This page is a continuation of the "Cold War Origins" page

Who caused the Cold War? Was it Stalin (USSR), Truman (USA) and/or Churchill?

Photo of the Potsdam Conference. From left to right: Churchill, Truman and Stalin. Did these leaders (Or some of them) help in the creation of the Cold War?

Timeline of important developments. Adapted from the Learning Curve Site
May 7th
Germany surrender

July 3rd
Allied troops occupy Berlin.

July 16th
First successful test of the atomic bomb.

Atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

August 14th
Japan surrender

November 5th
Elections are held in Hungary. The Hungarian Communist Party only won 17 percent of the vote. Stalin helped the Hungarian Communists to establish control in Hungary despite the lack of popularity

November 29th
Yugoslavia became a Communist republic under Marshal Tito.
American and British troops withdraw from Iran (Persia). The Soviets remain in Iran until 1946
February 28th
US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes introduced "get tough with Russia" policy.

March 5th
Winston Churchill made a speech at Fulton, Missouri. His speech claimed that an "iron curtain" has descended across Europe.

March 21st
Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and Air Defense Command are formed in the American Army Air Forces, which focuses on nuclear weapons

June 30th
Polish referendum approves Communist reforms, making Poland a communist state

July 1st
Further A-bomb tests, using the Nagasaki-type implosion bomb, held at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.
March 12th
The interventionist Truman Doctrine is introduced

May 31st
Hungary is finally taken over by the Communist government.

June 5th
The economic "Marshall Plan" is introduced

US announces its Containment Policy against Soviet expansionism

October 29th
The U.N. authorizes the creation of Israel

December 30th
Romania's monarchy is replaced by a Communist regime
February 25th
Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia

March 17th
Brussels Treaty signed by Belgium, Britain, France, Holland, and Luxembourg created a Atlantic regional mutual-defense treaty, in response to the Czechoslovakian crisis

April 1st
Berlin Blockade began

August 3rd
The beginning of numerous revelations about Soviet spies in the American government. Most allegations (but not all) were unfounded.

Did Stalin Cause the Cold War?

Joseph Stalin
There is a popular belief that Stalin caused the Cold War through his actions/polices. Throughout the Cold War Stalin wasn't afraid to piss off the British and the Americans. Probably the biggest cause of conflict between the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc was what Stalin did to the Eastern Bloc. At Yalta the Allies agreed to allow liberated countries of Eastern Europe to hold elections to determine what political system they want to follow. Between 1945-1947 most of the elections occurred where coalition governments were formed with Communist governments. 1946 onwards Stalin did not wish to see these coalition governments. In 1947 Communist groups took over the governments of Poland (Publicly supported), Hungary (Hardly and support) and Romania. By 1948 Communist governments took control of all the Eastern Bloc states. Each Communist government must listen to Stalin, the only exception was Tito of Yugoslavia who pursued his own version of communism.

There was a document published by the British Foreign office in 1983, designed to grant members of the British government background knowledge concerning relations between the USSR and the West. This document discussed events that occurred just after World War Two. It went over the actual consolidation of the Eastern bloc, it states that it started when the Red Army overran Poland in 1944. Further problems arose when the Soviet Union rejected the Marshal plan in 1947 and the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia. It has stated that at Yalta the Allies agreed that Eastern Europe will be in the Soviet sphere of influence, but Western Nations started to disagree with the Soviet Union about the differences between influence and domination which explains at least of the reasons why the Western Bloc is so against the Soviet Union in their territorial ambitions. In response to Soviet foreign policy at the time the West signed the Brussels Treaty (Pre NATO) in 1948, creation of West Germany and the establishment of NATO in 1949. These Western responses can be argued to have actually help to widen the gape between the Eastern and Western Blocs (The solidification of the two opposing blocs mentioned in the Cold War Origins page.

