Causes of the cold war - Events

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The Atomic Bomb

By May 1945, Japan were clearly losing the war, and by August 1945 they were on the verge of surrendering.

In fact the Japanese asked for peace during the Potsdam conferece via telegram, but it was refused, and then they did surrender on the 3rd August but it was refused again because it was not 'unconditional'    

6 August 1945, the B29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb (nicknamed ‘Little Boy’) on Hiroshima. The Japanese put the death toll at about 250,000. 3 days later, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the Japanese surrendered.


  • To save millions of American lives by ending the war quickly
  • To avoid Stalin having to enter the war so the USA could claim the land the USSR were promised
  • To impress/threaten the soviets and show them the USAs power. Also to get them to relax their grip on eastern Europe.
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Consequences of the A-bomb

Changed Stalins attitude:

  • Tension between the USA and the USSR rose because Stalin was not told about the bomb, and so mistrust began to form.
  • This provoked Stalin to start work on his own supply of Nuclear weapons and so this caused the arms race and potentially the cold war.
  • Stalin saw it as a direct threat towards the USSR and so intructed his diplomats to take a tougher position against the west.

Changed Trumans attitude:

  • Because Truman knew he had the bomb at the Potsdam conference, his attitude became more aggressive
  • When he had the bomb he soon switched from pro soviet advisors to anti communist ones
  • He dropped it so that the USSR wouldn't have to enter the war and therefore gain land in Manchuria and other land he was promised at Potsdam.
  • He developed a confrontational attitude towards Stalin.
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Salami Tactics

'Salami tactics' - the name given to the soviet expansion into eastern europe because it was seen as Stalin taking countries 'slice by slice'

After the war Stalin wanted a buffer zone of friendly states between the USSR and Western Europe. 

He achieved this by freeing countries from Nazi control, and leaving his army there, who then set up communist governments in the countries they had 'liberated'

Churchill and Truman feared communism and so saw this expansion as a threat.

Churchill even spoke of an 'iron curtain' seperating the communist east, and the capitalist western Europe.

Countries Stalin took over:

Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, East Germany

Hungary - Elections were held and non-communists won. The leader of the small communist group then banned other parties, arrested opponents and then took over.

Czechoslovakia - The communists killed opponents and banned their parties.

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Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan

The Truman Doctrine

12th March 1947 Truman announced that it was Americas duty to interfere in Europes business. Despite keeping out of it for so many years. His policy towards the Soviet Union was to stop it expanding any further, but not to destroy it.

Marshall Plan

General George Marshall travelled to Europe in June 1947 and on his return he said that many of the countries were so poor that they were in danger of becoming communist as they would not be able to resist the Soviets if they tried to take over.

In response to this the Marshall Plan was set up. The USA gave money to countries in Europe that needed it, and in July 1947, they met in Paris and asked for substantial economic aid.


the marshall plan was not solely for the purpose of stopping the spread of communism, but also to help get the countries back on their feet after the war. Because Truman knew that a poor Europe would not be a very successful trading partner.

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Comiform and Comecon

Stalin hated Marshall aid, and forbade communist countries from asking for money.

In october 1947 he set up Comminform, and all communist countries had to join. This allowed Stalin to control all of the communist countries in Europe.

Then in January 1949 he also created comecon which was an economic union of all communist countries in eastern Europe. This allowed Stalin to control the economies for the benefit of Russia. It also stated that all inventions must be shared.

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At first, the American Congress did not want to give the money for Marshall Aid.  But then, in February 1948, the Communists took power in Czechoslovakia, followed on 10 March by the suspicious suicide of the popular minister Jan Masaryk.

Congress was scared, and voted for Marshall Aid on 31 March 1948.

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Berlin Blockade - Causes

  • Cold War - Was just getting starte
  • Aims - Stalin wanted to destroy Germany – Britain and the USA wanted to rebuild Germany.  
  • Bizonia - The Russians were taking German machinery back to the USSR.   In January 1947, Britain and the USA joined their two zones together to try to get German industry going. They called the new zone Bi-zonia (‘two zones’).  
  • American Aid - Congress voted for Marshall Aid on 31 March 1948.    Immediately, the Russians started searching all road and rail traffic into Berlin.  
  • New Currency - On 1 June, America and France announced that they wanted to create the new country of West Germany; and on 23 June they introduced a new currency into ‘Bizonia’ and western Berlin. The next day the Russians stopped all road and rail traffic into Berlin.

