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The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941- "1947

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This book moves beyond the focus on economic considerations that was central to the work of New Left historians, examining the many other forces -- domestic politics, bureaucratic inertia, quirks of personality, and perceptions of Soviet intentions -- that influenced key decision makers in Washington.


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This book moves beyond the focus on economic considerations that was central to the work of New Left historians, examining the many other forces -- domestic politics, bureaucratic inertia, quirks of personality, and perceptions of Soviet intentions -- that influenced key decision makers in Washington.

30 review for The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941- "1947

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stefania Dzhanamova

    In his book, John Lewis Gaddis refutes the ideas of "revisionist" historians, who believed that Stalin joined the Unites States in its distrust of radical mass movements in liberated Europe and China, even when those movements were Communist; the Cold War, they argued, happened only because overly suspicious Washington politicians mistakenly identified the Soviet dictator as the sponsor of this revolutionary left. Gaddis, however, reminds us that World War II was indeed a prologue to the more ser In his book, John Lewis Gaddis refutes the ideas of "revisionist" historians, who believed that Stalin joined the Unites States in its distrust of radical mass movements in liberated Europe and China, even when those movements were Communist; the Cold War, they argued, happened only because overly suspicious Washington politicians mistakenly identified the Soviet dictator as the sponsor of this revolutionary left. Gaddis, however, reminds us that World War II was indeed a prologue to the more serious conflict with Communism, and focuses on specific Soviet-American differences as the real nucleus of the Cold War. By using quotes from the two war-time presidents, high-ranking members of their administrations, and eminent members of Congress, he demonstrates how domestic policy, bureaucratic inertia, and perceptions of Soviet intentions – both correct and incorrect – shaped Roosevelt's and Truman's actions. When the Wehrmacht invaded Soviet Russia in June 1941, FDR saw that the only way to free Europe from Nazi domination was to unite the forces of the USSR, the USA and Great Britain. As Under-Secretary of State Sumner Wells voiced it, "In the opinion of the government . . . any defense against Hitlerism, any rallying of the forces opposing Hitlerism, from whatever source these forces may spring, will hasten the eventual downfall of the German leaders, and will therefore redound to the benefit of our own defense and security." Since this unlikely alliance between the Soviet Union and the United States, between Communism and Capitalism, was based almost solely on the need to defend themselves against a mutual foe, it started to come apart as soon the Nazi threat completely lost its gravity in late 1944. On top of that, Roosevelt, with WWI and the disastrous Versailles Treaty in mind, sought to ratify in advance a durable commitment to global peacekeeping and to the reconstruction of the world economy that would integrate American productive capacity, but neither the Soviet Union with its ambitions in Eastern Europe, nor Great Britain with its overseas colonial empire, nor the USA itself (if it honestly considered its role in Latin America), was prepared to carry out such gigantic goals. Thus, the public opinion, which was the prevailing internal influence behind US foreign policy, was disillusioned of the wartime image of Soviet Russia that Joseph Stalin – following FDR's advice – had nurtured. This harm was further compounded by the Western Allies' (vain) efforts to retain atomic monopoly, which led to even more distrustful attitude on Stalin's part and the subsequent race for nuclear superiority. Another reason for the strained relations between the two countries was the increasingly open anticommunist attitude of the Republican Party. During the Presidential campaign, Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey sputtered myriad angry anticommunist statements, even accusing the Democrats of merging with the American Communist party. Throughout the war, American public opinion played a major role in the question over the fate of Poland, which became part of the proposed Soviet post-war security zone. Since Poland was a nation with many emigrants to the States, Americans did not want it to be absorbed by the USSR; because of public discontent, the issue turned into a political one. FDR, though, was more concerned with maintaining wartime solidarity, so he postponed the settlement of Poland's fate, thus making it Harry Truman's problem. After Roosevelt's death, the American attitude towards the USSR quickly changed to one of suspicion, recrimination and even hostility. While Stalin, who had harbored deep respect for FDR, distrusted and even disliked the new U.S President, Truman's views of the Soviets were mostly shaped by the US ambassador to Moscow, W. Averell Harriman, who reported that Soviet "occupation of any country would resemble a 'barbarian invasion' – one could expect not only Moscow's control of that nation's foreign policy but the institution of secret police rule and the extinction of freedom of speech." According to him, under this circumstances, "the United States should reconsider its policy toward the Soviet Union." However, Secretary of War Stimson and General Marshall advised Truman to be more cautious. Confused by this contradictory opinions in his administration and pressured by anti-communist domestic policy, the President, tragically inexperienced in foreign affairs, took an excessively hard line in his dealings with the USSR. Maybe one of his biggest diplomatic blunders was his pre-Potsdam meeting with Molotov in which he spoke tactlessly harshly to the Soviet Foreign Minister, thus confirming his suspicions that the era of Soviet cooperation with the West had indeed ended. In the States, prominent figures such as the Republican leaders Senator Arthur H. Vandenburg, Jr. and John Foster Dulles, the unofficial Republican spokesman on foreign affairs, strongly criticized the USSR. In an effort to encourage bipartisan support, Truman asked Dulles to join the American delegation to the London Foreign Ministers' conference where the peace treaties for former German satellites – Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland and Romania – would be drawn up. Even though he took no part in the decision-making in London, Dulles' anti-Soviet statements to the local press antagonized the Soviet delegation and led to the failure of the important meeting. Remarkably, Gaddis refutes the claims that the Truman administration detonated the atomic bomb on Japan in order to awe the Soviets; instead he argues that the President simply sought the cheapest way to win the war; as already mentioned, he remained undecided about the USSR until the end of 1945, when domestic pressure and Molotov's obstinacy pushed him toward a hard-line confrontation. Gaddis' book is very well-researched and compellingly written. It shines new light on the origins of the Cold War. The author acknowledges that the greatly diverging ideologies of the two superpowers would have inevitably led to a strained relationship regardless of policy. Yet, as he concludes, the greater blame must be placed on Stalin because he, at least, had no Congress, public opinion and press to answer to.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hotavio