A report was created by the British government summarizing (what they thought) the Soviet policy (1946-47) and what it's future goals are. The British based this document on other British intelligence reports on the aims and goals of the Soviet leadership. It is believed that the Soviets believe that the capitalistic system of the west will collapse and in an attempt to prevent this fall the West plans (or very likely plans) on using force against the Soviet Union. In fear of this aggressiveness the USSR plans on eliminating capitalistic presence in the World. The report states that based on this fear the Soviets should technically have five goals
  1. Reconstruct the Soviet economy so it can counter and even surpass the United States
  2. Establishment of a protective wall of territories/countries to protect the itself
  3. Avoid a large-scale war, at least until it can place itself in a better position (originally (about a year or two earlier) Churchill shut down a plan to attack the Soviet Union because the British high military planning staff feared that it is almost impossible to win a war against the Soviet Union)
  4. Aggressive expansion of Moscow communism
  5. The breakdown of capitalism through methods like political infiltration

As you can see with this report/source two points can be argued. One being to support that Stalin/USSR in fact helped or caused the Cold War since the British report help to show why the West would go further into the Cold War, they did it because of the Soviet Union's policies. The second point is that this report is based on British opinions meaning that the West may have actually cause the Cold War by suggesting that the Soviet Union will be aggressive and so act anti-communist in turn. We can't truly pass judgment on this question by only looking at this source we must look further to truly determine if Stalin had an effect on the creation of the Cold War.

In 1945, the British Defense Chiefs of Staff created a report which summarized what Britain's defense plan should be from 1947. The planners believe that the Soviet Union will become stronger (and more dangerous) in the mid 1950s.
  1. Britain wishes to prevent war as long as it does not interfere with Britain's interests (Commitment to the UN for example)
  2. The Soviet Union is a threat especially after the mid 1950s (They were right).
  3. Britain shall prepare for war but at the same time try to prevent it
  4. To help prevent war Britain aims to show that it is a power to be reckon with (Includes using nukes, an alliance with the US and West Europe, maintain a strong intelligent service, etc.)

This report again points out two things. 1.) This report is based on the Western fear of Soviet policy or/and 2.) This report shows that Britain helped in producing the Cold War. Both points can be argued. It can be argued that Britain intends to counter the Soviet Union because of the fear of it's policies (and maybe the events before World War Two).

This cartoon was created by David Low in 1948, a big critic of dictators. He was popular for criticizing Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini in World War Two. This c1_s4.jpgcartoon was created two weeks after the Czechoslovakia crisis (Communists take over via a coup, opposition leader, Jan Masaryk, died in mysterious circumstances during the coup) and by this point Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria have been taken over (Not all military). c1_s4a.jpgStalin is the man sitting in the chair choosing which country to take over, and the man next to him is Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov. The picture on the desk is US General Marshall, who's European economic plan was rejected by Stalin disallowing Eastern Europe access to it. This cartoon is obviously a critical view of Stalin's foreign policy but arguably is accurate since we know that Stalin has helped to push communism on Eastern states (Pressure by the Red army's presence, the Czech coup, etc.) and there is quite a fear that Stalin/USSR intends to spread communism, even if it means aggression (Z letter from Cold War Origins, maybe even for the USSR's defense as mentioned above, etc.)

Ernest Bevin
On March 1948 British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin written a report to the British cabinet titled "The Threat to Western Civilization" which summarizes what he thinks are the Soviet Union's goals. He believes that the USSR does not wish to cooperate with non-Communist countries (as indicated at the 1945 conferences and the rejection of the Marshall plan). Bevin believes that the Soviet Union intends on taking over all of Europe, Asia and the Middle East and maybe even the World. This goal is not actually impossible if no measures are taken to prevent them as the Soviet Union will soon be capable of controlling the World or cause the fall of the civilized world (The West). This report is obviously critical of the USSR but can it be supported with events from 1918-1948 such as the Z letter and the Czech coup?

In 1946 the Pravda (Soviet Newspaper) printed Stalin's response to Churchill's Iron Curtain speech, which criticized his policies. Stalin stated that all he wanted was to defend the Soviet Union since Germany was able to attack the Soviet Union through Finland, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. So to protect it he wanted to make sure the countries contain those who supported the USSR. Can Stalin's actions (Placing communist governments in Eastern European countries) be justified because he wanted to defend his own country from future aggression? Is it actually ok for these countries to lose their independence so Russia can fell protected?

