gaddis 32-33). In Italy and France Workers rampage were supported by the Bureau. Subsequently the western nations feared the communist invasion of the world. Yugoslavia, by 1948 was the only country in Eastern Europe not under direct soviet control. Tito, the leader of a local communist partisan movement, who had been trained in Moscow, was at the fore front in liberating the country from the Nazis and occupied major military and police post. He refused to be manipulated by the Russians though he was a Russian trained and the Soviet Union stopped her satellites trade with Yugoslavia. Ultimately in 1948, Stalin expelled Yugoslavia from the Cominform and Russia ordered the Red army to advance into Eastern Europe (Gaddis 33-34).
Another major occurrence of the Cold War was the cutting off of traffic links between West Germany and Berlin by Russia. This was perceived by Western nations as an attempt force them out of Germany and the rest of Europe. This made the Western nations anxious over their security and they vehemently resisted the move by Russia leading a near-war situation commonly known as the Berlin crisis. This crisis was the boiling point of the conflict between the West and the East (Gaddis 56). Yalta and Potsdam conference which gave guideline on immediate treatment of Germany after war were other major events of the cold war (Gaddis 23). Other major events of the cold war involved formation of military alliances and treaties such as Dunkirk treaty (March 1947), the Brussels treaty (March 1948), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (April 1949) and the Warsaw pact (May 1955) (Gaddis 34, 104).
Causes and Main players of the cold war
Prior to World War II there existed a multiplicity of deep seated political, economic and ideological differences between the Soviet Union and the United states which intensified after the war due to their mutual suspicion. Ideologically the Soviet Union and the United states represented communism and capitalism systems of government respectively. Since the two government systems are on the opposite end of the spectrum, naturally the United States and the Soviets Union could hardly agree on anything. Economically the United States encouraged free world trade while Russia shielded off her sphere from international trade for fear of western influence which would weaken her authoritarian system. Politically driven conflict could not be avoided as the super powers wanted to dominate each other and conquer more territories hence extend their political influence. These differences were the main underlying causes of the cold war but there were other contributing factors that fuelled the tension.
The inflexible attitude of both sides the divide fuelled the cold war in greater proportions. The building and use of atomic bomb against Japan by the United States of America and the Soviet Union’s resolute to create its own were major factors that contributed to the Cold War (Gaddis 55-61). The building of weapons of mass destruction like the Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) by the United States heightened military competition. USA tested its Hydrogen bomb in1952 and the USSR making its own in 1955, then USA moved its bombers into Europe and West Germany was permitted to re-arm and join the NATO. The arms race competitively graduated into space race, it became a platform where two nations were out to show their technological might. Valentina Tereshkova became the first Russian woman in space in June 1963. Neil Armstrong an American became the first person to step on the moon in July1969 in the Apollo 11 mission. In 1961 the Berlin wall was erected dividing East Berlin and West Berlin which aggravated the cold war tensions. The escape from Soviet Union across the wall politically ashamed her and later in October 1990 the wall was brought down, leading to the reunification of Germany. The near war situation in the Cuban peninsular in which Russia made military installations heightened the tensions between her and the United States. President Truman doctrine and Marshall Plan
Launch of 1947 significantly triggered the cold war. In conclusion the factors that fuelled the cold war also include; American fear of communist attack, Truman’s dislike of Stalin and his territorial demands in Eastern Europe, Russia’s fear of the American’s atomic bomb, Russia’s dislike of capitalism, Russia’s actions in the Soviet zone of Germany, Americas refusal to share nuclear secrets, Russia’s expansion west into Eastern Europe and broken election promises, Russia’s fear of American attack and Russia’s need for a secure western border (Gaddis 56-70).
The main players in cold war include major political leader and major ideological shapers of the years between 1945 and 1991. From the political and Ideological end Truman and Stalin were the lead players in the cold war. Other major players in the War included Mikhail Gorbachev whose refusal to use force not only cost him communism but his country as well, Margret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa. Given that the Cold War was so protracted that its actual dates remain controversial, different political leaders played different roles at different times during the apparent war period.
The thaw in relations and the end of the cold war
The people in the communist government and systems had come to an understanding of the vast gulf between communism’s pledges and its reality and it was clearly true that many similar-cognizant subjects of these systems had been defeated decades earlier. The factors that coalesced to collapse the governments behind the Iron Curtain included the steady military and economic pressure brought to light by a more prosperous West. Following the demise of three successive senior soviet leaders since 1982 Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed by the soviet Politburo to be the secretary general of the Communist party in 1985 (Gaddis 211). This paved way for a new generation of leadership that involved relatively young reform-driven and competent professionals whose careers stem from the years of ‘de-Stalination’ under transformational leader Nikita Khrushchev who quickly reorganised power and provided momentum for economic and political liberalization consolidated power, providing new momentum for political and economic liberalization, that was needed for creating warmer relations and trade with the West. The Soviet Union had been fighting a completely frustrating war spanning the 1980s in Afghanistan. The Soviet economy was faced with increasingly skyrocketing costs of the arms race. The disagreements at home were at their highest level and the economy faltered under the heavy burden. To this extend Soviet was challenged and unable to control Eastern Europe and in 1989 and 1990, the Berlin wall came down, boundaries opened up, and free and far elections send home communist regimes everywhere in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union dissolved into component republics in late 1991.The Iron Curtain was lifted with a stunning acceleration the cold war came to an end (Gaddis 254).
Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War. New york: Penguin Press HC, 2005.