    In the 60s and 70s, revisionist historians reconsidered the American role in the Cold War. Popular scholarship of the time largely placed the Soviet Union as the major antagonist. According to John Lewis Gaddis, the revisionists argued that the burden of guilt lie on the Americans, who perpetuated the division of countries into two camps, communist and capitalist, for economic gains. In his The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947, Gaddis stands against the revisionists argui In the 60s and 70s, revisionist historians reconsidered the American role in the Cold War. Popular scholarship of the time largely placed the Soviet Union as the major antagonist. According to John Lewis Gaddis, the revisionists argued that the burden of guilt lie on the Americans, who perpetuated the division of countries into two camps, communist and capitalist, for economic gains. In his The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947, Gaddis stands against the revisionists arguing that economic motives are too simple to be the sole determining factor for the breakdown of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Rather, Gaddis considers a combination of factors, external and internal, which lead to a change in America’s stance toward the Soviet Union. According to Gaddis, the prevailing internal influence behind US foreign policy is public opinion. American leaders greatly considered how the American public will react in most decisions regarding world affairs. Gaddis writes that leading up to American participation in the war, Franklin Delano Roosevelt nurtured the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. In doing so, he gave Joseph Stalin advice on how to positively affect the Americans’ image of the Soviets. Roosevelt suggested freedom of religion within the Soviet Union as but one of the ways Americans might warm up to the idea of cooperation between the 2 countries in war time. The American public still fiercely guarded their isolation and did not want roped into any “European Wars.” When the Japanese attacked US soil, cooperation with Russia no longer needed to be defended, but ideas for a postwar vision of collective security would be. As the war years progressed, Gaddis brings up several conflicts in foreign policy that arise. Public opinion weighed heavily in questions over the fate of nations such as Poland. Poland, a nation with a large amount of emigrants to America, became but a part of the Soviets proposed postwar security zone. The issue became a flashpoint among Americans, who did not want to see Poland territorially or politically absorbed by the Soviet Union. Popular dissent made the issue into a domestic political issue, with several politicians rallying the cause of Poland. In order to refrain from jeopardizing wartime solidarity, Roosevelt largely pushed detailed settlement of the issues off, which later would cause them to be President Harry Truman’s problem. To gauge American public opinion, Gaddis regularly supplies opinion polls. These polls support his argument in that they provide insight into the pressures of diplomacy. Aggravation at the perceived appeasement of the Soviets particularly affected the Truman administration. As World War II ended, Americans and their elected politicians began to express dissatisfaction with the handling of postwar diplomacy. The Democratic loss of both houses of Congress in 1946 exemplifies this dissatisfaction. Throughout this period, Gaddis shows that public opinion of the Soviets and the handling of foreign policy with them continually fell. Debacles such as the appeasement of Stalin with the Moscow conference in December of 1945 disillusioned Americans towards the postwar alliance and affected the Truman policy, causing a hardening of relations. Even as late as 1947, the Truman administration had to sell the Americans on a US global role. Tired of war time demands on their forces, the public and some political representatives called for demilitarization. This came as Truman began to adopt a containment policy. Gaddis states that the advocates realized that they would have to campaign the importance of a large scale defense of democratic and capitalistic ideologies. A winner of the Bancroft Prize, Gaddis attempted to consider the problems faced by the United States as the politicians saw them. He places some of the blame for Cold War problems on the Stalinist regime. Gaddis argues that while the United States answered to constituents on the domestic front, Stalin answered to no one and was free to manipulate the Communist doctrine as he saw fit. Still, he does not refrain from identifying faults in American politicians and diplomats such as Roosevelt and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes. While his argument might be even more effective if he widened the span of time to witness the widest swing in public opinion possible, The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 remains a good counter argument to revisionist claims.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Amick