Ferenc Nagy
In 1949 the BBC transcribed and summarized Soviet broadcasts that focused on refuting the West's accusations that the Communist Eastern European Countries of Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are violating human rights and the treaties they signed after World War Two. The treaties stated that these countries must respect the democratic freedoms of their people and no Nazi or Fascist parties are allowed. The West claims that when the communists took over censorship was introduced and the creation of secret police, usually controlled by Soviet commanders. In Hungary opposition leaders like Ferenc Nagy were flagged as fascists and imprisoned (effective method of eliminating opposition?). In Bulgaria opposition leader Nikola Petkov was executed. The Soviets claimed that these countries did not cause crimes of human injustice, all their people are treated as equals (no discrimination). The Soviets stated that the press is secured (uncensored) and that the individuals claimed to be mistreated were Fascists and terrorists and so by the treaties were removed. This source may not exactly state if Stalin had a powerful effect on creating the Cold War but it does show the great mistrust between the Soviets of the East and the Democratic nations of the West.

The point of this section was to answer the question: "Did Stalin caused the Cold War" via his policies after World War Two. Based on these sources it can be argued that Stalin's foreign policies has in fact helped to fuel the very deadly Cold War. We can see that tensions arose or strengthen between the Western and Eastern Blocs due to what has occurred in Eastern Europe (Communist take over, some peaceful but pressured (Red army presences for example) and others heavily pushed, and even the human rights violations that have occurred in the region), but blame can't be placed on Stalin alone which means we will need to review over the other two countries (US and Britain(Churchill)).

Learning Curve: Stalin?
Learning Curve: Stalin?: Historical Source One: Extract from a document published by the Foreign Office in 1983. It analyses Soviet policy in Eastern Europe since 1945
Learning Curve: Stalin?: Historical Source Two: Part of a report summarising the British government's view of Soviet policies 1946-47
Learning Curve: Stalin?: Historical Source Three: A report to the British Cabinet in 1947 summarising future British policy towards the USSR
Learning Curve: Stalin?: Historical Source Four: Extract from a report from the Foreign Secretary to the British Cabinet in March 1948. The title of the report was 'The Threat to Western Civilisation'
Learning Curve: Stalin?: Historical Source Five: Stalin's comments on his policies in Eastern Europe, printed in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda in March 1946
Learning Curve: Stalin?: Historical Source Six: BBC transcriptions and summaries of broadcasts by Moscow Radio in 1949

Did Churchill Cause the Cold War?

Winston Churchill Making his Famous "Iron Curtian" Speech
On March 5th 1946, Churchill made his famous "Iron Curtain Speech". At the time Churchill was not Prime Minister but he was still well respected by many and his speech became quite controversial. It was argued that this speech may have pushed or allowed the US to announce its anti-Soviet policy and it is argued that his speech may have pushed the USSR to become aggressive and tighten its hold on it's satellite states. This speech called for a western alliance against the Soviet Union and it accused Stalin of aggressive expansionism. Based on this and the following sources has Churchill helped to cause the Cold War?

Churchill has stated in his speech that the future is uncertain as no one can know what the International Communist movement has in mind. He states that in Eastern Nations democratic governments are almost non existent because of Moscow's influence and the presence of police governments. His speech goes into the idea that the Communist want to expand their influence beyond Eastern Europe in places like Turkey where Red Army forces stand on the border and their are still Red Army forces in Persia (Iran). He says that the Soviets are attempting to create a communist party in Soviet occupied Germany by favoring left wing German leaders (eliminating the democratic process?). Once of the biggest points Churchill states in his speech was that the Soviets believe in a strong military doctrine so balance of power won't work with them so Western Nations must unite under UN charter against the USSR but if that fails the Russians will take over. Based on this can you say that this speech may have caused a lot of controversy that may have lead to the long and intense Cold War? Or do we need to see more to say?

There was a document that discussed the American reaction to Churchill's speech. His speech has helped baseline American concern of the USSR's interests on the global scale such as the Red Army presence in Manchuria that seems to act as a threat against American shipping interests in Asia. There are different views on the situation and Churchill's speech 1.) A conflict against the Soviet Union should occur sooner then later 2.) Turn to UN charter to counter the USSR 3.) Cooperation should be reached between the Big Three (create a fourth conference). The American congress and the press have not endorse Churchill's speech as they did not believe that it should act as a solution and many American politicians (at the time) did not want to be involved with Britain or in Global affairs as was done after World War One. It was believed that this speech will affect future discussion in world affairs.