The Soviet Union saw the 1948 Berlin crisis as an attempt to undermine Soviet influence in eastern Germany; Stalin said he was defending the east German economy against the new currency, which was ruining it.  

The western powers said Stalin was trying to force them out of Berlin.

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Berlin Blockade - Events

Western Berlin was surrounded by the communist Eastern Berlin and Germany, and this worried Stalin as people were leaving Eastern Berlin to go to the west instead because the allied leaders were trying to rebuild their parts of western Berlin and help them to thrive, while Stalin wanted to suppress Eastern Berlin.

Stalin blocked all routes into Western Berlin apart from 3 airways from Western Germany. 

It is thought that he was hoping that the western allies would simply give up and let him have Western Berlin, but this was not the case.

From the 26th June 1948, for 11 months, supplies were brought in via aeroplane to West Berlin and planes would land every 3 minutes. This was the Berlin airlift.

Stalin did not attack any of the planes, as he did not want to risk a war, especially when the USA had such powerful nuclear weapons. So eventually he realised he had failed and lifted the blockade in May 1949.

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Berlin Blockade - Consequences

  • Cold War got worse - It almost started an all-out war.  
  • East and West Germany - Germany split up. In May 1949, America, Britain and France united their zones into the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). In October 1949, Stalin set up the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
  • NATO and the Warsaw Pact - In 1949, the western Allies set up NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) as a defensive alliance against Russia. NATO countries surrounded Russia; in 1955, the Soviet Union set up the Warsaw Pact – an alliance of Communist states.  
  • Arms Race - After Berlin, the USA and the USSR realised that they were in a competition for world dom ination. They began to build up their armies and weapons.  
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NATO and the Warsaw Pact


  • A military alliance between USA, UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952.
  • It was an agreement where if one country was attacked then the others would defend them.

The Warsaw Pact

  • The Warsaw Pact was essentially the communist equivalent of NATO.
  • Members of the warsaw Pact agreed to help defend each other if they were attacked.
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Nuclear arms race

Due to the rising tensions between the two major powers in the world (USSR and the USA) war seemed increasingly possible. 

Both nations had begun to arm themselves with powerful nuclear weapons

When the USA dropped 'Little Boy' the USSR realised that they had extremely powerful weapons, and so they too must arm themselves equally.

This meant that both countries eventually had their own, very large supply of nuclear weapons

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Korean War - Causes

Korea was split into two countries - North Korea (led by Kim Il Sung) was Communist and South Korea (led by Syngman Rhee) was capitalist.

  • Domino theory - Europe was not the only place where Communists were coming to power. China turned Communist in 1949. Truman believed that, if one country fell to Communism, then others would follow, like a line of dominoes.  He was worried that, if Korea fell, so would Japan.  

  • Undermine Communism - In April 1950, the American National Security Council issued a report recommending that the USA abandon 'containment' and start 'rolling back' Communism.

  • Cold War  - Truman realised the USA was in a competition for world dom ination with the USSR.  By supporting South Korea, America was able to fight Communism without directly attacking Russia.

  • Kim Il Sung visited Stalin - In 1949, he persuaded Stalin that he could conquer South Korea.  Stalin did not think that America would get involved, so he agreed. Stalin saw a chance to continue the cold war and discomfort America, but without directly confronting the Americans.

  •  Syngman Rhee - In 1950, Syngman Rhee boasted that he was going to attack North  Korea.  It was a good enough excuse – the North Koreans invaded South Korea.
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Korean war - Events

1) June- September 1950 - 25th June 1950 - North Korea attack South Korea. They were extremely successful, pushing the South Korean army well past the 38th parallel and down into the 'Pusan Pocket'. This alarmed the Americans and they persuaded the UN to support South Korea, and US troops were sent to help at Pusan.

2) September - November 1950 - General MacArthur led 300,000 UN troops to help push back the North Koreans. They succeeded in pushing them back as far as the Chinese border

3) November 1950 - February 1951 - The Chinese now got involved and they had modern weapons supplied by the Russians and a hatred of America. they managed to push the South Koreans and the UN soldiers back down past the 38th parallel

4) February - March 1951 - The Americans landed more soldiers and used bombers. They drove the Chinese back to the 38th parallel by March 1951, losing 54,000 soldiers in the process.

5) March 1951 - 1953 - Truman ordered MacArthur to stop but he ignored these orders and was sacked for publicly critisising this order. In 1953 Eisenhower became president and the Americans threatened to use the A-bomb if China did not stop fighting. A truce was reached and signed on 27th July 1953.

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Death of Stalin

After Stalin died, there was a 'thaw'

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