Essay on the Threat of Communism during Cold War

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Historians have often disagreed on the origins of the Cold War placing the blame on either the United States, or the Soviet Union, or even maintaining a neutral stance. This is apparent with the various schools of thought as Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who is an Orthodox historian, argues that the Soviet Union was aggressively trying to expand its sphere of influence into Europe due to Stalin's expansionism, his anti-west paranoia and the nature of Marxism-Leninism - that international world revolution was to occur due to the inevitable class conflicts resulting from capitalism, and thus people would adopt communism. Schlesinger's stance also regarded the United States as a passive and benign nation, only responding to Soviet aggression and hostility. It is also the Orthodox school of thought that believes that Stalin broke agreements at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences whilst also ignoring the Atlantic Charter which outlined post-war democracy in Europe. Michael Cox and Caroline Kennedy-Pipe however, disagree since they belong to the revisionist school of thought which argues that the United States was predominantly to blame for the beginning of the Cold War. This was because they were increasingly antagonizing and aggressive towards the Soviet Union via the Marshall Plan. The US exploitation of the USSR's economic vulnerabilities from being war-torn and the advantage of their wealthy, booming economy is what led revisionists to believe that the US was neither passive nor benign but rather driven by economic self-interests and priorities as they could set up a permanent American presence in post-war Europe. The Marshall Plan remains a key aspect of their argument for US aggression and they consider atomic diplomacy too as a key breakdown in relations between the two states. The last main school of thought to come in more recent times was post revisionism which Robert Jervis belongs to. He advocates that neither nation was to blame for the beginning of the Cold War as it was inevitable due to a security dilemma that pushed both countries to prioritize their self-interests with a presence of miscommunication and a clash of social systems.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who belongs to the Orthodox school of thought, argues that the Cold War resulted as a consequence of Soviet expansionism and aggression due to Stalin's ideological motivations. Schlesinger Jr's article, Origins of the Cold War, is reinforced as his publication conveys that 'The Cold War was the brave and essential response of free men to communist aggression'. This immediately establishes that the United States are the 'free men' who had a benign role and only intervened to preserve the fundamental rights and liberties of Europe and its citizens while the Soviets attempted to instill their ideals and repress their neighboring countries in Eastern Europe. Additionally, his line of argument is further conveyed as 'the protocol of Russia therefore meant the enlargement of the area of Russian influence.' This directly ties in with Stalin's belief of Marxist-Leninist ideology, that liberal democracy is opposed and instead the proletariat must be liberated via a communist revolution - which was bound to happen due to the class conflicts created by capitalism. Hence it was Stalin's aim to expand Soviet influence into Eastern Europe in order to combat capitalism so that communism would thrive and expand into other countries. In this way, Schlesinger Jr. presents the USSR to be the antagonizer, as the US remains neutral and only responds after seeing signs of Soviet expansionism. However, though this seems like the case, other schools of thought disagree since revisionists do believe that America's nuclear monopoly and attempt to instill a permanent US presence in Europe try to counter the theory that America remained in a benign position.

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Tied in with his argument is Stalin's intense paranoia as an individual of his own officials and of the West. The Great Purge is often used as an indicator of Stalin's psychology intense paranoia and lack of trust in his own people where he purged many of his high-ranking officers with the pretext that they were traitors or potential ones. This is corroborated by Raymond Birt in Personality and Foreign Policy: The Case of Stalin where he says 'Stalin [...] is the classical example of a paranoid individual whose paranoia helped him to rise to the top of a highly centralized political structure and, once there, turn the bureaucratic institutions of the Soviet Union into extensions of his inner personality disorder.' Therefore, Stalin took no chances with the West and he had to secure the USSR's sphere of influence since 'Stalin's behaviour in power is indicative of the need of the paranoid to protect his fragile narcissistic ego from external threats' which also meant that national security was within this scope from potential external threats. This resulted in an aggressive Soviet policy whereby Eastern Europe would be used as a Soviet bloc and perform as a buffer zone for the USSR since they have a history of being prone to invasion on their eastern border with Europe - a key example being Operation Barbarossa. This essentially broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was a non-aggression pact between the Germans and the Soviets. Therefore it is quite clear that Stalin would be fearful and paranoid of foreign powers as a sense of mistrust would be instilled. This is further evident as 'the Kremlin, on the other hand, thought only of spheres of interest; above all the Russians were determined to protect their frontiers, and especially their border to the west.' This presents that Stalin didn't want Western influence to penetrate the East as they posed a threat both militarily with their nuclear monopoly, and financially since they had the richest and fastest growing economy globally. Furthermore, regarding the fact that the Soviets were war-torn and had suffered through vast destruction and casualties, they had to undergo reconstruction in order to pursue post-war recovery so this posed a huge issue to their national security, defense, and frontier as they were left in a vulnerable state. However, since Schlesinger Jr.'s stance was that the US was responding to Soviet aggression - Stalin's paranoia is what incited their response as he was perceived to be an aggressor since he possibly overestimated the United States' desire to involve themselves with post-war Europe. Furthermore, paranoia and security of the Soviet Union are further emphasised as: 'Moscow very probably, and not unnaturally, perceived the emphasis on self-determination as a systematic and deliberate pressure on Russia's western frontiers.' The Soviets clearly disliked democracy and the democratic elections proposed in the Atlantic Charter as 'they were ignoring the Declaration on Liberated Europe, ignoring the Atlantic Charter, self-determination, human freedom and everything else the Americans considered essential for a stable peace.' This portrays that the USSR were prioritising their own communist regime in favour against a stable democratic peace which made them look like an 'Evil Empire', in the eyes of the west, which President Reagan called the Soviet Union later said in the 1980s as their authoritarian rule essentially violated human individual rights, liberty and freedoms. Therefore, Stalin's aggressive stance towards the West could be attributed to his paranoia so expanding his sphere of influence would perhaps guarantee an eminence of safety around the USSR's borders.

