What was the Cold War?From 1945-90 Communist Russia and the capitalist west confronted each other in what was known as the Cold War – Cold because there was no actual fighting, or ‘hot’ war. Each side was convinced of its own superiority and attempted to spread its influence throughout Europe and the world, using methods such as propaganda, economic and military assistance. The fact that both sides possessed nuclear weapons probably prevented war between them, but each side fought wars in various parts of the world in defence of their interests. The Cold War lasted until the collapse of Communism in Europe in 1989-90.

What caused the Cold War?Different political systems

America· Democratic – people could vote for different political parties.· Capitalist – business and property owned by private individuals.· Freedom – individual rights were protected, the government did not interfere with people’s lives.Russia· Dictatorship – people could only vote for the Communist Party. · Communist – business owned and managed by the government.· Control – the state was more important than the individual, so people’s lives were tightly controlled. The United States and Russia had different political systems. Each believed that theirs was the best, and they were suspicious of each other. America was worried that Russia was trying to spread communism throughout Europe and the rest of the world: Russia believed that the capitalist countries wanted to undermine communism in the Russia. However, America and Russia were allies during the war against Hitler, so political differences alone do not account for the Cold War.

Communist expansion in Eastern EuropeAs Russia drove back Hitler’s troops at the end of the war it occupied as much territory as it could in eastern Europe. The west was worried by what it saw as Russian aggression, and believed that Stalin was trying to spread communism throughout Europe. Although they had been allies in the fight against Hitler, the west was now deeply suspicious of Russia.

American hostilityRoosevelt, America’s leader during World War II had trusted Stalin, but his successor Truman was hostile to communist Russia. He did not tell Stalin about the atomic bomb until just before its use on Japan, and refused to allow the Soviet Union to participate in the occupation of Japan. Stalin already believed that the west had delayed the invasion of Europe during the war so that the Soviet Union would be weakened by Hitler’s armies, and this merely increased his suspicion of the west, and his desire to gain control of eastern Europe. By 1946 the leaders Russia and the west were deeply suspicious of each other’s intentions.

Who was to blame for the Cold War?The Cold War arose for a number of reasons, and neither side can be held to be fully to blame:· America was hostile towards the Soviet Union for a number of reasons: the spread of communism was a threat to American business, since communist countries would not buy many American goods, and America was scared of another depression like that of the 1930s. Also Stalin was believed to be another dictator like Hitler, and the 1930s had shown that appeasement did not work. Truman was determined to stand up to Stalin. Finally, America believed it could be aggressive towards the Soviet Union because it had the atomic bomb, and the Soviet Union did not. The Soviet Union would therefore be forced to back down in any confrontation. For these reasons America was suspicious of the Soviet Union and determined to resist communist expansion.· Russia had many valid reasons for acting as he did. Victory in the war had given the Soviet Union the confidence to play a bigger role on the world stage, and seemed to show the superiority of communist Russia over capitalist Germany. Also, Russia had suffered enormous destruction and the loss of 25 million citizens during the war, and was determined that it would never happen again. In order to prevent invasion from the west in the future Stalin was determined to ensure Soviet domination of eastern Europe to provide a buffer zone for Russia.

· Stalin’s actions after the war were therefore essentially defensive, aimed at ensuring Russian security, but because of the suspicion which existed between east and west they were seen by America as being the first stage in a communist take-over of the whole of Europe. The American response of the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Aid were seen in Russia as equally aggressive attempts to spread American power into Europe. With so much suspicion and hostility, any action claimed as self-defence by either side was perceived as aggression, and so relations between the two sides rapidly worsened, reaching a low point with the Korean War of 1950-3.

The Cold War With the aim of preventing East Germans from seeking asylum in the West, the East German government in 1961 began constructing a system of concrete and barbed-wire barriers between East and West Berlin. This Berlin Wall endured for nearly thirty years, a symbol not only of the division of Germany but of the larger conflict between the Communist and non-Communist worlds. The Wall ceased to be a barrier when East Germany ended restrictions on emigration in November 1989. The Wall was largely dismantled in the year preceding the reunification of Germany. The victorious Allies agreed to give most of Eastern Germany to Poland and the USSR, and then divide the rest into four zones of …