Interpretations of the Cold War

Interpretation 1: The Soviet Union was to Blame

US Orthodox View 1940s-1960s

Early US explanations of the cold war were created by academics who had worked for the government and in an atmosphere of fierce anti-communism in the USA.

In the 1940s the USA believed the cold war was the fault of the USSR:

  • Bailey argued USSR wanted world revolution - soviets caused war from actions in Eastern Europe.
  • Kennan argued stalin deliberately took actions to provoke USA and convince the soviet people they needed his tough dictatorship.
  • Feis argued USSR tried to spread communism globally

CONTEXT

  • 'Red Scare' in the USA - campaign against communism ever since russian revolution in 1917 there had been worries in the USA that communist agents were operating there.
  • Personal Experience - several historians who wrote the orthodox view were actually involved in the cold war. Kennan: senior US government official. Feis: adviser in the US governemnt at the start of old war
  • Lack of sources - propaganda was all they had, no USSR sources.

The cold war was caused by aggresive expansion by the soviet leaders who wanted to spread communism to the world.

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Interpretation 2: The USA was to Blame

US revisionist view 1960s-1970s

This view was not accepted by soviet historians or politicians, but US academics, events challenged the orthodox view.

  • The USA had provoked the cold war by 'Open door', this gave the USA the acess to states it could then dominate economically & politically.
  • Truman's policies made the USSR feel threatened - and so they acted aggressively.

CONTEXT

  • Cuban Revolution - USA behaved aggresive and more focused on the empire building than for good, trying to stop soviets building on empire.
  • Vietnam war - USA supported a corrupt regime in vietnam killing innocent civilians

The cold war was caused by aggressive actions of the USA, particulary it's determination to ensure that it would dominate trade in europe and asia.

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Interpretation 3: Couldn't understand eachother

Post-revisionist view 1948-1960s

Post-revisionists tried to find common ground between the first two interpretations.

  • Views from revisionists were rejected and that the cold war was caused soley by US aggression and expansion.
  • Argued a substaintial proportion of responsibility for cold war were actions of USSR, especially stalin.
  • Accepted US policy was misunderstanding & exaggeration of soviet strength & intentions. USA tended to overreact to soviet actions, causing USSR to overreact.
  • Cold war was inevitable, but saw it as fear-confusion; misunderstanding both sides.

CONTEXT

Historical Debate - post revisionists challenged orthodox & revisionists for being simplistic in blaming one side or other.

Thawing of Cold War - historians were influenced to think less of blaming and more in terms of understanding as in 1970s detente began - attempt to build better relations with communist china & USSR.

The cold war was caused by the way the USA and the USSR each reacted to the actions of the other side - those reactions were based on mistrust & understanding.

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Interpretation 4: We still can't be sure

The New Cold War Historians 1989-onwards

Both soviet & US historians had greater acess to soviet source material. However, the new sources brought no consenus.

  • Cold war ended in 1989 with the fall of berlin wall. The USSR collapsed in 1991, soviet historians could now get acess to soviet archives.

CONTEXT

End of Cold War led to...

New Soviet Sources - millions of new sources to consider as soviet archives were off limited to US historians during cold war.

The Reagan Factor - final years of cold war Reagan followed an aggressive policy towards USSR 'Evil Empire'. Many revisionists felt he was reckless & aggressive to USSR.

Access to soviet archives leaves historians still divided they confirm what people already thought - USA/USSR was most to blame.

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