    Very well written. While I may not agree with Gaddis that the roots of the Cold War can definitively be found in only WWII, Gaddis does make some very good and well-researched points.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Riley

    A comprehensive and insightful account of American-Russian diplomacy from World War II to the Marshall Plan. The author underscored a point I hadn't thought much about: that the politics of President Roosevelt's 1944 reelection and the ratification of the United Nations caused his administration to offer a rose-colored picture of how Eastern Europe would end up postwar, helping create unreal expectations in America: "But realities of power soon overwhelmed ideals. The second front did not materia A comprehensive and insightful account of American-Russian diplomacy from World War II to the Marshall Plan. The author underscored a point I hadn't thought much about: that the politics of President Roosevelt's 1944 reelection and the ratification of the United Nations caused his administration to offer a rose-colored picture of how Eastern Europe would end up postwar, helping create unreal expectations in America: "But realities of power soon overwhelmed ideals. The second front did not materialize, and by early 1943 Roosevelt had reluctantly concluded that he could not keep Stalin from taking what he wanted in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, the President, still seeking to avoid divisive controversies within the United States, failed to make this situation clear to the American people. Conditioned by wartime rhetoric to expect a peace settlement which would allow all nations to determine their own future, Americans recoiled in shock and anger as they gradually because aware of Moscow's intention to dominate the postwar governments of Eastern Europe. The resulting tension between the American principle so self-determination and Russian security needs became the single most important cause of the disintegration of the Grand Alliance."

  5. 4 out of 5

    AskHistorians

    An acclaimed book by Gaddis, which is on US foreign policy towards the Soviet Union immediately after the Second World War. "This book moves beyond the focus on economic considerations that was central to the work of New Left historians, examining the many other forces -- domestic politics, bureaucratic inertia, quirks of personality, and perceptions of Soviet intentions -- that influenced key decision makers in Washington, and in doing so seeks to analyze these determinants of policy in terms o An acclaimed book by Gaddis, which is on US foreign policy towards the Soviet Union immediately after the Second World War. "This book moves beyond the focus on economic considerations that was central to the work of New Left historians, examining the many other forces -- domestic politics, bureaucratic inertia, quirks of personality, and perceptions of Soviet intentions -- that influenced key decision makers in Washington, and in doing so seeks to analyze these determinants of policy in terms of their full diversity and relative significance."

  6. 4 out of 5

    George

    Almost forty years old, this classic is still well worth reading. An excellent detailed analysis of how we came to see Russia as an adversary rather than ally, and vice-versa. Funny thing, the author has repudiated a lot of what he said here in a newer book. Now I hear he blames it all on Stalin.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jim Swike

    Very good history textbook especially focusing on the Allies and how they settled the end of WWII. Enjoy!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jefferson Burson

  9. 5 out of 5

    John

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brandy Morton

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elsa

  13. 4 out of 5

    Frederick

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carson Teuscher

  15. 4 out of 5

    Simona

  16. 5 out of 5

    John

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marcus Benjamin

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mike Koplovsky

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  20. 4 out of 5

    Liquidlasagna

  21. 5 out of 5

    David Caudill

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ben Denison

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gary Hanes

  24. 4 out of 5

    Devin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tom Krepitch

  26. 4 out of 5

    Caleb Liu

  27. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Schladitz

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lori

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Vittay

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