The Cold War was, in the main, a period of deep mistrust and rivalry between the once allied superpowers America and Russia after World War Two. The Cold War was, in part, and ideological conflict between capitalism (USA) and communism (USSR) and lasted for most of the 20th Century. There were many factors concerning the causes of the Cold War, but they broadly fall under three headings: traditional, revisionist and post-revisionist.
The causes of the Cold War are debated heavily. The traditional view, up until the 1960s was that Russia was totally to blame for the Cold War. By the Potsdam conference in July 1945 Stalin’s Red Army was in control of most of Eastern Europe. At Yalta five months ago the ‘Big Three’ of Churchill Roosevelt and Stalin had met and agreed on many points, such as allowing free elections for liberated countries. At Potsdam Stalin flatly refused to do that. He set up communist governments in all countries from Albania to East Germany. Churchill called this division, between the capitalist West and Stalin’s East Europe ‘an iron curtain’.
Some argue that if Stalin had not pursued such radical expansionism then the Cold War would not have happened. The West was clearly alarmed by these ‘invasions’ which was what they were, and felt they had to do something to stop this, hence the flaunting of nuclear weapons and the enticement of Europe through the Marshall Plan. The West feared a Communist attack following its rapid expansion and thought that unless they did something they would have to live under the oppression and tyrannical Communists. The West was simply defending itself from what it perceived as a threat to its freedom and way of life.
Another theory of who was to blame for the Cold War, known as the Revisionists, thought that the USA was directly to blame for the Cold War. Capitalism is, by nature, competitive and aggressive. Its aim is to dominate world markets and trade. The American Government supported the businessmen and Stalin saw this aggressive move as a threat and so had to react. America had to keep countries capitalist so that there was an ‘open door’ for America to trade with. Some historians and certainly Stalin at the time believed that the Marshall Plan was simply an enticement away from communism, because although it was meant to be free, the country receiving it would certainly owe something to America, be it gratitude, and so America would gain a foothold in these countries’ thoughts. This aid, some think, was simply a loan, not of money, but of alliance.
Another reason that supports the Revisionist view was America’s use of the Atomic Bomb. Many believed that he used it simply to intimidate Russia. This theory explains why the USA needed to use two; as if they dropped two in quick succession then the Russians would believe that the Americans had many more bombs that they actually did. I thing that this is the only logical explanation as the official reason for the dropping of the nuclear bomb was to frighten the Japanese into submission by the sheer force of the bomb and so to use two was simply a waste of innocent civilian life unless it had a political motive.
Stalin had suffered tens of millions of civilian and soldier casualties. Thus, it was fair that they could build up a buffer-zone between it and Germany to ensure that the same thing did not ever happen again. America, however, interpreted this as an act of aggression and so the Cold War began. Russia was also resentful the Americans and British had tried to destroy the communists in the Russian revolution and so were resentful towards America and Britain, which was hardly unfair.
I believe that the main cause of the Cold War was the ideological conflict. This is a post-revisionist view, that it was neither of the superpowers’ faults. The two beliefs, capitalism and communism governed everything in the respective country’s society; trade and shopping, industry, religion, government, the army and many other aspects of civilized life. Furthermore, the two beliefs were completely incompatible, like opposite ends of the political spectrum.
For the two greatest nations at the time to coexist peacefully with two completely different ways of life would have been impossible. Both would have, and did, fight for their beliefs and societal rules. It may have been a ‘Cold’ War with no actual fighting between the two superpowers but in isolated and otherwise irrelevant theatres of war such as Vietnam and Korea the two nations did fight for their ideologies to be accepted into that country. The war became so heated because the peoples of both nations believed so strongly that not only was their way of life better and right, but it was paramount to the future existence of humanity. This cause supports the view that neither country was directly to blame for the Cold War, as it was not their actions, provocative or not, that caused it, but their ideals and beliefs.
In conclusion I shall say that both sides were equally to blame for the start of the Cold War. Their ideological conflict made coexistence and cooperation impossible, and so the two superpowers were drawn into a war to support and fight for their beliefs. The other factors of the start of the Cold War are also important; had the Russians not pursued such a radical expansion then the West would not have felt so threatened as to oppose Stalin; and had the West not angered Stalin with the Marshall Plan, pressured him with the atomic bomb and treated his with such contempt, such as agreeing a surrender with Mussolini without even consulting him, then Russia would not have been forced into defending its beliefs, sometimes aggressively, against the West.