Signs of Soviet aggression and expansionism could perhaps already be indicated through Stalin's responses and outcomes of the Yalta and Potsdam conferences - Stalin wanted to establish Eastern Europe as a Soviet sphere of influence despite going against democracy and the process of free elections established throughout post-war Europe. This is apparent when John P. Vloyantes indicates in The Significance of Pre-Yalta Policies regarding Liberated Countries in Europe that 'Under her border-state policy, Russian designs called for the establishment of regimes which would not be dominated or influenced by powers hostile to the U.S.S.R. and would acquiesce in Soviet policies regarding strategic considerations.' Ultimately, revisionists disagree since the United States wasn't entirely passive and exploited their economic strength in order to assert influence in Europe which has suffered destruction on a wide scale. Post revisionists on the other hand also disagree since their access to the archives in the USSR after it collapsed supports their stance on how the Cold War began as a result of being a security dilemma - the two nations needing to establish national security in order to protect their borders and interests. However, while it is evident that Orthodox historians like Schlesinger have a pro US and anti communist stance, it must be considered that most historians from this school of thought are high ranking US officials. Schlesinger himself was personally close with highly influential people like Elanor Roosevelt and John F. Kenedy whom he was a special advisor to - already indicating that his views would be strictly against communism and placing heavy blame on them for instigating the Cold War. Therefore, his highly pro-American stance shows signs of subjectivity and bias, which is important when pinpointing which nation initiated the Cold War as Orthodox historians like Schlesinger would often shift all the blame onto one side without accepting any culpability.

While orthodox historians agree upon the stance of the Soviet Union as the aggressors, the reality is the opposite in regards to the revisionist school of thought which pinpoints the culpability of the beginning of the Cold War onto the United States. Key revisionist historians, Michael Cox and Caroline Kennedy Pipe followed this line of argument in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy: Rethinking the Marshall Plan as the Marshall Plan was a clear indicator of American aggression towards the USSR for them. They claimed that 'The way that US aid was originally conceived under the Marshall Plan not only limited Soviet options but propelled the Soviet Union into a more antagonistic and hostile stance, including the establishment of its own economic and political bloc.' This is perhaps due to the fact that the Soviet Union had recently suffered the brutality and destruction of the Second World War - with the Germans invading, essentially transforming the Soviet Union's western borders with Europe and Soviet cities like Stalingrad into a battleground. The Soviets themselves had also adopted scorched earth tactics in order to slow down or even halt the advance of the German military, deeper into Soviet territory. Therefore this meant that as the Germans were advancing during Operation Barbarossa, the Soviets were burning and destroying anything remotely inhabitable or that could provide the Germans with local food while they were retreating. Consequently, when comparing the two superpowers, the Soviets had suffered destruction as a consequence of the war which also heavily burdened their economy. The United States on the other hand, had not suffered wartime destruction since they faced no major series of attacks like bombings on the American homeland and this could be mainly attributed to their absence in international affairs as a result of their prior isolationalist policy. Furthermore, America's economy flourished and grew even further after the Second World War which demonstrates how revisionists like Cox and Pipe argue that the Marshall Plan is practically a flaunt of US wealth and exploitation of their economic superiority over the USSR. Thus, they consider the Marshall Plan as a real sign of American antagonism against the Soviet Union as it is perceived as an attempt to instill permanent economic and political influence in Europe. With Europe undergoing reconstruction as a result of the wartime destruction, 'The United States and its Western allies were determined to undermine Soviet influence in Eastern Europe by exploiting the USSR's weak economic control over the region and 'luring' the East Europeans back into the Western camp.' This essentially highlights that the Marshall Plan was used as a political tool in order to maintain existing economic relations with Europe so they remain a permanent presence as Europe has no choice but to rely on the US for economic aid or potentially be at risk of extremism like communism since many will look towards more equal distribution of wealth. Benn Steil, an economist, reinforces this point as 'Rather than lending Europe reconstruction funds and wishing it well, a new integrated Western European entity would be constructed using American blueprints, cash, and ultimately, contrary to all early intentions security guarantees. This effort the Marshall Plan, as it would come to be known would entangle the United States in European affairs in precisely the manner George Washington had warned against.' Here he refers to America's past isolationist policy where the US remained truly benign in international affairs as they focused on domestic policies and issues within the American homeland prior to the First World War. George Washington, one of the founding fathers hadn't planned on America playing such a huge influential role in international politics and thus the President excels at foreign affairs where they could be regarded as 'imperial'. With America becoming more and more involved in European affairs in particular, it can be perceived by revisionist historians that American funds which were under the pretext of reconstruction aid, was actually a geopolitical ploy to maintain capitalism within Europe and prevent any further countries from falling to communism while establishing European reliance on America. Consequently, revisionist historians view the United States clearly as an aggressor to the Cold War as their economic exploitation on their rhetoric of international aid was clearly weaponised to serve them in their post war strategic goals of economic ties with the continent and the preservation of capitalism as a whole. This vast contrasting belief of the Revisionist stance in comparison to the Orthodox one is widely apparent and conflicting in ideas of who is to blame for the Cold War since the Revisionist school of thought had arisen during and after the Vietnam War - realising that US foreign policy isn't in fact infallible and perhaps America's own geopolitical interests, which were moving away from isolationism, had established instigative messages towards the Soviets. Thus, Revisionists focus mainly on US foreign policy and the disadvantageous position the Soviets had post-war, which may lack impartiality like the Orthodox stance as it grew out of the failures of the Vietnam War.

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