Could the Cold War have been avoided? Discuss with reference to the key schools of thought on the origins of the Cold War. The cold war is the product of confrontation between US and USSR, reflected by conflicts of interests in political, ideological, military sphere and so on (Baylis et al. 2010, p51), and it lasted nearly half century and ended up with dissolution of Soviet Union. There are so many debates about its origin and some people argue that cold war might be avoided.
However this essay will indicate that cold war is inevitable with discussion of orthodox view, revisionist view of origins of cold ward and focus on the third view—post revisionist. Orthodox or the traditional view refers to that Soviet Union aggressive expansion created American insecurity, and it is dominant among historians in US until 1960s. They argued that Stalin went against the principles agreed at Yalta, and employed the policy of “expansionism” in Eastern Europe and tried to spread communism all over the world.
While the loss of China to communism, Korean War and rise of McCarthyism created a strong anti-communism sentiment in the West (Bastian, 2003). Therefore, this brought an image that US hoped to maintain the peace and cooperation with the Soviets, but with the expansion of press and radio controlled, personal freedom suppressed and even evil Soviet Union, America had no choice but to react in defense of its own security and freedom principle.
After 1960s, when US get involved in Vietnam War, some other historians began to challenge the orthodox view and question the motives of US capitalism. The so called revisionist or left leaning historians argued that US capitalism expansion created insecurity to Soviet Union. The representative is William Appleman Williams (1972) who saw US capitalism as aggressive requirements for huge foreign market, investment and resource of raw materials and US foreign policies were to ensure there was an “Open Door” for American trade and build an US-dominated international capital market.
By contrast, Soviet Union just did the same things to protect its national interests as other countries did and reacted defensively to the fear of American global capital expansion. However, the third view—post-revisionist did not simply blame cold war on either one side, but showed that the causes of cold war lied on both countries. The post-revisionist ideas could be more convincing to explain the inevitability to cold war. Post-revisionists tended to believe revisionists’ idea that Soviet Union tried to maintain its own security and create its influential sphere in Eastern and Central Europe for safety concern.
While John Lewis Gaddis (2005) one of the most important post-revisionists argued that Western countries cannot make sure what Soviet Union was up to do, and actions of protecting Soviet security could still be regarded as threats to Western interests, so the worries about Soviet were legitimate and understandable. Therefore, the mutual misunderstanding and reactivity reinforced the conflicts step by step which refer to Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech, Marshall Plans, followed by Berlin blockade and so on.
Moreover, article of Whelan (2011) adopted theory of Thucydides Trap to further explain this situation. The Thucydides Trap illustrates that growth of Athenian power and the fear it inspired in Sparta made the war inevitable. Whelan suggested that the cold war could not have been avoided since US carried out atomic bomb successfully, and when it was used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It sent a strong signal or fear to Soviet Union that United States had the means and intention to use nuclear bombs again if necessary.
The fear caused Soviet Union to develop its own nuclear weapons, and explosion of Soviet atomic bomb again exposed a threat to US to take more aggressive military actions. It became a cycle that never ended which dragged Soviet and US into endless arm race. In addition, the conflict of ideology has made the negotiation even more difficult. According to Gaddis (2005), historians underestimated the clash of ideology which played an essential role in cold war. After October 1917, a new ideology—Marxism and Leninism was born with Russian revolution.
Marxist-Leninists believed that history was contradictions of classes, and capitalism was exploitation of working class. But eventually with the consciousness of working class, the revolution would rise up and bring capitalism to its end. Therefore, this ideology was rivalry to US capitalism in the nature and seemed to be a threat to liberal democracies in the West. (Bastian, 2003) Although the ideological rivalry became less important in the 1920s and 1930s because Soviet Union and US were dealing with Fascism, the rivalry increased dramatically by 1945.
For instance, in 1946 George Kennan’s famous “Long Telegram” suggested that Soviet’s ideology was greatly hostile to US interests and had to be contained. Furthermore, Whelan’s article (2011) indicated that the fear, paranoia and propaganda created by ideologically conflicts made it very difficult to see points of view from opposing side, which almost left no room for communication and negotiation to stop arm race. He directly suggested that cold war was inevitable because “the Cold war had already commenced in October 1917 the start of the Russian revolution”.
In conclusion, this essay has briefly introduced the orthodox and revisionist reviews of origins of cold war, and concentrated on analysis of post-revisionist thoughts. From the perspective of post-revisionists, misunderstanding and reactivity caused insecurity of both Soviet Union and US, while nuclear weapons reinforced the insecurity to inevitable cold war. At the same time the huge rivalry in natures of two nations’ ideologies nearly eliminated communication and made cold war even more not avoidable.
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