Another document was written by the British foreign ministry reflecting on the Soviet Union's reaction to Churchill's speech, the reaction was hostile. The report states that the aggression was against Churchill not the British government but there is concern that the Soviet public might not see the difference (Remember Churchill was a Prime Minister of Britain until 1945, he made the speech in 1946). Pravda (Soviet Newspaper) written a summary of Churchill's speech (The actual speech was very long) it was very a fair summary though it has replaced or omitted sections of his speech such as the fact that he warned about Hitler and was against appeasement, Pravda replaced this with saying that he made harsh comparisons between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. In his speech, Churchill stated that he believes that the Soviet Union only likes strength (so they won't be forced down only through the balance of power concept), Pravda refuted this by saying that he only said this so his (remember that Churchill wanted a Western alliance against the USSR) Anglo-American alliance can be created against the Soviet Union. Pravda accused Churchill of hiding his true views of the USSR during World War Two and is now returning to his interventionist thinking that existed after World War One (Churchill was involved in the British support of the Whites in the 1918 Russian Civil War), The report argues that the Soviets are using this speech and American interests with Britain as Justification for their actions because they fear that the west will become aggressive.

Based on these sources can it be argued that Churchill's speech cause (or at least help cause) the Cold War? Based on these documents it can be argued that it Churchill helped cause the Cold War, because it has helped to baseline American fears of the USSR (which have always been present) and it even caused fear in the Soviet Union since the speech calls for a Western alliance against the USSR. The Soviet Union could have used this speech to justify all future expansion as a method of protection while the US can us this as justification for their future policies due to the fear of any possible Soviet aggression (such as their presence in Manchuria which the Americans fear would interfere with American interests in Asia. Now we will see if American President Truman has in fact cause or at least help to cause the Cold War.

Learning Curve: Churchill?
Learning Curve: Churchill?: Historical Source One: Extracts from Churchill's Iron curtain speech given in the USA in March 1946
Learning Curve: Churchill?: Historical Source Two: Extract from a Foreign Office report on the effects of Churchill's Iron Curtain speech in the USA
Learning Curve: Churchill?: Historical Source Three: Extracts from a Foreign Office report on the reaction to Churchill's speech in the USSR

Did Truman Cause the Cold War?

US President Harry Truman
Did Harry Truman cause the Cold War? Two major events associated to Truman were the Marshal plan and the Truman Doctrine. The Marshall plan was a economic recovery plan set-up by the United States for Europe, Stalin rejected this for East Europe so only the Western democratic states received aid. The Truman Doctrine was announced in 1947, it presented aid to countries that are fighting domestic communist take-overs, this become known as the "Containment of Communism". The Soviets viewed the Truman Doctrine as an aggressive policy against it because it lead to the United States lending money and weapons to enemies of the USSR. The Marshall plan was viewed as an American attempt to get European states dependent on it so the United States can spread it's influence over those particular states (US trying to dominate Europe?). "In general, the new evidence supports the overall thrust of the arguments that Soviet policy in 1947 was largely defensive and reactive … U.S. officials felt embattled in the spring of 1947, and feared that the deteriorating economic situation in Western Europe could lead to communists coming to power in such countries as France and Italy. If this were to happen, American security would be threatened. Prior to the summer of 1947, then, available … evidence suggests that Stalin still hoped to pursue a variant of detente [co-operation] with the Western Powers … The Marshall Plan, however, radically changed Stalin's calculus, and led him to shift away from this more moderate line … The new archival documentation shows that in making this shift, the Soviet leadership was moved primarily by fear of its own vulnerability to American economic power" Scott D. Parrish: Lecturer, Department of Government: University of Texas at Austin

Truman gave his "Truman Doctrine" speech in 1947. Truman wanted to ask the American congress to expand aid to Turkey and Greece to support them against Communist pressure. Greece faced communist rebels supported by Stalin and Tito and Truman believes that without economic and military aid Greece will fall. Turkey was being pressured by the Soviet Union for access to the Mediterranean, Truman plans to give Turkey military equipment and economic aid. In his speech Truman states that it is the US's responsibility to support "free" people from aggressive minorities (communists, Truman believes that in communism a minority rules over a majority) or foreign pressures (in particular the USSR), so they can choose their own system of government. It can be argued that Truman tried to stop injustices by preventing the Soviet Union from expressing its will on the country (like in Poland, Hungary, etc.) but we can also argue that Truman did this to express American will over these nations since American aid is given to these countries and Truman is against minority rule (communism, he believes it to "rely upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms") and supports majority rule (capitalism, "distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.").

