The Cold War

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The rise of the superpowers

The military strength of the USA and USSR at the end of WW2 meant they were the 'superpowers'. During the war they were allies and shared a common hatred of Germany and Japan but at the end of the war they had nothing in common and very conflicting ideologies:

The USSR - Communist

  • One party dictatorship
  • Good of society was more important than individual freedom
  • Unemployment was rare
  • Lower general standard of living
  • The government owned businesses and propert in the name of the people

The USA - Capitalist

  • Free elections
  • Individulal Freedom was a fundemental belief
  • Extremes of wealth and poverty
  • Higher gerneral standard of living
  • Business and Property were privately owned
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The Yalta Conference February 1945

The 'big three' allies at the conference were Winston Churchill (Britain), Fanklin D Roosevelt (America) and Josef Stalin (USSR).

What was agreed?

  • Germany would be divided into 4 zones - one zone to be run by each ally.
  • Berlin (Germay's capital in the middle of the soviet zone) was also divided in to the same 4 zones.
  • Eastern European countries would be allowed to hold free elections
  • Eastern Europe would be a soviet 'sphere of influence'.
  • The USSR would join the war against Japan.

What did they diagree over?

  • Poland: Stalin wanted to move the polish border westwards into Germany. Churchill and Roosevelt disagreed but allowed it. In return Stalin agreed that he would not support the Communists trying to take over in Greece.
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The Potsdam Conference July - August 1945

By the time of the Potsdam conference Germany had surrendered in May 1945, America had a new president : Truman (very anti-communist), Stalin's armies occupied most of eastern Europe and the Americans had just tested the first automic bomb.

At Potsdam they disagreed over:

  • What to do about Germany: Stalin wanted to cripple Germany so the USSR would be protected in the future but Truman disagreed as he did not want Germany to become vengeful.
  • Reparations: Stalin wanted a huge amount of compensation (20 million Russians had died during the war). Truman again did not want to repeat the mistakes of the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Soviet Policy in eastern Europe: Although at Yalta eastern Europe was given as a Soviet 'sphere of influence' , Truman and Stalin disagreed over what this meant. So Truman began to criticise Stalin's actions and adopted a 'get tough' attitude against him.

As a result of these disagreements a divide developed between east and west Europe. By 1946 Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania all had communist governments which were loyal to Stalin. West Europe was largely capitalist and east Europe were in support of the USSR and communism. Churchill called this divide the 'iron curtain' , a phrase he coined in a speech.

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Stalin's Control of eastern Europe

  • Albania (1945): Communists took over immediately after the war with little opposition.
  • Bulgaria (1945): Left-wing (communist led) coalition won 1945 elections. Communist leaders executed non-commnist leaders.
  • East Germany (1945): Allies gave the USSR control of the eastern sector of Germany which was successfully run by the red army until the creation of the German Democratic Republic.
  • Yugoslavia (1945): Marshal Tito had led war time resistance to the Nazis - the red army had not liberated the country. Tito was not a soviet trained Stalinist and Yugolsavia was equally nationalist and communist. Tito was elected president in 1945 - determined to run the country in his own way he was expelled from cominform.
  • Hungary (1947):  Non-communists won the elections so communists took control of secret police, became the largest political party, imprisoned opposition and attacked church leaders.
  • Poland (1947): Communists joined a coalition government and took over in 1947 and forced the leaders of the other parties into exile.
  • Romania (1947): Communist prime minister elected in 1945 and abolished the monarchy in 1947.
  • Czechoslovakia (1948): Left-wing coalition led by non-communists elected in 1945. Communist leader took over radio, army and police. Communists took over, became the largest party and banned all other parties from government.
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Stalin's Control of eastern Europe (Continued)

Cominform 1947: An alliance of communist countries controlled by Stalin. It aimed to spread communist ideas. Tito - the leader of Yugoslavia was not prepared to accept Stalin's leadership and broke away from Cominform.

Comecon 1949: Organisation set up by Stalin to co-ordinate the production and trade of the eastern European countries. Comecon favoured the USSR and the resources of eastern Europe were exploited by the USSR.

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The Truman Doctrine and Marshall Aid


Western Powers were alarmed by Stalin's take over of eastern Europe. They feared the spread of communism. In Greece 2 rival groups wanted power: the monarchists who suppored the Greek royal family ( aided by British and later, American troops) and the communists. A civil war deveoped which the communists lost. This led to the Truman Doctrine.

The Truman Doctrine

The Truman Doctrine meant the USA was prepared to send money, equipment and advice to any country that was threatened by a communist take over. Truman's aim was to prevent the spread of communism - contaiment.

Marshall Aid

After WW2 Europe faced many problems such as damaged homes, homeless people, refugees, food shortage, damaged infrastructure and debt. Truman believed these conditions would lead to the spread of communism so sent American General George Marshall to Europe to asses the damge. Marshall reported that Europe would need $17 billion to recover. To start with Congress refused but agreed after the  pro-American Czech minister was found dead in suspicious circumstances.

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The Berlin Blockade

At Potsdam the allies had divided Berlin into 4 zones. In 1948 the American , British and French zones had all merged together to form one state called 'trizonia'. With the support of Marshall Aid, trizonia began to prosper and recover. In the Soviet zone there as still poverty so many Germans left to move to trizonia. In trizonia, a new currency was introduced which Stalin increasingly saw as a threat. As a result Stalin cut off West Berlin (British, French and American zones) from the rest of Trizonia. Stalin blocked off all roads, railways and canals leading to west Berlin. This is called the Berlin Blockade. Stalin was trying to get the western powers out so he had full control.

Reaction of the western powers:

  • The couldn't react with force at risk of starting another war, so the airlifted supplies into Berlin in June 1948. They continued to do this for 10 months.

How did it end?

Stailn reopened the supply routes. The divisions between east and west Germany were firmly sealed, May 1949 trizonia became known as the Federal Republic of Germany. In October 1949, the soviet zone was known as the German Democractic Republic.

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The Berlin Blockade Continued

Military alliances at the time:

NATO: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1949- contained most states in western Europe as well as the USA and Canada. Its main purpose was to defend each of its members from attack.

The Warsaw Pact 1955:  The coummunist version of NATO and included all countries controlled by the USSR.

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Who was to Blame for the Cold War?

Ways in which the USA was to blame:

  • President Truman was more suspicious and less trusting of the USSR than Roosevelt.
  • The USA dropped atomic bombs on Japan to end WW2 in that region.
  • The Truman Doctrine aimed to contain communism.
  • NATO was set up as a miliary alliance between Europeand and North American countries.
  • America, Britain and France formaly united their zones of occupied German to create the FRG.
  • Marshall Aid was seen as a way of America influencing other countries.

Ways in which the USSR was to blame:

  • Bulgaria, ROmania and Hungary were under Soviet occupation and Poland gained a comminist-dominated government supported by the USSR.
  • Soviet troops remained in eastern Europe.
  • Cominform and Comecon were formed.
  • SOviet scientists also developed an atomic bomb.
  • The Warsaw Pact was formed as a military alliance of communist states.
  • The Berlin Blockade.
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