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Highlands Ranch High School - Mr. Sedivy
Highlands Ranch, Colorado

Modern European History

- Modern European History -

Cost of the Cold War
By David Sedivy

The best way to term the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union would be as a complete disaster, on both sides of the coin. The capital from both countries went to the arms race not into infrastructure. This will be of cost to the world in many ways.

The origins of the Cold War centered on the fate of Poland. Truman insisted that the Soviets allow free and democratic elections in Poland. Truman, opposed to appeasement, took a tough stand. He told Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov that America would not tolerate Poland being made into a Soviet puppet state. His speech was full of profanity- "words of one syllable," as Truman described them. Molotov responded, " I've never been talked to like that in my life." Twice during the twentieth century Germany had invaded Russia through Poland. Stalin was determined that would never happen again. Truman threatened to cut off economic aid to Russia but rather than give up Poland, Stalin accepted the loss of American aid. There was no war but there was a more important causality- relations between the Soviet Union and America were strained to the breaking point.

This was the first accident of the Cold War. Although real issues divided the two countries; emotion and rhetoric fueled the emergence of Cold War myths. Truman lacked the skills and experience of a successful diplomat. He equated Stalin's goals with those of Hitler's and this was a grave mistake. Stalin was concerned more with security than expansion. The idea of Stalin yearning to conquer the west, and deterred only by American atomic weapons, was mostly a creation of the mind. Talk in America turned no longer toward how to avoid a war with Russia, but how to win it. The Cold War had been declared.

American leaders were confident that they could use foreign aid to exert influence on the future development of the world. What was good for America would be good for the world. While the British and American's held their positions in Africa, the Mediterranean, and West Germany, they undertook diplomatic pressure to reduce Russia's position in Eastern Europe. This increased Russia's suspicions and distrust toward the West. By 1947, Britain could no longer stand as the leader of democracy; England passed the torch to the United States. Britain could no longer economically support Greece and Turkey. If these two vital countries which stood between the Soviet Union, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East, were to be kept as western allies, the United States would have to come to their aid. Truman was prepared to help but there was concern as to whether the American public was willing to give aid. Truman knew if he was going to win public support he would have to "scare the hell out of the American people." Congress responded with $400 million. By later standards a paltry sum, but it was a good beginning for the Truman Doctrine. America will later send billions of dollars in economic and military aid to countries fighting communism, even though some of the leaders themselves were dictators. Truman succeeded in getting aid and arousing the American public. Some believe his scare tactics did more harm than good.

In early 1948, Congress appropriated $17 billion to be spent over the next four years for the European Recovery Program, more commonly called the Marshall Plan. This aid rebuilt the economic infrastructure of Western Europe and restored prosperity to the region. In the process it created stable markets for American capitalism- which in essence was the Marshall Plan.

"Mr. X" was George Kennan, the United States foremost author on Russian history. During World War II he was stationed in Moscow, and studied Soviet political behavior. He said Russia could be contained to its present borders by a politically, economically, and militarily active United States. What was needed was " the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy." In short, Kennan held out the hope of complete victory in the Cold War.

Containment involved confronting the spread of communism across the globe and as Americans soon learned, it came with a heavy price. This meant supporting allies around the world with billions of dollars in military and economic aid, and it meant thousands of Americans dying in foreign lands. Could this money have been better spent at home? Since containment was a defensive policy, it would involve a permanent Cold War. The Cold War emphasized the doctrine of limited wars fought for limited goals. It was a policy bound to breed frustration and anxiety, on both sides.

Russia wanted to demonstrate the superiority of the Soviet system over capitalism and was looking for new friends abroad to break the containment placed around them. Many Third World countries (described as "third" world because they insisted on their distinction both from the American and the Russian dominated blocs) were eager to escape what they termed "neocolonoalism" and to institute a planed economy instead of a laissez-faire one. This usually meant a cut off of western aid which in turn gave Russian foreign policy an "outward thrust." The USSR had now come a long way from Stalin's paranoid caution.

Many new states were entering the international community in these years, and Russia was eager to wean them away from the west without having much knowledge of the local conditions; which meant that its diplomatic "gains" turned out to be "losses." One example of this was the Russian break with China. Another major blow to Soviet influence came when Sadat ordered 21,000 Russian advisers out of Egypt. With modern up-to-date arms, from the West and Russia, the Third world was now seeing that foreign aid was really a military build-up for the first and second world.

Kennedy, the "macho" president, once described his approach to foreign policy and difficult decisions as "calculate your odds, make your choice, grab [your] balls and go." Kennedy said he would not permit Soviet ships transporting weapons to enter Cuban waters. The people were assured, "that he would run any risk, including thermonuclear war, on their behalf." These assurances created a crisis for the world. The two "superpowers" had stood toe-to-toe, on the brink of global destruction, then stepped back. And for what? When all is said and done," said one historian, "it seems that President Kennedy had risked ultimate disaster in service to a crisis that was more illusory than real, at least in military terms." The costs of the Cold War would continue.

From 1946 to 1974, the United States military costs were in excess of $1.3 trillion on national security alone; this compares to $1.6 trillion spent by the federal government for all nonmilitary goods and services since 1789. The game of chess would become more intense. "Technology creep" characterizes a cycle in which America creates a new weapon or improves an existing one. These are matched by the Soviets when they gain the same technology. From the A-bomb to Star Wars, and trillions of dollars, the trend continued. It isn't the case of successive American and Soviet administrations not learning their lesson. They just chose to ignore it.

Benjamin Franklin warned in 1784, "an army is a devouring monster ... It seems to me that if a statesman had a little more arithmetic, or were more accustomed to calculation, wars would be much less frequent." The plain fact is that an extraordinary amount of national energy and wealth spent by the "superpowers" in recent years has been devoted to war or the prevention of war.

The Cold War is now over. It is ironic that the two defeated countries from World War II, Germany and Japan gained the most from the Cold War. The western umbrella of military protection, has provided these countries economies that have flourished because their capital investments have gone to infrastructure instead of military defense.

Perhaps the money could have been spent in other ways-but perhaps not, because the choices were not easy and could not be reduced to the simple "guns versus butter" argument. But when you add into the equation North Korea, Iraq, and others with nuclear weapons; one point on the record is clear- fifty some odd years of exorbitant military spending have yet to give the sense of security they were expected to provide.

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Mr. Sedivy no longer teaches geography, or Modern European History (non AP), but we've decided to leave his web contribution to these classes up anyway. The AP classes cover the same material, but in more detail.

Advanced Placement Modern European History



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