The British Foreign Office written a report reviewing Belgium's reaction to Truman's speech. Belgium is a pretty diverse country containing views from anti-communists, pro-communists and some in between. The Bulgarian press that is against communism heavily supported this doctrine believing that American imperialism (expressed in the speech) was better then a Russian one, but there is a fear that this speech helped to either move the two power (US and the USSR) closer to war or widen the gap between the Eastern and Western Bloc. Bulgarian socialist press was divided in opinion: some believe that it just widen the two powers apart (damaged relations); some believe that Truman is more interested in gaining wealth for the US rather then being motivated by democratic principles; and some believe that America is just spreading its influence (Imperialism). Is the US the expander while the USSR is on the defensive or are both countries only interested in spreading their influence?

US Secretary of State George Marshall
In June 1947, US Secretary of state George Marshall read his speech on his economic "Marshall Plan". The plan was meant to act as recovery aid for Europe without political pressure (is this really the case?). Both him and Truman believe that economic hardship will allow extremist groups to prosper like it has for Hitler which lead to the Second Would War (Is this a comparison between Hitler and Stalin?). The economic plan has in fact some political strings attached such as the fact that aid will not be given to individual states but rather several states must cooperate to receive aid and Germany receives much so it can rebuild, Stalin was skeptical of these two points and so refused the aid to Eastern Europe. His speech (even though he advocates that he wants to rebuild Europe's economy) seems to want to help fuel Europe's economy only (or partly) to open markets for the US, but Marshall may have put this in so he can gain support from the American public (who many did not even care about Europe, but can you blame them?).

Cartoon Created by David Low in 1948
This cartoon was created by David Low, who is a critic of dictators and western leaders who waste their time with minor details rather then working with other western states. It was created in January 1948, six months after the Marshall plan. The cartoon was criticizing the Times deceleration that Marshall is the "Man of the Year" for 1947 and it is saying that because of him and his ignorance life will be difficult in 1948 as depicted by all the random things going on in the background.

On June 29th 1947, Pravda (Soviet newspaper) wrote an article committing on the Marshall plan. Pravda criticized the plan by stating that one of US's goals are to open new markets (not really helping countries for the sake of helping but rather do it to benefit oneself.) and cause the aided countries to enter debt with the US so they must buy American goods. One of the problems with the plan was that it asked that European countries work together to determine on how to use the aid, so it ends up interfering with other countries affairs which is not a proper basis of cooperation. The reason why the Soviet Union rejected the Marshall plan was because it appeared to be an American attempt to interfere in Soviet policies because of the cooperation condition of the aid.

Based on these sources it would appear that Truman (USA) in fact helped cause the Cold War. This is the case because the Soviet would have felt endangered and threatened due to Truman's anti-communist doctrine (Truman Doctrine) which expresses Americas presence on the global scale which may have caused fear in the USSR (like how in the US people feared of communist expansionism due to their policies) and the Marshall plan was viewed by the Russians as 'suspicious' since the aid wasn't directed to individual states but rather to groups of cooperative states which the USSR feared was US's attempt to affect the Soviet economic system, also the Soviets believe that the US is only doing this program so it can benefit itself with the massive market that will be open due to credit debt to the US.

As we can see each of the three important people on this page have helped to cause the Cold War. Stalin arguably expanded through Eastern Europe to protect itself from threats future threats (Like Germany). The West view Stalin's policies as aggressive, cruel and against the post-war treaties (not him directly but the countries under him have), so the West responds with their policies, which then caused fear to arise among the powers which then escalated to what we call the Cold War.

Learning Curve: Truman?
Learning Curve: Truman?: Historical Source One: Extracts from President Truman's speech of March 12th 1947 - The Truman Doctrine
Learning Curve: Truman?: Historical Source Two: Extracts from a Foreign Office report on reactions to the Truman Doctrine expressed in the newspapers in Belgium, March 1947
Learning Curve: Truman?: Historical Source Three: Telegram from US State Department officials in Hungary, Greece and Germany to Washington on the need for economic aid, March 1947
Learning Curve: Truman?: Historical Source Four: A speech by US Secretary of state George Marshall at Harvard University in June 1947 setting out the 'Marshall Plan'
Learning Curve: Truman?: Historical Source Five: An article in the Soviet newspaper Pravda commenting on the Marshall Plan, June 29th 1947